Parents work a puzzle of how kids develop character

quiz on childcenteredspirituality I love a word puzzle or quiz that comes with the answers at the bottom of the column, sometimes upside down — A. What is the name of the highest mountain in Africa?   B. What is the largest brass instrument in an orchestra? *

A question I puzzle over as I engage with a child’s spiritual development is —  What habits, if instilled with love, will most likely lead kids into a richly satisfying life of doing right by each other and walking humbly with God?

How would you answer this question for the children you love? For me, here would be the upside down answers at the bottom of my column: compassion for other living things, rituals providing structure and safety, and the following —

Forgiveness and humility

One father spoke to me about this commitment: “Because our family acknowledges God’s involvement in our everyday life, we understand that God desires to be with us and this desire doesn’t arise because we are perfect people. We do wrong and make mistakes yet God still loves us. The result is that we as parents are better able to admit our mistakes (which our children recognize anyway), and we model how to tell on ourselves, apologize and show our family how to forgive and move on.”

puzzle books Gratitude and generosity

Ms. Kerry provides this example in her book Self-Sufficient Kids: “….. “Mackenzie was 13 years old when she began collecting children’s books for shelters in and around Alpharetta, Georgia. It soon became a family project with her 2 brothers, Alex and Benjamin, working alongside her. In total, they have collected and donated over 360,000 books for shelters across the world through their charity, Sheltering Books.”

Seeking God and truth

Erin James, a mother of three, recently told a story of what happened to her last Sunday at church, The congregation sang a hymn and she let go of her anxieties and concerns as she sang the words with her whole heart. She closed her eyes and felt tears well up at the goodness and love of God. Then, “[m]y oldest daughter tapped me on the shoulder while I was praising God and asked me why I was crying and closing my eyes. I whispered to her that I was thanking Him for everything. As I began singing again, I saw my daughter emulating me out of the corner of my eye. It was beautiful to see her, so young and eager to praise the Lord.”

Kids find better answers to life’s puzzles when we are there to light their way.  

* A. Mount Kilimanjaro  –  B. The tuba

Tweetable: What habits, if instilled with love, will most likely lead kids into a richly satisfying life of doing right by each other and walking humbly with God? Read more here. Click to Tweet


Sacrifice something? Try and make me.

sacrifice for others“Sacrifice focuses on a goal. Deprivation focuses on poor me. Sacrifice lifts my head and lets me see the big picture. Deprivation turns my eyes inward so I see nothing but myself.” (Mary Hunt)

A reader in our blog community passed these thoughts along with a note: “If only this wisdom could be given to kids.”

Yes, but– for starters, sacrifice is giving up something valuable to me.

Human beings don’t do this easily.

For another thing, sacrifice costs me something.

Money, time, what I want when I want it. If it doesn’t cost us, how can it be a sacrifice? But isn’t there a reward in sacrifice?

The reward is perhaps the best way to introduce children to the concept of sacrifice.

I’ve taken kids to a shelter for women and children where they saw who was receiving their donations of clothing and toys… and these donations were not entirely their castoffs, but items we had chosen and purchased. The children had a lot to say on the way home as they processed their experience. Their spirits lifted when they saw that they had done something good. Maybe a little serotonin dropping into their circulatory system helps? I want them to know the good feeling they get after making the choice to bless someone else. Some children will decide they want to feel it again– and that it’s worth the sacrificed involved. My goal was to show them that sacrifice can produce a good feeling equal to the feeling they get when their own wishes have come true.

Show them the greater good.

Whatever children give up is generally only temporary. They will get more of it–sometimes sooner, sometimes later. To focus on the negative – the act of depriving oneself – doesn’t work well in almost any avenue of life. Better to pivot toward the positive – the achievement of something far more worthy than whatever valuable possession or enjoyment they gave up.

Tweetable: When a child sacrifices something valuable to him, in order to make life better for someone else, we can point out the rewards. Here are some ways to do that.  Click to Tweet


Grandparenting to the 3rd and 4th generation

grandparenting through lettersA friend of mine told me how he stepped up his grandparenting last January. He said, “I began writing a weekly letter to my grandkids (five live in Australia and two live in California). My main purpose is to tell them that I love them. I also share something about how God shows up in my everyday life, as well as to share about me and my family. I don’t get much time with the grandkids in Australia, so this is an opportunity to help them get to know their dad’s (my son’s) family.

