An Inspiring and Visually Spectacular Family Movie

Alice Through the Looking Glass Opens Tonight

AliceThroughTheLookingGlass56c20221afcf7

Whatever your plans are for tonight, make sure they include a trip to the theater to see Alice Through the Looking Glass!

Apparently, most critics don’t agree with me, but I’m not one to care much about fitting in with the masses. Jody and I had a chance to attend a pre-screening earlier this week, and we both LOVED it. In fact, the whole theater loved it. I’ve been to about half a dozen Disney pre-screenings over the past year or so, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen the entire theater (and it was a large, very packed theater) burst into applause at the closing credits.

Tim Burton directed the first live action Alice in Wonderland back in 2010. I loved that one too, but James Bobin, the director on this year’s sequel, brings a new sense of visual splendor to the story. In true Burton form, the first film had a darkness about it — almost a steampunked feel to it. Bobbins depiction of Wonderland is vividly colorful. I want him to come decorate my house — at least part of it!

Jody and I thought the storyline was very creative. Here’s the gist. Alice returns to the whimsical world of Underland (Wonderland was Alice’s mispronunciation of the place when she was a young girl) to save her friend the Mad Hatter. By the way, we were impressed that after six years, the film attracted nearly all of the original cast to return.  Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Matt Lucas and Helena Bonham Carter along with the voices of Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall. Looking Glass also introduces us to several new characters: Zanik Hightopp (Rhys Ifans), the Mad Hatter’s father and Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen), a peculiar creature who is part human, part clock.

In this adventure, a self-confident and courageous Alice Kingsleigh has spent the past three years sailing the high seas aboard her father’s ship. Upon her return to London, she comes across a magical looking glass and returns to the fantastical realm of Underland. Reuniting with her friends the White Rabbit, Absolem, the White Queen and the Cheshire Cat, Alice goes on a time-bending quest to save the Hatter and Underland itself before it’s too late.

It’s a great family film that does a creative job of reinforcing the importance of courage, taking risks to help others, standing up for what we believe in, righting our wrongs and learning to embrace one another’s gifts and abilities in spite of our differences.

The characters are as loveable as ever, and Alice’s wardrobe is stunning!

Don’t miss this fun and inspiring family film. It opens tonight in theaters everywhere.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 3 to 17), including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Extra! Extra! Read All About It

The Big Payoff of Reading Aloud to Kids of All Ages

Reading aloud to kids

Out of all the different ways that we can help our kids succeed in school, the number one thing that parents can do requires nothing more than a free library card and time. We can read to them.

In 1983, the U.S. Department of Education was concerned about low academic performance scores, so they funded a Commission on Reading who spent two years combing through thousands of research reports conducted over the previous twenty-five years, and in 1985 they published their findings in a report titled Becoming a Nation of Readers. Amidst all of their digging, they discovered that reading out loud to kids is the number one most important thing we can do to help our kids become successful learners.

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children,” the report said. “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

I’ve Seen It First Hand

I homeschool all my kids, so I have had the privilege of watching them learn to read. (Well, the first five that is; the four year old is just starting.) And I’ve noticed reading happens in different ways for different kids. A few of my kids were early fluent readers, reading simple chapter books independently before Kindergarten. But a couple of them did not take to it so easily.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 3 to 17), including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Surprised by Zootopia

Opens in theaters tomorrow, March 4th

zootopia

I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from Zootopia, but boy was I wrong! I had the chance to see it earlier this week with our resident YouTube reviewer (a.k.a Griffyn Stahlmann or “G to the S,” as he refers to himself), and we were both surprised at how good it turned out to be.

The newest feature film from Disney is set in the modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia, a city comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown. Zootopia is a melting pot where animals from every environment, whether or predator or prey live together harmoniously.

The story centers on a rookie police officer Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), who has overcome decidedly insurmountable odds to achieve her dream of becoming the first bunny cop. In spite of her success at the police academy, Officer Hopps has to work extra hard to prove herself, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), in order to crack a seemingly cold case.

Beneath the typical “kid story” of believing in yourself and working hard to become anything you put your mind to, there were underlying stereotypes, prejudices and judgements that threatened the harmony of Zootopia and the hopes of the film’s heroes.

The plot takes some unexpected turns along the way, holding the attention of the kids and the adults in the audience. It’s a fun and meaningful story that the whole family can enjoy.

