Raising the Challenging Child

If your child is challenging, it may be hard for you to figure out why. It’s easy to become frustrated as the situation seems to get worse instead of better with every new thing your try. Raising the Challenging Child: How to Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict and Increase Cooperation by Buckwalter, Reed and Sunshine claims to have the solutions you need.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure they do. The book is a bit tricky to review. On the surface, many of their principles make sense. When they start giving specific suggestions for how to put those principles into practice though, things begin to fall apart.

While some suggestions are fine, others would only serve to make the situation worse. They may work if your child is already well behaved and your relationship is healthy. This book, however, is billed as one that will help parents who are struggling with raising a challenging child.

Advice like “try to say no as little as possible” and urging parents to make sure their child’s “bank account” is full of them saying “yes” to the child, so things will be okay when they finally decide to deny their child something is a bit concerning.

And it doesn’t stop there. My child was given plenty of room to make her own choices, but the authors make it seem as if you can’t cook a meal or make any decisions without giving your child the decisive power in multiple ways. Page after page of their suggestions, left me feeling that their solution to raising a challenging child is to let him or her become entitled and selfish.

Yes, their principles say otherwise, but the suggestions read like a very passive parent who gives in to keep their children happy. I just kept wondering what children raised with their suggestions will do when confronted with a boss who doesn’t want to hear their opinion on everything or constantly praise their every breath.

This book may be okay for some parents. For those with challenging children, I would suggest looking into books by people like James Dobson instead.

This book was given to me for free in exchange for my honest review.

Protecting Your Kids From Predators

Stranger danger right? As much as the idea scares young parents, it is much more likely your child will be pulled away from family, friends and God by a predator. Predators are slick, savvy and often subtle at first. Not all of them are sexual predators, but they are all dangerous in their own ways.

Thankfully, there are ways you can protect your kids from being targeted by predators as their victims or their enablers (enablers are often used to help the predator recruit more victims). Predators look for some key characteristics in their prey. If your children don’t have them, predators will often ignore them in favor of easier victims.

  • Give your kids lots of emotional and physical attention. Predators look for young people who don’t feel connected to their parents. Often these kids are run aways, but predators also target kids from families where the parents are too busy with their own lives to give their children the attention and love they need. If your child is well loved and has consistent, meaningful interactions with you and your spouse, they won’t be attracted by the attentions of a random adult.
  • Give your kids a strong spiritual foundation. Many of the things predators use to attract kids and teens either won’t appeal to young people with strong spiritual foundations, or will at least set off warning bells. Kids who have a strong understanding of what God has declared right and wrong, know something is dangerous about an adult who is encouraging them to do things they know are wrong. Most healthy adults, protect young people from those things – even if they’re not Christians and participate in them themselves.
  • Reinforce constantly that your kids can tell you anything – even if they know you won’t like it. Predators often use fear of parental reaction to manipulate young people. Make it clear that if any adult asks your child to do something they know is wrong, they will not get in trouble for telling you. Often predators will blackmail kids they meet online by threatening to tell them they were spending money on video games or something similar. Make sure your kids understand that while there may be consequences for those minor infractions, you are more concerned that they are safe and not being manipulated by someone who wants to hurt them.
  • Help your kids establish and defend healthy boundaries. They should be comfortable declining to participate in activities they know are wrong and be willing to be firm and walk away to get help if necessary. (This skill set also helps with peer pressure.)
  • Teach your kids about the lobster in the pot. Or is it a frog? Either way, the heat is turned up so gradually, the animal doesn’t realize it is in danger of being cooked and eaten until it is too late. Predators don’t usually start at the end goal. They start where the person is and encourage them to stretch their boundaries over time. Teach your kids to be watchful of anyone who keeps encouraging them to go just a little bit beyond what they know is right.
  • Teach your kids to be careful around people who make promises that sound too good to be true or who flatter them too much. “Free” things often come with strings attached. Predators will often “give” kids lots of things and then tell them they owe them an impossible amount of money. They tell the young person, they can be repaid (without parents finding out) if they will “just” …fill in the blank with send nude photos, run drugs, etc. Predators also use flattery and praise in their recruitment process. If your child is average looking, being told they have the looks to be a “top model” may feel good, but many young people have lost lots of money on “modeling” lessons from predators who knew they had no real chance in the industry.
  • Teach your kids critical thinking skills. Cults can be just as dangerous as other predators. They hide their motives in words of altruism and higher purpose. Often their actual beliefs are strange – especially compared to scripture. Kids with strong critical thinking skills will often ask lots of questions before just accepting something new. Cult leaders and other predators don’t appreciate questions as it can cause trouble with those they are already preying upon. They will often reject questioners outright as “not ready” for whatever it is they are claiming to offer.
  • Teach your kids that they may not make great decisions when afraid or elated. There are very few choices that absolutely must be made in the moment. Teach them to ask for time to think about it. If the person says “no”, there is a very good chance someone is trying to manipulate them in some way.
  • Teach your kids that drugs and alcohol do not lead to great decisions. Predators use alcohol and drugs to lower the inhibitions of their prey. They know people will do things when drunk or high they would never do when sober.
  • Teach your kids to distance themselves from people whom they regularly catch lying. Predators lie….a lot. In fact, they are pathological about it. Young people need to avoid people who lie constantly – even if they aren’t predators. They just don’t have enough maturity and life experience to handle it.
  • Don’t allow your kids to view themselves as victims of others. Yes, your kids may have had an experience when they were someone’s victim. Defining oneself as a perpetual victim makes them very vulnerable to predators. Young people who allow themselves to be defined as a victim because of any number of factors, believe they have no voice and no power. That makes them vulnerable. God can help your kids process and move away from bad circumstances so they are defined by how God sees them and not as a perpetual victim.
  • Teach your kids to recognize and avoid narcissists. Predators often use enablers to identify new prey and help groom them for the predator. For some reason, these people are often narcissists. Everything is about what they need and want. The feelings and needs of others are meaningless to them. They often act in cruel ways to anyone who questions them or asks for parity. Young people don’t have the tools to handle the narcissists of the world. They need to spend as little time with them as possible.
  • Teach your kids to think carefully if friends and family are all expressing concerns about their relationship with someone. Yes, there are rare times when they will be wrong. In general though, if everyone who loves you is concerned, there may very well be something to be concerned about. Teach them to at the very least take a break from the person of concern so they can clear their head and think clearly.
  • If necessary, teach your kids to ignore any threats to you and come tell you what is happening. In the more severe cases of predators, victims are often told their family will be hurt in some way if they tell anyone what is really happening. Make sure your kids know that you will get the help you need to be safe, but you can’t help them if you don’t know they are in trouble.

