Are Your Conversations With Other Adults Hurting Your Children?

We need to bring back some old adages you don’t hear much any more. One I always thought was a little strange was, “Little pitchers have big ears”. I have to admit, I am still not sure what jugs with big handles have to do with the topic of eavesdropping children, but the adage should be repeated often to parents and other adults. Not following this wisdom (from a man named John Heywood in 1546) leads to more brokenness in children than most adults understand.

Many adults believe that conversations with other adults in front of small children are not understood by little ones. Other adults think that if they can’t physically see a child, then the child can’t hear them. Or that if children are engaged in an activity, they aren’t aware of what is being said. Most adults seem to have the mistaken belief that children will understand their sarcastic comments as humor or that the adults were just upset and venting their feelings rather than actually believing what they are saying to their peers. Or more commonly these days, they believe social media posts about their frustrations in parenting will never be seen by their children.

The truth is that little pitchers do indeed have big ears. They are very much aware of many of the negative things you say and write about them. If they don’t have access to some of that information now, they will seek it out or stumble upon it when they are a little older. Those words said in an attempt to update friends and relatives, to get advice from other parents or as an attempt at being funny can negatively impact your children’s self image and undermine your relationship with them. Sadly, for some children, those comments can also begin destroying their faith in God.

Most of the time you will never know this has happened. They won’t usually come to you and complain that you were talking about them in negative ways to your friends. They just hurt emotionally. If it happens often enough, those hurts will start collecting and grow into emotional scars that may impact them for the rest of their lives. (At times, one particularly hurtful comment can have the same impact.) No matter how pure your motives may have been or whether or not they understood the conversation or its context correctly, damage has been done. Damage you can’t repair, because you don’t even realize it is there.

This doesn’t mean you can’t vent in healthy ways to friends or family or get their parenting advice. In fact, you need to do those things to be the best Christian parent possible. The key is choosing the times and places these conversations occur. If you are about to say anything about your children that may sound to them as critical or may make them think that you somehow don’t love them, please be 100% sure they will not hear you or read what you have written or posted now, or in the future. (Note: If you are remembering past negative social media posts, take some time to delete them.)

If you realize they may have heard you or they confront you, apologize. Empathize with them by imaging how you would feel if you heard someone important to you talking about you negatively. Make amends if it is possible. Regularly say positive things about your children to other adults when you know they can hear you. Put affirming love notes on their pillow or in their lunch box. You love and adore your children – even when they frustrate or upset you. Just make sure they know it, too.

Fun Family Devotional on Friendship (With a Twist)

Quick. Name the Bible story most often used when discussing friendship with children and teens? If you guessed David and Jonathan, you are probably correct. Have you ever noticed though, that the story is often told from the perspective of the benefits David got from the friendship – namely getting advance notice from Jonathan that Saul wanted to kill him? What if we looked at the story – and its aftermath – from a different perspective … What kind of friend was David to Jonathan?

This is an important family devotional. Parents and ministries often spend a lot of time discussing how young people should choose friends who help them be more godly rather than encouraging them to disobey God. We may mention that they should have some of these same qualities to benefit their friends, but most of the focus is still on choosing “good” friends and not on becoming a great friend for others.

Call your children together and ask them what they remember about the story of Jonathan and David. If they don’t remember the details, go back and read over it again. Ask them how they know Jonathan was a good friend to David. Then ask them what kind of friend David was to Jonathan based on the story.

Read to them 2 Samuel 4:4 and 9:6-13. If you have teenagers and the time to dig a little deeper, you may also want to share the story in 2 Samuel 19:9-30 and 21:1-14. These two passages are more complex (and a bit gruesome), but show that David still respected the promises he had made to Jonathan, even after Jonathan’s death. Discuss how David show he valued his friendship with Jonathan in the way that he treated Mephibosheth. Remind them that the customs of the day would have demanded that David kill Mephibosheth as a possible threat to his kingship. Yet he and Mephibosheth both appeared to value the relationship between Jonathan and David more than money or power.

Ask your kids to list all of the qualities of a great friend. Have them draw a picture of a great friend. Encourage them to write descriptive words on their artwork to illustrate their definition of a great friend. Write down a master list of all of the words so everyone can see the complete list. If they miss some you believe are important, feel free to add your ideas to the list. Then ask them which of those qualities they believe they exhibit in their friendships. Are there any with which they struggle? What are some ways they could be a better friend?

If time allows, think of something nice your kids can do for their friends. Perhaps you can all work together to bake some cookies for their friends or make something they would appreciate. Encourage your children to put as much focus on being a good friend as they do in searching for good friends.

Teaching Your Kids How to Avoid Sinning in Their Boredom

Years ago there used to be a saying, ”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”. It was mostly said by parents to children who were inclined to get into trouble when they had too much free time. In some ways, I think it led to the idea of enrolling even very young children in organized outside activities for every waking moment of their lives. This over scheduling has created problems of its own.

By enrolling your children in activities planned, organized and executed by others, they never truly learn how to find worthwhile things to do with their free time. When they do have the rare free moment, they turn to their digital pacifier to relieve their boredom – which also comes with a host of problems. As strange as it sounds, your kids need you to teach them how to use free time in ways that restore them and hopefully are productive in some way.

God did not create your children – or any of us – for living lives of leisure. Even in the Garden of Eden, he put Adam to work. Jesus rested when he was here on Earth, but that rest was carefully planned to be truly restorative. He didn’t just sit there watching a long stream of YouTube videos. He spent intentional time with God and his disciples. It appears that Jesus spent his free time in ways that were either restorative or productive. Your children were created to connect with God through spiritual disciplines and produce in ways that point others to God. They were not created to be idle or to be constantly entertained by others.

