Why I finish holiday preparations early–try it.

By now, family members are accustomed to me asking for holiday Wish Lists or kids’ current clothing sizes in October.  Why am I making preparations so early?

Sure, I get online and order before the Sold Out box shows up and I’ve reduced the stress level I caused myself with the “Help!–I need more hours in my day” cry.

But it’s nothing like that.

With preparations done, I’m free to carry a message of grace and love to the vast number of people who need it in December.

preparations decoratingDone with our personal preparations, we can look, listen and respond to others who feel things like this:

  • “The problem with all the Christian holiday displays is that…others feel alien in comparison. We’re the other Americans, the hyphened Americans. I love the multi-culturalism of our nation, the myriad ethnicities and histories. Let’s really celebrate it.” (Shahar Lubin)
  • “I don’t mind the pageantry of Christmas….As long as my views [as a skeptic] are respected and the fact that I don’t attend church regularly doesn’t make me a lesser person in [a Christian’s] eyes, I’m perfectly fine.” (Ryan Johnson)
  • “And worst of all, the endlessly expanding extravagance of gifts and parties actually makes these days incredibly stressful for millions of people leading to higher depression and suicide rates. Christmas kills, if inadvertently so.” (Edward Clint)

Be present for your neighbor and for those you don’t know well.

Walk in the opposite spirit. I’m with EJ Dionne who said, “I find it decidedly un-Christian to insist on aggressively pushing Christmas greetings onto those who own religious commitments are different from mine.”

With a headstart on preparations, we can keep an open mind and an open calendar.

A special ed teacher, writing in O Magazine, tells of being on the receiving end of a boy who was paying attention.

“One year a boy in my 5th grade class lost his mother in a car accident…..At Christmastime he saw the other students giving me gifts, so he came in with a two-liter bottle of ginger ale. He said he looked around his house and wanted to get me something special, and he knew I liked soda. I cried.  

“Every year at this time, we are called to renew our hope that cold indifference and smug complacency can be overcome by a humble and gentle love powerful enough to inspire [us all].” (EJ Dionne)

Tweetable: Big rewards lie in store for people who make themselves buckle down and get holiday preparations done early. The reward I’m thinking of is not what you think. More here. Click to Tweet

This Halloween visit is a “spirit-ual” experience

A good friend of mine shares her young daughter’s Halloween blessing!

Halloween blessingI used to pick up my daughter every Wednesday from kindergarten and make the hour-long trek to see my father-in-law at his nursing home. I encouraged her to think of something to tell her grandfather. Sometimes I even brought other children with me. On Halloween, she went in costume.

I saw these visits as a blessing on several fronts.

My father-in-law got a visit from a sweet girl who loved him, was happy to bestow kisses and  sit on his lap.

The other residents of the home got to see a pleasant child who always brought something clever with her:

  • The latest kindergarten project that I didn’t want. (I took pictures of great projects and kept those. My daughter then freely gave the projects away.)
  •  Flowers or a piece of nature. She was great with dandelions.
  • A balloon. (Who would have thought of that? The last belly laugh I got out of my father-in-law came from batting the balloon with his granddaughter.)

My daughter learned that people are worth visiting and not to be afraid of the elderly or those in wheelchairs.

Halloween elderlyShe grew up to work in a nursing home in college and took her sweet nature for the patients with her. Once she even took time to discuss a woman’s weightier questions about life and death and eternity as a result of not being afraid.

Tweetable:  An elderly friend or family member might appreciate a visit from your children in their Halloween costumes. Can you fit it into the schedule this week? Click to Tweet

Seek opportunities to experience awe with kids

awe inspiring fireworks“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things,” according to Dacher Keltner. He leads UC Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab and he helped Facebook create the recent additions of emoji’s to the Like feature.

When is the last time you felt awe?

For me, it was experiencing a whole sequence of events line up so that I was in the right place at the right time to be of assistance to someone. The sheer number of converging variables demanded an explanation beyond coincidence.

For Immanuel Kant: “Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”

Michael Lerner says: “Nothing is more contagious than genuine love and genuine care. Nothing is more exhilarating than authentic awe and wonder.” He says that the universe produces a feeling of awe for him.

Goodness. Beauty. Truth.

