Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Character Building - My Top 6 Traits


When I was growing up in the 60’s I had a friend whose parents didn’t talk to them about Christianity.  They felt it was wrong to force their faith on their kids, but parents should wait and let kids make up their own minds.  Yikes!  Thank goodness my mother shared her faith with me and with my siblings.  Though my dad was not serving the Lord, she faithfully encouraged us to seek God’s will for our lives.  Nothing less would do.  I am so grateful for her teaching and example today.  And if you didn’t grow up with a good example, you can be the place that the legacy begins in your family.

What do kids need to know about faith?

First of all, faith in Christ is about our sin and his sacrifice to pay for it.  Read Romans 3:23 and 6:28.  You have probably seen that drawing of us on one side of a cliff, God on the other.  Jesus spanned the distance that we could not.  No one is good enough on their own.  We all have things in our lives we are ashamed of. 

Don’t think that it is enough for kids to hear, “We’re ____ (Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.)  Your great-grandparents were, your grandparents are, and we are.  Sooner or later kids need a thinking, reasoning, searching answer for what we believe and why.

Having grown up in church and having developed my own walk with Christ, I still went through a season in my junior year of high school where I examined what my parents had taught me.  I believed the Bible was true, but what if I’d grown up in a cult or something untrue?  I began to search and examine and compare not only various religions, but the doctrines of my church.  Were they in scripture?  Or were they the teachings of well-intentioned but misled people?

Important Components of Faith

Here are some other important parts of our faith.  Be prepared to explain them to your kids at an appropriate age.
·         The Bible is true and authoritative
·         Jesus lived a sinless life, but was tempted like we are
·         Jesus died on the cross for us
·         Jesus was resurrected and has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven.
·         This is the way God has chosen to open the path to heaven.  His heaven, his choice.
·         God has a plan for your life that is wonderful and amazing.  He loves you!
I believe that giving kids just enough Christianity to get by is like inoculating them to faith.  They need a deep, personal, living walk to last through the trials and temptations of life.  And certainly, as the culture continues to become more and more anti-Christian, it will take MORE strength to live for God than ever before.

Is the Bible rated “R?”

Read Bible stories to your children.  Bible story books with pictures are good when they are young.  Some Bible stories would be “R” rated – they can be a little gruesome.  You may want to read the story through in advance before sharing with your children. 

Talk about the characters in the Bible.  Some were great people who made major mistakes.  Talk about the pivot points of life when a decision can change everything in your life and in the lives of those around you.  Thankfully, the Bible gives us the straight story on people, not some false, shiny fairy tale.

Show your kids Bible verses that guide your life and decisions.  Show them that the Bible has real direction for our lives.  A good example is:

29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.  Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)

Our culture is trying very hard to separate Christianity from everyday life, and especially from public discourse.  Teach your children to value God’s opinion more.  Teach them that the Bible is authoritative.  Teach them that God’s plan is for us to become more and more like Jesus. 
29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn[a] among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29 (NLT)

Walk the Talk

Parents must start by modeling their faith.  “Do as I say, not as I do’” is a sure guarantee of a child’s rebellion.  Not that we are perfect or make every step exactly as God would wish us to.  Kids need to see us reading out Bible, having personal devotional times, and praying (not just in emergencies).  Kids see how “doing our devoes” affects us.  One morning I was grouchy and had just grumped at my 10-year-old son.  He said, “Mom, have you had your devoes yet?”  I admitted I had not, apologized and said I would go right upstairs and do that.

A life of faith is more caught than taught.  I think kids learn 2/3 from what they see you doing and 1/3 from what you say and teach them.  And even that depends on what they practice and do themselves.  Beware of your own inconsistency in your walk with God.  Do YOU have devotional times?  Do YOU talk about God as if he is a real person who is kindly overseeing your life?  Are YOU growing in your faith?  Talk about what you are learning from the Bible.  Share about the areas where you are growing.  When you have an “Aha!” moment and see a scripture that challenges your heart, share that with your kids.

As our kids were growing up our church had a 3-day fast.  We wanted the whole family to be a part of this experience, but we weren’t comfortable with the children not eating, so we decided to do a “Daniel fast,” which is beans and vegetables, etc. with no meat.  Kind of a simple vegetarian.  It was so funny when I presented them with the stir-fry we often had – but this time with tofu instead of chicken.  They felt it was hardship indeed!  They got what fasting was about.

Training your children up in faith is not the job of the Sunday School teacher or the youth pastor.  Make it a priority that it comes first from you, the parent.