He continued, “I share this with you because I’m convinced that I am to have a three or four generation perspective. I’m also convinced in my heart that if I don’t do this, no one will do it in quite the same way I am. Helping these young grandkids know that I love them and that I love God is imperative.”

Grandparenting through farming

grandparenting through farmingGeorge Hendry is a farmer in Napa Valley, CA. He has been farming the same vineyard since 1939. He spoke with me recently about his approach to bringing the younger generations into the family business. Notice the similarity to spiritual development. “I tell my grandchildren that farming is hard work. It’s not just a 40-hour a week job. It requires quite a commitment. Only go into it if that’s truly what you want to do. It’s okay if you don’t want to, but know what you’re getting into.

“The 3rd generation is on board and committed. It is yet to be determined what the 4th generation will do because they are still so little. I spotted some in the 2nd generation who were interested, and some who were not. It depends on their motivation. You have to really love farming and cooperate with what nature delivers to you. Don’t try to force things.” Mr. Hendry implied that relative to grandchildren, it’s the same principle: Let them discover who they are and what they are motivated to do.

These are two grandparents with a view toward legacy and destiny who continue to make an impact on their families.

Tweetable: Grandparenting with an eye toward the 3rd and 4th generations through two men’s personal stories. Read more here. Click to Tweet

My most important lesson from teaching anger management

My rewards for almost ten years spent as an anger management instructor: I unlearned some destructive habits and learned new, healthier ways to express my own anger. All of this was taking place while I was teaching others about their anger! Funny how that works. The same thing is true as we teach and guide the children in our lives: sometimes we learn as much as they do.

An idea that changed my whole outlook

One particular insight, found in The Anger Workbook, catalyzed my paradigm shift:

My most important lesson — Anger is the emotion of self-preservation, given to us by God.

As a child I thought my parents were teaching me to get rid of anger, so I grew up suppressing it: “Who me? Angry?”  So it was hard to accept that anger might serve an important purpose. Much later in life, through the testimonials of my adult students, I saw that they got angry most often when they were ignored or mistreated. It was part of their defense system.

Doing some self-reflection, I owned the fact that I hated when my personal boundaries were violated. Slowly I admitted that anger could be a way to preserve my personal worth, basic needs and basic beliefs.

Anger is designed to protect me!

anger managementAs I began to own more and more of my angry feelings whenever I felt demeaned or disrespected, I was on my way to greater emotional health. Now I can honestly say:

  • When my personal worth is not validated, I feel angry.
  • If I make known my needs and they are ignored, I feel hurt.
  • At times when I take an unwavering stand for my convictions (sometimes publicly, sometimes just in my most cherished relationships) and I speak up about them and I am misunderstood, I feel resentful.

It’s all about what I do next after my anger flares up.

I’m still learning that it’s my choice how I will react to my anger. Will I do a passive-aggressive maneuver as I have in the past? Will I take the easy way and suppress it?

Or maybe I will talk about what’s bothering me, but do it considering the needs and feelings of the other person. I was shocked to find that this approach actually helps my relationships grow.

Tweetable: Anger is the emotion of self-preservation but it matters–a lot–what we do next after it flares up. Click to Tweet

My new book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality, is now available on Amazon!

Where did Grandma go when she died?

Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?

Many parents have experienced a child asking difficult spiritual questions– usually at inopportune moments. While we stumble around trying to think of an answer, we feel inadequate… and sometimes startled by their questions. If you’re like most adults, you try your hardest to avoid thinking much about questions like these. So why on earth is a child asking you about them?

We talk with our children about the importance of school work, about physical health, about how to navigate social difficulties. We even talk with them about sex, drugs, and internet safety… or if we don’t, we know we should.

So why do we find it so difficult to talk with children about God?

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, foster parent, or other caregiver, this is a book to help you engage with the children in your life about their spiritual needs.

Purchase your copy in paperback here.

If you prefer the Kindle version, you can purchase it here.