Fun Ways to Include God on Family Walks

There has been a lot about this year that hasn’t been so great for many. One of the positives, though, is that many families have been taking daily walks together. While they are great for exercise and stress relief, you can also use them to teach your kids about God. Not by lecturing, but by having fun as you go.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Play “Name the Blessings”. The Bible tells us God’s creation cries out His name. Not literally of course, but we were meant to look at nature and see God. What many Christians forget is that God is responsible for all of our blessings. He may not have built a house with His own hands, but He created the raw materials and gave people the gifts needed to plan and construct a home. As you walk, take turns naming the blessings from God you see. You may want to play it so that you have to find something for the next letter of the alphabet. Or see who can keep it going without repeating a blessing. Have fun with it. End your walk with a quick prayer thanking God for His blessings.
  • Take a prayer walk. As you walk, notice things or people that need to be prayed over. Perhaps it is the neighbor who has been sick or the family who just had a new baby. Maybe it’s for the children who attend the neighborhood school. You can stop and pray as you think of prayer needs and/or add them to your family prayer journal when you get home.
  • Take a service walk. Everyone appreciates a little act of love and service. My grandfather used to take the paper thrown by the street and walk it up to the door people used and leave it there, saving them a walk. Your family may want to surprise people or for some acts (like weeding a neighbor’s flower border), you may need to ask permission first. Even if the person refuses your offer of service, their day can be brightened by your offer.
  • Meet the neighbors challenge. On an average walk in my neighborhood, I can encounter anywhere from five to twenty five people. Using safe distancing practices (and masks if required), see if you can meet these people and start new neighborhood friendships that last beyond COVID. It’s hard to serve and share your faith with people unless you get to know them. You can start by having your adorable little ones wave and say “Hi!”
  • Storytelling walks. Running out of things to talk about on your walks? Try telling stories casually as you go. They can be family faith stories, Bible stories or any other story that teaches your kids about God and what he wants for them and from them.

Any experienced parent will tell you family walks are incredibly valuable. Use them to really listen to your kids and learn about their hearts. Have fun with one of the walks above. Just keep taking them as often as possible.

Ideas for Fun Family Faith Traditions

Most families have family traditions. After every first day of a new school year, my daughter and I headed out for high tea and talking. Some traditions last for decades, like our new pajamas on Christmas Eve. Others fade as children grow, like the elementary school last day of school Bruster’s ice cream run.

God built traditions into Old Testament Judaism. The various holidays brought family and friends together several times a year to celebrate something God wanted them to remember. These holidays also served to point them to the coming Messiah.

Jesus and the Apostles didn’t create the liturgical calendar. In fact, the Lord’s Supper during the worship services on the first day of the week was really the only holiday type tradition they established and practiced. (Easter and Christmas weren’t celebrated until long after the death of the Apostles.)

There is nothing in the Bible that says you can’t create family traditions that involve worshipping God in some way – we just can’t bind them on others. (Romans 14) So what are some family traditions you could begin that would also point your kids to God?

  • First day of school year. This is a day that should be bathed in prayer. A day where you reflect on what God may want for and from each of you during the coming school year. Perhaps you walk to school early and pray together in a quiet spot near the school. Maybe you have a special breakfast, praying a blessing over each child and helping them pick a personal theme verse for the year.
  • Fall harvest. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot moves because of the lunar calendar, but this year it will be October 2 – 9. This was also known as the festival of booths. Families took brush and built a shelter or booth outside. They ate and sleep in the booth each night, with parents telling the stories of Moses and the Israelites. They are celebrating the Fall harvest, but also God’s provision over the years. The original festival also pointed to the coming Messiah. You can do your own version. As you look up at the stars, tell Bible stories that help your kids understand the over arching story of the Bible. Talk about how God has impacted your life and how you see Him working in the world today. Talk about what God wants for and from His people.
  • Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was originally meant to focus everyone on thanking God for the many blessings He has given us – even in difficult times. Over the years though, it has become more about parades, food, football and shopping. Find fun ways to bring back the focus to God. You don’t have to give up your favorite secular traditions, just make God the top priority again.
  • Snow days. If you live in the southern half of the United States, snow days are rare and special. Why not start a special tradition on the first snow fall of the year – no matter where you live? Build a snowman or go sledding. As you drink your hot cocoa or eat your snow cream, talk about how difficult it can be to survive harsh weather conditions without the proper attire. Plan ways your family can serve others and share your faith. Take the extra time indoors to do some fun things to help discover your kids’ gifts from God or develop them more fully. Find ways for them to use their gifts on a project that serves others. Encourage them to find ways to point others to God as they serve them.
  • Valentine’s Day. Why not make this a day when your family finds unique ways to shower everyone around you with love?! Maybe you want to plan all sorts of surprises for others. Or perhaps you want to bake and decorate cookies together and take them to people. Make it a family goal to show active, godly love to as many people as possible every year.
  • Purim. Purim is the Jewish holiday celebrating the story of Esther and how God used her to save His people. Traditionally, this is a time when the story of Esther is retold. Hamantaschen cookies are eaten and little gifts of food are taken to neighbors or the poor. It’s fine to celebrate it traditionally, but add sharing your faith or encouraging the faith of those whom you serve as part of the celebration. (In 2021, Purim will be on February 25 and 26.)
  • First day of Spring. Spring is a great time to remind your kids about the rebirth Christians experience. It’s also a great time to plant a small garden – even a container garden to grow food to share with others. Or use the food you grow to cook food to share with people who may be lonely or food deprived. Since Easter is usually soon after the beginning of Spring, why not invite the people you serve to services? Many who may be intimidated by a regular church service feel more comfortable attending on holidays like Easter.
  • Last day of school. For many kids, the best day of school is the last day of the school year! Regardless, it’s a great time to talk about how God has blessed your family over the previous months. You can also talk about the ways you have each grown spiritually or how God has used each of you to serve others and tell them about Him. It’s also a great time to set summer faith goals. You may want to take an idea from our neighborhood and do it over an ice cream cone!

