Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids to Go the Extra Mile

One of the most overlooked scriptures in the Bible is perhaps Matthew 5:41. Jesus was preaching what we now call the “Sermon on the Mount”. If you recall, it has a lot of practical advice for people who follow God. There are two underlying principles in the sermon. The first is that God looks at our hearts and not just our actions. Actions can be faked, but we can’t hide our hearts from God.

The second principle should be life changing for all Christians. God doesn’t call us to do the bare minimum to please him. He’s not happy that we are merely ”better” than the average person. He calls us to go the extra mile. Go so far above what could be expected or even hoped for that people are shocked. Shocked enough to ask why we are different and who is God that He motivates us to live our lives in this way.

Going the extra mile isn’t easy. As strange as it may sound, your kids may get teased for going above and beyond expectations. That’s why it is so important for you to start teaching them this principle when they are still toddlers. It is also why you need to find fun ways to encourage them to go the extra mile when it isn’t so fun – because most of the time going the extra mile means we have to sacrifice something we want for ourselves in order to be able to do it.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • What’s an extra mile? The bar for excellence has gotten so low in our world, that defining the ”extra mile” will be difficult. Take your kids on a walk one mile from your house (If they are really young, make it a distance that will be difficult, but not too difficult for them.) As you walk, explain that in the time of Jesus, there were no cars, tanks, jeeps, etc. Most soldiers had to walk and carry everything they needed. They were allowed to stop any random person on the street and ask them to carry their ”stuff” for about a mile. Jesus was telling them that if they were asked, they should go two miles instead of one. Stop when you reach one mile. Explain that this would have been the stopping point allowed by Roman law. (For older kids, you may want to have them carry a backpack for more authenticity.) Explain that Jesus wants them to keep going – even if they are tired after a mile. Walk the remaining mile to get back home. Ask your kids how the people must have felt when they heard this teaching. Can they think of real world examples of going the extra mile?
  • What is an extra mile today? Have your kids think of all of the things they are either asked to do by others or opportunities they might have to help others. What would most people say is the first ”mile” in each case? What would the extra mile be? To make it more fun, have them interview people of different ages and backgrounds – even Christians and people who aren’t Christians. Do they see any patterns in the answers people gave them? If they could have interviewed Jesus, what do they think his answers would be?
  • Going the extra mile around the world in 80 days style. Pick a fun place some distance from your home. It could be somewhere in your town or you could circumnavigate the globe. Calculate how many miles it is to your goal. Each day, have everyone share at the end of the day times when they felt like they really did go the extra mile. If everyone agrees the person went an extra mile, then you move one mile closer to your goal. It’s important to keep a high but not impossible to reach definition of the extra mile in mind as you go. Your first goal might be a short distance to keep your kids motivated. Consider having a family reward when you reach your goal. For example, the first goal might be to the ice cream place a few miles away and when you reach your goal, you go out for ice cream. It’s important to emphasize that often there is no reward for going the extra mile, but God expects us to go it regardless. This exercise is to help them develop consistency in going the extra mile, so an occasional reward after working hard for several days, weeks or months can be a celebration of improved consistency.
  • Shower someone with extra miles. Choose someone your family knows who is not a Christian. How can your family go the extra mile consistently, over a long period of time to serve this person? As time passes, notice if the person becomes curious. Make sure you are honest about wanting them to learn about Jesus if they ask why you are being so kind to them. See what happens. Not everyone will want to visit your church or ask questions about God, but many will.

Have fun with going the extra mile. You might find it’s the best thing your family has ever done.

Protecting Your Kids From Predators at Church

Over the last few decades, there have been numerous reports of children and teens being sexually molested at various churches. While a couple of denominations have dominated the headlines, it is something that sadly could happen at any church – including yours. I hasten to add that this type of behavior is condemned by God and Christianity. Those who behave this way and those who may cover it up are not doing what God commands them to do. In one of the most famous exchanges between Jesus and his disciples, Jesus reinforced the importance of protecting children from any sort of harm. He also let it be known that the punishment for hurting them would be severe.

The truth is that predators look for churches, ministries and non-profits to find their victims. They want to take advantage of easy access to a large number of children in a place where those running it tend to trust others at face value when they say they want to help children. Thankfully, many places are being more careful about screening volunteers, but not every predator will get caught in a background check. Those with criminal records might move on, but if they’ve never been arrested, they may pass the average guidelines.