Not sure how to find a good church?  See the appendix in my book.  For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Character Building - My Top 6 Traits


Besides “not lying,” what does honesty mean?  The most immediate thought is usually about words, about truthfulness.  But honesty also includes being upright morally, “living honestly.”

Honesty is a component of integrity which means our actions, our life, our words, our thoughts are consistently the same.  We don’t say one thing, then do something different.  We do not live or act one way in a certain setting, then another way when we are somewhere else or are with different people.  We are consistent in our behavior toward the wealthy person and to the poor person.


Honesty also is a part of ethics.  Our ethics are the principles by which we live, that govern our activities in business and relationships.  It would include treating others as we wish to be treated.  It means a business owner gives a fair deal for a fair price.  It means you do not cheat a store when making a purchase.  You do not shoplift.  It means a worker gives a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.  Those are ethics. 

Honesty with Money

The book of Proverbs says,
The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him. (PR. 11:1) NIV

Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and rich. (Pr. 28:6) NLT

This was a situation where someone might have one set of scales for weighing a purchase in the marketplace, but another for using in sales.  Each was off a bit to the advantage of the business owner.  You might get a little less than what you paid for if you purchased something from him.  He might get more than he paid for if he was buying from a supplier.  This was dishonest.  Several translations say it is an abomination to the Lord.  He hates it.

Abraham Lincoln was famously called “Honest Abe.”  He was known for being very honest and conscientious in business dealings.  He worked at a store, and when he accidentally returned less change than someone was due, he would walk great distances to return a few pennies.  (  This may seem silly, but when you realize a bricklayer might make $1.53 per day, a fireman $1.33 per day, and a farm laborer $0.88 per day, a few pennies was the equivalent of several dollars today. (

Honesty Builds Trust

Everyone wants to be believed.  A person who is known to be dishonest is one to whom people do not listen.  Remember the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf? If you have ever known someone who lies habitually, you know you do not put stock in what they say.  You take everything they say with a grain of salt.  A child who lies will be doubted again and again, even when they are telling the truth.  Teach your child to build trust through being honest.

Lying to Get Out of Trouble

It is very normal for a child to lie to get out of trouble.  But you cannot let it work.  We increased consequences for our children if we caught them lying.  We lessened consequences if they were truthful.  This is a case of normal, but not acceptable.  Teach your child that building trust is important and valuable.

Bending the Truth

What about shades of dishonesty?  Bending the truth, coloring the truth, exaggerating?  While the Bible tells stories of certain Bible characters’ behavior that weren’t rigidly honest, these are few and extreme circumstances.  An example would be David pretending to be insane when confronted by King Achish (see 1 Samuel 21:12-15 and the introduction to Psalm 34).  Generally, our behavior, including telling stories other than those for creative purposes should be honest and forthright.

Why would we want to exaggerate or lie?  To have someone think better of us?  To be a people-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser?  When you work with a child to improve behavior, talk about what they did and why they did it.  Then you can help them to know themselves, to be aware of weaknesses and tendencies.  Teach them not to give themselves away in pieces, especially for something so fleeting.

Just Kidding

And then there’s the jabbing statement, followed by “Just kidding.” Isn’t it interesting that that is actually in the Bible?!  Take a look at Proverbs 26:18-19:
Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”     (NIV)
Just as damaging as a madman shooting a deadly weapon
19 is someone who lies to a friend and then says, “I was only joking.” (NLT)

Our communication should be clear and open.  Say what you mean.  Use precise word to convey your meaning well.  You can even ask someone you are talking with to repeat what they understood you to mean.  You may find that it needs adjusting.  What you said is good.  What they heard and understood is even more important.

Being Honest with Yourself

Lastly, and perhaps more vitally, is being honest with yourself.  Romans 12:3 says,
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (NIV)

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (NLT)

We like to think we are always right, that our plans are the best ideas.  Yet we see ourselves when we overdraw the bank account, when we do the face-plant in the front yard, when we absent-mindedly cut someone off in traffic.  And when we see ourselves when we do those things on purpose.  Being honest with yourself in times like those will help us evaluate ourselves honestly, and work on continuing to improve and grow.

For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Character Building - My Top Six Traits

Work Ethic

What do you think are the most important character traits for children to have ingrained?  The list might differ a bit for each family, but it is a good exercise to think about what you really want. 

When teaching parenting classes, I have asked that question a number of times.  Invariably, parents are stumped when asked what the most important traits they feel they want to impart to their children.  It is much easier to think of the character traits we don’t like.  We don’t like them to lie.  We don’t like laziness.  We don’t like when they mouth off or are rebellious.  But think about it proactively.  What do you want?