Starting family traditions can be a bit tricky. It’s important that you are committed to doing the same things year after year for each tradition. Some kids will let you change things, but many want traditions to be safe, comfortable and exactly the same! (Take notes if you are forgetful. Trust me. They will remember even the smallest details!)

If a tradition doesn’t work, it’s okay. Try something different. Include things your family enjoys doing together. Find times when everyone can set aside a day or an evening for the tradition. Remember, traditions are as much about your family spending quality time together as they are about whatever you are celebrating. It’s a great way to create strong, positive memories of your family and your relationship with God.

Is Your Criticism Aversion Hurting Your Kids?

We live in a world where everyone is encouraged to criticize, but no one is encouraged to listen. Actually, you are encouraged to listen to the person’s criticism who is speaking or writing, but no one else’s critiques matter. It’s often couched in phrases like, “Everyone is doing the best they can.” Or “No one has a right to tell me what to do.” Or the ever popular, “Imperfection shows I’m only human.”

Unfortunately, this aversion to criticism is hurting young people – and not just because they won’t listen to our critiques. We live in a world that frowns upon self examination and self improvement – that embraces imperfection as laudable. A world where people would rather experience a hundred miserable failures than listen to the constructive criticism of others.

Yet, God calls Christians to a higher standard. We are to examine ourselves and strive for improvement, growth and even perfection. (Matthew 5:48, 2 Peter 1:5-8 and others) As Christian parents, we need to examine our parenting and our children to see if what we are doing is really helping our kids build strong spiritual foundations and grow to their godly potential.

A recent article in Psychology Today, gave several reasons why parents are missing their kids’ depression. The advice boiled down to parents need to listen – really listen to their kids, and they need not look for quick fixes, but should put in the work necessary to really help their kids deal with their depression.

Yet how many parents read that article or the previous paragraph from a defensive mindset? How many excuses or critiques of the author whipped through your brain while you were reading it? How incensed were you that someone dared to criticize how you listen to your children or how you try to help them with their problems?

Now imagine, if this were written from a Christian perspective. How would you react, if they added concerns about the spiritual health of your children? Or quoted scriptures? Or made specific suggestions of ways to help them process their emotions with God’s help? Or suggested something you are doing is hurting, rather than helping your kids?

We all know that not every critique is equally valid. Yet immediately dismissing all criticism – even that which is constructive and godly – is dangerous for us and our kids. Taking a little while longer to compare it to scripture and examine it for truth and validity could save us a lot of time and spare us a lot of grief.

Godly, constructive criticism can help you catch Christian parenting mistakes before they hurt your kids spiritually. It can save you time wasted by trial and error. It can improve your Christian parenting outcomes by allowing you to learn from those wiser and/or more experienced than you.

It’s worth taking a little extra time to really listen and process constructive criticism directed at your parenting. It can make a huge positive difference in the lives of your kids. It’s worth conquering your aversion, at least long enough to listen and vet what others are saying.

Giving Your Kids Feedback That Works

Lately, I’ve been watching shows about the great estates in England and their servants. I stared fascinated as the servants actually took a ruler and measured everything on a dinner table to make sure each item was placed in the exact proper place.

Imagine if one of the servants were new and neglected to use the ruler for an important dinner party. What would the owner of the estate say to the servant? More importantly, what would he say to make sure the table was set perfectly the next time?

In parenting, there is feedback or correction that helps our kids learn and grow and there is another kind that confuses, frustrates and eventually discourages them. What are those differences?