The answer isn’t to keep your child away from churches, ministries and their programs. It’s to make smart choices so they stay safe – even if there is a predator in the building. Here are some important ways to protect your kids.

  • Personally take your children to class or the restroom. Chances are high that your kids are safe when lots of people are around, but sometimes the confusion can act as cover for someone.
  • Make sure your church conducts background checks on all volunteers. At a minimum, this should include a criminal records check and reference checks – including calling those in other places where the person may have worked with children or teens.
  • Make sure your church has child safety rules in place. These rules should include not allowing only related adults in one classroom (couples teaching together should have a third adult in the room), classroom doors must be open at all times or have a window in them, children should not be allowed to leave an environment unless accompanied by an adult or peer and adults should not be alone with a child in a room with a closed door. Ministry leaders should regularly monitor any environment to make sure young people are safe. (Especially during worship services and class time in bathrooms and other private places.)
  • Do not allow your child to leave the worship service alone. Due to the nature of my ministry, I meet a lot of people who have had negative experiences. Many of these happened either during a worship service or when there weren’t many people in the building. This can happen to teens as well as small children.
  • Be very cautious about allowing your children to go places with other adults – especially to their homes. It’s often the ”sweet grandpa” type or the charismatic minister who has the parents’ permission to take a young person somewhere alone or to his or her home who causes trouble. It may sound paranoid, but meetings should include more than one child, be in a public place or involve more than one adult.
  • Pay attention to your kids’ reactions to adults. Kids can’t always verbalize why they believe an adult may be dangerous to them or even how. Some kids are very perceptive and pick up on subtle signals even before the person has crossed the line with them in some way. Very young children do go through a stage when all strangers and new situations may cause a meltdown. If your child is normally fine being left with others, but balks at a specific person, pay attention.
  • As soon as your kids are old enough to be taught about ”stranger danger”, constantly reinforce that they should tell you if an adult doesn’t make them feel safe. Let them know over and over that they will not be in trouble if an adult asks them to do something bad. (Of course, also teach them that they can and should say ”no” if possible.) One of the most common weapons of predators is the threat that the child will get in trouble if the adult tells the child’s parents what happened. If your kids know you will be angry with the adult instead, they will be more likely to ignore the threat. Also, as they get older let them know that if an adult threatens to harm you in order to get them to do something, they should ignore it. Reassure them you can handle any threat – no matter how scary it sounds. (The norm is threatening to kill the child’s parents.)
  • Make sure even little children know it is not appropriate for adults to touch certain areas of their body without your/their permission. Obviously, doctors will check those areas, but once a child can go to the restroom without adult assistance, they should know to deny access to areas covered by a bathing suit.
  • Give your kids permission to yell, kick, scream or do whatever is necessary to get away from someone who has grabbed them and taking them somewhere against their will. “Good” kids may be afraid to scream during a worship service if someone does grab them. Reassure them, they will not get in trouble.
  • Spend lots of quality time with your kids. Predators look for kids who don’t have strong relationships with their parents. They often groom them for months before trying anything. The grooming basically consists of giving the child the attention the child craves but doesn’t receive from parents. Having a strong, healthy relationship with your kids will protect them from most predators who use grooming.
  • Don’t assume you know what a predator looks like or the preferred prey. While men are still the predominate predators, women can be, too. Don’t assume a predator will look ”sleezy” or openly leer at children. The average predator looks like an average person. Likewise don’t assume your child won’t be a potential victim, boys can fall victim to a predator as well as girls and teens as easily as small children.
  • If you have a personal or custody situation where someone might attempt to pick up your child from an environment without your permission, make sure everyone involved is aware. You don’t have to give details, but you should let those who are caring for your child know there is a potential danger to your child and that they should release your child to only you or someone else you approve.
  • Don’t assume your church is different than any other church when it comes to predators. Predators aren’t only part of one denomination. They can be anywhere and are much more common than most people realize. As our culture begins to attempt to normalize adult sex with children and pornography, the danger will only get worse. Every story I have been told involved a priest/minister, deacon/teacher or trusted ”grandpa” type adult loved by everyone. Take the precautions to protect your kids.

It is sad to think predators are harming children in ministries, but Satan will do anything he can to destroy a church, Christians and even the growing faith of your kids. Don’t give predators a chance to succeed.