Zootopia opens in theaters tomorrow, March 4th. It’s a great pick for a family movie, but you can skip the 3-D if you’re on a budget this week. I happen to enjoy 3-D and would probably see every movie that way if I could, but I know that a lot of people do not share my enthusiasm for it. If that’s you, Zootopia would be just as exciting in the standard format. We got to see it in 3-D, and there was nothing particularly exceptional about it.

If you head out to the theaters this weekend, stop back and tell us what you thought of Zootopia! And if you’d like to see Griffyn’s review, click here.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 3 to 17), including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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How Long Do “Things” Last in YOUR House?

Teaching kids to respect belongings

teaching kids to respect belongings

Ever since I can remember, I have been teased about how long my “things” last. Believe it or not, I have clothing from my twenties (I’m almost 47) that my girls now wear – yes, my clothes are “cool” again! My friends swear that my shoes never wear out or that my purses and bags never show their age. I suppose there is some truth to that. The furniture in my house is almost ten years old and looks as good as it did the day it was delivered. My parents taught me that paying close attention to how we care for our things is showing respect for our things.

From the time I was a child I would keep the original plastic on my new things, such as the plastic cover on my computer top or a plastic sheath over a metal end on a bag, because I wanted it to look new forever. I stored most of my things in the original boxes if it wasn’t something I used on a daily basis. Well, now that I’m older, I’m not quite that picky about my things looking brand new, but I do tend to take extra care of my belongings.

It’s something that I learned from my parents. I had the parents who always helped me think through what would happen if I didn’t put something away; they reminded me of the possibilities of accidents or damage that could occur if something was left out or kept in an environment that wasn’t safe.

My dad was especially frugal. So to him, the thought of having to repurchase an item that could have lasted much longer if just taken better care of was ludicrous! And both my parents were clean freaks. A person could eat off my dad’s barn floors, and you could practically perform surgery in my mom’s bathrooms! When I was a kid, I thought it was ridiculous. Of course, now that I am an adult, I am grateful.

I guess that I inherited their mentality.    

To be honest, this mindset has served me and my family well. Respecting our things teaches responsibility. As a child, I knew that I had a responsibility to take care of my things and my parent’s things. I wasn’t allowed to leave my bicycle outside overnight. I wasn’t allowed to leave my dirtbike muddy after racing on our trails. I wasn’t allowed to run off and play after we came home from a day of boating. I was made to wipe down the boat and clean it immediately, so that the dirt and grime from the Illinois river water didn’t have time to set.

I was taught that if I see garbage on the floor – pick it up. It will make cleaning easier later, AND there is less risk for damage – what if the “wrapper” had something sticky or dye on it? I was taught not to be rough with things, such as sitting on tables, plopping with all your weight onto couches or flinging things around in the house. I was taught that if I see pieces to a game to pick them up immediately (even if it wasn’t mine) and put them in the correct box. And guess what? I didn’t lose my game pieces that way!

Taking care of our things is not necessarily intuitive. I believe it is something we must demonstrate for our kids.  Thanks to my parents, this is something I have learned and in turn, been able to instill in my own kids. I can remember my dad telling me to put the folding chairs and tables away after a gathering and then explaining that I shouldn’t be so rough with the legs of the table or stand on the tabletop while I had it upside down to put the legs down, because it would weaken the integrity of the table and shorten its lifespan. He always explained “why.”

We all have things we value. Being responsible for your things is a form of respect. But respecting your things takes self-awareness, consistency, commitment and self-discipline. At the end of the day, these are all character traits we want our kids to have. So, why not begin teaching them now how to respect their things and other people’s things?

Here are a few pointers that can help get the ball rolling.

Have a Routine

If you have littler children, have a clean up routine with a song (such as the Barney song) to make it fun and create a habit. Narrate why it’s important to clean up. The trick is to clean up EVERY TIME and after EVERYTHING you do and help them to understand WHY. The “why” is important. Remember, kids learn what they live, and their little eyes are watching you.

If you have older kids, a Barney song may not be helpful, but you CAN help them create a new routine. Let’s say your teen is always forgetting to do a few things when he leaves the house, such as making sure his computer is put in a safe place, homework is placed in the proper folders, a phone charger is packed and they are wearing good shoes when heading out somewhere rugged.

