What Builds Confidence in Kids?

Is confidence the same as self-esteem? Often, they’re used interchangeably, but are they the same? We don’t think so.

In our last post, we defined self-esteem as a person’s sense of value and worth. Self-esteem, based on our definition, can be improved (or damaged) over time, but in the short-run, it’s consistent, regardless of any one situation.

Confidence, on the other hand, is a person’s belief in his or her abilities. I may have a healthy self esteem, but there are many things I’m not confident in. If I had to get on stage to sing for a packed auditorium, I would have no confidence in myself.  Put me on the same stage to talk about finding purpose, and I’m like a fish in water.

Just because I’m not confident to sing in public, doesn’t in any way hinder my sense of value or worth; especially since I know that singing is not my life’s work. Now my daughter, on the other hand, is passionate about singing. She’s confident that she can perform on any stage, in front of any crowd. If she suddenly lost confidence in her ability to do that, it might come as a slight blow to her self-esteem because singing is a part of her purpose.

When it comes to our kids, we hope they’ll be confident in their ability to live and thrive independently, to interact well with people, to serve the body of Christ and their community, and to fulfill their calling in life. It’s entirely possible to deliver our kids into adulthood with a healthy self-esteem but with little to no confidence in a few of these critical areas.

The Hovering Helicopter (the latest fad in Western parenting) is lethal to confidence because Helicopters tend to prevent the very thing that builds it – experience. Confidence is born of doing things and (eventually) doing them well.

Here are some ideas for giving our kids opportunities to build confidence. The key is to let them do it (mistakes and all) again and again so they can improve. We need to talk to them after they’ve tried something and evaluate what went well and how they can improve. Honest feedback nurtures mastery.

Have them plan meals, write a shopping list, go with you to the store and select the best deals on the items they need, pay the cashier, check to make sure the change is correct, unpack the groceries, and cook the meal.

Coach them through household tasks so they can eventually do them with excellence:  laundry, changing bed sheets, vacuuming, dusting, scouring the tub, organizing the pantry, changing the oil in the car – anything we do at home, they should be able to do…with excellence.

Role-play with your kids and have them practice talking to adults in a variety of situations: making dinner reservations, planning a vacation, asking the librarian a question, sending back a meal that’s too cold, and so on. As they successfully problem-solve and plan and question, they’ll become confident communicators.

Role-play different ways to handle sticky situations with self-control and without dishonoring the other person: turning down an invitation, being the recipient of an inappropriate joke, being lied to (or about), and so on.

Get your kids involved in a ministry at church: sound board, lights, music, hospitality, nursery, children’s ministry, etc. Partner your child with a veteran in that ministry willing to mentor her, and insist your child stick it out until she masters it. Do the same thing with a volunteer position in the community.

Mentorship and apprenticeship are also great ways to build confidence in a future career. Let them work with a pro and find out whether or not it’s really what they’re called to do.

With practice and persistence, our kids can become confident in almost anything.

Share your ideas for building confident kids…

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and 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 syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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What Builds Real Self-Esteem in Kids?

How did we get to the place where self-esteem has become such a well-guarded idol?

It’s epidemic in Western parenting.  A child’s self-esteem is considered the fragile power source of his future success as a human being.  Parents (and some educators) have employed themselves as self-esteem’s trusted custodians, carefully guarding against disappointment and potential failure, as though they are the greatest threats to a child’s sense of worth.

Let’s have a look at what “great self-esteem” has accomplished in our kids.  According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2800 teens get pregnant each day, resulting in nearly one million teen pregnancies nationwide per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say nearly 3,000 people under the age of 18 become regular smokers each day. And according to Students Against Drunk Driving, 72% of high schoolers report having used alcohol – 37% say they did it by the 8th grade.

Education is bearing similar fruit. “The statistics are staggering: among 30 developed countries, theU.S.is ranked 25th in math and 21st in science. It’s estimated that by the year 2020, there will be 123 million high-paying, high-skill jobs in the United States, but only 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill these positions.”  www.waitingforsuperman.com

So either self-esteem isn’t as important as everyone thought, or the Western parenting model isn’t building real self-esteem. I’d say it’s the latter. People do need to know that they are valuable and their life is worth something, but the question is, how do we help our kids get there?

