Modeling & Correcting Behavior: Being Our Kids' Trainer

I was listening to a great parenting message by Shaun Nepstad a couple of weeks ago and he got into something that really stuck with me.

I’m not a gym rat by any means. Truthfully, I don’t know the technical names for most of the equipment, so that’s basically the level I’m at. I am familiar with basic exercise and nutrition, though, and I would gladly join anyone for a 30-minute Core Inferno workout. Through the years, there have been times where I have consulted trainers or used video workouts to better understand how to stay fit.

There are two things I’ve seen that a good trainer does that translate so perfectly to the raising of our kids every single day of their lives:

1. A good trainer does not tell just you what to do without instruction or guidance. They first model the exercise, showing exactly what they expect and talking you through each portion of it. Then, after watching them do it, you get the chance to try. At that point, you copy what you have seen. Even if the exercise was done incorrectly, you copy what your trainer showed you.

Our kids copy what we show them! Tough questions: do I exaggerate when I speak? Do I make dishonest statements to get ahead? Do I speak rudely to my wife or other people? Am I lazy and short-tempered while asking my kids to be the opposite.

We must be so aware of the things we do and the attitudes we present, no matter how small we think they are. As our children breathe our spiritual air, they will act out our habits, attitudes, and words. We may look at them and say, “Where did you learn that??!?!” The best answer is sometimes right in the mirror.

2. A trainer is also never hesitant or afraid to correct our form when working on an exercise. The reason for this is very powerful and applies deeply to our parenting… bad form causes injury. Lifting a weight incorrectly or at too heavy an amount has seen many muscles get twisted, strained, and wrecked.

Have you ever been somewhere in public with your children and they’re acting… well, like you cannot believe?! This may just be me, but have you also felt reluctant, at least for a moment, to discipline them? I’ve asked myself things like, “What will these other shoppers think?” or “What if this is embarrassing?”

In disciplining our kids, what we ignore, we excuse.

In the gym as in life, bad form causes injury and we cannot be timid to correct it. Poor character brings all kinds of trouble for a maturing person and as parents, we have the chance to shape something better. By holding back our correction, we are allowing conduct, behaviors, and attitudes to continue that will hurt our children as they grow into adults. This applies both in public and at home- what we ignore, we encourage. Our great responsibility is to train our children by gently correcting their form, then praising them when they succeed.

As parents, we may not be workout or gym pros, but in the end that does not matter nearly as much as being expert trainers with our kids. Showing them how to live well will give them a guideline for living well. Lovingly correcting them as they make mistakes will teach them right from wrong and consequences for their actions. With these thoughts in mind, we can be well on the way to raising great kids who will one day raise great kids of their own!

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Exposing Our Kids to Great People: The Gift From Mrs. Keys

I didn’t think that a gift from Reese’s teacher would touch MY heart so much. Although, it wasn’t the gift itself, but the message that came with it. To start this sixth grade year, Mrs. Keys held a special ceremony in which she told her class the significance of her favorite book, the Bible. She shared about different Bibles she had owned in her life and the special people who had given them to her. She revealed times when passages in her Bible had guided her through dark, difficult, and painful places. She talked about when verses in God’s Word built her up and gave her inspiration to succeed.

Then she presented each of her students with their own leather bound Bible, complete with their name imprinted neatly on the front. Each student came to the front and she presented it to them, encouraging them to use it as a roadmap for life.

The kids all left school that day THRILLED about the gift and Reese came home with hers. She showed it to me and it was beautiful. I looked at it, opened the front cover and saw life. Life being given from Mrs. Keys to my daughter. She wrote to my daughter, “Reese, You are loved, redeemed and made for a great purpose. I cannot wait to see all the amazing things God will do in your life. Love, Mrs. Keys” STAWP. IT. NOW!

There is something so very special when someone you respect breathes inspiration and words of affirmation into your kids. It feels as if you’re pulling on this rope called parenting, which is heavy and hard to pull. Then another supportive hand grabs on with you, tells you to keep going, and starts to pull as well. Every single parent knows the way this goes… we speak to our kids and tell them all about how things should go, meanwhile wondering if they even hear us. But, sometimes it takes another respected voice to say the same exact thing in order to penetrate their heart and reach them deeply.

For this reason, we believe in our home that we MUST expose our kids to “high impact people and high impact events.” Looking back on my childhood, my parents provided a steady and loving home. They were wise in the things they told me and taught me. But, being the goof I was, I didn’t usually take much note. I mean, they were just my parents. So they put me in the path of Bret, Barb & Doug, and others who guided me in the same direction. Those were high impact people who simply supported what my family was doing at home. Without this, I would be a different person today.

