Hidden Skills Your Kids Need for Better Relationships

I don’t know if Satan has a top ten list of the ways he tempts people to sin, but if he does, I would imagine relationships would be on it. Your kids have lots of relationships they are trying to navigate – you (their parents), siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbors, coaches, teachers, ministers and more. With their lack of knowledge and life experience, it can be easy for them to make poor choices in how they handle the difficulties that often arise between two people.

As Christian parents, you are probably spending a lot of time reminding them to be kind and loving. You are hopefully having conversations about which words and behaviors are loving and kind when interacting with others. You are probably spending time correcting them when they make poor choices in how they treat others. Did you know though, that there are some special skill sets and habits you can teach your kids that will help them continue to improve in the ways they interact with others even long after they are adults?

If you can work with your kids on these areas, it is much more likely they will avoid developing bad and even sinful habits in how they interact with others.

  • Keen awareness of the emotional states of others. There are a few people in the world who are what is known as an ”open book”. They are extremely open and honest. If you say something that hurts their feelings, they will usually let you know immediately and give you an opportunity to resolve any misunderstandings in the moment. Most people, however, are emotional poker players. They are afraid to be vulnerable enough to share their emotions with someone. That can be good, if they are doing it in an effort to have self control over their words and actions. It can be toxic when they never let the person who has upset them know so they can make amends or they tell everyone else how angry they are with someone who literally has no clue anything is wrong. Teaching your kids how to read facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and tells can help them recognize when someone might be upset with them. They can then be proactive in checking to verify the emotional state of the person and correcting any issues. Being aware of the emotional states of others can also help them choose times for having difficult conversations when everyone is emotionally calm and not already upset, tired, etc.
  • Ask for feedback. This is scary for everyone. We all know we aren’t perfect, but who really wants to hear a list of one’s faults and mistakes? Feedback from others, however, is the quickest way to correct mistakes and grow – assuming the feedback is trustworthy. Help your kids find people they can trust to be kind, but honest about how they interact with others. Often a teacher, coach, best friend or relative can point out little things your kids can change in the way they treat others. Remind them to reject any criticism that would have them disobey God (Like ”Everybody would like you a lot better if you would do drugs with us.”) or is problematic in other ways. Often little things like taking a step back when talking to others or letting the other person talk first don’t require a lot of practice, but can make the people with whom they are talking feel more loved.
  • Spend time in reflection. Encourage them to spend time replaying difficult interactions in their heads. Not to be overly critical of themselves or others, but to identify things they did well and the things they still need to practice. In the middle of a conversation it can be hard to determine what made things turn sour. Replaying it later can help your kids figure out what they need to change the next time they are having a similar conversation.
  • Ask for help. Some kids are socially awkward. They aren’t really being unkind, but it might seem that way to others who don’t know them as well. When your kids feel as if they are getting negative reactions from more than one person, but can’t seem to make needed corrections on their own, they may benefit from some coaching. Usually an adult is best suited to analyze the situation and help figure out any changes that may need to happen. For children who really struggle, reader’s theater social scripts can help. You can find plenty online for free that illustrate a positive way to handle the interactions that are a struggle. Your child can read through these scripts with you or others until the desired changes are comfortable.
  • Conflict resolution skills training. The worst parenting advice consistently given by ”experts” is to let kids work out their own conflicts. Children need to be actively taught strong conflict resolution skills and be given practice in using them. This skill alone can save them a lot of relational difficulties. We have a free printable parenting sheet walking you through a method on our website that you can access here.
  • Analyze the interactions Jesus had with others. Sometimes the world’s view of how to treat others isn’t very kind or loving. Your kids will be a lot less confused if they regularly go back and read about the encounters Jesus had with others. How did he interact with people who were hurting or upset? It can also help if they memorize passages like the fruit of the Spirit and 1 Corinthians 13 so they can remind themselves in the moment of how God wants them to treat others. (Repeating ”love is patient, love is kind” over and over in my head while dealing with someone difficult has helped my own self control more than once!)