What makes a person feel worthy? I can tell you one thing that doesn’t – flattery. And isn’t that what we’re doing when we tell our children that every single thing they do is fabulous? Every picture is a masterpiece. Every note played or sung is magnificent. Every performance is stellar. Our kids are smart, and deep down, they know it isn’t true. Now, what does that do self-esteem?

Schools have jumped on the flattery band wagon too. Nearly every child gets an award, and almost every student is “honored” as Student of the Month. A few years ago, I went to my nephew’s baseball game, and I was amazed that the whole “three strikes and you’re out” rule has struck out. Now, kids get to swing as many times as it takes to hit the ball — wouldn’t want to hurt their self-esteem, you know.

Psalms 12:3 says, “The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips.”  And Proverbs20:19warns, “meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.”

Our kid’s want to know that we value them and that they’re worth something, but that’s not the message we send when we play lineman, aggressively fighting off all threats of failure and disappointment.

We tell them we value them by spending time with them and listening to their stories and offering honest, heart-felt answers to their questions. We tell them we value them when we take an interest in discovering who God created them to be, and giving them open and honest feedback so that they can find the lane they were created to run in and then run in it with excellence.

Our daughters (Skyler and Sydney) are best friends (that worked out well, huh?), and recently they choreographed a dance together to perform at the county fair. When they had all the moves down, they performed it for us in Jody’s living room. We couldn’t help but think they were so cute, but we also knew that their dance wasn’t performance worthy.

“Did you guys have fun doing that?” we asked. “You sure looked cute! And we’re so happy that you enjoyed it. We could tell you were having a blast. But we don’t think you should perform it at the fair. You both have so many talents, and perhaps if you had lessons you’d be ready to enter a contest, but for now, you should focus on your strengths.”

If our daughters were passionate about dance (or even just strongly interested), we’d encourage it – scouting out local dance performances, signing them up for classes, and encouraging them to enter dance contests.

We call this “running in your own lane.” And when we care enough to help our kids figure what their lane is, we are sending a message that they are valuable to us.

Once they figure out what they love and what peaks their interest, they have a sense of worth because they can live with purpose. They’ll know God has a plan for them, and they’ll even have a clue about what the plan is. All of that adds up to self-worth.

In case you were concerned about our little dancing queens, they had a happy ending at the county fair.  Between the two of them, they raked in a stack of blue ribbons, won a good amount of prize money, won best of show for two items, sang beautifully before a live audience, and did a stellar demonstration on how to spin art yarn. Their recognition came from hard work and talent. They had earned it, and the reward felt good.

As for dance, they’re both currently enrolled in a ballroom dancing class. So maybe they can try next year…maybe.

We can help boost our kid’s self esteem by encouraging and equipping them to work hard and enjoy true rewards. Few things feed self-esteem like a sense of integrity, and to that end, we can coach them to define their own values and hold them accountable to live by them. As we disciple our kids and help them discover the plans God has for them, and then challenge them be the very best they can be, we can help improve their sense of worth. These are the markers of real self-esteem.

Dare I say flattery has the opposite effect? What are your thoughts…

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and 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 syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Are We There Yet?

How’s this for a surprising realization – my 15 year old daughter doesn’t know where she lives? Okay, she knows her address, but recently when a friend offered to bring her home from an activity, we made a startling discovery.

This particular friend had never been to our home and asked for directions.  When she saw Lexi, she said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I’ll have Lexi tell me how to get there.”

“Great”, I replied, not realizing there was an issue. But then Lexi looked at me like a deer in headlights and said, “I’m not sure I can direct her from there.”

“What?” I thought, “How does she NOT know how to get to our house?”  But then I realized she always has her head buried in a book when we’re driving. Of course she doesn’t know how to get home, I thought. Actually, come to think of it, she doesn’t know how to get around most of our city

So, how could I turn this into a project? I wondered. Project-based learning has proved to be the best way for my kids to fully grasp a new skill.

A few days later, we got in the car on our way home from school.  I turned to my girls and asked, “Do you know where we live?”

Sydney, my eleven year old, laughed at the absurdity of the question.  “Of course we do!”

“Really?” I questioned. “Then direct me home.”  Suddenly, I saw two sets of eyes as big as half dollars.  They quickly realized that they really didn’t know where we live.