As a parent, I’m grateful for the Mrs. Keys’, Mrs. Friesen’s, Apollo’s, Karlo’s, Kevin’s, and others who are in essential places in my children’s lives. I can’t give my kids everything they need as they grow, and even if I could, they wouldn’t listen to it all from me. The truth is that kids will talk to someone in their life at some point, and the last thing they need is to get consequential advice from a peer. With this in mind, we can give them places to go (besides us) when they need to confide, celebrate, or think.

Let’s release control and find some high impact people to help speak life into our kids. We can’t do it alone!

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Teaching Compassion: This Student Inspired Me!

I can tell my kids lots of things, but what I do matters more.

Kylie inspired me this week. This creative and kind fourth grader at our school came up to me with a huge smile and handed me a custom key chain. “Here is one for you, Mr. Jackson. I made these!” Well first of all, the key chain itself is rad. It’s has “Bulldogs” stitched onto a long shiny slip of leather material… a great way to show off our mascot.

Even sweeter than the actual gift was the reason she made it. In a little pouch that Kylie held in her hands were a whole bunch more of these key chains. They were different colors and had a variety of stitching shades. I asked her, “What are all those for?” Her response was perfect, “I made these to sell to people. The money goes to our class Compassion student.”

Each classroom at school sponsors an international student through Compassion International. The children send letters and encouragement back and forth, and our students are responsible to bring money in for their sponsorship. This then helps that child and their family by providing medical assistance, school uniforms, and resources for parents. We presently support children in El Salvador, Kenya, the Philippines, and several more.

The thought behind this situation at our school is not solely to raise money, or to have a pen-pal overseas. The main thing we are trying to do is plant seeds of compassion and empathy in our students that will stay with them forever. One day, we hope to see adults who see needs and take action.

Kylie gets it! Somewhere along the way, she has seen, heard, and been inspired to HELP. I’m sure that some of this came from school, but I’m convinced that the biggest factor for her is that she has parents who care, act with others in mind, and share kindly. It’s no accident that her mother guided her in creating these inventive pieces. Mom is not only saying what is right, but doing it.

Us parents talk a whole lot. We repeatedly tell our kids how they should and shouldn’t act, how we’d like them to treat people, and also that they should stop bickering with each other in the backseat of the car. No one, actually everyone, probably feels so often that those bundles of joy are just not listening! But… they are always watching. I can say all kinds of stuff, but what I do matters more. If I tell them to be honest, then lie about their age to get a discount at a movie… they notice. If I encourage them to be flexible, then yell around the house when things aren’t just right… they notice. Even when I ask them to be polite, then treat the server at a restaurant like trash… they most certainly notice.

Kylie and her family taught me three lessons this week. One, compassion and empathy are qualities that make kids better people. Two, the best way to develop any trait in my kids is to show it to them. Finally, Kylie is fantastic at making bulldog key chains. I believe I can be an improved parent with the first two lessons. The third lesson… I’ll leave the key chain creating to Kylie.

Using Affirmations to Build a Strong Inner Voice

At the start of each week, you can go into the first grade classroom at my school and find the inspiration and optimism you need to tackle whatever is ahead of you. In the corner of the white board are two phrases that are new every Monday. They’re meant for the children to memorize, but they are true for all of us. The teacher calls them “affirmations.”

One of the posted affirmations said, “I believe in myself and my abilities.” Another read “I give and accept compliments.” This week, one of the affirmations is “God has a great plan for my life.”

During the week, the students practice these affirmations, commit them to memory, and discuss how they apply in life. I recently asked the teacher the purpose of this weekly habit. Her response inspired me and caused me to think about how I build confidence in my own kids. She said, “Affirmations can be a truth that we need to remind ourselves of when we are in a difficult situation, or they can serve as a reminder of a goal or something we hope to achieve.”

The time is coming fairly soon when my kids won’t be around me everyday. They won’t always have nonstop daily access to my guidance, advice, and encouragement… or my refrigerator. They won’t live under my roof, be tucked in each night, and asked about the details of their day. For this future that’s ahead of them, I want one thing: I want them to know who they are and what they can do.

The world that awaits them will tell them things like, “You’re NOT good enough,” “You’re too big/small/skinny/fat/loud/quiet/etc.,” and “You are not worth being loved.” At that moment, each of our kids will look to their inner voice and lean on what they believe about themselves, which largely comes from us. They may become shell-shocked, depressed, or incapable of overcoming what’s coming at them. They may not have an inner voice that gives them confidence. But… we can build that inner voice in them now! We can tell them, “You matter,” “You are strong and you were born for a reason,” and “God loves you and sees great things in you.” If we do this, our kids will have a reservoir of strength to draw on when times get tough. They will know who they are and whose they are. They will be able to look at situations they face and remind themselves, “God made me for a reason,” “I am confident, loyal, and strong,” and “My BEST is SUCCESS.”