Start by making a short and simple list. It could look like this:

  • make sure computer is safe
  • homework in proper folders
  • phone charger packed
  • wear shoes that won’t get ruined

Write out your short, simple list ,and have your teen memorize it. Help him make a silly song out of it, if that makes it more fun (it does in my house). Then, sing it with him before school, after school, at dinner, in the car and whenever it pops into your head to do it. Then begin having him recite it to you a few times during the day for a few weeks. Each time your teen begins to head out the door, have him sing his song to you (or just recite the list) and then ask him if all the items he mentioned have been done. Soon you will have a new habit form in your teen. Start with a few things, and once those have been mastered, move on to more. Just remember to always go back and do a refresher on things of the past to keep him in the habit. We all need reminders.

Become Self-Aware

Being self-aware is the key to any change you want to make. Start making mental notes about yourself. This is the key to helping your kids become more self-aware.

  • Do I always pick up after myself?
  • Do I stop to think about how something may get ruined? (i.e. scuffing my shoes by how I stand or brush against things, being careful about where I set my purse, being aware of where my personal belonging are so they don’t get ruined or lost, thinking through how others may step on something of mine or push on it in a way that it could break, etc.)
  • Do I allow the kids to leave ink pens, small toys, socks or anything else lying around left out or on the floor? (These little things are precursors to big things)
  • Are there any rooms left untidy before bed each night?

My kids use to put their weight on the side of their shoes while standing. It would pull the sole apart from the side of the shoe, then BAM! We had a useless pair of shoes. I explained to them in detail how it ruined the shoes. And then, every time I saw them stand like that, I would gently whisper, “Don’t stand on your shoe like that. It ruins it.” My kids learned fairly quickly to not do that. I haven’t seen that “stance” in years from my kiddos. Again, the “why” is important.

Be Consistent

If you find that you’re busy and you just don’t feel like picking up the silverware that your two year old has flung all over the floor, you are demonstrating inconsistency, and your six year old is watching. You may not care in that moment about your silverware, but if it were your glass bowls, you probably would care. But staying on top of all of it (the little things and the big things) will bring consistency in your home. If you stay on top of those small moments of not taking care of the unimportant items, it will bring great dividends when everyone in your home is handling the more important items.

Stay Committed to the Cause

Staying committed even when you are tired and burned out will bring you peace and save you money. Yes, save you money! If you teach your kids to take care of the items in your home (including their personal things), you won’t be replacing them as often. Things last longer when you treat them as special.

I said earlier that I have clothing that is over twenty years old. Well, I don’t dry my clothes. I wash them, fluff them in the dryer for about five to ten minutes, then I hang them to dry in my laundry room. Living in small spaces has never stopped me from this routine. I often use door jams to hang the clothes on hangers. Clothing seems to last forever when you don’t use the dryer. And it saves me a ton of money.

Practice Self-Discipline

This all takes self-discipline. It’s tough to get up and correct your kids when you are in the middle of something or follow up to inspect if they put their computer in a safe place. But if you do that now, one day you won’t have to.

Let’s teach our kids to respect the things in our lives by paying close attention to how we care for them. Leave us a comment and share how you teach your kids to respect things.

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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The Surprising Power of Stress

stress

“You look stressed.” Take note, those are words you should NEVER say to Jody Hagaman! Someone telling me to “calm down” or “don’t stress” are words that can push me over the edge.

I understand that most people don’t like stress, but a little bit of stress pulls out my best work.  Now, I’m not talking about chronic stress or stress that is the result of death, divorce, finances or relationship woes. I’m referring to the stress that comes from hosting an event, a hard deadline or running a program of some sort. That type of stress causes me to dig deep within myself and really discover what I’m made of.

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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A Tale of Two Kids — Which One Is Yours?

A tale of two kids, wisdom and foolishness, sibling rivalry, opposites, girls, teens, bored

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

Sounds like Dickens was writing about the teen years.

Our kids do not always realize that they have their entire lives ahead of them. They can choose to have EVERYTHING before them or they can choose to have NOTHING before them. The question is – which will they choose? Will it be an age of wisdom or an age of foolishness? Depending on their choice, what at first appears to be the “worst of times” may turn out to be the “best of times” for them.

Here is a tale of two kids wanting the same end result. For the sake of clarity, we will call the first child “A” and the second child “B.”

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Irregular Bedtimes May be Harming Your Kids

irregular bedtimes

Did you know that irregular bedtimes can cause jet lag like symptoms? A survey of 10,000 children showed irregular bedtimes are connected to hyperactivity, acting out and emotional withdrawal.