Parents would do well to have a heart to heart discussion and ask one another, “What do we want our kids to be known for?”  Scripture says,

Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right.  Pr. 20:11 (NLT)


My husband and I wanted our kids to have a great work ethic.  When our kids got old enough we divvied all the household chores among the five of them.  Anything they could learn to do, I was to teach them.  They learned to do dishes, do their own laundry, cook, shop, and clean.  This wasn’t about me getting out of my duties, this was equipping them to have a pleasant life.  Everyone helped, everyone enjoyed the results of a clean house, good food, and so on.  Certainly, life was not going to do everything for them when they grew up.


We taught our kids to work hard, then to play hard.  When it was time to work, we were all in.  We cleaned thoroughly.  We did homework to the best of our ability.  We were some of the hardest workers at church service projects.  At home, we rewarded hard work and efficiency.  We taught our children when the work was done you could play all you wanted.   

The book of Proverbs talks about work 17 times.  One example:

                Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards.  Pr. 12;14 (NLT)


We also taught them that when we went camping or visited someplace, we left things as good or better than when we came.  We cleaned up our trash.  We put our fire out completely.  Have you ever gone to a park and wondered why the people who were there previously didn’t bother to put their trash where it belonged?  Were they just too important to be bothered?  Were they too self-centered?  Probably.

We taught our kids to think of others – how does our behavior affect the next person who would use the space we were leaving?  It also required a little personal dignity, caring enough to do the right thing and be well-respected.


Hard work is also about self-respect.  You have to live with the results of what you do.  You will be known for what you do – and don’t do.  Stahnkes are not slackers or users.  Even when we borrowed something (like a tool), we returned it clean and in good shape, often better than when we got it.  If we borrowed my parents’ car or someone’s pickup truck, we returned it with more gas in it than when we got it.

When our oldest son got his first job at a small grocery store, it wasn’t long before he was asked if he had any siblings old enough to work also.  He was such a good worker and had such a good attitude, they hoped to find more help like him.  Our now-grown children are known at their various jobs for their excellence and productivity.  A friend recently said, “Are all Stahnkes so amazing?”  Happily, I could say, “Yes!”

Keeping Commitments

There is a tough verse in Psalm 15 that says, “The righteous man keeps his oath even when it hurts.”  It is easy to volunteer when everyone is talking about taking on a project.  But if you have to show up on a hot day to do yard work, it is less attractive when the day gets there.  Sometimes we must keep our word when we really would rather not.  Teaching this to kids, talking about it is a powerful thing.  We used to explain to the kids that some days Dad did not really want to go to work.  He would rather stay home and watch movies all day.  But what would we do if he got fired?  We needed him to keep that job, keep his commitments.


There is a certain amount of work required in relationships.  Sometimes it takes the form of patience and kindness when someone is grouchy.  Sometimes it means sticking with a spouse through hard times.  Parents MUST be the example here.  There will be times when our marriages are not fun.  There will be times when raising children will not be joyful.  There will be disagreements, arguments, and other problems.  Sometimes relationships are just plain hard work.  Stahnkes embrace the hard work.

The best things in life don’t come easily.  Teach your kids to love hard work, to have the self-respect to be known for it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Character Building – Persistence and Diligence

For most of us, absolutely nothing comes easy.  As we watch the Olympic athletes at this year’s Winter games, it is fascinating to hear the back story about the price these young people have paid to be top in their sport.  One skier talked about wishing she could let up, take a nap or watch a movie instead of practicing and practicing.  But her coach advised her that would not get her where she wanted to go.  She had to dig in and keep working.

Parents often find themselves in those coaching struggles with their children.  Kids may want to sluff through on chores.  You have to make them come back and do them over.  (And over, sometimes!)  You may have to be the “bad cop” when it comes to practicing the musical instrument they convinced you they wanted to learn to play.  Persistence and diligence are required if they want to get beyond those early basic songs and drills.
For one of our children, academic things came pretty easy – until he got to about 5th grade when things took that cognitive jump.  He was upset that he was actually going to have to work at his schoolwork.  He would have to think, and struggle, and strive to learn.  Of course, I could have softened things, made them easier, dumbed them down.  Moms are often tempted to easy our kids’ load, to make things fun, but that would not have served him well in the long run.  His mind was made for higher things and greater challenges.  So, in spite of his objections, he had to press through.

