As a proud mom of three sons, I’ve made my home more like a locker room than a designer showcase. I made sure there were couches and carpeting to decrease the likelihood of injuries. Despite all of the rough-housing and teasing, I just expected that they would be kind to each other. I never even thought they would need to “learn” to be kind. Instead, I felt they would catch it by watching me and automatically learn to be kind people. That’s not the case. Kindness is a skill that we must teach our kids, but it will last a lifetime.
Here are seven ways to teach your child kindness:
1. Model kind behavior.
I can’t overstate the fact that YOUR KIDS ARE WATCHING YOU. They are watching and listening to how you talk about your boss after a long day of work. Are you kind even when you are frustrated? It’s hard to tell your child to be friendly and thoughtful while your behavior toward others isn’t nice and kind.
Kindness begets kindness. Say something like this to your child: Hey, you know it’s trash day. I see that Mr. Smith’s can is still at the curb. Wouldn’t it be kind if we rolled it up for him?
This may be a small gesture for an elderly neighbor, but you are sowing seeds of kindness in your child’s heart.
3. Develop your child’s emotional vocabulary.
Just like we teach our children words for body parts, animals, and colors, they need words for emotions so they can express themselves kindly. Include a variety of emotions: sad, happy, angry, hurt, or embarrassed, etc. We also have to teach our children to watch body language and facial expressions. Play Emotions Charades with your child so they can learn different emotions and kind ways to respond or show how they feel.
4. Make kindness a habit.
Research has shown that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Create a list with your child of small things that you can do to be kind. Start the conversation with: I know this month we are trying to be kind to others. What is something that you can do daily? Examples include:
Smiling when you see someone.
Saying please and thank you.
Creating a Family Kindness month. where your family performs acts of kindness.
Home is the first place for our kids to learn about kindness. Your children must learn how to interact with parents, siblings, extended family, and family pets. Having specific expectations like not hitting and not yelling at others are ways to start the process.
6. Recognize when your child is being kind.
Try to “catch” your child in the act of being kind. Maybe they fed the pet when it wasn’t their turn. Perhaps they picked up something they didn’t drop. Acknowledge their kindness by saying, Thank you so much. I appreciate that you ______________.
7. Encourage kindness – even when it’s hard.
It’s easy to be kind to someone you know and like. But how do you encourage your child to be kind if they don’t like someone? Or if that someone has been unkind to them? That’s tough. Butyou get to set the standard for kindness in any situation.
You may have to have a conversation with your child to acknowledge that it may not seem fair or right. It might also be helpful to explore what that unkind child may be feeling or experiencing in their lives which may cause them to act unkindly. Lastly, praise your child for trying.
One of my proudest moments as a parent came when my youngest son was in the 4th grade. His teacher texted me to say that he chose to sit with a new student at lunch instead of his regular friends. She said this student was having some trouble fitting in and the class knew and recognized it. However, the new student immediately became a part of the group through that one act of kindness.
When we teach our children to be kind, we teach them to see the best in others. It also brings out the best in them.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Untitled-1-01-3.png5001200Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-11-11 10:53:012021-11-15 13:57:38Ways to Teach Your Child Kindness
Here are 6 things to help you keep your motivation game strong.
As a parent, it can be tough to feel motivated when there’s so much to do: for your family, work, home, yourself – you name it. It doesn’t really matter what time of year it is – it’s always something. Fall can be a hectic season for moms and dads with all the festivals, gatherings with family and friends, and the holidays looming large. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with everything on your to-do list, or you just feel like you lack enthusiasm right now.
If that’s where you find yourself as a parent, here are some ways to ignite your motivation as you and your family make the most of this time of year.
1. Remember that it starts with you.
It’s often easier for parents to live out Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that an object in motion stays in motion. It’s hard to stop when you are overrun with things to do. The thought of slowing down is overwhelming. So we put on a happy and excited face when in reality, we lack energy and motivation.
You’ve probably heard that “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s true! You have to find things that provide energy for you. It’s essential to understand that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. Actually, it allows you to be a better parent.
2. Find ways to have child-free times.
Make time in your schedule to enjoy being alone. You may have to get up early or stay up late. You may have to resort to using the bathroom as an escape. Sometimes I find myself sitting on my back porch enjoying the sound of crickets and cicadas and watching the sun go down. Whatever you have to do, make space for yourself.
3. Remember your why.
Most parents work hard to raise their children to become productive adults in society. Raising kids is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times that you are tired. You may feel like nothing is going the way you planned or thought. In those moments, remember your reason.
