Category Archives: Parenting Tips


Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Making the Most of Mealtimes

new logo When I get home from work, I’m often tired and hungry. By the time we sit down for dinner, I’m frequently ravenous (unless I’ve already devoured everything in the fridge while waiting for dinner, in which case I’m stuffed). Either way, I don’t usually have a lot to offer in terms of deep and insightful spiritual teaching.

Our evening meal is generally a time to share news about the day, but sometimes this can turn into a blame-fest of epic proportions. As they report the events of the day, my children occasionally accuse one another (and sometimes, in their enthusiasm, they’ll accidentally implicate themselves) in various types of wrongdoing. Frankly, I’d rather not know about some of those things, and the bickering that ensues among the children can wear on the soul.

Joshua, are you in there?
Much easier to curl up on the couch and hide from everyone as Joshua did this morning. He claims he was “sick” but I think he was trying to avoid work.

A few years ago I began the dinner-time practice of asking each of my children to tell us all about something for which they are thankful to God. This has a happy, dual effect: first, it produces silence, sometimes as much as ten seconds’ worth, while everyone thinks furiously over the day for the best event of the day (my children are competitive, even in thankfulness). Second, it focuses our minds on God’s gracious provision for our family, and pulls us out of the morass of blame and accusation. It is hard to be negative after the second or third round of blessings — and we’ll sometimes go around the table four or five times, if we get on a roll.

happy easter

We ALWAYS enjoy a table set with crystal and china. That’s just who we are. :) Right.

Recently, we’ve been struggling with a higher level of sibling rivalry than we’ve seen before. I decided to change our meal time conversation a little, and I asked, “What is one positive thing you can say about your brother or sister?” There was a stunned silence.

The absence of chatter stretched ominously. I ruled out a few half-hearted attempts that had to do with a sibling’s possessions or were, under the covers, insulting.

“I like my brother’s cool toy!”
“I like it when my sister isn’t so annoying.”
“I really enjoy my brother’s friends!”

The silence persisted. My children found great difficulty in thinking of praiseworthy attributes in their siblings; upon reflection, I felt convicted that my own stinginess with praise had left its mark on my family.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

As much as we enjoy watching a movie over dinner, or even just sitting around recounting the events of the day, a meal together is not to be scorned as an opportunity to instruct your children in godliness. A couple of times, recently, I’ve asked a few open-ended questions that have provoked some really interesting discussions.

computer homework

When all else fails, pull out the laptops and bond over computer time.

Mealtimes are also great because they provide some natural protection from being found out as a know-nothing parent. Sooner or later, the kids will come up with something you can’t answer; if this occurred in a normal conversation, you’d have to sit there like a deer in the headlights, mouth gaping helplessly. But at mealtime, you can spend quite a bit of time thoughtfully cutting your meat, pretending to chew, adding condiments, etc., while you think furiously.

Child: “So, Dad, why does God allow suffering?”

Dad (quickly stuffing a forkful of meat in his mouth): “Er, mumph, rumph, umph.” (Waves graciously for his wife to take a stab at answering the question.)

Mom (smiling, voice syrupy-sweet): No, you can answer that one, dear, as soon as you’ve finished chewing.

Most children will lose interest after twenty or thirty minutes of chewing.


Kathy’s Meal Time Suggestions

  1. Ask each child to list one thing for which they are thankful.
  2. Pull out the day’s memory verses and have the children go around the table, reviewing their verses. Clap, cheer and reward appropriately.
  3. Pick one characteristic of God, a Fruit of the Spirit, or godly virtue and ask the children to define the word. After the family agrees upon a definition, inquire what it means to live out that quality.

    What does ‘purity’ mean? How do we recognize it? What does it look like to be ‘pure’ today? Why does God care about ‘purity?’

  4. Play the “What If” game and ask for possible solutions.

    If you went to your friend’s house and saw him take money from his sister’s bank, what would you do?

    If you were at youth group and everyone wanted to watch a movie you know wasn’t allowed in our family, what should you do?

    Take a few minutes, ahead of time, to write different scenarios on slips of paper. Let each person select one to present to the family.

  5. Ask the children to fill in the blanks on the following sentences:

    “Today I served God by ____________ ”
    “I think my brother/sister is a good __________ ” (rodent/vermin species not allowed)
    “I know the Lord loves me because _____________ “

We’d love to hear other suggestions for encouraging, positive family meal time conversations. Leave a comment and tell us things you have enjoyed doing as a family. How do you use meal time to teach your children more about God?