In an interview with Michelle Trudeau on National Public Radio, researcher Yvonne Kelly from University College in London said, “Children with late bedtimes and non-regular bedtimes were more likely to have behavioral difficulties…[including] hyperactivity and conduct problems. So hitting people and acting out, and not getting on with peers, and being emotionally withdrawn.”

Kelly has been studying numerous details surrounding bedtime in thousands of homes in the U.K.

After taking into account a wide range of factors including family size, income level, the amount of television watched, dietary habits and more, the research has found that bedtime patterns have the greatest impact on children’s behavior.

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with nine kids between them (ages 3 to 27). Together they host a weekly parenting radio show, write a syndicated weekly column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to live on purpose with excellence, and to raise kids with the end result in mind.

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The Plans I Have For You Devotional

the plans I have for you

When Jody and I saw this devotional from ZonderKidz, we knew we had to check it out. The whole idea that God has a unique plan for every person and that kids should seek Him and dream about their future is music to our ears.

The Plans I Have For You includes a devotional and journal and seems to be geared toward kids ages 8 to 11-ish. I had my 9 year old daughter go through it, and she really enjoyed it. The devotional is beautifully illustrated and engaging. She had a hard time pacing herself and just wanted to keep reading the devotional. But she was slightly less enthusiastic about the journal. Not because it isn’t good, but because she’s not a big fan of writing. She liked copying in the Bible verses and she enjoyed the parts where they asked her to draw pictures, but when the journal asked her to think deeply and write about her thoughts, she seemed less than enthusiastic. I was a kid always loved to journal (still do), so I would have been thrilled with that part of it.

The devotional is an illustrated 90-day devotional written by bestselling children’s author Amy Parker and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, teaching and inspiring kids to dream about their future, to focus on faith, love and joy and to recognize that God has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us.

The journal prompts creative thinking and exploration of the talents and personalities that make us special and then helps kids explore how God may use our unique traits to spread love and joy and make the world a better place.

Leave us a comment below or leave a comment on our Facebook page, and you could win a free set of The Plans I Have For You Devotional and Journal.


Disclosure

(In accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 3 to 17), including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Don’t Judge a Kid By His Piercings

kid piercings, blue hair, teen

Last year, two of my teens wanted piercings for their birthdays. My 16 year old wanted her nose pierced, and my 13 year old wanted his lip pierced. It was the first time my husband and I had to figure out where we stand on this.

We are a Bible-believing, Christian family, and we make decisions based on what we believe the word of God and the Holy Spirit are saying. But the issue of piercing is not a clear one for us. We have read the Biblical arguments both for and against it, and we don’t believe there is a mandate against it, which is why many of us have our ears pierced.

So the next consideration was more practical than spiritual. Both of these teens live in an artistic world. Sky (the 16 year old) is a musician. She sings at the opera house, does musical theatre and writes, records and performs her own music. Although she would have to remove a nose piercing to perform in an opera or for a theatre performance, having the piercing is not going to limit her choices in the music industry.

Seth is an aspiring filmmaker. He interns at a creative complex where there are animators, web designers, videographers and all sorts of innovators and entrepreneurs who collaborate on diverse projects. The place is buzzing with young hipsters, zipping around on hover boards, none of whom would be the slightest bit tweaked by a lip piercing.

But we also knew that in the homeschool community and to some degree, in the church community, holes anywhere other than earlobes might not be so welcome. We suspected that they might face some judgement and that we might too.

So ultimately, my husband and I knew that we had to be entirely convinced of whatever decision we made. If we rejected piercings, we would need for our kids to understand why. And if we approved it, we would need to feel confident that we could defend our decision. We know a lot of parents believe that they should not have to justify their choices to their children. They believe that what they say goes, and that their kids to accept their authority without question or comment.

We do believe that parental authority is vital. Jody and I have done radio shows about it, written blogs and articles, taught workshops and given countless talks about establishing a solid foundation of authority. But we also firmly believe that rules without relationship breed rebellion.

Our kids have to know that we value them as individuals. Our children are not extensions of us. They are not ours. They are unique individuals who belong to their Creator. We are just stewards for a short period of time. And while it is absolutely our job to train them and guide them and mentor them to adulthood, we must respect them and value their ideas and interests and desires because they have all been hard wired differently, each for unique purposes that are different than our own.

So if we were going to tell our children that they could not get the piercings they wanted, we had to be fully convinced that it was for their best. Ultimately, we want our children to believe with all their hearts that we have their best in mind.