We pulled out of the parking lot, and I began to show them street signs and point out notable landmarks.  It’s become a daily habit and a fun game for the girls; they have to tell me how to get where we’re going.

Last week our friend Martha shared something she has incorporated into her car rides.  She has her kids guesstimate how long it will take to get from one place to another. On a trip to the mall, for instance, Martha will ask each child how long they think it will take. When they arrive, they compare the actual time with the guesses.

Estimating how long it takes to get from place to place can help kids learn a valuable time management skill. If it takes 20 minutes to get to dance class, for example, and class starts at 3:00, what time will we have to leave our house?   Well, we want to be 15 minutes early so that we have time to get in and be ready to start at 3:00. Then there’s 20 minutes of drive time, and we want to tack on 10 minutes in case there’s traffic or another problem.  That means we’ll need to leave the house by 2:15.

Needless to say, we have added Guess How Long it Will Take to our car ride trivia.  My kids love it!

Leave a comment, and share your ideas for teaching navigation and time management to your kids.

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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Roller Coaster Victory

Who knew a trip to the amusement park would hold a secret to victorious living?

We brought our son’s friend to Busch Gardens for the day, and when we got there, the two of them made a beeline for the biggest roller coaster they were tall enough to ride. It had never occurred to us that Sam’s little friend might have a problem. She comes from a family of big coaster enthusiasts. Her mom and I have even talked about the joy of doing an amusement park with coaster-friendly people. But the look on her face at the end of the ride made it clear she did not share her family’s amusement park tenacity. It turns out she was too little to ride the big coasters the last time they went. So no one in her family could guess that she wouldn’t love it.

Sam was so sad. He had been looking forward to spending this day with his best bud, and he couldn’t wait to experience all of his favorite rides with her. But after that first one, she couldn’t face the Scorpion – Sam’s absolute favorite coaster. So she stayed behind with one of the older teens and waved from the ground at our sad boy, who wasn’t sure how approach the rest of the day.

I felt the weight of Sam’s disappointment, but the look on his friend’s face was familiar — I knew exactly what she was feeling. When I was 11 years old, I went to Rye Playland with some friends, and just like Nawal, I was the roller coaster rookie that day. As soon as we arrived, we too headed for the biggest coaster. A hint of butterflies in my belly were more about excitement than fear. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I might not like the experience.

I still remember that first drop. I was totally unprepared for the intense feeling of losing my stomach, and my instincts led me to hold my breath and squeeze my belly tight – the worst thing you can do on a roller coaster. I don’t remember anything else about that day, but it was years before I got on another coaster. Then one day, at Six Flags Great Adventure, someone taught me the secret: at the top of a hill, just before the drop, take the deepest breath your lungs can hold, and let it all out in a giant scream on your way down. Coincidentally, my roller coaster victory happened on a ride called the American Scream Machine.

Knowing I had the secret that could transform her day, I didn’t want to see Nawal delay her victory for years like I had. If only I could find a tiny glimmer of courage in her little heart, I knew I could coach her through the Scorpion and turn a defeat into a triumph, saving the day for both her and Sam. So after a few successful rounds on River Rapids, I pulled her aside and squatted down for a serious girl-to-girl talk.

“Nawal, I know what happened on Gwazi. You went down the big hill, and it felt really bad, right?”

Her big brown eyes stared back at me, and slowly, she moved her head up and down.

“That happened to me once too. But then someone taught me a special trick, and from then on, the bad feeling never happened again. I could teach it to you, and if you do exactly what I show you, you’ll never be afraid of another roller coaster.”

I searched her sweet little face for that glimmer of courage, and even though her eyebrows were squeezed together in the middle and pulled up in distress, I sensed that she wanted victory.

“Nawal, if you come with me, I’ll sit right next to you, and I’ll show you exactly what to do, and it will be more fun than you could ever imagine. Do you think you could try?”

She was scared. It was written in her feet, crossed nervously (one on top of the other), and in her hands twisting together, and in her bottom lip, tucked awkwardly under a few of her front teeth. She sighed, processing my proposal, and then tentatively, she nodded and slipped her hand slowly into mine.

Sitting beside me in the car, the bar came down over her head and locked into place, and I began to describe exactly how it would go down, turn by turn.