Project 365 – Day 274

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Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Physical Exercise

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Raising a large family can be challenging in the Pacific Northwest. As the winter rains settle in, sometimes for weeks at a time, cabin fever can become a serious problem. The kids can get a little antsy, too.

When we first moved to Washington, Kathy used to throw the kids in the van and drive around, looking for sunshine. Happily, gas prices were comparatively cheap in those days, but it was a rather expensive and fruitless hobby. My wife eventually gave it up in favor of her affair with the coffee bean, in all its varied forms. “Nothing beats the rainy-day blues like a triple-shot-white-chocolate mocha!” she trills, cheerfully.

Later, we lived on the Olympic Peninsula, on the edge of the rainforest. During the winter, the sun would clear the ridge only between 10:30 am and 2 pm, when it deigned to shine at all. As we huddled inside, away from the incessant damp, we suffered from an excess of boundless youthful energy. We desperately sought an outlet for that restlessness; a way to take the edge off the bickering and fighting that seems to enshroud a family after a long day of being cooped-up together.

Homeschooling Pyramid
A practical application of Egyptian History studies.

Late one afternoon, in a fit of brilliance brought on by exasperation, Kathy told the older three, “Go run around the house 5 times.” After what seemed to be half an hour of whining and finding their shoes, they all trooped out, and performed the requisite number of laps around the house. Coming inside, we were amazed to hear them cheerfully laughing together. They were able to concentrate on school for at least another half-hour, finishing the day’s schooling in short order.

Sometimes parents need a ‘punishment’ that doesn’t carry with it a strong sense of condemnation for wrong-doing. Kids (whose sense of justice is often finely-tuned) bitterly resent inequity or false accusations, yet parents (many lacking the wisdom of Solomon) are often unable to accurately and specifically assign guilt or responsibility for low-level bickering. This is where physical exercise comes in so handily: you can dish it out without prejudice even where there is no specific guilt.

As I recently explained to one of my sons, “When I use physical exercise as a punishment, I’m actually giving you a gift. I’m toughening you up and helping you to build strength, which improves your health and expands your horizons of possibility as a man.”

“Uh huh,” he agreed. “Sounds good. But what about you? Don’t your horizons need to be expanded?”

“I’m already a man,” I explained patiently. “My horizons are just fine. Go run to the end of the cul-de-sac and back.”

Running (or doing push-ups, jumping jacks, sit-ups, or whatever) gives a child some distance from conflict and burns off restless energy which often leaks out in misbehavior. The kids quickly learned that being sent to run the length of our driveway a few times (about 250′ each way) was not a big deal in terms of parental disapproval — sometimes we would send them to run as a proactive measure, rather than reacting to a particular fight or disagreement. More often than not, we found that it produces a cheerful spirit and deters all kinds of sinful mischief.

Karate Kid David
As Miyagi-san said, “If do right, no can defense.”

We also use physical exercise for restitution in cases of unintentional injury, when a child hurts a sibling by accident. I usually ask two questions:

“Did you hurt your brother [sister] on purpose?”
“Did you say you were sorry?”

If the answers are “No”, and “Yes” (in that order), and the injured party agrees, then I simply require the guilty child to apologize. I usually go on to say, “You are, however, responsible for what your body does, even by accident. To convincingly demonstrate your regret to your sibling, please give them 10 push-ups.”

For some reason, the injured party is usually satisfied, and the guilty child is not resentful — physical exercise is correctly viewed as a low-level, non-condemning punishment, and so we avoid creating a stumbling block of injustice. Sometimes the kids ‘settle out of court’ by voluntarily offering push-ups when they hurt each other; it’s a great way to avoid coming to my negative attention altogether.

Push-up Five
Nobody said they had to be particularly good push-ups …

I can just see it now, as one of my children accepts an Olympic Gold Medal. “Do you have any words for the children of America? Tell us the secret of your success,” begs a reporter. “No problem,” laughs my child, confidently. “Just be as naughty as you can, and you’ll be an Olympic-class athlete in no time.”

Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t rush out to borrow money against those future cereal-box endorsements.

Project 365, Day 267

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Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Walk Away

And introducing our new Tuesday Tips logo, created just for us by Lisa’s talented daughter, Allison. Thank you, Allison!!

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As a father of five children, I’ve had ample opportunity to encourage my kids in the exercise of self-control. I can’t be everywhere, and my wife (who homeschools all five) is often tired of being ‘in charge’ when I get home from work.

