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.

Raising Spiritually Resilient Children

Have you ever met people who seemed to bounce back easily when they are hit with sudden changes or negative events? It’s because they have developed resiliency – the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself up and keep going when life knocks you down. Studies have found that emotionally healthy families usually raise children who are more resilient.

But what about spiritually? Is there such a thing as spiritual resilience and how can you help your kids develop it? Most researchers define spiritual resiliency as using one’s healthy spiritual life to improve one’s resiliency in general. For our purposes, however, I want to define spiritually resiliency as having a faith foundation that is so strong it can withstand anything the devil throws at it. If your child is spiritually resistant, for example, he or she might sin when tempted on occasion, but does not let that sin deter him or her from continuing to strive to be obedient to God.

A spiritually resilient young person will endure the same trials as other teens might. She or he does not, however, blame God for the trial or cease to believe in God if the trial is not immediately removed in some miraculous way. Perhaps one of the best examples of someone who was spiritually resilient in the Bible would be the Apostle Paul. When he discovered what he was doing to Christians wasn’t pleasing to God, he adapted his beliefs and practices to better match what God wanted from him. When he planned to go somewhere and God wanted him to change his plans, he did. When he endured trials like shipwrecks, beatings and prison, he didn’t blame God or stop preaching and teaching. That’s the same spiritual resilience you should want for your children.

Spiritual resilience isn’t automatic. There are building blocks to create a strong foundation upon which spiritual resiliency can be built. Your kids will need your help if they are to become spiritually resilient. So what are some of those building blocks?

  • Bible knowledge and understanding. In order for your kids to bounce back easily when encountering trials, they need to know what God wants them to know about life and how He wants them to live it. They need to understand God’s commands and principles. They need to know God’s character and His promises. If your kids know very little of that is in the Bible and understand even less of it, they will struggle to be spiritually resilient. No matter how great your church is, your kids will not learn everything they need to know at church. You have to also teach them at home. Don’t forget to help them develop independent Bible reading habits. They will need to read scripture for the rest of their lives to stay spiritually resilient.
  • Prayer. To be spiritually resilient, your kids need to be in constant communication with God. They need a thorough understanding of prayer. Your children need to understand that prayer isn’t merely submitting an order to God for the things they want, but sharing their thoughts, feelings and concerns with God. While praying as a family is wonderful, your kids need to also have personal prayer lives – even when you aren’t there to remind them to pray.
  • Healthy Christian community. Christian community was designed to provide two things needed for spiritual resiliency – encouragement and accountability. Unfortunately, not all congregations are healthy enough to provide these things. If yours isn’t and there aren’t other options, at least look for strong Christians who can help mentor your children spiritually. Often Bible class teachers and older Christians are happy to mentor young people and help them develop spiritual resilience.
  • Patience and perseverance. Your children need to work on every godly character trait, but patience and perseverance are particularly helpful in developing spiritual resilience. Trials aren’t always quick. God doesn’t always make them miraculously disappear the second they pray about them. Your kids will need patience and perseverance to stay spiritually resilient when facing trials.
  • The help of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given at baptism. Children before the age of accountability do not need to be concerned, because they are protected by their innocence. Once your kids are old enough to truly understand they have sinned and need to repent and dedicate their lives to God by becoming a Christian, they will hopefully choose to be scripturally baptized. When they are baptized, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will provide the counsel they need to be resilient. They need you to teach them how to both recognize and heed that counsel to be spiritually resilient.

Raising children to be spiritually resilient takes time and effort. Without spiritual resiliency, however, your children will find it difficult to be who God created them to be for their entire lives. It is worth taking the extra time and effort to help them develop it.

Fun Activity to Teach Your Kids About Complaining

If they gave out awards for whining and complaining, I am pretty sure someone under the age of eighteen would win. One of the top complaints many parents have is the amount of complaining and whining their children do each day. There is a fun activity you can do with your kids to help them understand why complaining may not be their best option.

To make this activity really fun, you will need to do a little work ahead of time. You will need a small bottle of tonic water, tap water or a bottle of water that tastes really good if your tap water doesn’t, a batch of ”manna” cookies and some roasted quail. You can find a simple recipe for pretend manna here. (Note: No one really knows what manna tasted like other than the vague description given in the Bible. You may want to omit the coriander seeds if your kids don’t like the taste of cilantro.) Your butcher may keep quail in the back if it is not on display or they can often order it for you. You can omit any or all of the foods, but the activity will be more fun and meaningful if you use them.