Concrete Things You Can Do To Prevent the Next Mass Shooting

As I write this, there has been yet another heart breaking mass shooting. This time it involved an 18 year old killing an entire class of children and their teachers. It has been followed by the usual round of pundits advocating for or against changing gun laws. The reality is that the issues that cultivate people who act out in violent ways are complex and require complex solutions. Since complex solutions require hard work, time and resources, they are ignored in hopes that a quick vote on a law or government money thrown at an issue will resolve it without much effort on our parts. It’s a nice fantasy, but a fantasy all the same. (Laws and government funds may help a little, but they are rarely the entire solution to any problem.)

To stop this from happening again, we all need to do our part. It will take hard work. We will make mistakes along the way and won’t always be successful in our efforts. If any of us refuses to do our part, however, the problems will continue. Exactly what you can do will vary depending upon your situation. Scan through the list below and choose the items where you can make a difference. Fair warning, though. The truth is not easy to read or embrace, but the children in our world need us to be honest so we can actually address some of the core issues involved.

  • If you are a parent, be actively engaged with your children. Children need a lot of your time and attention. They need you to teach and guide them. They need you to correct them and give consequences. They need to be around you enough to see you model godly behavior. You need to be engaged with them enough to see problems developing in their early stages – not when they are already out of control. This takes a decent amount of time and effort EVERY DAY. If your only conversations with your kids are brief and primarily logistical, you are not engaged enough with your kids.
  • Stop telling parents it doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do in parenting because ”children are resilient”. We have research now – lots of it – that shows the choices parents make absolutely have a huge impact on how their children act and react to the world around them. The most ironic thing about this common parenting myth is that one of the top indicators of whether or not a child is resilient is the strength of the child’s relationship with a parent and how that child is parented. Poor parenting skills create not only children with lots of problems, but children with little resiliency.
  • Stop assuming other people will parent your kids for you. Sure your children suddenly began behaving better when they entered school, because the teacher was the first person to establish rules and boundaries and enforce them consistently. The odds are just as great, however, that the other adults to whom your child is exposed in day care, school, activities and even church may not want to help parent your child. In fact, they may be ignoring your child or actively teaching your kids any number of disturbing ideas and encouraging negative attitudes and behaviors. When you decided to raise children, the role of parent came with certain responsibilities. Stop expecting others to do your job for you.
  • Stop bragging about your parenting mistakes or encouraging parents to ignore older parents trying to give solid parenting advice. Sure your parenting mistake was funny and not a big deal. Maybe you disagree with a blog post or article on parenting. The truth is that many parents struggle with much deeper parenting issues than you might. (They may even be people you know and would least expect are having issues.) Their parenting mistakes could seriously harm or even kill their children. Don’t unknowingly discourage other parents from getting the help they need because you are defensive for some reason (even if it is totally justified in your situation). Let’s encourage parents to be the absolute best parents they can be.
  • All that being said, ask for help. To raise the type of children who make the world a better place, you will need help. This is especially true if you are a Christian parent trying to raise your kids counter culturally. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help, but do so wisely. Pick your helpers carefully. Make sure they are not actually hurting your child in some way. When you ask for help, be as specific as possible in what you hope the person can accomplish. If the person you ask declines, keep asking until you find someone who will help.
  • Offer help to parents by mentoring children and/or parents. If your church or local school has a mentoring program, get trained and participate. You can perhaps be a little more unbiased and less embarrassed to encourage a parent or child to get the help he or she needs. Or you may be able to provide that assistance yourself. Experienced parents who have raised children who are ”model” adults should be especially encouraged to mentor young parents.
  • Watch for warning signs and get professional help early. Did you know that children who do something horrible to an animal are extremely likely to do something horrible to people later in life? If your child seems angry all of the time, has no friends, seems obsessed with guns or violence, has signs of a mental illness, etc., run to your child’s pediatrician and ask for help. Keep asking until your child gets help and shows improvement. Do not allow a professional to minimize your concerns. I don’t think I have ever read of a parent of a murderer who said they were shocked, because their child was so sweet and kind. In fact, many admit they were afraid of their own child.
  • See something? Say something (and keep saying it until someone does something). Too many times, people saw warning signs. Sometimes they said something, sometimes they kept quiet. The incidents that are prevented are usually because someone saw something and said something until someone listened and did something. Don’t be so afraid of getting involved that you refuse to speak up. Lives may be at stake.
  • Stop embarrassing parents who need the help of experienced parents or professionals. The fear of being mocked, talked about, shamed or embarrassed by others prevents many parents from seeking help parenting their children – whether that help is advice, mentoring or professional. We need to assume every parent needs help with some issue and applaud those who ask for that help.
  • Be honest about the things that cause trauma in children and provide extra help for children who have experienced trauma. Did you know children can experience trauma in the womb that can impact them even if they are adopted by a great family at birth? Or that divorce or the death of a parent causes trauma in children (amongst dozens of other things)? We have the research, but we aren’t educating parents. I am so tired of meeting adoptive parents who were not told their child was born addicted or had birth parents who suffered from mental illnesses, nor were they told what they could do to help their children navigate these issues and as a result, the parents and children are suffering because they weren’t educated or prepared.
  • Worry more about what is actually best for children and less about the popular trends of the moment. Many educators and others who work with children have private conversations about how some current trends will cause deep issues for the children raised by them. Few, however, are brave enough to put up with the bullying that happens when you find issues with the current popular opinions of the day. Everyone needs to be brave enough to speak up in ways that can be heard and understood by others – or at least do what educators have done for years – keep quiet, but do what is in the actual best interest of the child.
  • Protect children and teens from all violent content – including gaming. Every parent wants to believe their child is different, but the research is overwhelming. Violent content increases aggressive and violent behaviors. Not to mention early war games were actually created to train soldiers. These shooters have been trained through gaming to be lethal killers. If the entertainment industry really wants to end violence, they can start by no longer creating violent content.
  • Actively teach young people godly conflict resolution skills. When experts tell parents to let kids work out their own conflicts, what we get is a world full of adults acting out their conflicts like 5 year olds. We need to actively teach children conflict resolution skills at home, in school and in church and insist they use them.
  • Live the Golden Rule every day. The Golden rule isn’t just about not doing harm to others. It also involves doing positive things for others. Stop rationalizing your own acting out in anger on the road, in retail establishments or online. Be the first to thank someone, praise an employee to the manager, help someone or do something nice for someone. After the last several years, we are all close to the breaking point. You can help by being kinder, more patient, gentler and more loving every day.
  • Teach young people the value of life. Life is a blessing from God. It is a gift to be valued. Constantly reinforcing the value of every life could not only reduce violence against others, but help remove suicide as a viable option young people are willing to consider.
  • Teach young people how to actually live their faith and why it matters. I am a Christian and to me all of the answers about love, character, how to treat others, the value of any and every human life and more are found in the Bible. Parents and churches have to make teaching, coaching and modeling the commands and principles in the Bible a top priority. Currently, they all say they do, but very few are actually putting in the necessary effort to be successful at teaching young people how to be who God created them to be and instilling a passion for living the Christian life in them.