Over the years we discovered that many problems facing parents are the result of letting things get out of hand rather than addressing them early. As we have shared before in other Tuesday Tips we are strong believers in the idea that training (particularly in moments of NON-conflict) is key to effective parenting.

An aggressive driver
“Come closer so I can lick you, Daddy.”

When our kids were little, they all learned that we ‘meant business’ about playing with electrical sockets. We had a carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen that beckoned strongly to little eyes and minds with its intriguing red and green diodes. We found that if a mobile baby or young toddler was within about 4 feet of it, the lure became almost irresistible. One day I spent a frustrating five or ten minutes swatting the hand of my son David, who persisted in touching the detector. Although we were tempted to simply move it, we had decided not to ‘baby proof’ our home, but rather to work on life-proofing our babies themselves.

Then we hit on the happy solution: “Walk away.”

Topknot Girl
Or, in some cases, “Drive Away.”

When our child would head toward the carbon monoxide detector, I would say, “No.” If they approached it closely, I would sharpen my voice, move closer, and repeat: “No, No.” If they reached for it, I would let them touch it, then swat the hand, and then turn them physically 180 degrees away from it, placing them down on the floor at least 5 or 6 feet from the wall. “Walk away,” I would say. We repeated this sequence at least half a dozen times before he came to appreciate the personal benefit of walking away.

Bike riding the easy way
David tries to ‘splain things to Sarah

We realized that if a child could get some distance from the temptation, they could then exercise the self-control necessary to avoid it. This phrase seemed to carry more power than “don’t touch” or a simple “no” because the toddler physically left the presence of the enticing object.

Over time, this strength grew, so that several of my children learned to give electrical sockets (and a variety of other dangerous things) a wide berth. We found that this lesson translates well to avoiding other pitfalls, and the words ‘Walk Away’ have often been an effective protection for our children from sin and harm.

Pushy Sarah
Sarah and David have really benefited from the godly example set by their older siblings.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he communicates this awesome promise of God:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. — I Corinthians 10:13

Sarah contemplates a ruler
It is sometimes hard to predict what will tempt little minds.

As I have grown in my love for Jesus, I have found this promise to be unfailingly true — there has never been a time when I called out for help that God has not provided a way for me to resist or escape a temptation. One of the best protections we have against sin is avoiding situations that present strong temptations, just as staying on the safe side of a guard rail can prevent you from falling down a cliff. This skill of avoiding trouble by walking away is true for adults, why not children also?

David Hangs Out
I have been especially impressed with David’s wisdom and self-discipline in setting boundaries to protect himself from temptation.

I first wrote this article as a response on Helium, but I decided to tweak it a little and republish it here.


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Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Paper Dolls

I have four parenting tips ready and waiting in the wings. Well, they aren’t actually written yet, but the ideas are all there ready and eager to be shared with the world at large. Tim has even more tips all set to go. Between the two of us, we are definitely full of tips. We’re so bogged down in tips we’re practically tipsy.

I started writing today’s blog at least 4 times. I even got as far as one or two paragraphs. I have some cute pictures that will go perfectly with my little piece of parenting advice (once I can find them in the overwhelming chaos that is my picture file). Unfortunately I was hit with some sort of writer’s block. Parenting Writer’s Block. It’s the worse kind. Usually I plug on, blathering away on the blog, until some sort of inspiration or creativity finally hits me. At that point, I go back, start again and re-write until I get a blog that is publishable.

Rachel works away

We all went outside to bask in the sunshine. I read our school book and the children cut out paper dolls. It was perfect.

Today, however, it was not meant to be. First my sweet friend, Tina, called from Thailand. We Skype (free internet chatting) whenever we can. The headset wasn’t working on my end so I had to frantically type out instant messages to Tina telling her not to hang up but give us time to switch to a different computer. Tim was wonderful and got things working on the laptop.

Next Tim’s old Army roommate called. They haven’t spoken for over five years so there was much catching up to do. Obviously this required me to pay attention and listen. I couldn’t possibly write a blog while Tim had an old friend on the phone.

In the middle of that chat, some friends dropped by for the grand computer switcheroo. They were dropping off their (slightly broken, “please fix me”) computer and picking up an old spare of ours. It was so nice to visit with friends, unexpectedly. Since I was in the middle of my Parenting Writer’s Block, I spent a good portion of the visit bugging Holly for ideas for a quick and concise tip. Between us we have ten children, surely we should be able to come up with some fodder for an easy tip. Holly gave me a great idea and I might just ask her to come and guest write on the blog sometime.

dolls galore

After our company left, my brother Dan called. Dan is a late night telephoner and loves having our 3 hour time difference work in his favor when he’s in the mood for a chat. He can call me at midnight his time and know it’s only 9 pm here. We talked for a LONG time. He also had a good idea for a parenting tip.