I want my kids to know who they are and what they can do.

Tonight, when I tuck those two sweet kids of mine into bed, I will be sure to look them in their eyes and fill them with affirmations. I will then go into first grade tomorrow and remind myself that those are true for me as well!

NOTE: For more excellent affirmations for your child, take a look at these from Priscilla Shirer.

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The Power of Parents’ Words: You’re Beautiful

When my daughter was in preschool, we had a song.  We’d sing it to each other almost every day and it went like this:  “I see your face in every sunrise, the colors of the morning are inside your eyes.  The world awakens in the light of the day, I look into your eyes and say… you’re beautiful.”  Actually, she changed the last phrase into “you’re handsome” and I LOVED IT.  Many times, as Reese and I would get into the car her first words were, “Dada, will you play our song?!”  Why yes, I believe I will:)

My daughter was only three and I wanted her to know something that I still want her to know today- she is beautiful.  I want her to know that from a man in her life who loves her and cares about her just for who she is as a young lady.  I also want her to know every day of her life that she is beautiful for far more than what she wears, what her hair looks like, or what style of shoes she puts on her feet.  Many times, my affirmations to her are followed by this statement: “It’s the most important for you to be beautiful on the…” and she answers, “inside.”

Our culture has placed immeasurable importance on outer beauty and is doing its best to convince our children that they must look the best, feel the best and have more than every one else.  Additionally, many of us adults are being convinced of the very same thing as we constantly compare ourselves to everyone around us.  The Bible says that God sees things quite differently than us.  1 Sam. 16:7 says, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  We can easily look gorgeous on the outside, but have emptiness on the inside.

When I’d look into Reese’s adorable face every day and sing, “You’re beautiful” to her I wanted her to know two things.  First, she is made by God uniquely and specially JUST the way He wanted her.  Every hair, birthmark, wrinkle and freckle was placed exactly where it is meant to be by Him.  There is no accident.  Psalm 119:73- “You’re hands have made and fashioned me.”  For that reason, she is a beautiful girl made by a beautiful God… on purpose.

Secondly, I want her to know that her inner beauty is more important than anything on the outside.  That is why we will teach her to dress modestly.  That is why we will raise her to love God and experience the love He has for her.  That is why we will encourage her to be confident enough to speak up when she feels uncomfortable. That is why we will help her learn the Bible, so that she has a strong foundation to make good choices as she grows older.

If you have a daughter, tell her she’s beautiful.  If you have a son, tell him he’s handsome.  Those words will stick and build confidence that will last. You don’t have to sing to them, but trust me- it’s much better that way.

Is it Okay for Our Kids to Be Bored? Building Motivation and Creativity

You can already smell it in the air… pollen? Well, yes. But, I’m talking about summer. Children everywhere rejoice at the free horizons ahead of them! Parents, however, see right through this and know that by June 10, their sweet little ones will be whispering those seven letters that can make the summer screech to a halt- “I’m bored.”

All of us have heard this from our kids. My parents heard this from me during my childhood. They typically responded with, “Go outside.” Ugh, how could they?! Some parents today kick swiftly into gear at the mention of this phrase. IPads appear, Netflix is switched on, iPhones are handed out- anything to avoid the guilt associated with torturing a child with boredom.

As summer quickly approaches, it’s important to understand that “boredom” is not a curse word, especially relating to our kids. Actually, it can be of great benefit to them if we will just back away and let it happen sometimes.

  1. Boredom helps them practice for life. Our kids will grow up and stand in line, sit in doctors offices, drive in traffic, and endure tedious work meetings. Hopefully, they are used to managing this by then.
  2. Boredom builds creativity. Parenting author Nancy Blakey says, “I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can, however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up, but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom.” Yes!
  3. Boredom builds motivation. When I’m not setting up everything for my kids, they are forced to self-motivate and think. This too will be another skill that’s useful down the road. As child psychologist, Lyn Fry said, “If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.
  4. Boredom builds contentment. This applies to adults too… we GO too much! Some of us can hardly sit in quiet without wanting to hop up and do something. Contentment is strengthened when we bring calm and peace to our homes, teaching our kids that life is not just a series of activities that we jump one to the next.
  5. Boredom creates contributors, not consumers. If we allow it, our children will naturally slip into constantly “taking.” That’s how we’re all born! Allowing them to experience a little boredom gives them a chance to build and contribute, rather than simply wait for someone to do that for them.