So here’s what we decided…

After thought and prayer and conversation, we decided that our kids could express themselves in clothing, hair and ornamentation in whatever way they wanted as long as

  1. It did not compromise their modesty or purity
  2. It was not permanent (more on that in a moment)
  3. It would not jeopardize important opportunities in the present or for their future

If either of these two teens had jobs (or wanted jobs) that would be compromised by their piercings, we would not have given our permission. But they’re both entrepreneurs. She has a henna business, and he does videography and video editing. One of my other kids is an aspiring lobbyist. He wants to excel at debate, work on political campaigns, page for the senate and ultimately be taken seriously in the realm of government. A nose or lip piercing would not be a good move for him (not that he would even want one). But for my two artists, it doesn’t present a professional stumbling block.

We also don’t believe it compromises their modesty or purity. And lip or nose or even eyebrow piercings are not permanent. Neither is blue hair, which the 13 year old also wanted to try.

Tattoos are permanent. Gauges in ear lobes can also cause permanent changes to the ears. And we have decided that for anything permanent, our kids must wait until marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:4 says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” So anything permanent must be approved by their future spouses. Once we explained this to our kids and demonstrated it in the Scriptures, they agreed.

Be Careful With Criticism

Jody and I have seen too many young adults turn away from their parents because they feel rejected by their criticism. When our kids believe that we are forcing them to live by our standards in order to make ourselves look good or to avoid potential judgement at church or in our own peer groups, they will eventually reject our standards and may even reject us when they have reached the age of independence.

We have to let our kids be their own people, and we have to deeply value the people they are, even if it is profoundly different from ourselves. Yes, we want them to be wise and pure, and if their choices could hurt themselves or others, we have to assert our authority but also come along side them and coach them toward better choices. Perhaps your family will have a different conviction about piercings than ours did. That’s okay too. Just be willing to sit with your children and discuss your beliefs. Let them know that you deeply value them and you want them to make right choices. Explain your convictions, and stand by your choice. But do it out of love and not fear.

And be careful not judge other families who have made different choices. Remember, every family and every individual has a different calling.

kid piercings, nose ring, teen

Sky

Sky knows that she is called reach the lost. She is not called to reach the church. So she is going to look different than a girl her age who is called to minister primarily to the church body. The apostle Paul said, “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:21, 22).

Let’s be careful not to make quick judgements about what is acceptable or unacceptable. Some have argued that our kids shouldn’t look like the world – they are set apart. Being set apart goes deeper than outward appearance. Our kids can be both relevant and pure. They can dress modestly and still be creative and relevant. The choices they make as ambassadors of God will set them apart.

When they choose peace and prayer during a crisis, they will be set apart, and their peers will notice. When they avoid profanity while the people around them don’t, they will be set apart. When they focus on growing their skills and becoming their own best at whatever gifts and passions they’ve been given, instead of focusing on growing their social life and winning favor with the opposite sex, they will be set apart.

One Pesky Problem

Our kids are to be IN the world but not OF the world. Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) Therein lies our challenge.

Last year when we were key note speakers in British Columbia, one of the conference coordinators gave an excellent talk, and in it he said that in many ways it seems the Amish got it right. We must protect our children from the evil one, so we are tempted to shelter them from the world and cause them to live in the safety of isolation. But there’s one pesky problem with this plan — the Great Commission.

God is going to use every one of our kids in a unique way to fulfill His plan. Some will be called the mountain of government, where piercings and blue hair will not make them effective witnesses. Others will be called to the mountain of arts and entertainment, where piercings and mohawks are not at all strange. Let’s be sensitive to the passions and purposes of each our kids and each other’s kids, and let the Holy Spirit (not biases or prejudices) do the leading.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 3 to 17), including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Reinventing the Habit Loop

reinventing the habit loop, reinventing the habit loop, habit, resolutions, changing habits, trigger, cue, reward, habitual, decision making, decisions, neurological routines, behavior patterns, craving

Do you ever get completely annoyed or frustrated because you can’t get your kids to turn a light off when they leave a room or put their homework away after they finish studying or pick up the remnants of their food-fest after making a snack? These are all examples of habits. And guess what – you can change them by reinventing the habit loop (I’ll explain the habit loop in a moment).         

Habits can be developed either outside our consciousness or by deliberate design. Some are extremely useful, such as the habits of brushing your teeth or putting on your shoes without having to think about what you’re doing. Others are not so useful, such as biting your fingernails or picking open scabs (yuck! right?).