So the next time you become exasperated your kids aren’t being as loving and kind towards others as you had hoped, take a step back and teach them these skills. It might just be exactly what they need.

Tips for Stopping Parenting Arguments Before They Start

The two most common topics of arguments between spouses are supposedly finances and parenting. It doesn’t have to be that way. Parents, especially Christian parents, need to have a strong game plan in parenting. If not, it is going to be difficult to help your kids build strong spiritual foundations and grow to their godly potential. Without a plan, arguments will become the norm as you “negotiate” through parenting choices in the moment. Life is stressful enough without having constant arguments over parenting decisions.

My husband and I had very few parenting disagreements as we were raising our daughter. We argued about other things, but for the most part we avoided parenting arguments. Here are some things we learned along the way that can help you and your spouse avoid arguing over parenting.

  • Get on the same page ASAP. It’s best to do this before your kids are born, but it’s never too late. The thing to remember is that no matter how similar your backgrounds, you and your spouse were parented in different ways. Some of those differences are minor and some are major. While you may want to change some things your parents did, you will most likely parent your kids how your parents parented you. This becomes problematic when those differences between your two families conflict. The best solution is to pick a parenting book or course and both read it or take it. Agree you will follow that plan unless you both disagree with some aspect of it. Then you have a plan you have both agreed to follow unless you both agree some aspect of it isn’t working.
  • Plan ahead. Sit down with your spouse before your kids reach the next stage of development and discuss how you want to handle common issues. The thing about parenting is your kids are constantly changing. This means your parenting needs to change with your kids. Many milestones, like driving, occur at certain ages. It’s easier to parent through these changes, if you decide a couple of months or even years before a milestone how you want to handle it.
  • Don’t get stuck in your “good cop” or “bad cop” roles. So many couples allow one parent to just be the “fun” parent and force the other to handle all of the correction and discipline. All sorts of plausible justifications are given for the dynamic, but at the end of the day allowing one parent to always just have fun with the kids and forcing the other to do all of the correction and discipline just isn’t fair. If you have anger issues, get professional help. Otherwise, share the responsibility and the fun equally.
  • Stop with the excuses and whining and change the dirty diapers! Once again, this unfair dynamic is all too common. Often it is excused because the mom is nursing or one is a stay at home parent. The other parent has all sorts of reasons why he or she has only changed 20 out of 10,000 dirty diapers or the other parent is always the one cleaning up the vomit or any of the other less pleasant aspects of parenting. Not doing your fair share of the unpleasant or boring parts of parenting will eventually cause your spouse to become irritated. And then angry. And possibly even resentful. Which is a breeding ground for all sorts of arguments. Some of these arguments may seem unrelated to parenting, but have their roots in a frustrated spouse. Your kids belong to both of you and it’s not fair to ask one parent to handle all of the hard parts of parenting, while the other only parents when there is something fun involved.
  • Find a mediator. If there is some area of parenting that causes constant arguments and seems to never resolve itself, consider getting a mediator. It doesn’t have to be a professional Christian counselor, although in some cases that may be necessary. Often an older Christian couple who has raised children who are active, productive Christians as adults can give you the godly parenting advice you need. (It is crucial you find a couple who has raised children who are strong Christians, as they have a positive parenting outcome.)

This tips won’t prevent every argument between you and your spouse, but they can help drastically reduce them. Life is stressful enough. Do the work to minimize the amount of arguing in your home.

Read This Book Before You Divorce

Churches usually go one of two ways when discussing divorce….they either say it’s wrong in most cases or they accept it as normal in today’s world. The reality is that divorce was something God has allowed with certain provisions, but it was not something He ever wanted for us (Matthew 19:8). Whenever we stray from God’s original plan and His wisdom, there are usually real earthly consequences. The church has avoided discussing many of these for fear of hurting someone’s feelings….or perhaps because they don’t feel understanding the possible consequences is even necessary.

