Category Archives: Parenting Tips


Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Notes for Pennies

My, how quickly Tuesdays arrive. In an attempt to cover up the fact that I hadn’t come up with anything include the children in the writing of this week’s parenting blog, I asked Joshua for help this morning. Our conversation went something like this:

Mom: Joshua, what parenting tip should I cover this week?
Joshua: [Blank, slightly hostile stare]


Mom: You know, for our Tuesday Parenting blog.
Joshua: [Blank stare followed by dramatic shrug] Again, Mom?

I beg of you ...

Mom: [Slightly exasperated now] Help me out here, Josh, can’t you think of any interesting parenting tips or hints I could share?

Joshua: [Looking over his shoulder, calculating the distance needed for escape] Hmmm. Um. Let’s see, um. [Long pause]

Mom: Never mind. I’ll figure something out.
Joshua: [Relief etched in his features, exhausted by the effort] Great, good luck.

you gotta do it yourself mom

Mom: [Sarcastically] Yeah, thanks Joshua, you’re a big help.
Joshua: [Big smile, racing off to do something easy, like math] Any time, Mom.

So obviously Joshua is not going to be a big source of help with this blogging series. Tim had a long, tiring day hanging out with the President. Oh, nope, that’s not quite right. He was in TRAFFIC while the President’s motorcade went by. He was “near” President Bush for a good part of the afternoon. He’s too tired to think up brilliant, witty, or wise parenting tips. I’m on my own. This may be a short one. :)

Notes for Pennies – Sitting in Church

Our church has two morning services. Tim leads an adult Sunday School class during the first hour. The children are all in classes of their own during this time. We do our best to span almost the entire youth department — from kindergarten all the way to middle school. Don’t even ask, we will NOT be adding a baby to the nursery.

During the second hour we sit together in church, with the exception of Sarah who stays for a another hour of preschool. She will join us when she transitions to her new class in the Fall. It’s both a joy and a challenge having the children in church with us.

They wiggle and squirm and fight over who gets to sit next to Mommy. They drop their books, bother each other, sit when you’re supposed to be standing, clap when the clapping ends and just generally distract everyone within a three pew radius.

That covers the first 10 minutes.

They have even been known to, and this is the worst offense of all, knock over the precious cup of contraband (a.k.a. hot coffee) smuggled into the sanctuary. Repeatedly.

My friend Christy stepped in to help the situation with this awesome Christmas present.

gotta love me some starbucks

Now my coffee remains in a spill-proof, safe, travel mug (staying hot for hours).

I want my children to learn how to worship God with a body of believers and develop the discipline of sitting quietly and hearing from the Word. I would like them to experience church intergenerationally, not always segregated by age, separated into their own classes. I found a wonderful article online written specifically about including children in a worship service. One portion of the essay featured a check list for the church staff or worship team.

  1. Our pastor includes at least one example, illustration, or story in each sermon that relates to children’s experiences.
  2. Our church education program teaches children about the basic actions of worship and worship-related words that are difficult to understand (such as “alleluia,” “amen,” or “sacrament”).
  3. There are children regularly involved in the worship leadership team of our congregation.
  4. Our pastor has met with every church education class to answer the questions the children have about worship.

What a richness and depth it would add to family worship if some of these ideas were embraced by our churches today.

One thing we have started to do with Daniel and Rachel, who are old enough to sit still and listen but a bit too young to be completely engaged in the sermon, is Note Taking for Pennies.

I look over the sermon notes and make a list of four words that follow the theme of the sermon. For example, we have been studying Hebrews 11 this month, examining the heroes of faith. In this case, I might write down:


rachel's bible

Rachel is poised and ready to take some power notes!

I leave two spaces empty so they can add words themselves that they notice emerging as key themes. I encourage them to listen carefully to the sermon and make a tally mark each time the pastor repeats a word on their list.

Here is the key factor — I pay them one penny for each recorded word!

This may not seem like much but it rapidly adds up. I’ve been known to come out $3 or $4 poorer in a single church service. It’s worse if the children have friends visiting. The kids hand me their papers with glee. I’m just glad they didn’t stand up in the middle of the sermon, shouting: “Bingo!”