Habits often occur without our permission, but the good news is that a bad one can be changed by fiddling with its parts. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, at the core of every habitual pattern is a habit loop.

The habit loop can be broken down into three basic steps.

Step One

First, there is a cue, which is a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode. The cue can be internal (a feeling or a thought) or external (such as a time of day, the company of certain people or the sight of the Golden Arches).

Step Two

The second part of the habit loop is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to a reward. The routine can be physical (pulling into the drive thru), cognitive (remembering information for a test), or emotional (feeling anxious about speaking in public).

Step Three

The third part is the reward. Not surprisingly, the reward can also be physical (the taste of your favorite burger), cognitive (interesting information), or emotional (feeling relaxed when reading a good book). The reward is what determines if a particular habit loop is worth remembering.

Cue – Routine – Reward

The Birth of a Habit

Duhigg explains it like this: the basal ganglia, a small region of the brain situated at the base of the forebrain, play an important role in stored habits. Interestingly, scientists have discovered that mental activity in this part of the brain actually decreases as a behavior becomes more habitual. When a habit emerges, the brain becomes more efficient (and needs fewer resources) because automatic patterns take over.

Eventually, a habit is born. When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks.

So without deliberately fighting a habit (which means finding new routines), the pattern will unfold automatically. But, if we take control of the habit loop, we can override the unwanted behavior. And once you create a new pattern (by creating new neurological routines), you can force the bad tendencies into the background and create a new habit.

Understanding the habit loop makes habits easier to control. By changing the cue or the reward in a habit loop, you can change the pattern of behavior. Thus, reinventing the habit loop.

Again, habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. The pattern starts with a cue (this is the trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use), is then followed by an almost automatic action or routine (physical, mental or emotional), and is reinforced by a reward (helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future) and the cycle is ready to begin again.

Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and then craving emerges.

Cue – Routine – Reward

habit loop

The Important Role of Cravings

By learning to observe the cues and rewards, we can change the routines. But first, we have to understand the role of cravings. The craving powers the habit loop.

As we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brain that starts the habit loop spinning. If we can find a new way of satisfying the craving, we can change a habit.

For example, let’s say you have developed a habit of craving something sweet after dinner. The last of the dishes are put away, the tables are wiped down and a clean kitchen has become a cue that inspires a craving for something sweet. In the past, you have plopped on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, but it has taken a toll on your waistline, and you want to change the habit. The cue isn’t going to change. A clean kitchen will still prompt a craving for something sweet. And the reward has to satisfy your sweet tooth or you are not likely to be successful. So what else could satisfy your craving for something sweet? Maybe instead of ice cream you could pop a frozen banana in the food processor with a ¼ cup of almond milk and a teaspoon of cocoa powder. This is an example of changing the routine to get the reward and satisfy the craving.

What if you want to develop a new habit that you don’t already have. Let’s say you want to exercise regularly? The habit loop can help, especially when you understand the role of developing a craving. Your brain must start craving a reward in order for the habit to take root — like your body craving the endorphins it gets from jogging.

Using Habits With Our Kids

Make a plan for a new habit you would like to develop for yourself. Identify what you can use as a cue (maybe leaving exercise clothes out the night before), the steps involved in creating a routine and the reward this new habit will deliver. Once you figure it out for yourself, sit with your kids and talk about how you can create a new habit loop for some of the habits they would like to change.

Let’s say you want your kids to develop the habit of unpacking their backpacks when they get home. First you need a cue. Perhaps you could post a reminder by the front door so they see it as soon as they walk in. Then you need a reward. Maybe they can have a snack after their bag is unpacked. The routine is to clean out their backpack

  • put their books on their desk in preparation for homework
  • put any important notices or forms in your inbox
  • throw out any garbage
  • drop their gym clothes in the laundry room
  • clean out their lunch bag
  • hang up the backpack so they repack it at the end of the day

Once they have completed the routine, you can tell them that they get to enjoy a delicious snack in peace and with a clear conscience because they have completed this important routine. Over time, if they are consistent, the front door will become the cue (you won’t need the reminder), and a craving will develop for that sense of peace and clear conscious as they relax with a well deserved snack. The craving for that state of mind and the snack are vital to the success of the habit.

 

Have any new habits you want your kids to develop or old ones you want them to break? Tell us about it in the comments below or on Facebook.

 

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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