Yet to move people towards strengthening marriages, reconsidering divorce or in some cases understanding the divorce is both scriptural and has better outcomes than the marriage, we need to better understand what really happens to kids when their parents divorce.

Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt uses research and the personal stories of the author and others to enlighten readers about the actual impact of divorce on the children. While she obviously has her opinions, the author does a great job of using research to support the ideas she has formed based on her own experience and observations. Her most compelling belief is that adults filter their opinions of divorce through the adult perspective and have done little to examine the short and long term impact on kids. She is also quick to point out that being able to get an education, hold a job and have romantic relationships as an adult aren’t the only ways to measure the impact of divorce on children.

Marquardt is from a Christian background, but actually deals with faith rather generically in the book. She looks at how a divorce impacts kids faith and beliefs and how a church’s response to a parent’s divorce also impacts children. Interestingly, throughout the book, she categorizes children as growing up in homes with “bad” (contentious) divorces, “good” (low conflict) divorces, high conflict marriages and low conflict marriages. As one can imagine, even within divorce and marriage there are nuances that can make the impact children for better or worse.

If you are considering divorce, I highly suggest reading this book. It’s important to understand how it will really impact your kids. If you are divorced – whether it was something you wanted or were heartbroken over – you should read the book to understand what is happening to your kids and to find ways to minimize and/or address the issues. If your marriage is fine, it’s still a great book to read to motivate yourself to keep working to make your marriage better.

Ideas for Valentine Family Fun and Service

Ready for Valentine’s Day? We are big celebrators in our family. Any excuse for adding a bit of fun, joy and love to our days and we are there! Valentine’s Day may have been founded to celebrate romantic love, but why not use it to teach your kids about agape love and have some family fun.

Agape love is the type of love God has for us and we are to have for those around us. It’s a higher love not based on attraction, romance or even friendship. It’s loving others just because they are human beings whom God created and loves.

There are a lot of fun things your family can do to spread some Agape love on Valentine’s Day. You should still have time to accomplish one or more of these before the holiday is over. (Because Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year, restaurants are “celebrating” on Saturday and Sunday, too. Let’s do the same!)

  • Shower widows, widowers and single people with love. There’s nothing like Valentine’s Day to remind you that you are single. No matter how happy someone single may be normally, everyone celebrating love can leave one feeling lonely and alone – even unloveable. Have your kids make cards, cookies or little baggies of those heart chocolates. Allow a few minutes to stay and visit. If necessary prepare your kids ahead of time about some things they can say to help the conversation.
  • Love on friends and “frenemies”. Every child has someone at school or in their activities who is less than kind to them. They may have even been treated by another child as an “enemy”. What a better way to teach your kids about loving their enemies than helping them prepare a Valentine surprise for their friends, but especially for those “not so nice kids”. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Having some discussions on the subject though can help your kids feel more loving as they give a card or treat to someone they may normally avoid.
  • See the “invisible” people. People with special needs, people who are socially awkward or “unattractive”, people who are poor…our world has lots of people that are unseen by others, because they don’t fit the mold of someone who makes a good friend or even acquaintance. Consider having some of the “invisible” people your family knows over for a meal or dessert. Or give them a Valentine’s treat and have a real conversation with them. Find out the things they enjoy doing. Get to really know them as “real” people with real stories. Make them visible to your family.
  • Thank the unappreciated. How many bus drivers, crossing guards, or maintenance people are ever thanked, much less receive Valentine’s treats? Even teachers can be forgotten. What about the mail carrier, the garbage collectors and the counter person at the dry cleaners? How many unappreciated people can your family make feel appreciated over the next few days?
  • Serve those who help others. Ministries and non-profits usually have ongoing needs for items or volunteer hours. Can your family find a way to give a ministry or non-profit some extra help?
  • Surprise your family members. Let’s be honest. The people in our family know how to get on our “last nerve”. Living in the same house can create conflicts and hurt feelings. We can say the worst things to the people who love us the most. Why not change that dynamic? Encourage everyone in your family to find ways to surprise, encourage and love everyone in your family. Make it fun and focus on all of those little things that would make life more pleasant for the people in your family.