So what are you going to do to help prevent the next mass shooting? Ranting online never accomplishes much other than getting pats on the back from like minded friends. Be brave. Do something concrete to make a positive difference in the life of a child or teen. We all need to do our part if we really want mass shootings to stop.

Great Technique for Stopping Power Struggles With Your Kids

Have you ever had your kids decide that disobeying a rule or command is their number one goal in life? Or perhaps one of your kids has decided life is “opposite day” because he or she is determined to do the exact opposite of what you expect him or her to do? Power struggles are real in many homes. They can be exhausting and damage parent child relationships.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Kids who regularly engage in power struggles often do so because they have worked in the past. Let’s be honest, they often want what they want much worse than we want them to obey. When parents give into a power struggle, they will usually set the stage for many future power struggles.

One of the top tactics kids unknowingly use in a power struggle is to get you to be emotional. The minute you get upset, they know they have won. Or at least, you have lost…because no one actually wins in a power struggle that escalates. For the technique below to work really well, you absolutely must control your emotions. If it helps, think of yourself as a robot. You can’t get upset. You aren’t programmed to get loud or yell. You are calm, cool and collected – all of the time.

If you can maintain that demeanor, you are half way there. Now, all you have to do is repeat the rule that applies to the situation. ”Bedtime is nine o’clock.” ”We obey our parents in this house.” ”We are kind to others in this family.” There is no need to repeat what you have asked them to do. They haven’t forgotten it. They are well aware of what you have asked them to do, because the power struggle is about them not doing whatever it is.

At first, you will get power struggle push back of all sorts. They will continue to be verbally defiant. Do not get upset or respond to anything they are saying. More slowly and more quietly – without emotion (but firmly) – state the rule again. “We….obey…our….parents…in… this…house….” Every time they try to respond in some power struggle fashion, repeat the rule. Each time using no emotion and stating it slower and a little quieter.