“First we’re going to climb up this hill, and this is the time to relax and wave to the people down below. But when we reach the top, make sure you take the biggest, deepest breath your lungs can possibly hold, and then…as soon as we begin to drop…let it out in the loudest scream your voice can make.”  I could tell she liked the idea of being allowed to scream as loud as she wanted, but the upside-down part was still freaking her out.  “As soon as the drop is over, we’ll be in the loop before you even know it. It won’t feel at all scary – it will just be super fun!”

The ride happened exactly as I had said it would, and when we pulled in, every part of Nawal expressed triumph. She had faced her fear, followed my directions to the letter, and come out victorious. The ride was exciting, of course, but for Sam’s little friend, the greatest thrill came from knowing that she had chosen courage, and it paid off. The reward for bravery was confidence. She threw off the weight of fear and skipped through the rest of her day, knowing there was no roller coaster she couldn’t tackle – well, of those she’s tall enough to ride, that is.

On the way home, I thought about Nawal’s victory, and God showed me something. The Holy Spirit is our coach, and when He asks us to take His hand and face our fear, He promises to stay right by our side, directing us every step of the way. All we need to do is choose courage, and follow His lead. The victory for us will be just as sweet as Nawal’s roller coaster joy!

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” –2 Timothy 1:7

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and 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 syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Left Out

Sometimes parenting can feel like falling off a raft in the ocean with no life vest; it’s sink or swim.

There are some situations that were left out of the parenting books. I faced one of those recently when my younger daughter (who is a party just waiting to happen), had trouble empathizing with a friend who was left out.

Let’s just say, for argument sake, a group of friends were planning a trip to the mall.  But one, who’s actually more like a sister to my daughter, wasn’t included in the fun.

Now, it may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but the fact is, these friends spend every waking moment together. They’re involved in all the same activities, share the same friends, and spend most weekends together…they can practically finish each other’s sentences.  For one friend to be invited without the other is nothing short of a calamity.

But here’s the rub — Sydney is a party girl who LOVES a trip to the mall.  If there’s a shopping trip on the horizon, she’s the first one to see the sun rise. Sydney dreams of girly stores all lavished in pink with purple sparkles and glitter all over the store walls. The image forms a gravitational pull, and there’s no stopping her.

When she got the call about the day out, she welled up with so much excitement, she could hardly contain herself, but something in my spirit prompted me to ask a fateful question.

“Is your friend going?”

“Um…no.”

“Why not?”

“She wasn’t invited.”

“Hmm . . . well that’s an issue.”

I looked at my middle school daughter with hope, awaiting her response, but then I asked, “Do you think you should go, knowing your friend was not invited?”

Her immediate (and startling) response was, “Yeah! She probably won’t even know we’re going to the mall.”

Check 1.

Appalled that my daughter could be so insensitive, I asked her how she would feel if she’d been left out of a day at the mall.  “If I didn’t know, then it wouldn’t matter,” she replied.

Check 2.

Realizing that we had a serious problem on our hands – and it wasn’t about her friend not being invited – I quietly prayed in my spirit for words that would touch my tender child’s heart.

I sat down and carefully explained that part of my job as a parent is to teach her how to make godly choices about friends.  “Everyone knows that you and your sister and your best friend are always together.  The girls going to the mall are friends with all of you. Do you think it’s right for them to leave someone out? What does that say about the kind of friend they are? Is that the kind of friend you want to be?”

Then came the tears.  You would have thought her whole world caved in.  And quickly I realized that my sweet little party girl just couldn’t imagine why anyone would leave a person out, especially from a fun trip to the mall.  After all, aren’t malls supposed to be for everyone to get together and shop ‘til you drop?  The last thing she wanted was to have to stay home, but it was especially hard knowing that she would miss the fun all because a group of girls decided to leave someone out.

Sometimes parenting takes us and our kids through an emotional jungle. We’re the guides, and we need to warn our kids of dangers and protect them from pitfalls, but in the process, we need to teach them how to begin recognizing these hazards for themselves. Navigating an emotional jungle requires a keen eye for bad choices. We need to teach our kids to be on the lookout for wrong choices and bad behaviors (in themselves and in others).

Although it’s terribly difficult to say no to the girl who loves a trip to the mall, it would be far more difficult to pick her heart up off the floor (or worse, her self esteem) after it’s been crushed by a misguided choice – one that she couldn’t anticipate or avoid – of a so-called friend. That’s not to say that she won’t get her heart broken, but it’s moments like these that help build discernment and wisdom.