4. Find ways to enjoy your parenting journey.
When things are challenging, take time to reminisce. Look through old pictures and videos. Then, create new memories. Work together to find a new favorite dessert recipe and cook it together. Have an impromptu photo shoot. Go for a scenic drive and enjoy nature. Be creative and make it fun.
5. Live in gratitude.
Being a parent is one of the greatest gifts through the big things, little things, easy things, or hard things. An attitude of gratitude demonstrates that we are fortunate to have the opportunity to parent our children. (Not trying to give you anything else on your to-do list, but keeping track of your blessings and expressing thankfulness is actually good for you in so many ways!)
6. Find parenting mentors.
One way to stay motivated is by finding parenting mentors. Think about the people you know who have raised their children and exhibit the attributes you want for your children. Once you identify them, invite them out for coffee and ask them, “How did you do it?” Listen for tips that you can incorporate into your parenting.
Parenting is easy. (Said no one EVER.) HAA! Parenting is one of the hardest things you will ever do. There will be times when you feel like you have nothing to give. Many of us have felt the same way, so believe me when I say you are not alone. Feel. What. You. Feel. Then find that drive from deep inside to help you get back on track so you can be a motivated parent. You are exactly what your children need.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-7-01-1.png5001200Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-10-29 13:46:362021-11-01 10:33:42How to Stay Motivated as a Parent
You can be their biggest encourager toward success.
Part of being a parent is being your child’s biggest cheerleader, encourager, and motivator. Our kids have a lot going on in their lives, and staying motivated in school can be a challenge. It’s a responsibility and a privilege to come alongside and help them discover what motivates them.
If you study great leaders or successful people, there’s often one key common trait: they are highly self-motivated. They have clear goals, take steps to achieve them, are passionate, and aren’t crippled by failure. There are numerous theories on what causes motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, arousal-driven, or instinctual. It may be all of those or a mixture. But self-motivation is definitely a driver of success.
You can help your child discover what motivates them personally and foster an attitude of self-motivation.
Here are 5 tips for keeping your child motivated in school:
1. Create a learning environment.
Let them know that your family takes education seriously. Help your child see themselves as a good student. See the world as an educational opportunity and find different ways to help children learn. You can help them learn in the real world by using the five senses and everyday activities (no textbook required).
2. Stay positive.
This may seem obvious but being positive is the best way to encourage your child. Reinforce positive behavior with praise and support. Acknowledge when mistakes happen, then turn them into learning opportunities.
Researchers have found strong evidence that when students believe in themselves, they achieve more academically. The best way for your student to believe in themselves is for you to believe in them. Students care when they think that others care about them.
3. Get involved.
According to the National PTA, the most accurate predictor of academic achievement is not socioeconomic status or how prestigious the school is that a child attends. The best predictor of student success is the extent to which families encourage learning at home and involve themselves in their child’s education.
When parents are involved with their children’s school, they have the support to thrive and develop a lifelong love for learning. Showing interest in their studies, volunteering at school, and staying connected to their teacher are great examples of parental involvement.
Children with engaged parents are more likely to:
Earn higher grades,
Graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education,
Develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom, and
Have better social skills and classroom behavior.
Technology has made communicating with teachers convenient, but it doesn’t replace building a relationship with your child’s teacher. Parental involvement matters more now than ever. In 2016, research showed a drop in parents who believe that parent-teacher communication is effective. Knowing your child’s teacher and making sure they know you matters. Get to know other school staff as well.
4. Don’t obsess about the future.
As a parent, I want my child to be successful, but what does that mean? Does success mean they attend a top-tier college and launch a successful career? Maybe. Does it mean they discover what they love and chase that passion? Possibly. Does it mean they find ways to positively contribute to society and make the world a better place? Absolutely!
Your child’s education is essential, but don’t focus too much on what lies ahead. Help them discover what motivates them in school right now, and what makes them passionate. Help them see how they can contribute to their community now today. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in where we want our kids to go that we overlook living in the moment with them.
The future is important, and we should prepare them for what lies ahead. We don’t have to sacrifice the present in the process.
5. Reward effort.
Your child may be motivated in school by rewards, and that’s ok. Who doesn’t like a reward for a job well done? Research shows that external rewards can undermine students’ internal motivation for learning. The findings don’t mean, however, that incentives have a universally negative effect on internal motivation. In the same study, students who initially showed little interest in drawing and later received an unexpected reward for doing so chose to spend more of their free time on that activity.
Side note: It’s highly beneficial to reward effort as well as achievements. Maybe history isn’t their forte, and an average grade is the best they can achieve. If they’ve put all their effort into the work, it deserves to be recognized.