Sure, everyone has great ideas but that only goes so far if I can’t ever get to the computer. :)

Now it’s close to midnight and I still haven’t shared a parenting tip. Tim is going to be appalled, “You’ve compromised the integrity of our Tuesday Tips for Parenting,” he’ll say. He’s a big one for integrity and moral high ground, especially since it’s my turn to write the tip and he’s cheerfully off in bed, sound asleep.

Today’s tip centers around an old fashioned form of entertainment – paper dolls. It’s more of a craft idea than an actual tip. My children love Polly Pockets, Littlest Pet Shop, Playmobil and toy soldiers. At the same time, there is something very appealing and satisfying about the simple paper doll. I found a wonderful website, Making Friends, that carries a basic paper doll (in various forms) that you can print (either in color or outline). The dolls are sweet and easy to cut out. After you choose a doll, there are several pages of hair styles available to print, and many outfits (in theme, season, or career).

sarah's collection

The paper dolls kept the children content and busy for a good portion of the afternoon, hours really. They worked on them while we did our Bible lessons, during our reading time and on into the evening. I was pleased to see camaraderie — sharing of dolls and outfits, helpfulness — assistance in cutting out dolls and outfits, and overall politeness in the children. They were well behaved and pleasant during the entire paper doll craft time.

Check out these dolls. I printed them out in fast draft, on cardstock. The color is richer if you print on a darker setting but fast draft conserves ink. The cardstock paper is a definite as the dolls are flimsy otherwise. Get out the scissors and be prepared to do quite a bit of cutting.

cutting away

David and Daniel enjoyed the activity a much as their sisters.

Enjoy and come back for some other deep and insightful tips. I promise the writer’s block will be over by next week.

Project 365 – Day 253

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Tuesday Tips for Parenting — Doing a Thorough Job

As is the case with many parents of large families, Kathy and I are engaged in an elaborate and diabolical conspiracy to live a life of ease and luxury by extracting the maximum amount of work out of our children. Or so some of them they seem to think, based on the complaints we hear.

“I have to do the dishes again?” wails Weasel, my middle boy.

“Do you ever want to eat again?” snips Latte, my wife, in response. She gets a little tetchy about the dishes, I’ve noticed.

As it turned out, he did want to eat, and began clearing the table in a desultory fashion, scuffing his feet and doing his best to imitate the downtrodden masses. “Say, what’s with Weasel and the downtrodden masses?” quipped my daughter Nettle, as she bounded through the room.

Clearing the table
It is sometimes hard to rally the troops once dinner is over.

One of the things that irks me about the work my children do, is that it seems to involve a lot of checking up on them, which significantly detracts from my life of ease and luxury. No sooner do I take my eyes off Weasel and his dish-duty, and he is out the door and halfway to Montana. Dirty dishes slouch sullenly on every available surface, mute testimony to the fact that Weasel has ‘washed the dishes’ only for very low values of the words ‘wash’ and ‘dishes’.

I call him back, and explain that I wanted a thorough job of dish-washing. He looks at me blankly. “This means,” I expound patiently, “that all the counters should be clean and washed, and all dishes washed and either put away or in the dishwasher.” Weasel sighs deeply, and returns to his task, as I regale him with lively discourse on the meaning of the words ‘clean’ and ‘put away’.

Sarah uses her head
Even David and Sarah are sometimes pressed into service.

Sometimes I work through three or four iterations of this, and the lesson doesn’t always ‘stick’. I often feel that I am simply repeating myself, ad infinitum. It is hard to keep your cool when you think you’re not getting through at all.

My mind, often prone to wander, takes a side trip to the early 1970′s, when my parents had the onerous duty of teaching me to wash the dishes. “Never mind,” they concluded, after only a few dozen attempts. “Let’s have your brother wash the dishes, and you can dry ‘em. Even if you do a crummy job, they will eventually dry on their own.” It was heartwarming to have my parents believe in me so firmly.

Sarah washes Mom's van
It is amazing how much dirt can be found on a car, when you only wash once or twice a year.