“Preempt the time spent on television and organized activities and have them spend it instead on claiming their imaginations.” ~ Nancy Blakey

I can hear you asking, does this mean I just sit in a chaise lounge with my lemonade all summer?! Well, part of the time, but we are in this to train future adults, not toss them into the yard and hope for the best. With that in mind, here are a few ways to guide our kids through the boredom:

  1. FIRST, love on them. Cuddle them, eat breakfast with them, share regular and meaningful conversation with them. Parenting is a balance between making these deposits and building independence in them.
  2. Get them outside. The outdoors is somehow fertile for a child’s imagination. Things come to life out there that don’t in the house. Let them sweat, get dirty, and create out there… without your help.
  3. Create a no-screen zone. Give yourself permission to say YES to screens during the summer, but also to say NO sometimes. Screens will provide relief from the immediate boredom issue, but they will not shape creativity or encourage motivation. What they may do (as most parents know) is start an argument of some kind;)

This summer, be reminded and encouraged that you are doing a great job. Even during the “boring” days, there are chances to help our kids grow in character and life-skills. We can guide them to be creative, learn contentment, and gain motivation. This may not be glamorous, but it IS what counts!

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Giving Our Kids the Gift of Confidence: Daddyeous Protectosaur

The above photo is of my mother, circa 1987. And 1988. And 1989. You get the point. What was I doing while she was getting all this beauty rest? This:

Oh, and this:

All. Day. Long. When I was a kid, summertime meant that my friends and I would hop on our bikes and head over to a baseball field in our neighborhood. Sometimes along the way, we’d grab Baskin Robbins ice cream, then spend literally hours at the field. The end of the day would come and we’d come home dirty, exhausted, and ready to do the same thing the next day.

My mom would ask about the day, tell me to get cleaned up for family dinner, and remind me that I still had jobs to do around the house. During the day, she hadn’t texted me, called me, or found-my-iPhone.

What’s out of place at this “kids” playground? The adult!

Fast forward to today. Check out this photo captured by yours truly, budding amateur photographer. You’ll notice a gorgeous modern play structure designed for the enjoyment of little ones. You’ll see the detailed colors and thought that has been put into the creation of a fine zone for children. You’ll also come aware of a seating area for adults in the bottom right corner of the photo. This area is empty, because you can also observe the main feature of my work of photgraphic art: daddyeous protectosaur in his natural habitat. He is posted within easy sightlines of his prized creation, poised to pounce if she happens to slip or if any child dares be mean to her. He is sipping his nummy latte, but deftly only has the cup over the bottom of his eyes for maximum peeking efficiency. In this pose, daddyeous protectosaur is ready for anything. Unfortunately, his child may not be.

Is there a balance we can reach? Can parents today raise independent kids without turning them completely loose in a dangerous world? I believe the answer is YES! Accepting that our kids will sometimes fail is key, although difficult. Not checking their every move and step, but allowing the consequences of both is critical. Many of us have that backward: we check up on every single thing they do, then save them from any negative results that come from their actions. We pester, nag, and chase them about chores and homework, then blame anyone but them when they are held accountable.

What are a few ways that us parents can let our kids grow up and begin to walk on their own two feet? Try these to start with and you’ll be thrilled with the future adults you begin to see bloom:

  1. Let them play. I catch myself often wanting to micromanage my kids’ play, but I come to realize that they’re doing fine without me! Some of the best play happens when we’re not hovering so much.
  2. Don’t answer for them. When an adult asks our kids “How are you?” or “What’s your name?”, we can train them to answer that person politely for themselves.
  3. Allow them to do some tasks on their own. It’s amazing what kids can do- basic cooking, cleaning, yardwork. The only thing that often holds them back is that we won’t let them.
  4. Have them order food for themselves. Kids of nearly any age can learn to look a server/cashier in the eye and speak up to order their meal. This is a great area to train them in speaking to adults and an awesome confidence builder.
  5. Let them try to solve their own small problems. It is every parent’s instinct to swoop in and rescue their child. The reality is that we won’t always be there to do that. A child that never has an opportunity to problem solve will seek out help as a teenager, a young adult, and beyond. This will leave them vulnerable to accepting help from the wrong sources if they cannot find the confidence within themselves.

These kids are gifts from God and sometimes all of us can lovingly treat them like China dishes, making sure that they don’t break or crack. What may help them more than that is realizing that God has given them to us to prepare them for a life that is ahead. That life is full of victories and hardships alike. We can gently expose them to some of these things now to strengthen their roots as a capable child of God. Then when mighty winds come later, they can stand strong and not topple. Not only that, we may get some extra beauty rest like my mom did and be extra beautiful when we get into our sixties.

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