Although each student is motivated differently, if a student believes that hard work and persistence pay off, it strongly affects their motivation. Take the time to help them identify their motivators.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-1-01.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-10-26 11:09:552021-10-26 13:47:295 Tips for Keeping Your Child Motivated in School
Maybe you were like me and had a vision/dream/plan for how your life would go. During my college years, I created a five and 10-year plan for my life. It included graduating, getting a job, getting married (I was dating my future husband), buying a house, and traveling. None of my dreams had an unplanned pregnancy, which can rock your world.
Some of the things I planned did occur. I graduated from college, worked as a teacher, and got married. Eventually, other items made my list, like attending graduate school. Still, getting pregnant was down the line – way down the line.
But picture this: I was in the last semester of graduate school. I had found my dream career. I was feeling unwell but attributed it to eating bad mall food or the stress of school. But something inside said, “Go get a pregnancy test,” and I did. I still remember what I felt when those two pink lines were evident on that strip: OMG, I’m pregnant, and it’s unplanned.
If you’re in a similar situation, you may be wondering how to process all you’re feeling inside.
Here are some ways to help you process the emotions of an unplanned pregnancy:
1. Acknowledge the emotional overload.
Take time to process everything that you are feeling. It doesn’t have to happen overnight.
When I saw those two pink lines, I immediately went into denial. This can’t be happening. This wasn’t in the plan right now. Then I was bombarded with emotions like being overwhelmed, scared, nervous, excited, and a little shame and guilt because I was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Then came gratefulness because my doctor had told me it would be challenging to have a baby, and several of my friends were having trouble getting pregnant. Dealing with your emotions can take a while, no matter what they are.
2. Feel what you feel.
It’s essential to allow all that you feel to surface, even if it’s ANGER. Your natural reaction may be to push down negative thoughts or emotions. It’s better to put all your feelings on the table to deal with them. If you are angry at yourself, your partner, or even your child, it’s OK to feel what you feel. You just can’t stay there, because it’s not helpful.
3. Be prepared for your feelings to change.
You are experiencing many things right now, but that doesn’t mean you will always feel this way. If you feel angry or overwhelmed, it definitely doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out to be a parent. An unplanned pregnancy doesn’t mean your child won’t be loved or adored upon arrival. Be gentle with yourself and your spouse/partner as you both process.
4. Talk to your circle of support.
Yes, you may be on emotional overload. You have too many questions and not enough answers. Guess what? Your partner is probably dealing with the same things: shock, denial, feeling overwhelmed, or even scared. In the same way you need space and time to process, give your spouse/partner the same consideration. A healthy relationship should be the primary safe space for you to share concerns and fears about the change in your lives.
Talking to friends and family will help you recognize that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In fact, more than 45% percent of women in the U.S. have experienced an unplanned pregnancy. Sharing all that you feel in an open and safe environment allows you to process your feelings.
Emotions do not have to be destructive, and what you do with all you’re feeling can make a world of difference. So allow yourself to feel and process through what you feel. Shoving down your emotions and ignoring them aren’t beneficial to you or your situation. As you read this, you may still be in some form of shock or denial, and that’s OK. Keep moving forward and processing your emotions to get to the other side.
Remember, some of the best surprises are unplanned.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-2-01-1.png5001200Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-10-20 11:34:442021-10-20 12:10:27How to Process the Emotions of an Unplanned Pregnancy
Grandparents usually mean well. Like you, they want your child to become a great adult, but their way of showing this can cause problems. Sometimes they may seem controlling, undermining, manipulative, overbearing, or critical. They can make you feel insecure, incompetent, or small. (Imagine my thumb and pointer finger getting closer and closer to each other.) You both have desires and expectations. Sometimes, they clash and the grandparents overstep boundaries they may not even know they’ve crossed.
It can be anything: food choices, entertainment, clothing, the holidays, discipline, etc. Things they don’t think are a big deal may be huge for you. You want a good relationship with your parents and in-laws. You also want your kids to have good relationships with their grandparents. In your mind, the boundaries are designed to protect that relationship.
So what do you do when the grandparents overstep boundaries?
1. Start by resolving in your mind the reason for the boundary.
This helps you clarify why it’s important to you. How does the boundary help the child and/or family?
2. Is there a bigger issue?
Are they overstepping because of fear? Do they fear their grandchildren won’t like them as much if they don’t give them more sweets or grander holiday gifts? Maybe they’re afraid their grandkids won’t know them well if they don’t see them “enough.” They may just think the boundary is unnecessary. It’s also possible they’re trying to make up for lost time.
You don’t have to know all the answers, but talking through them with your spouse and the grandparents with an open mind can help you address bigger issues.