Proverbs 22:14-16 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.”

God intended parents to breathe wisdom into children, not friends whose hearts are also full of foolishness. In correcting our kids, we drive out foolishness and replace it with wisdom.

In order for our kids to understand issues of the heart, we have to teach them how to put themselves in other people’s shoes and treat others the way they want to be treated.

So, now Sydney understands that the situation wasn’t necessarily about deciding whether or not she should to go to the mall; it was about choosing friends that have Christ-centered values.

Have you ever faced a similar situation?  Tell us about it.

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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Okay…So Now What?

Originally posted in April 2011 at A Gentle Answer Ministries 

Early Intervention specialists flooded our life with eleven therapy appointments a week. Occasionally they’d suggest we meet with a neurologist, but I just thought it was a casual recommendation. As educators and social workers, they were not allowed to offer medical opinions. In other words, they couldn’t come right out say they suspected Griffyn was autistic.  So truly, I had no clue.

When someone first said the word autism, it sounded ridiculous to me. I had never met a 2-year-old autistic child. My only exposure to it was from the movie “Rainman” with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Certainly my two-year-old was nothing like that. But as it turns out, the only reason he was nothing like Rainman was because he was a baby and Rainman was an adult. Had the movie shown Rainman at two, the character might have behaved exactly like my son. Now, at 13, he’s very much like Rainman.

As the months of therapy followed, I noticed more and more how profoundly different Griffyn was from other kids his age. One day, I asked one of his therapists, “You don’t think Griffyn is autistic, right?” Silence, and then a slow, hesitating response.  “Well…the thought has crossed my mind.” What? I was stunned!

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day we got the diagnosis. It was March 17, 2000, a cold and rainy day. The doctor spent a good half-hour just observing Griffyn, and then he conducted an extensive interview with me. When he was done, he leaned back in his big leather chair, crossed his legs, and closed the portfolio containing his observations of my precious little boy.

Perhaps he’d said the same words a dozen times a week. I was told he was one of the most sought after experts in the tri-state region. Maybe the repetition of this experience made him forget that all my hopes and dreams were sitting on the floor of his office that morning. It’s not that he was apathetic or even unkind, he just seemed completely unaware of the fear that was squeezing my heart. At that moment, it seemed as if my entire life hinged on the next few words that would come out of this man’s mouth. Perhaps in some ways that turned out to be true; I just didn’t realize then that there was nothing to fear.

The doctor was entirely aloof as he stretched his arms up, crossed his hands behind his head and assumed a position of relaxation. His work was done. “Well,” he said with a certain finality, “the diagnosis is clear. This is autism.”

In a moment I felt as if an avalanche had dumped on me, the weight of it dulling my senses. Had it lasted more than a fraction of a second, I would have been consumed with panic, clawing desperately through the swirling thoughts that filled my mind and clouded my ability to respond.

But in that fraction of a second, something amazing happened. God, the Creator of the universe, the very One who knit my son together in the depths of my womb, reached out with His amazing grace and poured it over me a like gentle waterfall, washing away the fear and the hurt and the desperation. In my own strength, left to my own thoughts, I would have crumbled. That fleeting moment of panic let me know that I was not able to manage this on my own. But in the power of God’s grace, I was suddenly bathed in peace. This is what the book of Philippians is referring to when it describes “the peace that passes all understanding.”

I breathed in His strength and leaned forward, and in that pivotal moment I looked the doctor soberly in the eye. God had pointed me in a new direction, and with great determination and focus, I said, “Okay…so now what?”

When our children are first born, they hold so much promise and mystery, and in our flesh it is tempting to imagine their future. When our son was diagnosed with autism, God showed me that I would need to let go of my ideas of what I thought he should be. Until I fully released my agenda into God’s hands, I would not be able to receive all the blessings that God intended to bring through this special child. And although God had guarded my heart and mind against despair, there was still a process that had to happen, a shifting and refocusing.

One morning a few years ago, as I was writing at my desk, my daughter brought me a 3-D picture to see if I could find the image. I held it close to my nose and let my eyes relax. As I slowly pulled it away, the image became clear. In relaxing, even allowing my eyes to go blurry for a time, my perspective was transformed. Once my focus shifted, the new picture was easy to spot. Instead of seeing the mish-mosh of seemingly random patterns, I could clearly see the crisp outline of a horse emerge from the page.