I try to look surprised and overwhelmed by the big bucks the note taking costs, all the while hiding my joy. My loss has become their gain as they walk out of the worship service with a deeper understanding of the scriptures, an awareness of the themes repeated in the passage, and a mind that has been engaged during the sermon rather than distracted and bored.

I will gladly pay that price. BINGO indeed!

Project 365 – Day 239

Edited to say – this series of pictures of Joshua were from a different day when we were being silly. He is a very helpful young man and is more than willing to assist on our blogging projects whenever possible. I didn’t mean to misrepresent him for the sake of some blog humor.

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Tuesday Tips for Parenting – First Time Obedience

As Kathy and I continue to try our hand at Parenting Tips, this week’s turn has fallen to me. Those of you who read my earlier pointer may see some overlap with today’s offering — indeed, the game we play to teach our children to come when we call is an outgrowth of this parenting principle.

A significant aspect of raising young children involves telling them to do things, or (perhaps even more often) telling them not to do things, as in one of our oft-used obscure movie quotes: “Stop doing things!” (Hint: Steve Martin has a starring role in this 1990 film.) Sometimes I can really identify with the frustration of the FBI agent in that story, thrust into a pseudo-parental role, responsible for a decidedly over-active ‘child’. In spite of the informational trickle-down among the children which a large family enjoys, sometimes it seems as though all I do is give instructions, and a lot of them seem to be the same kind of instructions I gave just a short time before.

Pensive Sarah
As the ‘caboose’ child, Sarah sometimes doesn’t get the word on what is required.

One key principle Kathy and I embraced early in our parenting is the idea of first-time obedience. It is pretty simple — basically it means that when you give your child an instruction, they comply, fully and immediately. Surprisingly, many parents don’t hold their children to this standard, in spite of some of the obvious benefits.

Mom: “George, stop throwing rocks into the street.”

(George ignores his Mom, throws another rock.)

Mom: (at a higher volume) “George, I said, stop throwing rocks right now!”

George : (evaluates the situation and factors in the words ‘right now’; determines that some verbal response is called for, to avoid immediate punishment.) “I’m almost done!” he shouts over his shoulder.

Mom: “I’m counting to three. One … two … two-point-five … !”

George: “Aw, Mom, I’m having fun!”

Mom: (now slightly red in the face) “I’m serious. Three!”

George: “OK, OK.” (George heaves a deep sigh and throws one last rock into the street, narrowly missing a neighbor’s car, and makes a big show of trudging up the driveway.)

Mom: (smiling for the benefit of onlookers) “There’s a good boy.”

I first heard the parenting style illustrated above, described as ‘Threatening, repeating’. Gary and Anne-Marie Ezzo asked this revealing question of some of the couples they interviewed:

“What happens when you get to three?”

They were often told, “Oh, little George knows that when I get to three, he’ll really be in trouble.” They proudly continue, “He almost never disobeys after I get to three.”

Ezzo’s compelling rejoinder, “Why not move whatever consequence happens at ‘three’, forward, so that it happens at ‘one’?”

Many parents don’t realize that, by engaging in a series of threats and repeated instructions, they are actually training their children not to obey. It sounds crazy, but that is exactly what is accomplished. The child, after only a few iterations, quickly discovers that Mom and Dad aren’t serious until an instruction has been repeated three or four times. They push the limit, as do all self-willed people, and evolve a sophisticated system of evaluating how close they are to being punished, sometimes to the fifth or sixth decimal point. As children, they do occasionally misjudge the popping veins on their parent’s forehead, and encounter consequences … but on the whole, they are able to pursue their own will and avoid obedience to a large degree. Little surprise that some children grow up and encounter difficulties with employers and law enforcement personnel — they have been trained from early childhood not to obey authority, but rather to believe that they will always, even after repeated warnings, have a last-minute chance to comply without encountering any consequences.

Cheerful obedience
No one said first time obedience couldn’t be joyful, or at least, they didn’t say it to Joshua.