1. Get on one page with your spouse.
Understand 1) the boundary, 2) how it was crossed, and 3) the reason for the boundary. It’s common for the boundary to be “more important” to one spouse than the other. But sticking to the boundaries (whether you agree on the level of importance or not) is essential.
2. Talk to the grandparent.
It’s generally better for the biological child to talk to their own parent privately, away from the kids or others, though both spouses being present is a good thing. You may start the conversation with, “I was bothered when you __________,” or “I was disappointed when I heard _______________,” or “I felt disrespected as their parent when you __________.” Notice the use of “’I” statements. You’re not calling them a bad grandparent or accusing them of being something negative. You’re addressing how you felt when a particular event happened.
3. Ask why?
Tone matters. Body language matters even more than words. This part of the conversation may help you understand if there are bigger issues.
4. Stay on-topic.
Focus on the main issue, not about whether you’re a good parent or how they felt at the last holiday dinner.
5. If grandparents keep overstepping, then adjust.
However, be specific about the reasons why. Perhaps you skip a few holidays or don’t let the kids stay the night with their grandparents for a while. Be clear. This isn’t about the grandparent feeling the same way about your boundaries or trying to be someone they aren’t. It’s about raising your family and creating the family culture how you see fit.
6. Search for areas of compromise.
(I don’t mean compromising the expectation to respect boundaries.) As parents and kids grow, boundaries may change. What kids can watch on TV may change. For instance, if what grandparents feed your children is an issue, a compromise may be that the child and grandparent can prepare food to eat together once a month.
7. Separate the act from the character.
The grandparent may be manipulative, controlling, or judgmental. Pointing out their actions and crossed boundaries is more concrete and tangible than calling them manipulative. Instead of saying, “You’re manipulative. You give them gifts you know we don’t approve of,” you could say, “When you gave them that gift for Christmas that we didn’t approve of, I felt like you were manipulating to get them to like you.” Remember, the goal is to help the grandparent have good relationships with your family.
If the grandparent expresses an understanding and a realization that they overstepped a boundary, then forgive them. Don’t hold the grudge forever. If it becomes a pattern, you can still forgive as you adjust. (See number 6.)
Your child’s grandparents may have strong opinions about boundaries, and it’s tough for some to respect their child as a parent. If you’re willing to stand with your spouse and have some tough conversations, you can help everyone transition to this new phase in everyone’s relationship.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Untitled-11-01.png5001200Reggie Madisonhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngReggie Madison2021-10-14 11:05:572021-10-20 11:29:02What to Do When Grandparents Overstep Boundaries
Your conversations with them are teachable moments.
Half of parenting is staying a step ahead of our kids. (The other half is stepping out of the way.) Where do you step when the tough topics come up with your kids? Sex, drugs, rock and roll?
If only it was that easy! Try sexual politics, depression, and race relations. And don’t forget those frequent Big Cultural Moments when half of our country is screaming and the other half is rage-tweeting.
You can take that next step confidently.
Stay A Step Ahead…
1. Remember the Goal.
The goal is to have ongoing conversations with your children that teach them how to be critical thinkers and allow them to process their own thoughts and feelings. It’s not about having all the right answers; it’s about validating their curiosity and their ability to ask questions.
2. Remove Conversational Obstacles.
Sometimes these crucial conversations don’t materialize because we don’t make room for them. We’re too busy or too distracted. Be where your kids are. Be conversationally available. Some talks you’ll have to initiate. Some talks spontaneously generate. (Here are some conversation starters you’ll love!)
3. Relationship Capital Rules.
Invest the time. Build up the relationship capital you’ll want to draw on for those tough topics. This means you spend time together not angling for The Big Important Talk. Just enjoy spending time together. Don’t sleep on silliness. You might be goofing around, talking about nothing, when it suddenly turns into something.
4. Remain A Reliable Source.
Our kids have a sixth sense for insincerity. Can they count on you when it comes to the little things? Like it or not, our kids are always sizing us up. They’re watching us and wondering if we can handle their hopes and fears. They won’t come out and say they don’t trust you; they just won’t say anything at all.
… And Know When To Step Out Of The Way.
1. Listen. Don’t lecture.
Sometimes your child needs a good, firm “listening to”. Hold back and let them have it.
2. Respond. Don’t react.
Keep your cool when you hear something you disagree with. If you are dismissive or defensive, your child will shut the conversation down. Admit when you don’t know the answer and find a way to find it together. If the conversation is getting a little heated or the volume is getting turned up, be the adult; be the parent.
3. Investigate. Don’t interrogate.
Sometimes your child’s real question is masked by the question they actually ask. Learn to listen between the lines. Often, our kids need to work their way around to sharing what’s really on their minds or what they really want to ask. Be patient and leave some room for their thoughts to unspool and take shape. Ask clarifying questions. Ask questions that expand the conversation and invite your child to lean in closer, not pull back and withdraw.
