Talents and strengths: A vacation planner

 boy speedboat

School vacations begin any day now. Here’s an idea that could shift your child’s vacation time from good to great: Wherever you go, whatever you do, find ways to put the spotlight on your family’s talents and strengths. You will hear a lot more gratitude and a lot less whining.

Start by making a list of each child’s talents and strengths….

…including adults who are part of the vacation. Show each child’s list to them and ask the child to circle their top two or three.

Armed with these lists of talents and strengths, search for events and activities that match their talents. This can be a search for local activities, or if the family is also going on a trip, events at your destination.

Sort the possible activities.

Delete any that are unrealistic for your family. Now you have a list of places, people, events, shows, or games that are possible for the trip (or summer days at home without school).

Allow the whole family to choose from the list.

Because of your advance work, there is literally something for every person. Their satisfaction is greater because they are doing something they love or something they are good at. While participating in a sibling’s choice they know their turn is coming.

Take for instance an overnight camping trip.

One child in the family is a natural. She wants to pitch the tent and build the fire. She’s in her element on a camping trip.

The other two children haven’t been looking forward to the camping trip as much.


So you strategically put one child in charge of organizing the tent and the foodstuffs. Where should each person’s sleeping bag be laid out? Where should the flashlight be so everyone can get to it in the dark? How should we separate the evening food from the next day’s breakfast so it doesn’t attract bears? This child is an arranger and he gets a lot of satisfaction out of organizing everything so it makes sense.

clouds-848278-mThe third child is the one staring up into the clouds.

While everyone else was trying to unload the van and pitch the tent, she isn’t paying much attention to the world around her. But that night at the campfire, you ask that child to make up stories to tell around the campfire. The rest of the family can’t believe how funny and scary and entertaining her stories are… but you had a hunch.

Great vacations encompass short-term fun, plus the long-term gain of learning something new or adding onto something we were already good at so the enjoyment is increased.

Vacation isn’t just about mindless fun or distraction or rest.


Yes, these are important. But discovery and creativity and growth are important too. So stay in the moment for 5 more minutes after it’s over, to talk:

  • What did we do that you wish we could do again?
  • I have an idea for a different activity that we could do…..
  • What 3 words describe your feelings about what we did?
  • If we did this again, what could we do to make it better?
  • What did you (see, hear, smell, taste, feel)?
  • What was your contribution to this activity?

With these simple ideas you are likely to get a greater return of refreshment and enjoyment over the long haul.

Next week: Packing children’s suitcases for the trip ahead

Tweetable: Here’s an idea that could shift your child’s vacation time from good to great. Click to Tweet

Prepare children to tap into their potential

“Humans may resemble many other creatures in their striving for happiness, but the quest for meaning is a key part of what makes us human.” — Roy Baumeister

For most people, finding life meaningful and feeling happy are important– and related– goals.

Recognizing this, we start early to move children toward those goals.

Whether you believe that a person’s essence comes from our genetic framework or from God placing a unique soul within each of us (or some combination of both), the outworking of that belief often looks the same: You have potential within you and now you need to decide what to do with it.

Yet it’s difficult for us to face the challenge of what to do next.

We know we need to help the children in our lives learn to tap into the potential that is already within them. But how?

The focus of this blog is always to see the child’s development through a spiritual lens.

Many excellent resources exist that instruct us in the ways of emotional, physical and mental preparation to find happiness and purpose. But what of the spiritual preparation?

Certain concrete, specific actions can help them discover, develop and use the potential of their human spirit.

Give us a kiss!

Each title in this series offers to guide your efforts in all of the attributes of the child’s human spirit:

  • Talents and strengths: a vacation planner
  • Find and build motivation
  • The gift of boredom: desires and passions
  • Make work meaningful: try these ideas
  • Ask kids what they think of The Big Picture

Helping even young children choose to engage in activities that uncover their talents, motivations, aptitudes and passions–this is part of the spiritual stuff of life.


Next week: Talents and strengths: a vacation planner

Tweetable:  We know we need to help children learn to tap into the potential already within them. But how? Click to Tweet


What is life’s main goal? Happiness or meaning?

115390_2134 Hollywood

In a web-based Smart Girls survey, four out of five girls (average age 13) reported that their life goal was something like fame, money, or being happy. The remaining 20% said their life goal was to make a difference.

Opinions such as this are often formed from previous experience.

What kinds of experiences and input are shaping the dreams, goals, and values of the children in your life?

Think about how they might answer the question, “What is your main goal in life?”

Would they be in the majority or the minority? And what do you most want for the children in your life? What if you had to choose either happiness or meaning?

This is the first post in a series where I explore a spiritual approach to addressing this question with children.

Defining happiness and meaning

1129742_74408437 dictionaryA good place to start is by defining our terms. In a widely-reported survey summarized in Scientific American:

Respondents strongly correlated feeling happy with seeing life as easy, pleasant, and free from difficult or troubling events. Happiness was also correlated with being in good health and generally feeling well most of the time.

However, none of these things were correlated with a greater sense of meaning.

The survey’s findings suggest that pure happiness is about getting what we want in life—whether through people, money, or life circumstances.

Meaningfulness, in contrast, seems to have more to do with double-call-1209438-m teens on phonesgiving, effort, and sacrifice.  However, tasks which don’t make us happy can, over time, add up to a meaningful life. Even routine activities — talking on the phone, cooking, cleaning, meditating, emailing, praying, and balancing finances — appeared to bring more meaning to adults’ lives, but did not contribute to happiness in the moment.

Think about your own perspectives on this question.

  • How would you personally rate the relative importance of happiness or meaning?
  • How have you pursued them?
  • How successful has that pursuit been?
  • What are your hopes for the children in your life?
  • What do you most want for them? Happiness or meaning? What if you had to choose?

Next week: Preparing children to tap into their potential

Tweetable: New series gives practical perspective to the kinds of experiences that shape a child’s dreams and goals.  Click to Tweet

Supplement religious education: ask “What is God doing today?”

Children who go to religious education classes, Sunday School or parochial school benefit from opportunities to experience God beyond learning facts about God.


Earlier this week, I took my four-year-old granddaughter to the library and to the park for a Bug Hunt. As I steered the car into a parking spot, I asked “What is God doing today?”

Long pause. “I don’t know,” she said.

I continued, “Maybe he would like to come with us to the park to hunt for bugs. Should we invite him?”

Longer pause, then: “Yes, God can come with us while we look for bugs, and other Gods can be with other people so everybody has God with them today.”

867845_10946724 web

Soon we walked past a bush and she said, “Look! There’s threads on this bush,” and we traced the path of the threads from a leaf all the way to the sidewalk. I offered, “Maybe we can find a book in the library to tell us more about the threads.”

The librarian found a picture book for us about spider webs and another book about our best sighting of the day–ladybugs–which we read together in the beanbag chairs provided by the library.

Finally it was time to go home. As we talked about our adventure, I said, “I had so much fun with you today. Do you think God had fun with us?” Her silence was more profound this time.

This silence was that same kind of hush I’ve seen whenever she processes a new experience.

Then she burst into song. I didn’t catch all the words but something about joy and God. I never said anything about her song because I understood that it wasn’t really intended for my ears anyway.


Ask children, “What is God doing today?” and see how they experience God beyond the facts they’ve learned. Click to Tweet