Kids Follow Our Lead- Everyone Grab a Middle Seat!

It was early at the Oakland Airport, but the kids were excited. I was excited too, because we were about to leave for Florida on vacation. We’re a Disney-loving family, so our first trip to the (other) happiest place was the perfect way to start the summer.

It was time to board our plane and I knew we could run into a little fun, because I had sort of goofed up. You know that procedure on Southwest Air where you need to check-in exactly 24 hours before your flight, or you board last? Well… I had forgotten to check in early and we were boarding last. Also, you probably know that there aren’t assigned seats on Southwest. This is also a key component to the story.

We got on the plane and realized that there were hardly any seats left. There were a few open “middles” with the person in the aisle pretending not to see anyone else, hoping that would cause them to keep walking. This is the point where my wife and I said to each other, “Do we raise unafraid, independent kids or not?”

We told the kids that they needed to find a middle seat somewhere/anywhere and that we’d do the same. Also, we told them to have a nice fight and that we’d see them in 6 hours on the east coast. As it turns out, our daughter was in row 33 between two strangers, our son was in row 23 between two strangers, and my wife and I were up near row 5. We also were getting to know new friends.

In this situation and so many others, I believe that our kids take cues from us and respond in kind. I quietly thought to myself as we boarded, “What if something happens? What if they have nothing to do? What if someone takes them?” Although truthfully, where is someone going to take them anyway? But Renee and I both calmly said to them with our demeanor, “You’re strong. You’re independent. You don’t need me to entertain you.”

Their reaction then followed suit. They got into their seats, settled in, and had a pretty boring flight. This could have all been different if we had begun freaking out, asking the workers to get a bunch of seats switched, and infusing anxiety into the kids. They would pick up on our behavior right away, because they watch and listen, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

I ended up learning a lesson after accidentally getting into boarding group Z (there is no such thing, but it felt like it). My job as the parent to my kids is to stay calm and pass that along to my kids. They should eventually learn from me how to calmly handle issues and that they are more capable than they realize. All went well that day and we made it to Florida just fine… at least until my son got his foot stuck in the escalator at baggage claim, but that’s a story for a different day.

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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 Value of Standardized Tests: There’s More to Our Kids

This is it. That time of year around our country when pencils hit the paper and the stress gets real. Numbers are burning through brains and forms are being filled out in mass. Tax time? No- it’s standardized testing time! Kids everywhere are furiously filling out bubbles in silent classrooms as their teachers anxiously hope that those sweeties choose correctly. After all, every ounce of teacher-worth could be created by what the percentiles of those tests come out to be.

Each year, when this time rolls around, I must remember that I am the head of an academic institution, while holding the personal belief that these tests hold only minimal value. With that in mind, I send some form of the following letter to our families before their kids enter the assessment gauntlet…

Hello Parents:

In the next couple of weeks, our students will be taking the standardized test in math, reading and other subjects. I want to share a few thoughts with you as we head into a week that can often cause students stress (we don’t want that:).

  1. The scores from the testing will tell us something about your child, but they will not tell us everything. A completed scoresheet does not know these wonderful kids the way we do, and it definitely does not know them the special way that you parents do. It won’t measure their creativity, their drive to finish things and the heart that produces that huge smile.
  2. We always want you to have tools and information to help you as a parent. Hopefully, these scores are another tool to indicate academic areas in which we all may be able to help your student grow. We must remember, though, this is not the only tool. We use it, gain from it, and put it away.
  3. Our staff will use these scores to find trends that will help us better serve your kids both now and in the future. We want each part of what they show us to contribute to how we make school (and life) successful for them!

I hope that this year’s testing is pressure-free and stress-free for your children. When they arrive, we will make certain to greet them with big smiles and treat them the same way we do every other week- like the sweet kids that they are!

When I was in grade-school, I had a few things going against me when I sat down to take tests. #1- I wasn’t too brilliant. Maybe that came once I got married, because I sure chose well there. Anyhow, #2- I could not have cared less about the tests! I made characters and shapes out of my bubbles and I’m sure if any teacher looked over my shoulder at my answer sheet, their inner thought bubble said, “What is he DOING?!”

Today, the pressure for students to score perfectly and begin “building a college resume” can be so intense. Kids as early as sixth grade are joining clubs, volunteering, and meeting with coaches to find out how they can one day get into the best colleges. Both college and high school students are trying to find any advantage they can and many schools report Adderall as their biggest drug problem. This “study drug” is prescribed for attention deficit disorder, but often students sell it to one another since it helps a person stay alert and awake for extra studying.

Meanwhile, there is little emphasis put on genuinely developing the character of our kids as they grow. The boxes, bubbles, essays, and percentiles are just a tiny part of that full child. Each of them is so much more than that, as good parents and teachers are fully aware. God made them each so uniquely and there is just no box that we can put them into. There are kids with courage, honesty, creativity, and ingenuity who will score low and change the world. There are also kids who will score at the top and struggle in life because of character issues.

Soon, your child will get their standardized test scores back. Use them as a tool- learn something from them, and find some ways that you can help your child grow academically. Then put the tool away and move on. There are many other great tools to use to help our kids and there are millions of things that make our kids amazing… much more than any dots they color in on a test.

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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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