I firmly believe that parents who do not require first-time obedience, are denying their child a significant blessing from God. By permitting (and even encouraging) rebellion through the establishment of such a low and unscriptural standard, the child is placed outside the ‘circle of protection’ that God erects for those who follow His commands for much of their childhood. More about that ‘circle of protection’ in another post, sometime.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

Delayed obedience = disobedience” is one of the teaching formulae emphasized by the Ezzo’s in their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum, and I’m inclined to agree with it. A child who hears a parent’s instruction and (assuming they are able) does not immediately comply, is a child who is in rebellion. No amount of parental prevarication will obscure this truth. Please note that this article is primarily aimed at parents of children in the early years (aged 18 months to five), and in the middle years (six to eleven); different phases of parenting require different strategies, as briefly discussed in The Effective Prayer of Righteous Men.

First time obedience means that when you tell your child to drop a rock or to stop yelling at their sister or to walk away from a steep incline, they do it. If it isn’t done within a few seconds, without argument or emotional backlash, then it isn’t first-time obedience.

Shoe torture
Some instructions are more fun to obey than others, like when you are ordered to tickle your little brother.

Some parents have issues with anger, and shy away from authoritarian modes for fear that they will be negatively perceived by onlookers, friends and even spouses. This reaction is exactly backward. To illustrate this, answer this question: Which parent is more able to dispassionately and reasonably correct a disobedient child, the one who calmly gives a single instruction, or the one who has escalated through a half-dozen threats with increasing embarrassment, volume and blood pressure?

My children know that when I give them an instruction, I expect it to be obeyed immediately and completely. Those who fail to meet that standard are immediately corrected, sometimes by having to repeat whatever I told them to do several times in tedious repetition, or facing an immediate proportional consequence. I have found that by establishing a consistent standard of first-time obedience, I can avoid much of the conflict that other parents seem to experience. My children are characterized as well-behaved, gracious, cheerful and pleasant people to be around, largely because they are not in rebellion against my authority, which I hold in stewardship from God.

So why don’t more parents hold their children to this standard? I think there are several reasons; here are a few that occur to me:

  • Ignorance – many parents have never seen first-time obedience modeled, and it hasn’t occurred to them that children are capable of meeting a much higher standard than is commonly seen on the playground or in the supermarkets.
  • Laziness – some parents don’t take the time and effort required to establish a pattern of first-time obedience. In the first couple of weeks (before your children discover that you are not bluffing), it means getting up off the couch and correcting a child who didn’t obey. It means inconvenience and extra effort, usually when you are tired and inclined to overlook the misbehavior. The happy news for lazy parents is that, once established, the standard of first-time obedience does not actually require that much maintenance.
  • Misguided Philosophy — this one is the hardest to address. Some parents actually think that it is inappropriate for them to exercise authority over their children. They believe that they should ‘reason with’ their toddlers as equals and avoid direct commands or instructions. Some over-react against extreme authoritarian models they saw as children, while others have simply abdicated their parental responsibilities. Sadly, parents who cling stubbornly to this parenting model will tend not to avail themselves of advice of this nature, in spite of evident positive results.

Reading an early draft of this post, Kathy tells me that it sounds a bit harsh. Additionally, I haven’t really done a very good job of communicating our passion for capturing our child’s heart for God, and the painstaking processes we employ in training and teaching our children. She is often a good judge of how people perceive me, so I’ll address that.

First, it is not my intention to denigrate others, rather to offer some hope and a path to more effective parenting. Secondly, I cannot over-emphasize the critical need for a parent to establish, through time and gentle teaching, a solid relationship with their child. Without a deeply-rooted foundation of love, first time obedience will merely produce outward conformity without touching the heart.

A contrite spirit
Sometimes a rebuke produces a contrite spirit, and sometimes it doesn’t.

From a practical standpoint, the establishment of a high and clearly-defined standard is kinder than having a vague and intermittently-enforced standard. Why should my child have to factor in my mood, the time of day, recent history and the relative humidity when calculating how quickly to obey me? Better to make it clear and simple, so they can focus their energy on the important fun of being a child. My relationship with my son or daughter (like my relationship with my boss or my wife) will operate more smoothly and without resentment when expectations are clearly communicated.

Puzzled David
Just when you think you’ve got those tricky parents figured out, they surprise you …

First-time obedience is also a matter of trust — my children obey me quickly and completely because they can bank on my love and my willingness to lay down my life for them and for their good. I don’t order my kids around like robots, fulfilling my whims — rather I try to be sparing with my commands so my children can obey me knowing that I am asking them to do the right thing. I seek to instruct them, not out of selfish motives, but in submission to God and for the common good.