What a great metaphor! When we relax and allow God to refocus the eyes of our heart, a new image clearly emerges. Things may be confusing at first—blurry—but soon the events and circumstances of our life don’t seem so random, and instead of asking why, we are left asking how. Instead of crying out to God for answers, we cry out to God for wisdom and direction.

During my season of refocusing on Griffyn’s diagnosis, God gave me this verse: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  (John 12:24) Once I let go of the child I thought I had, the one I’d created in my own imagination, I could open myself to so many new possibilities. God has so many riches in store for those who are willing let their own agendas die and trust Him for the harvest.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and 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 syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Quick Journaling Tips

Do you know someone who has always wanted to journal but just couldn’t quite figure out where to start or exactly what to write?

There are great articles out there on the power of journaling, so we won’t get into that today, but we’ve got two quick ideas that can get you and your kids started.

First (and this is the fun part), head to the store and pick out a new, fresh journal. Get one you really LOVE! Then find a good home for it in your house – maybe on your night stand, on the coffee table, kitchen counter – where ever you think you’ll take a few minutes to write everyday. Help your kids find a place to put theirs too. And don’t forget to have a pen close by. I’ve got two – one in a basket next to my bed, and one in my purse.

Idea #1 – Dream Journal    When you wake up in the morning (or maybe even in the middle of the night), take a few minutes to remember and write down your dreams. Ask God to reveal what they mean.

Idea #2 – Prayer Journal     Spend a few minutes every day writing down your prayers. Thank God for all the great things happening in your life, and write down all of your petitions.

Here’s a key to valuable journaling – every few months, go back and read the pages carefully. You might want to sit at the computer and type out any observations (another form of journaling).

Hindsight is journaling’s great appraiser. All the value becomes evident over time, when you can see how God may have been speaking to you in dreams, and when you understand why certain prayers may have gone unanswered. In time, you and your kids will also have something of a record of what was happening in your life and how you responded to it.

Happy journaling!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and 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 syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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I Don’t a Have a “Thing”

What’s your “thing”?  Mine is writing and reading. Give me a day to myself, and I’ll pack a book, a magazine, a journal, and a pen, and head over to the beach. I have a friend whose thing is photography and scrap booking. She recently told me she feels called to tell her family’s story. My husband’s thing is clearly music – it’s his part-time job, his ministry, and his hobby.

Our kids have a thing too. Actually, my daughter has a few! She loves horses, singing, knitting and crocheting. Our oldest son loves Disney and Pixar movies. He’s got entire scripts memorized, and Seth (our 3rd child) loves science. Give that boy a microscope and tweezers, and you won’t see him for the rest of the day.

But on Friday, when I took my fourth child out on a date to celebrate his seventh birthday, it dawned on him that something was missing.  After devouring a cup of Coldstone, the best ice cream on planet earth, we headed down Main Street to Toy Lab.  He had $50 to spend from my grandparents, and I was thrilled to watch him spend it.  What could be more exciting to a 7-year-old than free reign in a toy store?

Just through the front door was the Ugly Doll display. Sam slipped past it, and grabbed a basket to hold all of his loot. Then he made a bee line back to the Ugly Dolls to get the Picksey key chain he’d been waiting for.  It was $6.

We walked carefully up and down each aisle as he deliberated. For a moment he held a hula hoop. “This would be fun.” But after further thought, he put it back. “They have these at kid’s church, and I probably wouldn’t use it much at home.” [2013 update – Sam is the hula hoop champion! Last year he was the last one standing at the Busch Gardens hula hoop show down.]

Every other toy he considered found a similar fate. For one reason or another, he decided it wouldn’t be a good choice. Finally, he turned to me and asked, “Do you think G.G.’s feelings would be hurt if I didn’t spend the money? I’d rather save it for when I find something I really, really want.”

He handed the clerk a $20 bill for his Picksey key chain, collected the change and led me out of the store. When we hit the sidewalk, Sam’s shoulders slumped, and he looked at the ground, clearly feeling sad.

“What’s the matter, Sam?”

“I don’t have a thing. Everyone else has a thing, but I don’t.”