No one can guarantee your child will never be approached by a predator. Doing the things in the list above though, will make your kids much less attractive to predators looking for prey.

Managing Worry and Anxiety

If anything can cause someone to worry or become anxious, it is parenting. Yet one of the most common phrases in scripture is “Fear not.” God knows our fallen world can be a scary place, but He wants us to not live our lives constantly wrapped in a blanket of fear. He wants us to put our trust in Him and fear not.

What do you do though when you can’t seem to shake those worries and anxieties? Managing Worry and Anxiety by Jean Holthaus LISW, LMSW addresses that very question. The book reads somewhat like a textbook on worry and anxiety – covering brain science and other secular basics of the problem.

Once she moves into the practical solutions part of the book, she addresses the faith aspects along with familiar secular solutions. The faith piece of the book is practical without being the type of book that can feel more emotional than helpful. It’s also not intended to be a Bible study. There are few specific scripture references, although she does refer to God, faith and a few verses.

The author shares some personal experiences in the book, but the book doesn’t read like a story. Rather, she uses her experiences to give specific examples of some of the points she is making.

Much of the information in the book will be familiar to anyone who has done any reading on brain science, anxiety or worry. She did have several practical suggestions though, that I hadn’t seen before. For some, those suggestions could make it worth reading.

This book is a solid introduction to worry and anxiety for Christians. It incorporates faith without laying blame or adding unnecessary guilt to the equation. If you are attempting to understand anxiety and want some practical tools to try, this is a good book to read.

This book was given to me for free in exchange for my honest review.

Finding Community in Christian Parenting

I recently was added to one of those online communities where everyone is asked to introduce themselves. Woman after woman seemed to share a heart filled with loneliness. They were different ages and in different life circumstances. They were from all over the world, but they all longed for meaningful Christian community.

Parenting has some tough moments – and that’s when you don’t encounter additional challenges. Christian parenting is even more difficult. You are trying to parent in counter cultural ways because you understand the parenting choices you make can impact your child’s spiritual life. As any teen can tell you, going against the crowd can feel very lonely at times.

Perhaps it seems like your life has been an unending string of lonely parenting moments. It doesn’t have to be that way. God created Christian community to help us through those lonely times – whatever the cause.

At times though, tapping into that community can appear more difficult than climbing Mt. Everest. Perhaps you have been praying that God will bring you the community you so desperately want and need. There are things you can do to scale that metaphorical mountain and find that supportive Christian community. God will be there to guide you, but He may want you to grow in your ability to create connections with others by trying some of these tips.