Make Valentine’s Day a day when your family has a tradition of loving everyone they can. Encourage your kids to pour out love generously. Who knows, your family may enjoy it so much it becomes a habit every day of the year!

Top Tips for Raising Empathetic Kids

“You just shouldn’t treat people that way,” the clerk muttered as I stepped up to the desk. I asked if the previous customer had been rude to her. “No,” she replied, “It was a co-worker who chose to assume the worst about me and never considered it might not be true. Not to mention, she was really ugly to me in the process. My feelings were of no concern to her.”

I could feel her pain. I had been through a similar experience recently. Why do people always seem to assign the worst possible motives to others – even if there is no evidence that was indeed their motive? Why do they believe they don’t need the full story before rushing to judgment? Why do they feel justified in whatever they choose to say or do if someone has made them unhappy in some way?

The truth lies in empathy, love and forgiveness – three character traits modeled perfectly by Jesus during his life on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t always model Jesus as closely as we could in those attributes. Let’s be honest, it can feel a little good to unload all of your frustrations about life onto someone who you believe has wronged you. They become symbolic of everyone who has ever hurt you.

Sadly, we pass our poor attitudes and behaviors on to our children We may not actively tell them to forget about empathy, love and forgiveness. If they see us do it frequently, however, they learn that lesson well.

How can we teach our kids to be more like Jesus? In many ways it starts with empathy – the ability to understand how others feel in a situation. It’s what Jesus modeled in the feeding of the 4000 and many other times in his ministry. Teaching your kids to be empathetic begins with all of you remembering and practicing some empathy basics.

  • Empathy takes intentionality. To be empathetic, you have to be able to consistently take a breath before speaking, acting or judging and try to understand what the other person may be thinking and feeling and why. That doesn’t happen by accident. You and your kids will have to be intentional about making this pausing and reflection a habit.
  • Empathy can mean asking respectful questions. Sometimes the situation is so complex, we can’t begin to easily put ourselves “in their shoes”. Asking respectful questions can help. “Can you help me understand what happened to help you come to that conclusion?” is usually more productive than just assuming the worst.
  • Empathy isn’t about judgment. Just because I can understand and have empathy for the brokenness that has encouraged someone to become an addict, doesn’t mean I approve of their choices. It does, however, remind me of the love God wants me to have for them and the passion I should have for helping them be who God wants them to be.
  • Empathy and sympathy are different. Sympathy can be a bit condescending. It can give others the impression that we have the attitude we are somehow better than the other person. Empathy is trying to understand the other person as well as we possibly can. This understanding can build bridges between people who might be enemies under other circumstances.
  • Empathy acts in loving ways. Yes, at times that may be “tough love”, but that can also be done in ways that are kind, patient, self-controlled, and all of those attributes found in I Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit.
  • Empathy starts by assuming the best. Most people don’t wake up in the morning plotting ways to ruin your day. People are tired, overwhelmed and make poor choices. That doesn’t mean they are at heart hateful, heartless or anything else your mind wants to immediately label them. Teach your kids to start by assuming the best and see what happens. If you give most people a chance, you will see the good in them. Make it a family habit to look for the good in everyone, rather than acting like professional critics.
  • Empathy is forgiving – as often as it takes. Forgiveness is not saying you agree with those choices. It is giving them the chance to start fresh with you. How many times? The Bible says 70 times 7…indicating that we just need to start with forgiveness and not wait to be begged into it by the “guilty” party.

Empathy isn’t easy at times. In the next post, I will share some fun things you can do to help your kids become more empathetic.