If you are characterized as a threatening-repeating parent, it will take some effort (mostly on your part) to change. You’ll want to sit down with your children and apologize for not being consistent in holding a scriptural standard of obedience. Upon reflection, you may also want to express to God a repentant heart, and ask Him for help in making a change in your family. Then clearly explain to your children that you will require first-time obedience (without argument or delay) for anything you tell them to do (or to stop doing). If you consistently correct anything that falls short of this standard, you’ll find that you have trained yourself (and, by extension, your offspring) within 3-6 weeks, depending on the age of your kids.

Although by the very nature of this post, I have set myself up as some kind of ‘parenting authority’, I strive for humilty, and I welcome any comment on this topic, especially if you feel I am in error. My desire is not to offend, but rather to offer help to other parents through a strategy that I believe to be godly, simple and effective.

Project 365, Day 232


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Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Using the Timer

Be creative in the use of a timer. It can be a stop watch, a hand held kitchen timer or even the timer on the oven or microwave. The clock is unbiased and dispassionate. It doesn’t care what day it is or who started the fight or who had more cookies, it is just there to keep track of time and count down the minutes. This is an invaluable tool for today’s moms and dads.

We use timers in our house for all sorts of things. We clock our computer game playing in 30 minute intervals. Rachel brings the timer into the living room with her, to keep track of her piano practicing time. When there is trouble and one child needs some time alone, we set the timer and send them to their room. This can either be as a part of punishment or just a well-needed rest.

joshua and daniel

These two look like they could use a time out.

When the babies/toddlers stopped napping but Mama hadn’t, we would have “quiet time” each day. The children were required to go into their rooms and play quietly. They could read or listen to music. They didn’t have to go to sleep but they did have to be quiet. This is the perfect opportunity for a timer. The children know they have to stay in their rooms until the timer rings. There is a finite beginning and ending. The timer could even be placed in view so the child can keep track of the time themselves (as long as it’s not close enough to alter – we don’t want to lose a single precious minute of Mama’s Nap Time).

building forts

Building a fort would NOT be tranquil enough for our official “Quiet Time” but it’s awfully fun and these three LOOK quiet.

During our All House Pick Up’s I will often set the timer. The children like to know the disagreeable tasks have a definite end. The phrase, “We need to clean up the house now!” is overwhelming and discouraging. The children don’t like it either. Knowing they are only required to tidy for 15 or 20 minutes somehow makes the whole process more bearable. My struggle is to be faithful to the timer and not sneak in additional minutes or make them work beyond the time allotted.

mom and rachel

I’m sure these two don’t worry about cleaning the house or tidying up, they are much too busy being pretty and enjoying the outdoors.

Yesterday I stole an idea from a magazine (or another blog or a friend, I can’t remember at this point) about using the timer to help get out of the house in a timely manner. The boys were away on their camping trip and the girls and I were getting ready for church (scandalously skipping Sunday School and going straight to the second service). Sarah wanted to show her friends at church her new flip flops (yes, fancy flip flops from Old Navy, all the rage among 5 year olds) and kept asking me when we were leaving. I told her 30 minutes, 29 minutes, 28 minutes and so on. We were both feeling a bit frustrated. Finally I told her I was going to set the timer on the stove and she could keep track of our expected departure herself.

This was a fantastic idea! Not only did it help her feel empowered and aware of the situation, it was a huge source of entertainment. Sarah pulled up a stool and watched the clock count down for over 10 minutes. As an added bonus we were actually on time for church.

When the children were arguing over the swing chair in the garage last week, I suggested they set the timer and trade places during the course of the movie. Voila, a fair and equitable solution. Everyone was satisfied, they worked things out among themselves and I was OUT of the situation.

elise and sarah

Sarah and her friend Elise don’t worry about taking turns at the park, they climb right in the swing together.

Any other innovative ways to use the timer in parenting? I’m always looking for more ideas.