Don’t forget the key to managing the behavior of children is consistency. Even if this technique works once, it does not mean a child addicted to power struggles will stop engaging in them. If you use this technique every single time, however, they should begin to diminish in frequency and eventually disappear.

Don’t forget. Relationship is key. The stronger your relationship is outside of the power struggle, the less need the child feels to create the friction a power struggle creates. Strengthening your relationship will also diminish power struggles.

No one wins in a power struggle. The winner might believe there is a victory, but power struggles become addictive and will eventually destroy every relationship the child has. Breaking the habit, will improve their relationships with you and with others in the future.

10 Tips for Giving Kids Healthy Praise

Years ago educators realized that children with low self esteem struggled to succeed in school – academically and socially (and in other areas as well). Suddenly, the decision was made to eliminate anything that could potentially lower a child’s self esteem. Honor rolls, competition of any kind and even critiquing student work and behavior were frowned upon in many schools.

After several years of this, something interesting happened. Many students started having an attitude of entitlement. Negative behaviors increased. Their self esteem had been allowed to get too high. Educators found self esteem that was too high might have different issues attached to it, but it was still problematic when trying to help young people reach their full potential. Those who have seen the research and taught students who think they have nothing to learn have begun making adjustments once again.

Children are constantly learning and growing. Sometimes that process is difficult. Young people make mistakes and at times fail to accomplish their goals. They need encouragement from adults to make it easier for them to keep going when things aren’t going well. Often that encouragement comes in the form of praise.

Praise is tricky. Done poorly, it can feel meaningless or cause inflated egos and unrealistic self esteem. Done well, it can encourage young people to push through difficulties and reach their goals. There are some things to keep in mind when attempting to praise a young person that will make your words as effective as possible.

  • Don’t praise just to praise. Kids can tell if your praise is sincere or not. Praising because you think you must – not because you have noticed something praiseworthy – won’t have a positive impact.
  • Don’t overstate or attach new expectations to praise. When you tell a small child he or she is the best artist in the world, part of the child will know that is not true. Young people can’t trust praise they know may be exaggerated. On the other hand, immediately following praise with ”so what are you going to do next” makes young people feel as if they will never be good enough. Be honest with your praise (“I love the colors you used in your painting”) and celebrate the ”victory” being praised. Next steps can be discussed at a later time.
  • Praise in private the majority of the time. Believe it or not, kids sometimes find praise embarrassing. It also puts pressure on adults to give the same amount of praise to every child. While a noble goal, most adults won’t keep track of how much praise is given to each child in the ways kids might. There are times when public praise is good, but too much of it can begin sounding hollow or lead to inflated egos.
  • Consider giving praise in writing. Young people go through phases when they might not listen to praise well. A short note of praise allows you the freedom to say everything you want to say. Many kids will keep those notes and pull them out when they are struggling.
  • Praise effort and improvement over results. Not every young person will achieve goals easily or do things well. Waiting for encouragement until the results are in, may mean going a very long time with no praise. Many times these kids put in more effort than those to whom everything comes easily. Encouraging effort and improvement can encourage all young people to be perseverant.
  • Constantly reinforce that your love for them is unconditional. Too much shallow praise and kids begin to believe your love is connected to being praiseworthy. They need to know you will still love them even if they fail.
  • Praise godly failure. Often failure is a part of learning and growing . If children put in the effort and failed, it can be important to give reassuring praise. This is especially true if they were trying out for something and weren’t chosen. Praise the courage to try new things.
  • Consider connecting praise to scripture. Praise connected to scripture can help them understand where their character is beginning to be what God wants it to be. ”I loved how you were so kind to the new kid at school. You made me think of the Good Samaritan in how you noticed he needed a friend and did something to help – even when others didn’t.”
  • Avoid using the word ”proud” when praising. I know it sounds a bit silly, but kids can be the word police at times. Christian kids know pride is wrong. They don’t understand the nuances of the word in English. They may reject your praise as somehow ”wrong” if you use the word ”proud”. ”I love…” usually gets the same message across without running into interference.
  • Be specific and give at least one example. Sometimes compliments can be too general to be helpful as encouragement. ”You are a great kid!” sounds wonderful, but what does ”great” mean? Try to be more specific and give an example. ”I love how you are so kind to others, like when you invited the new kid at school over to play.” This gives young people enough information to know what they are actually doing that is worthy of praise and should be continued.

It can help make praise more effective if you think of it as encouragement. Young people need encouragement to make it easier to do hard things. Make sure they get what they need to persevere without becoming entitled or egotistical.