  • Find a church home. It’s hard to find Christian community when you don’t stay in one place for very long. No church is perfect – even the ones that seem that way at first. Find one that teaches the Bible as accurately as possible and make a home there.
  • Make yourself at home in your church. Attend regularly, introduce yourself, engage in conversations with people whose names you can’t seem to remember yet. Attend classes and small groups. Volunteer to serve in a ministry. All of these will give you opportunities to connect to fellow Christians.
  • Look outside the box. Don’t just look for friends who are exactly like you. Sometimes the most supportive, helpful friendships are with people different from us. They bring a unique perspective to our experiences. People just like us tend to get stuck in the same places we get stuck. We often learn more from people who are older and have gotten to the other side of those things with which we are currently struggling. Younger friends can often bring a bit of carefree joy back to our lives. People from other places may have tips we would never hear from people who have been in the same place for decades.
  • Be brave and ask. If you see someone you think is interesting or wise, ask her to lunch or coffee. Most adults are in their own routines. They don’t think about looking for new friends, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want new friends. It is rare to have someone approach anyone they barely know and seek a chance to fellowship and get to know one another. So don’t wait – initiate.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Since these are often people we don’t know very well, you probably don’t know their responsibilities and struggles. They may be overwhelmed and need help themselves. It is not a reflection on you or your value. Try again later or move on to the next person.
  • Give it time. Occasionally you will bond with someone you just met as if you have been best friends for years. Most of the time, it takes time spent together and sharing experiences and hearts to build a friendship.
  • Be okay with different levels of relationship. You may have one woman who is your advice person. For many reasons, you will never be best friends, but she is available when you need advice and gives godly advice. That’s okay. You can have acquaintances, friends, activity friends, best friends and a host of other types of relationships. All will ease your loneliness and give you some of the Christian community you need.
  • Accept disagreements and practice forgiveness. It’s rare that even the best of friends agree on everything. People who spend a lot of time together can get on each other’s nerves at times. Disagreements are not a reason to end a friendship. Forgiveness is crucial. Yes, there are rare instances when a friendship becomes toxic and you may have to spend less time with that person. In general though, think of your friendships as a way to improve in showing others agape love and practicing forgiveness.

God doesn’t want His people to be lonely. Remember how He created Eve so Adam wouldn’t be lonely? Escaping loneliness will probably take some effort on your part. Having those godly friends who encourage you in your Christian parenting journey makes any work seem worth it. Don’t let Satan continue to discourage you with loneliness.

Fun Ways to Teach Kids Empathy

Empathy is crucial for showing God’s love – especially to people who may seem difficult to love. Kids are often naturally empathetic, but as they get older, empathy can begin to fade. Children with certain special needs or with trauma in their past, may also find empathy difficult.

Regardless of how empathetic your kids are currently, there are some fun things you can do to help them become more empathetic.

  • Act it out. This is especially helpful for young children or children who struggle reading facial cues or noticing when words, facial expressions and body language don’t match. Take turns making facial expressions and having the others guess your emotion. For older kids you might want to have a variety of emotions written on slips of paper and players draw a slip with an emotion to portray when it is their turn. Make the game more difficult by making your body language reveal the true emotion while your face is trying to suppress the real emotion. Or don’t show the face at all and have them guess only from body language.
  • Practice with photos. Grab old family photos, or cut out pictures from magazines. Ask your kids to name the emotions the person may be feeling. If they struggle, give them clues of things to notice, like facial expressions. As they become more adept at the game, turn the sound off on your television and choose random shows. Have them guess how emotions are shifting as people converse.
  • Read books together. As you read a picture book, ask your kids what they think the characters are feeling. Have them share why they chose the emotions they did. Eventually, you may be able to ask them what they think the characters will do next based on their current emotional state. With upper elementary kids and teens, consider reading books like Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper that were written to encourage empathy. Or you can choose any book where people experience a range of emotions. Then talk about how various people in the book must have felt at different points.
  • Examine the life of Jesus. Read the various stories in the life of Jesus. Ask your kids to point out when they believe Jesus is showing empathy. Why do they think he is empathetic in that situation? What emotions is he seeing in the other people? Do their words and actions always make their emotional state obvious? How does Jesus treat them when he is showing empathy?
  • Write empathetic backstories. You don’t necessarily need to actually write these stories down. The purpose is to encourage your kids to think of reasons why people make the choices they do. Focus on getting them to develop benign backstories – the person was having a tough day versus the person has a heart filled with hate. The goal is to get your kids in the habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt, rather than jumping to the most negative possibility.
  • Encourage verbalizing emotions. It’s important for your kids to understand their words and actions can impact the emotions of others. They need to know mom and dad can get their feelings hurt, too. Teaching them to verbalize emotions in appropriate ways can also decrease the problems that can happen when people make incorrect guesses about the emotions of others.
  • On vacations to new places, go where the “regular” people live. Many tourist spots try to give visitors a fantasy experience. They want you to believe life there is perfect. Unfortunately, in many places the reality can be harsh. If you live in an area where it is rare to encounter anyone who is different than your family, this is especially important. Your kids need to see a broad spectrum of what people might experience in life.
  • Encourage people to tell your kids their stories. We attended church with this “little old lady” in her 90’s. The kids were so amazed to hear her stories of working at a fast food restaurant in her 90’s and having dinner with the Shah of Iran – complete with fussing at him – when she was younger and temporarily living in Iran with her husband. They didn’t know who the Shah of Iran was, but it made them look at sweet Miss Emma in an entirely different way!

Teaching your kids to have empathy towards others is part of teaching them how to reflect God’s love accurately. It’s worth your time and effort to help them develop true empathy for those around them.