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Tuesday Tips for Parenting – How to Call Your Child

As threatened promised last week, we are ready to start our new Tuesday Tips for Parenting. Our desire is to have something to share each Tuesday in the category of parenting. Please come back and visit us each week for further parenting discussion. We love to hear from you, so share your favorite tip in the comments section. Parenting is one of the most difficult and rewarding blessings in life and it is our belief that we can (and should) encourage and build each other up as parents.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Tuesday Tip for Parenting – Child Training

If you’ve ever been at a park where young children play, you’ve seen this familiar scene play out:

Mom: “Sam, it is time to go!”
Sam: (Ignores his mother, keeps playing.)
Mom: “Sam, I mean it, we have to go, now. Come here, please.”
Sam: “I don’t want to go!”
Mom: “Yes, I know, but we need to get home to get dinner ready. (Mom’s tone is pleading, now.) Daddy is coming home, don’t you want to see Daddy?”
Sam: “No, I wanna play.”
Mom: (Exasperated.) “Sam, come right now. We have to go.”
Sam: (Ignores mom, keeps playing.)

david's running

“Catch me, if you can!”

At this point the Mom usually rolls her eyes, abandons the shreds of her dignity, and rushes in to physically apprehend little Sam. Depending on how feisty Sam feels, sometimes he runs from his mother, which is good entertainment for the onlookers, but not so fun for the Mom. These kind of parents have to be pretty spry and often wear high-quality running shoes. Eventually Sam is captured, and is carried, kicking and screaming, from the park. Mom carefully avoids eye contact with anyone.

big brother

It helps to have an older brother who can do the running and fetching for you.

As amusing as this can be for spectators, this unnecessary bit of parental grief can be avoided with a tiny bit of preparation, especially if your children are young (18 months – 3 years).

Here’s how you do it:

At some point when you have a little leisure time, gather your children together and explain to them that you are establishing a new rule, that when you call them, they are to do two things:

  1. to come running
  2. to call out, “Coming, Mommy (or Daddy)!”

Then find the longest hallway or other unobstructed path in your home, and place them at one end of it. If you have very small children, one parent will need to detain them there at the ‘starting line’, because they’ll get carried away by the fun of the game and they’ll come before you call. (While the ability to come before you call would be eminently desirable in children of all ages, it isn’t sustainable in the long run without recourse to telepathy or supercomputers with predictive algorithms.)

are you talking to me

“You want me to do what??”

You’ll want to resist the temptation to place obstacles in the path, at least at first (there’s always time to make it interesting, later). Go to the far end of the hallway and establish a ‘finish line’ by kneeling down and holding out your arms. Remind your child that they are to respond verbally (“Coming, Daddy!”) and to run to you. Then call them by name, clearly and loudly.

When they arrive, hug them and praise them, and have them do it again. We found, especially with our younger children, that the excitement of running made it easy for them to forget to say, “Coming, Mommy!”, and sometimes we had to physically prevent them from running until they said it. Repeat this process at least five or ten times, hugging and praising each time.

Hmmm, not sure about this.

“So when you call, I need to come running. I’ll think about it.”

If you have older children who are on-board with the program, they can often cheer and encourage the little one who is learning the ropes. Usually at least one of our older kids wants to try it, just because it looks so fun (and everyone likes a hug from their Mom or Dad). Dads will want to brace themselves, since some of the older kids may mischievously try to knock you down. It doesn’t hurt to have ice cream afterward.

All five of our children have thoroughly enjoyed this game, and they all know from the earliest age that when we call them, they are to respond immediately, both verbally and by running (or walking quickly) to where we are. Occasionally I sweeten the pot by randomly calling them and giving a treat to whichever child responds first.

you can't make me

“Can I stick out my tongue before I come?”

Some parents don’t think it is very important, or particularly desirable, to have their children come when they call. “I don’t want my child to be some kind of robot,” they’ll say. This seems sad to me, considering that in more than one case, training of this kind has literally saved the life of a child about to step into oncoming traffic or some other hazard.

Of all the things we have taught our children, this has been one of the easiest and most satisfying. I must admit, sometimes I show off at parks and other places, just to raise the standard a bit. “Joshua, Rachel, Daniel, David, Sarah!” I’ll shout, over my shoulder, as I head for the car. The ones who hear me police up the others, and most of the time they’re all waiting breathlessly by the car, by the time I get there, to the amazement of bystanders. It’s a good thing, ’cause I’m not so very spry, these days.


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