Adults and children alike experience awe. We hold that in common. Feeling amazed by goodness, beauty or truth seems to be a universal human response. I ask myself, “Is awe one of the pathways God provides for humanity to experience God?  Could it be that feelings of awe are yet another attempt made by a loving God to connect with each of us? How can I provide awe-inspiring experiences for the children in my life?”

Ideas for kids

The second half of this article gives specific ideas of how families can experience awe.awe nature walk

Paula Scott, from her article here on awe, adds another idea, “High school teacher Julie Mann takes her students on ‘Awe Walks’ to connect with nature or art. When they write about these experiences and share them in the classroom, she says, kids who never talk in class or pay attention come to life. ‘It helps them feel less marginalized, with a sense that life is still good.’ She suggests journaling, collage, photography, drawing as ways for students to reflect about awe for time, space, amazing events and people.”

Click to Tweet: We call it goosebumps, spine-tingling, tears in our eyes amazement. Good ideas here to add more wonder to everyday life. Click to Tweet

Challenge kids to excellence without criticism’s sting

My husband Bob, even in his 60’s now, remembers his junior high school art teacher. His job doesn’t require much by way of drawing skills, but he does have to sketch the occasional diagram or flow chart to illustrate a concept. Often while doing that, he finds himself apologizing for his lack of artistry.

He was generally a good student, but not in art class.

The art teacher told him he’d pass him under one condition: that he never enroll in another art class again. Now, Bob can tell that as a funny story, meant to make fun of his lack of artistic skills, but I find it deeply sad.

Think about the impact of that comment coming from a teacher. Granted, some people have more innate ability than others, but everyone can grow. What would a comment like that sound like had it come from a math teacher? “You’re no good at math. Why don’t you give up and focus on something else?”

True, my husband had no innate talent for art. But what are some other ways his art teacher could have approached the situation?

Excellence without the sting

  • Skills can be learned. Focus on teaching skills. Not everyone is destined to become an artist, but everyone can improve their drawing skills and move toward basic competency.
  • excellence in creativityDefine art more broadly as creativity. Maybe drawing isn’t everyone’s preferred medium, but that doesn’t mean artistry can’t be expressed in other ways. Some people are creative with words, with ideas, with people, with structures. Find that creativity.
  • Enjoy the act of creating art. Instead of feeling shame over the results, learn to experience joy in the creative process. This is the equivalent of singing in the shower– who needs an audience when expression is the goal?

How do parents handle similar issues with our children?

Do we place such an emphasis on excellence and proper behavior that we discourage or shame our children when they don’t fit the cultural standards?

Correction can be discouraging

excellence social skillsA friend of mine recently saw a mother and her three-year-old daughter at church. She was a cute, sweet little girl and my friend said hi to her, smiled and waved. The little girl immediately hid behind her mother’s legs and her mother began prompting her: “Say hi back, Klarissa.” And she started crying.

My friend felt bad for putting the girl into the situation in the first place, for it was one she recognized. Her own daughter, now a teenager, had responded the exact same way when she was younger.

Not everyone is naturally good at talking with people they don’t know very well. Yet it’s a skill that everyone will need at a basic level.

What if this mother explained to my friend– in front of her child– that she’s not very good socially and therefore excused from giving a polite response? On the other hand, what if she forced her to carry on lengthy conversations with strangers regularly, paying no heed to her natural inclinations? Both extremes can be damaging.

Or correction can be effective.

What the mother did was talk with her daughter at home and tell her, “Sometimes when we’re out, people I know will say hello to you. You don’t have to talk with them for a long time, but it’s polite to say hello back.” They practiced it and she understood the expectation. Next time they ran into that situation in public, the girl still hid, and the mother still had to prompt her to say hi back… but she had courage and did it. And her mother praised her for the effort.

This type of approach is the better one for setting her up to have successful social skills in the future: encouragement, teaching, practice, and taking small steps forward… even in areas we’re not naturally good at.