  • Helpful feedback is extremely specific and concrete. Children, especially young children, are concrete thinkers. Telling them they need a better attitude or to do something better, means very little to them. If, however, you explain that the fork goes to the left of the plate or that they shouldn’t complain when you ask them to do something, they are more likely to comply. When you give your child feedback, try to hear it from their perspective, but pretend like you are speaking a language they don’t fully understand yet. Do they actually know what those words mean to you and how to do the things you are asking them to do?
  • Helpful feedback often involves demonstrations. Sometimes showing works better than telling. Show your kids how you want them to make their beds or put away their clothes. Have them practice in front of you, giving them helpful reminders as needed.
  • Helpful feedback is developmentally appropriate. A table set by a four year old will look different from a table set by a fourteen year old. You need to consider your child’s age and abilities when giving feedback. Yes, you want to move your children closer to the ultimate goal with your feedback, but don’t push them to do things they aren’t able to do yet or let them off the hook for things they can easily master. It may take some trial and error, but you will eventually get a feel for the right balance of encouraging growth without overwhelming them.
  • Helpful feedback takes into account a child’s personality. Some kids crumble before the first word of feedback, while others need to hear it given in a firm tone before they will even consider paying attention. Being too harsh or too wish washy with the wrong child and your attempts at feedback will back fire.
  • Helpful feedback looks for the root of ongoing issues. As Christian parents, we need to be extremely aware of potential heart issues in our kids. Are you constantly having to give the same child the same feedback because the child isn’t understanding or able to do what is asked or because he or she is developing a rebellious heart? Missing the development of a rebellious heart can lead to heartbreak for everyone in the future. Assuming a child has a rebellious heart when he or she is actually just confused, can do damage to your relationship over time. It’s vital to take the time to explore the root cause with your child before jumping to conclusions and then address that core issue appropriately.
  • Helpful feedback comes from a place of love and concern. Yes, you can openly dislike your children and still teach them how to make a bed properly, but that’s not the ultimate goal of Christian parenting. Christian parents need a close, loving relationship with their kids so they can continue to be an influence, helping their kids grow to be mighty men and women of God. When your kids know without a doubt you love them and have their best interest at heart, they will accept your feedback more willingly and use it to learn and grow.

The next time you give your kids feedback and don’t get the desired results, carefully examine what you said. Structuring your feedback with the tips above in mind, might get you the results you want.

Do the Words You Use Make Christian Parenting Tougher?

Parenting can be tough. Christian Parenting is tougher still, as you try to parent against many cultural norms. Why make it any harder than it needs to be? Sometimes the very words you choose to use can escalate an already tense situation unnecessarily.

There are words that will cause an immediate, strong negative reaction in your kids. You’ve probably noticed certain words they use have the same impact on you. Some words will cause a strong negative emotion in almost everyone, like “hate”. Other words will differ from person to person.

Whether we realize it or not, our brains have noticed which words create a strong reaction in others. When we get angry or upset at someone, our brains seem to choose those words on purpose to cause as much pain as possible. (For our purposes, we will call these hot button words.)

Except, the truth is we make conscious decisions about the words we use. It’s just that it happens so quickly we aren’t always as aware as we should be of what is about to come out of our mouths. We become angry at our child’s disobedience and in addition to correcting and giving consequences, we inflict unnecessary emotional pain by using hot button words as we talk to them.

Using hot button words in parenting immediately worsens any conflict. Because of their limited self control, young children may even have what seems like extreme emotional and behavioral reactions when you use their hot button words – especially in tense situations like correction.

If you aren’t careful, instead of changing a child’s behavior, you are creating an emotional divide that will become more difficult to heal over time. You can be firm and even give consequences without using those hot button words.

Some hot button words should be obvious. It is never acceptable to call children ugly names or curse at them. Any descriptive words should be about the behavior and not implying they define a child’s character. A decision is bad, for example, a child is not a bad child. (Defining a child, rather than the choice, can lead them to believing they will only make bad choices and are unredeemable.)

When things are calm, have a conversation with each of your kids about words and phrases that cause a strong reaction in them. Some will be silly, like “moist”. Others will be those words you need to avoid when possible as you talk with your child. You may even want to share some words you would prefer they not use when they are upset with you.

There can also be household bans on certain words. In our home, “hate” was never to be used in reference to a person…especially if it were in the sentence “I hate you!” Although, we knew we loved each other, we believed it was important to never utter those words to one another – even in anger. Your family may want to work together to make a list of banned words and phrases in your home.

If you or your kids have gotten in the bad habit of using hot button words when angry, you may have to have some sort of consequence to help everyone break bad habits. It’s important to be consistent and allow your kids to give you the same consequence if they catch you using hot button words, too.

If you have been in the habit of using hot button words and phrases when correcting your children, you may find eliminating them will lessen the intensity of many conflicts. You probably sound more rational to your children when you avoid using the words that annoy them and they will quite possibly stay a little calmer in the process. Even if they still get upset, it’s great parenting to avoid calling anyone ugly names or using curse words to emphasize your point when talking to your children. Plus it sets a wonderful, godly example for them to follow in their own speech.