Call your kids together. If you have a large yard or can go to a nearby park on a warm day, it can add yet another layer of engagement. Tell or read your children the story in Exodus 15:22-26. If you are walking around, you can review what has happened to the Israelites up until this point in the story. The goal is to walk them around enough so they are uncomfortable enough to be thirsty, but not miserable. When you get to the point of the story when they arrive in Marah, give your kids a sip of the tonic water before you tell them the water the Israelites found was bitter.

Ask them what they might have done if they were the Israelites, had walked for three days without fresh water and then tasted that water. Then explain that the Israelites grumbled and complained. Ask your children how God must have felt after He had rescued them from slavery, parted the Red Sea for them (which also saved them from the Egyptians) and then they grumbled and complained because they didn’t like the taste of the water. Finish the story, giving them the “sweet” tap or bottled water.

Next, read or tell them the story of God giving the Israelites manna, found in Exodus 16. Point out that just after the water incident, the people started grumbling about food. Let them taste the manna you made. Explain that while we don’t know the exact taste of manna, this is what some people think it may have tasted like. Ask your kids if they like it. Now have them imagine what it would be like for that to be the only food you got to eat each day – for every meal – for what ended up being forty years!

Your kids will probably empathize more with the Israelites once they realize how much manna they had to eat and how boring it would be after awhile – no matter how much they liked it at first. Then tell them the story in the rest of the chapter about the quail. I love reading this directly from scripture, because God’s frustration with the grumbling and complaining is so clear and His response to their request for meat is actually rather funny. If you have cooked quail, allow them to taste it. This could be part of a meal you have at home or a picnic you have kept on ice.

As you eat, talk about why grumbling and complaining frustrated God so much. Then ask them to think of things people grumble and complain about today that probably annoy God. Finally, ask them why they think it annoys you so much when they grumble and complain to you. Younger children may need help making the connection, but older children should figure it out fairly easily.

End your time together by finding ways to memorize and remember Philippians 2:14. Brainstorm ways you can eliminate whining and complaining from your lives. (Don’t be surprised if your kids point out you complain a lot, too. It is a bad habit for most of us.)

Have fun with it, but use this family fun time as a springboard for eliminating whining and complaining from your home.

Resurrection Cookies

I am reposting this annual family favorite to give you time to gather the ingredients together before next weekend.

Resurrection Cookies are a great way to review the story of Jesus’ death with your children. I got the recipe from one of my neighbors years ago and suspect it is one of those that has been passed around all over the country. I would love to credit the inventor, but have no idea who that would be. We did this every year the Saturday night before Easter as one of our family traditions when our daughter was younger.

You will need a Bible, preferably an NIrV version for younger children. Preheat the oven to 300* and make sure it has reached 300* before you start cooking. Your bowl and beaters need to be grease free for this to work well. We have used pasteurized egg whites and they work fine although it is more difficult to keep the yolk out of the whites. It is best to do this right before the children go to bed, but aren’t so sleepy they won’t enjoy it. It can take up to thirty minutes at night and about five or ten minutes the next morning.

For ingredients you will need: 1 cup of whole pecans, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (apple cider vinegar), 2 egg whites, 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt. I am numbering each step with its scripture to make the recipe easier to follow with your children.

1. Read John 19:1-3. Place the pecans in a large baggie and seal it. As your children beat the pecans with a rolling pin, discuss how Jesus was beaten by the soldiers after his arrest.

2. Read John 19:28-30. Allow the children to smell the vinegar and taste it if they are brave enough! As the vinegar is placed in the bowl explain that when Jesus got thirsty on the cross and asked for something to drink, he was given vinegar.

3. Read John 10:10-11. Add egg whites to the vinegar. Explain to your children that eggs represent life. Discuss how by Jesus giving his life up on the cross, he gave us the hope of eternal life.

4. Read Luke 23:27. Sprinkle a little salt in each child’s hand. Let them taste it. Put a pinch in the bowl. The salt represents the tears of those who loved Jesus when they realized he was dead.

5. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Add the sugar. Tell your children that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because he loves us. He wants us to become Christians and spend eternity with him in Heaven.

6. Read John 3:1-3. Beat the mixture on high (stand mixers work best) for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed (when you turn off the mixer and lift the beaters it leaves stiff little mountain tops). Discuss with your children how the color white stands for purity. Jesus’ blood allows us the chance to be cleansed of our sins and be pure again.