Unfortunately, your children have probably never been taught how to follow the example of Jesus in how they spend their free time – not at church, school or perhaps even at home. So when they get bored, they may find themselves defaulting to the normal “entertainments” teens and young adults have used for centuries – alcohol, drugs, sex or other unhealthy and/or ungodly pursuits.

Time and time again, I have seen the rare teen or young adult who was taught to find fun, wholesome and even productive activities. They not only seem to avoid getting mixed up in the fallback pursuits, but often lead their peers in participating in these better options.

So how do you help your kids learn how to use their free time well? These ideas will get you started.

  • Make sure your kids have plenty of free time. They need the time to find things to do without someone planning it for them.
  • Make sure your home has some basics. If you can afford it, have art supplies and books that would interest them in your home. Perhaps a musical instrument to play or some basic sports equipment like frisbees and balls. If money is tight, try the public library and thrift or yard sales. If they literally don’t have other options that are approved and easily available, they are more likely to make poor choices.
  • Start small when they are young and give more freedom as they age. Children who have never had to fill free time will inevitably turn to devices or claim they are bored when they do have freedom. Don’t tell them what to do. Ask them to list some options they may have to amuse themselves. If they claim to not have anything, offer to give them chores to relieve their boredom! If you find them a few minutes later on a device or getting into trouble, redirect by asking them to choose a different activity. Over time, they should be able to find ways to amuse themselves without your help.
  • Let them help research and plan family outings and vacations. Teach them how to find those obscure, fun, often free things to do in any place. Often Googling terms like “off the beaten path” “free things to do” or “Atlas Obscura” plus the name of the location will give them lots of ideas (Be aware that some of these sites are paid to promote bars. Discuss why bar hopping is not a wise way to spend free time or prescreen sites before allowing your kids to use them for researching activities.)
  • Have fun! An activity doesn’t have to be boring or educational to be a good alternative to less wise options. Go to places at times that are just pure fun. Or go see weird roadside attractions to find the most unique or find the restaurant with the best key lime pie in the world. Teach them Christians can have fun without sinning.
  • Don’t forget spiritual disciplines and serving others. Add meaning and purpose to their lives and strengthen their faith by encouraging them to participate in spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditating on scripture as well as serving others with part of their free time.

Have fun with it, but make sure your kids are well versed in finding godly, productive fun before they leave your home. It can help them avoid sinning in their boredom.

5 Ways Your Kids Can Reflect God’s Love at School

School has started in our area. I don’t know about you and your family, but I think of every new school term as an opportunity to make positive changes. One great change to encourage your kids to adopt is for them to intentionally reflect God’s love to others during their days at school. It’s a great way to be salt and light to their teachers and peers.

So what are some practical ways they can reflect God’s love at school? Here are some of our favorites.

  • Thank their teachers after each class or at the end of the school day. Many teachers put in lots of their “free” time and spend their personal money to make their classes the best possible. Yet most are only thanked on teacher appreciation days or at the end of the year. Get in a family habit of truly appreciating your children’s teachers every day.
  • Encourage the struggling. Life is hard and school can be even tougher at times. It doesn’t help those who are struggling when other kids tease them or show obvious impatience. Teach your kids to be that encouraging voice that cheers those struggling on to hopeful victory of whatever their challenge.
  • Be kind to the kids who don’t “fit in”. Believe it or not, every child feels like an outsider at some point in school. Some kids, unfortunately, are perennially on the outside looking in. It’s great if your children can befriend them, but they should, at the very least, go out of their way to be kind and friendly.
  • Welcome newcomers and help them get acclimated. Your children will naturally have more in common with some children than others. They should always be the first to help any new children, however, and help them get used to everything, make introductions, etc. – at least for the first couple of weeks.
  • Go the extra mile. See a piece of trash? Pick it up and throw it away. Someone drop papers everywhere? Help them gather them back together. Volunteer for little tasks. Look for small opportunities to serve and do them. Be known for going the extra mile to be kind and helpful.

If your children can consistently reflect God’s love at school, they will be the salt and light God wants them to be.

Baking Bread to Teach Your Kids About Influence

There are several Bible verses that compare the influence of things good and bad to leaven. Leaven – or yeast – is designed to make bread rise so it is light and airy. It doesn’t take very much yeast to make two large loaves of bread double or triple in size. In fact, bread recipes often contain salt to mitigate the yeast so bread doesn’t rise too much.

The Bible tells us in Matthew 13:33 and 16:6 that just like yeast, an “influencer” can easily encourage others to do what is wrong or, conversely, to join the Kingdom of God. Explain that this principle is why you are so concerned about with whom they choose to spend the majority of their time.

To illustrate the impact of yeast, find a simple bread recipe that requires yeast. Measure how high the bread is in the bowl both before and after rising. Be careful not to let it rise too long, because it can eventually deflate. Point out that many recipes call for the dough to rise twice for the yeast to have the desired impact on the final loaves of bread.

While waiting for the bread to rise, discuss how they can be “good” yeast and avoid being influenced by “bad” yeast. If you want to dive really deep into the topic, point out that unleavened bread is only considered unleavened bread by devout Jews if it has been completed – from the first mixing of the ingredients to being removed from the oven – in eighteen minutes or less. After that the flour itself begins to develop the tiniest bit of leaven (a variation of how sour dough starter is made). You can even try making unleavened bread in the eighteen minute time frame and then letting one loaf sit out to “rise” for a few hours. Bake both and compare the two finished loaves. Does even that “non” yeast leaven make a difference? Can even tiny bits of negative influence change us in negative ways over time?

Have fun with it, but encourage your children to think carefully about their influence on others and the influence they allow others to have on them.