My mind returned from its journey, tongue lolling out unrepentantly like a runaway dog, and I collared it firmly and dragged it back inside my head. Not wanting to give up as easily as my parents, I pondered long and hard about a way to teach this important lesson of diligence in a job, and then, one day, I happened upon the answer by accident.

My lovely wife was away, probably attending a Starbucks Grand Opening in Spokane. “It’s less than five hours away, and the grande mocha frappuccinos are half price!” she pleaded.

For some reason I wanted to make a good impression when she returned, perhaps to prepare the ground for my “We need to buy a new computer” offensive, craftily scheduled to coincide with my upcoming birthday. I was busy working on something (probably field-testing a new hammock design), so I told the kids that I wanted them to clean the kitchen. “When you finish,” I promised, “I’ll take you to Baskin Robbins!”

As they cheered, I dropped the bombshell: “I want you to do a thorough job,” I told them firmly. “Pretend you’re mom, about to leave on a long trip.”

David hoses
The temptation to misuse the hose is very strong, but David is (usually) pretty careful …

As with many wives, Latte does much of her house-cleaning just before we leave on an extended journey, preferably while I am waiting in the car. “Just four more loads of laundry, dear!” she shouts encouragingly while grabbing a paint brush to fix a spot of trim she missed on a child’s bedroom ceiling. “Once I rearrange all the china and itemize everything in the garage, I’ll be ready to go,” she promises. I do a lot of my reading in the car.

Slug, my oldest son and a devoted fan of Baskin Robbins, immediately took charge. Marshalling the troops, he made sure that the kitchen was scoured from top to bottom, until it gleamed. Astounded at their ability, but true to my word, I rushed them off and bought them ice cream cones … it wasn’t until later that they discovered the true cost of those cones.

Now, whenever they ask me what kind of a job to do, I grin evilly and say, “Just pretend I am waiting to take you to Baskin Robbins. That’s the kind of job I want you to do.”

My son Slug read a draft of this post, and shook his head. “You don’t really make your point very clearly,” he opined. “Whoop-de-do, the kids washed the dishes and you took ‘em out to Baskin Robbins. What kind of tip is that?” I guess he’s right — I’ll take this opportunity to clarify. Some would-be writers have to go through all the tedium and expense of mailing their drafts off to distant editors, and often wait days or even weeks for criticism and fiendish rejection letters. Happily, I am spared all that effort and can rely on merciless nitpicking at the drop of a hat, by members of my own family.

Daniel scrubs
I’ve often noticed that the cleanliness of our cars corresponds closely to the height of our children.

Whether you’re a child or a grown-up, you rarely know what you can accomplish until you are sufficiently motivated. I hope I’ll never forget one of the lessons I learned in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Our drill sergeants, each one striving to surpass the others as a maniacal fiend, marched us out to the ‘confidence course’ one dark morning. Chuckling cruelly, Sergeant Thumbscrew walked us through the course once before turning us loose with these ominous words: “The squad with the slowest time has to repeat the course.”

That was the day I discovered that I could ascend a 50-foot ladder of logs in about 10 seconds, and that the fear of falling to my death was as nothing compared to my dread of Sergeant Guillotine. I never would have thought that I could complete that grueling obstacle course at all, let alone at a dead run. Staff Sergeant Gibbet wrung every last drop of energy out of us as we completed the course four times that day, and greatly expanded my confidence in the capabilities of my physical body.

Sometimes a parent can be fooled or distracted by the smoke screens and excuses that children love to offer:

  • “I don’t know how!”
  • “It’s too hard!”
  • “Nobody told me that was part of this job!”
  • “I can’t find a (sponge, broom, insert critical equipment here), so I can’t do it!”

On about the same frequency as full solar eclipses, the excuses are true; more often, though, it is simply a matter of motivation. Ever since the Baskin Robbins incident, I find myself asking my children this question: “If I promised to take you out for ice cream as soon as you did a good job on that chore, would you be able to do it, quickly and thoroughly?” Now that they have a tangible picture of a job done well through strong motivation, their confidence in attempting difficult chores is substantially improved.

Blue-tongued skinks
I’ll admit, sugar in its varied forms is a key weapon in my parenting arsenal.

As my children grow in grace and maturity, I hope to teach them to be motivated by a passion to please and glorify God, rather than by a double scoop of Chocolate Chunk Royale. Ultimately, I suspect that God’s rewards go considerably beyond 31 flavors; but that is, perhaps, a discussion for another day. In the meantime, I can’t say I mind the occasional trip to Baskin Robbins, myself. :)

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