7. Read Matthew 27:57-60. Fold in the pecans. Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto a parchment covered cookie sheet. Explain to your child that each mound represents the tomb where Jesus was laid.

8. Read Matthew 27:65-66. Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Let each child place a piece of tape on the oven door (or roll a large rock in front of it!). Explain how the soldiers sealed the tomb of Jesus.

9. Read John 16:20 and 22.  As you send your children to bed, explain you know they may feel sad about leaving the cookies in the oven over night. Ask them if they can imagine how sad the followers of Jesus must have been when Jesus was sealed in the tomb.

10.  Read Matthew 28:1-9. When your children wake up the next morning, allow them to open the oven and take out the cookies. Have them break open the cookie and see the empty air pocket. Remind them how surprised and excited the followers of Jesus must have been on that first Sunday morning after the cross when they found the empty tomb and realized Jesus was alive.

This is a fun reminder of the resurrection for any time of the year or you can make it an annual tradition. The goal is to create a memorable experience that will place the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection firmly in the minds and hearts of your children.

4 Best Ways to Stop Kids From Whining

If there were a list of the top five things children do to annoy their parents, whining would definitely be on it! There is something about both what is said and the way it is said that can test the patience of any parent. You’ve probably asked them to stop whining or told them you can’t ”hear” them when they whine. Those tactics may work in the moment, but what you really need is a long term solution.

At its core, Christian parenting is about the heart of the child. It’s helping to shape the attitudes and decision making processes of your children so they reflect God’s image more accurately. Children can fake appropriate behavior in front of adults, and still have a heart that is full of selfishness and evil. A godly heart, however, will produce godly behavior more consistently in the presence of everyone.

So what is at the heart of whining? A lack of gratitude for the blessings they already have as well as a lack of patience, self control and a host of other Christian virtues. Thankfully, there are four ways you can begin to help them build character that should also reduce the amount of whining you hear in your home.

  • Gratitude. Whining is about wanting something you don’t have and can’t get immediately. It can be a sign of a building sense of entitlement. You don’t have to guilt your kids into a sense of gratitude, but regularly spending time as a family being grateful to God and others for the gifts they have given you helps. Your family should spend a little time each day reflecting on God’s blessings during the day and thanking Him for them. You should also be the first to thank others, whether it’s someone who gave you a gift or the person who hands you your order at the fast food place. Hearts trained to look for things to be grateful for are less likely to see things to whine about.
  • Perspective. This one must be done carefully or it ends up being prideful. As silly as the saying “Starving children wish they could eat the food about which you are whining“ might be, there is some truth to it. Whining is constantly comparing ourselves to the perfect person with the perfect life and complaining we are currently missing some aspect of that life. It’s a pity party with a show. Unfortunately in our world today, the poor are often separated from not just the rich, but the middle class as well. Your kids may have never seen what life is like for a peer whose parents have less money than you. Once again, be careful so this doesn’t create a prideful spirit, but expose your kids to life in poverty. (This is best done when serving others and sharing your faith.) Watch documentaries about life for children in other environments. Read books designed to encourage empathy. With older children and teens, you can look at statistics and find ways to help end poverty, food insecurity and homelessness. Your kids need to learn these are complex problems, requiring complex solutions. In learning about those issues and finding ways to help, they may gain the perspective they need on their own lives.
  • Service. Serving others well requires taking your mind off of your own needs and focusing on the needs of others. The same child who whines for the perfect afternoon snack will forget to ask for one at all if he or she is fully engaged in serving someone else. Since we usually serve someone who is struggling in some way, serving them can also give your kids some perspective on their own lives.
  • Personal Responsibility. In our house, when someone begins to whine, we ask an important question. ”Have you done everything you can to personally rectify (fix) the situation?” If whining is involved, the answer is almost always ”no”. Why? Because whining is wanting someone else to ”fix” your problem for you and quickly. If there was something your child could have done to personally take care of an issue, make them do it. Only if the child has done everything he or she is allowed to do to solve the issue, should you agree to help (if asked without whining!).

Remember, whining can quickly become a habit that must be broken. In that case, you will need to teach your kids how to break bad habits, in addition to the skills above. Be aware of your own tendency to whine and complain and work on it with your kids. Your kids will often follow your example, so you will need to stop your own whining if you expect them to stop as well.