Parents, By All Means, Teach Your Children.
You are the best resource for your child. Share your values and beliefs.Many parents underestimate the influence they have on their children. Research consistently shows that young people want their parents to talk with them about tough topics. Let them know what you believe and why concerning these issues. This will help them learn the process of determining what they believe.
There’s no shortage of voices willing to speak into your child’s life. Media. Social media. The kids on the bus. The classroom curriculum. The entertainment industry. Consumer culture. All of them are ready to step up and shape your child’s thinking on all the tough topics. What’s your next step?
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Untitled-5-01.png5001200First Things Firsthttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngFirst Things First2021-09-10 09:46:282021-09-14 12:28:17How to Talk With Your Child About Tough Topics
You can find the balance between control and independence.
Over the last 9 years, I’ve been constantly reminded that parenting is all about the balance between control and independence.
During the early years (3-8), your child is figuring out who they are while you’re learning how to parent them. It’s tough. And it gets more challenging when kids are trying to assert their independence.
Most parents probably want to raise independent, strong children who grow up, leave home, and are successful. We want them to start a family if they’d like to, and we want to be there for it all. Helping them find independence in those early years is where it all starts.
This is where self-determination theory can be helpful.
Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan introduced self-determination theory (SDT) in the 1980s. Self-determination theory suggests that people perform at their best when three needs are fulfilled:
Competence: People desire mastery of skills. When they are equipped with the skills needed for success, they’re more likely to take action to achieve their goals.
Connection: People need people. We need a sense of belonging and attachment.
Autonomy: People need to feel in control of their behavior and goals.
Highly self-determined people tend to:
Believe they have control over their own lives.
They are motivated, and when presented with challenges, they will work hard to overcome them.
Have high self-motivation.
They don’t depend on external motivators to achieve their goals. They will set goals and work toward them.
Base their actions on their own goals and behaviors.
They will take steps to bring them closer to their goals.
Take responsibility for their actions.
They will accept the praise or the blame for their choices and actions.
Those are all traits I desire for my family. We can help our kids grow in this by improving self-awareness, decision-making skills, and goal setting. Now, we understand what SDT is and how it can help our kids become self-determined. So how do we help them develop self-determination?
Here are a few scenarios where you can practically apply SDT to help your kids become more independent:
1. Dressing themselves
One of the easiest ways to help your kids gain independence is through dressing themselves. Let them choose what they want to wear, and don’t complain when they do. Sometimes we just gotta accept that they may not match. Yes, we have run errands with a 5-year-old wearing ladybug wings and antennas. No big deal!
Pro-tip: If you need their clothes to match for a special occasion, give them some options. There is still independence within boundaries.
2. Household chores
Ask yourself, what can they do?
Here are some ideas:
Unloading the dishwasher. My kids started helping when they were 3 or 4. (Don’t worry, we keep the knives out of reach).
Setting the table. Sometimes that means you might eat off the kids’ dishes, and that’s okay.
Helping with laundry. My daughter loves to fold laundry. Does she do it well? No. But she does it, and we are thankful she does.
3. Daily tasks
Some tasks need to be done in the morning or afternoon. Ask your child to help you make a list of what needs to be done each day. Where possible, tell them what needs to happen and by when but give them the freedom to get it done on their terms. They know what needs to happen, but they have the independence to determine how they do it.
Do you ever feel like your child wants you just for entertainment? I do. But that wasn’t my childhood. Sure, times have changed, but we can still encourage our kids to imagine and create. If they don’t know where to start, give them some ideas and turn them loose. It’s amazing what my kids will come up with when left to their own imaginations.
5. Weekly schedule
Life’s busy. My kids are busy with school events and sports. That means we try to plan out our week. We like to have a family game night and a movie night, and we often let the kids decide what those nights look like. We have also scheduled free Saturdays. They can pick where we go and what we do within reason (because the 5-year-old would have us headed to Disney). We set the boundaries, and they get to pick what happens.
Helping our children develop self-determination early will help them become independent as they grow. The process isn’t always easy. As they gain independence, you have to give up some control. Be patient, and remember that encouragement and positive feedback go a long way in raising independent kids.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Untitled-1-01-5.png5001200Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-08-31 14:18:512021-09-02 12:19:505 Ways Self-Determination Theory Can Help You Raise Independent Kids
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Untitled-1-01-3.png5001200Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-08-10 09:56:592021-08-11 00:50:0025 Things Parents Say When It’s Time for Kids to Go “Back to School”