He was right, I guess.  We hadn’t yet figured out what he loves and what he’s passionate about, and that made birthdays and Christmas difficult for Sam. Whenever people asked us what he’d like, we’d strain to find an answer. And although he’s always grateful, there’s a subtle sense of disappointment in every gift. If you didn’t know Sam, you’d probably miss it, but it’s a parent’s joy to bless their kids, and we’ve never really experienced that gift-giving bliss with him. When someone doesn’t have a “thing,” it’s hard to give a gift.

Outside Toy Lab, I squatted down next to my sweet boy, looked up at his big sad blue eyes and asked if he wanted to get a slice of pizza and talk about it. Maybe together we could figure it out.

Sipping our soda in cushy booth at Pantellini’s, waiting for our pizza, we talked about the school year.

“What’s your favorite class this year, Sam?”

“Hmmm…Oh, I know.  Latin.”

“Latin? Really?”  I was surprised. He doesn’t strike me as the Latin kind of kid.

“What is it about Latin that you like?”

“I like Ms. Josie. She’s a really nice teacher.”

“Oh, I see. Okay, well what I meant was, of all your classes this year, which one has the most fun things to do?”

“Well…let’s see…Oh! I love 50 States and GeoGang.”  This was more like it. Both are very hands-on, project-based classes.

“Great. What do you like about these classes?”

“Miss Elaine is such a great teacher, and I love Miss Angie, and my friends are in both classes.”

He was missing the point.  Or so I thought.  Actually, for the first few moments, I was missing the point, but then it dawned on me.

“Sam! Your thing is people! You love people, Sam.  That’s your thing.”

He looked up with a huge smile, and his blue eyes sparkled with an epiphany. That’s it! He is all about the people, and he knew that I was right. He’d found his thing.

“I know what I want to be when I grow up,” he said, little finger in the air and mouth open wide.  “I want to drive an ice cream truck. Then I can go to all different houses and meet the kids, and they’ll be so happy when I give them ice cream.”

“That’s a great idea, Sam.  You would be the best ice cream truck driver.”

In light of our revelation, it was no surprise that the highlight of our date, for Sam, was our trip to Picasso’s Moon, our favorite little knitting shop. We each brought something to knit and sat in the cozy shop, chatting with the ladies. Sam soaked in their attention, and they were pleased to give it. Who wouldn’t want to gush over an adorable little boy who likes to knit?

He hasn’t spent the rest of his birthday money, and I’m not sure he ever will, but he got the best gift he’s ever received.  For his 7th birthday, Sammy got his “thing.”

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and 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 syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Does Your Child Have This Habit?

A couple of years ago, an 11-year-old asked me a question that so impressed me, I was inspired to add new step in my family’s daily routine.

We were setting up for a big community garage sale as a fundraiser to help finance a week-long training camp for teens at the state capitol.  During set up, I spent more time chasing down the kids to help than actually working.  The fundraiser was for them, not the adults, but the adults seemed to be doing all the work, and I was irritated, to say the least.

Holding a serving spoon with a glob of nacho cheese caked to it, I turned to the nearest child to ask that it be cleaned.  Subconsciously, I expected her to comply, but it was clear the kids had their own agenda that day. They were there to socialize, and all parental orders distracted them from their real purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all obedient kids. There was no real disrespect, and they all did what was asked without complaint.  It was more of a clash of expectations — we expected them to socialize in the midst of the real agenda – work – and they expected to have to do some work in the midst of their real agenda – socializing.

So there I was, searching for a teen, cheese-encrusted spoon in hand.  Anna was closest to me, and at this point, my expectations had been set. I figured she’d take the spoon, shoulders subtly slumped at the faint disappointment of having to interrupt her conversation, and run off to the sink so she could hurry back and resume the real work of socializing.

Instead, she smiled and said, “Sure!” and reached out her hand to take the spoon. She was cheerful and unrushed, and everything about her body language said, “I have no other agenda right now but to serve you.”

When she returned, she didn’t drop the spoon on the table in a rush to resume her conversation. Instead, she handed me the spoon and said, “Is there anything else you would like me to do?”

I was amazed. Had she really just asked me if she could do anything else? And with a smile, no less?  WOW! My first instinct was to kiss her sweet cheeks and tell her to go play.  Her attitude made me want to bless the socks off her.  The truth of the matter was, I still needed her help, but after she completed a few more tasks for me, I lavished her in praise and sent her on her way.