Tweetable:  We want kids to do their best, performing with excellence. Our criticism is intended to spur them on to a higher level, but here is a timely reminder to check ourselves before our words sting.  Click to Tweet

5 coaching questions to use with your teenager

By Tara Miller, guest blogger

coaching questions teenThe mother of a 16-year-old girl decided that instead of giving her daughter relationship advice– which she knew would likely be unwelcome and unheeded– she’d take a coaching approach instead. She’d ask questions and reflect back only what she was hearing. So she said to her daughter, “I know you’re struggling with your relationship with your boyfriend right now and considering whether to break up with him or not. I have something I think might be helpful. What if I ask you five questions, and just listen to own responses without giving any advice or feedback or suggestions?”

“Well…” said the daughter uncertainly, “What are the questions?”

“They are five basic questions that can be applied to almost any situation: What’s working? What’s not working? What are you learning? What needs to change? What’s next?”

“I guess those sound safe enough… not like they’re trying to push me into making a particular decision.”

coaching questions teens date“Okay, what’s working?”

“We have fun sometimes when we’re hanging out. He can be really funny and I like going out.”

“Anything else?”

“Also, it’s really nice just to have a boyfriend. It’s not like I’d be going out with anyone else if I weren’t going out with him.”

“What’s not working?”

“Well, he can be really argumentative sometimes. And he talks a lot… often about things I’m not very interested in like video games. That can be boring. Sometimes it’s hard to me to get much airtime in our conversations. And when I do, he kind of dismisses my opinions if I disagree with him.”

“What are you learning?”

“Some of the things I thought I wanted in a boyfriend are important– like wanting someone who is outgoing because I’m really not. But also I’m finding there are limits to that. Maybe being outgoing, but not talking ALL the time.”

“So you’re re-thinking through what qualities are important to you?”

“Yes. And I’d like someone I agree with on some basic beliefs. I’m surprised how differently we think about important issues like politics and what’s important in life and how we interact with our friends.”

“What needs to change?”

Without a breath or a pause, she responded, “He does!” Then both mother and daughter started laughing. Because when you realize the whole person needs to change, rather than just making adjustments in a relationship, the decision has become clear. This couple was simply not a good fit.

“What’s next?”

When they had recovered, the mother asked, “What’s next?” And they talked through a plan how for to break up in a respectful and appropriate way that would take into account that they still had to see each other in various settings.

These five questions can be applied to just about any situation where you want to leave a person room to reflect and consider an issue without being told what to do. Simply ask the five questions, asking “anything else?” to make sure you have gotten all of their thinking, and give them space to process. You’ll be amazed at how much becomes clear and how empowering the process is for teens.

Tweetable:  You’ll be amazed at how much becomes clear to teens when a parent simply asks these five questions, asking, “anything else?” to make sure you’ve got all of their thinking–and give them space to process. Click to Tweet

Father’s Day: time for kids to make a card

Father's Day artLucky moms! Kids are in school when Mother’s Day rolls around. Teachers and aides orchestrate the card and gift projects. Dads are not so fortunate. But you can step into the teacher’s shoes and provide fine gift ideas–and for the cards, some messages for the handmade Father’s Day card, courtesy of those holiday professionals at Hallmark. See the complete article here.

Father's Day gamesTry to make this fun!

Start by asking some conversation starters to help you and the child focus.

  • How are you and your dad the same?
  • What is your dad really good at?
  • What makes you proud of daddy?

Father’s Day message starting points:

Now the child might be more ready to write a brief message of appreciation.

  • “You taught me many of the important things I know like….
  • “I don’t know where I’d be without your….
  • “You’re in some of my favorite memories like….
  • “Thank you for being there with just the___ (eg. love, wisdom,  guidance) I need.

If the relationship is complicated

One Hallmark writer suggests that the child, “Be warm and sincere in your message. Focus on what’s positive and true between you. Tell him you’re thinking of him. Or simply wish him a great day.”

Family relationship not required for Father’s Day cards

Father's Day swimThere are plenty of father-like figures in people’s lives, even it’s they’re not officially relatives. Even if the child’s father is present in his or her life, a card for a man who is making spiritual, emotional or relational deposits in the child’s life deserves to hear about it.

  • “Having you in my life has made all the difference in the world to me because….
  • “You’ve always gone above and beyond to support me and celebrate important times in my life, like when….
  • “I don’t know where I’d be without your….

If the child is very young

Consider doing a questionnaire or interview format with the child, like this example. It’s the kind of activity some teachers do for Mother’s Day.

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”Mark Twain