Returning to frustration, I went on a manhunt to find the other teens, but Anna’s character that day inspired a new plan for my own kids.  Just like teaching our kids to use the potty, it’s all in the training.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)

Just like everything else we’ve trained in our kids, it takes persistent, hard work.  The truth is, we have to start by training ourselves.  Building a new character trait in a child starts with the parents making a decision, setting a plan, and then disciplining themselves to work the plan consistently. But it’s worth the payoff.

Here’s the plan we’ve been using:

  • We started by explaining that anytime a request is made or instruction is given, they are to return when they’re done and ask, “Is there anything else you would like me to do?”  That question is really what completes their task.
  • Then came role-playing. Whenever we role-play, we start small.  So in this case, it was “Bring me a tissue” or “Bring me a glass of water.” If they returned without asking the new question, we asked, “Is your task really complete?”
  • Just like any other habit, as we enforce it with every little task, it will soon become second nature to them.

It’s easy to focus on making sure they do their homework and keep their room clean, but it’s those subtle issues of character and attitude that can slip under our radar, and yet in life, these are the principle things.  God is faithful to point them out when we’re paying attention, and our reward for diligence is a respectful and cheerful child who blesses the people around him.

Occasionally we might even garner a few heart-warming compliments.  At the yard sale, it was my pleasure to pour out praises on Anna’s mom.  She deserved as much recognition as Anna.

At the end of the day, the work of character training pays large dividends.

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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Can They Say It With Confidence?

Have you ever experienced the awkward introduction of a timid child?  You know, the kind where the kid looks everywhere but at you?  She’s burrowing into her mother, burying her head, peaking out on occasion, speaking just barely above a whisper?  I don’t know about you, but I see this all the time, and early in my parenting, I purposed to train confident kids who bless the people they meet.

I’m in a new season of life, with my oldest in law school, my youngest in middle school, and now I have new mission.  I feel called to help the parent standing beside the timid child.  As far as I can tell, there are two basic types: the embarrassed parent who tries to dismiss it or offers up an excuse for the withdrawn behavior, or the unknowing parent who doesn’t recognize there’s a problem because it’s so commonplace.

My heart aches for the parents, and quite frankly, it grieves for the kids.  They do not understand why their hearts pound and why a sudden, sometimes crippling, insecurity grips them with a simple introduction.

One mom even told me that her son wouldn’t look at the doctor when asked how he felt.  Another said her daughter wouldn’t answer the door when the doorbell rang.  I even had a mom once say that her children couldn’t carry on a phone conversation without panic.

That’s nothing short of a crisis.

As parents, it’s our job to give our kids effective communication tools.  So, in my quest to train confident kids, I came up with a weekly assignment that produced great fruit in my children and is now bearing fruit in other kids.

I am convinced that it can change a child’s life and alter the way they perceive themselves in relationship to other people.

Remember the moms I talked about with painfully shy kids?  Well, after implementing this assignment, the same kids now look the doctor in the eye and explain what’s wrong, answer the door, and talk on the phone with confidence.  I’ve even seen teens and pre-teens grow into effective communicators who can contact a place of business without hesitation and gather important information with respect and confidence.

Eager to know what it is?  First, let me prescribe that it be done three times a week.  Repetition is key.  The more they practice, the more confident they will become.  (Begin with role-playing and practice as a family before assigning this to them publicly.)

  • With you watching, have your child approach someone they do not know (this could be a clerk at a store, a new person at church, a new friend in a club, etc.).
  • Explain to them how to make strong eye contact (this means not to look away, look the person directly in the eye).
  • Instruct them to extend their right hand firmly and direct.  No wimpy handshakes (this goes for girls too).
  • Have them memorize, “Hello, my name is_________________, what is your name?  It’s very nice to meet you, have a great day.”
  • When they report back, have them repeat the entire conversation, especially the person’s name.  Nervousness = mind going blank.  If they know they have to come back to you with a name, it will help them focus on remembering.  The anxiety will eventually disappear.

After they master this, you can move on to what I like to call the “interview”:  teaching them to move into a conversation after an introduction.  But you’ll have to check back for a future post!

Know this, your child has something to say, and God wants them to say it with confidence.

Be sure to stop back and leave a comment, letting us know how it’s going!

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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