What does scripture say about diligence?
He becomes poor who works with a slack and idle hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. (Pr. 10:4 Amp. Classic)

The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slothful will be put to forced labor. (Pr. 12:24 Amp. Classic)

Whatever may be your task, work at it heartily (from the soul), as [something done] for the Lord and not for men. (Col. 3:23 Amp. Classic)

Paul talked about pressing in when things were difficult.  (Phil. 3:12-1

It is important to help kids learn to do hard things.  Teens who have not had to do chores, who have not learned to manage money, who have not had to pay for any car insurance or expenses will have a rude awakening when they leave home.

One of our children had learning disabilities.  Learning to read was difficult.  Thankfully, a friend who was an education expert encouraged me to be even more thorough with teaching her the phonics foundations as she learned to read.  In time she became a great reader, though not fast.  She read with great understanding and recall.  She reads classics for fun now.  Throughout her difficult school years, she fought and trudged through.  Now she knows she can do anything.  She can learn anything.  She is an accomplished young woman with a great job because of her persistence and diligence.

Help your children set goals to accomplish hard things, whether it is becoming an Eagle Scout, learning to play and instrument, taking a college class during high school, or building a model of a historic building.  Help them see the steps it will take.  Break giant tasks into bite-sized pieces.  Help them hang in there instead of giving up when it becomes difficult.  Then celebrate the reward they receive for their persistence and diligence.

For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Importance of Immediate Obedience

As I walked down the mountain, our 3-year-old daughter ran on ahead, like always.  She was a high-energy kid.  I smiled to myself.  Then I saw that she was not slowing down as she came to the row of parked cars.  AND I saw a car whizzing around the hairpin turns that went past the park and visitor’s center.  In that instant I knew that our beautiful, active child was on a direct collision course with that car she could not see coming as she ran between parked cars.  “Amanda, STOP!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs!  She screeched to a halt, heels skidding on the gravel, leaning backward to make the stop.  WHISH!   The shiny beamer whisked by, maybe a foot away from her astonished face.  Oh, dear Lord!  She burst into tears and I ran to hold her, thanking her for being so quick to obey.

Several times in the course of their young lives, we will probably catch our children on the verge of doing something disastrous – putting a necklace into an electrical outlet, climbing out a window to sneak around to their sister’s adjacent room (on the 2nd floor) or reaching for a pot of boiling soup on the stove.  Yup, my kids have done all those things.  In that moment we do not have time to explain why they need to obey.  We do not have time to argue about why they should obey.  They just must.  Quickly.  Thankfully, in most cases, I caught them, or they survived the potential mishap without severe injury.  Often, I would get that nudge from the Holy Spirit, “You better go check on them.”  And they were headed for big trouble, like pulling out dresser drawers to climb up on top.

Parents hesitate to require obedience.  They are often willing to get into discussions (a.k.a. arguments) over when or how obedience should happen, if at all.  Young children need to obey first, then have an explanation of the importance of what you have asked them to do.  You are not a petty tyrant, just jerking them around.  Older children may need more explanation on the front end, but they should still be ready for the emergency “STOP” you may call out.  Prepare them for life as an adult when there are plenty of things we have to obey – God’s laws and morals, civil authorities, and even bosses.  Not all things adults live with are fair or equal or likable either.

I love the verse, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat of the good of the land.” (Is. 1:19) Sounds like the blessings of obedience are worth it.  Talk to your kids about how obedience makes us happy.  Disobedience makes life miserable.  And everyone around you is affected by it.

Our family had a disabled friend years ago who had been terribly injured at 3 when she opened a car door and fell out of a moving car.  Don’t be afraid of being in charge, of directing your children.  Be vigilant and teach them to respond immediately to your voice.

For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Teens and Tax Time

It’s the time of year when we start to think about doing our taxes.  That makes it a good time to talk to your teens about taxes, what they are and where they go.

An easy place to start is with sales taxes.  Most communities have taxes on the items you purchase (other than food).  When you purchase items for the home or your child saves up to buy a toy, help them notice the extra cost of taxes.  If your state does not have sales taxes, believe me, they come from somewhere else, usually property taxes.  Find out how your local government is funded.  Where does the money come from to repair the potholes? To run the schools? To pay policemen and firemen?

When my husband and I went to Ukraine in 1999, there were potholes in some roads big enough and deep enough to swallow a car.  Yikes.  That was a picture of a government that was not functioning well.

Another place is to show your teen how much you pay in taxes on gasoline and tires.  These funds go to build roads.  Part of the fees on tires is for the disposal of the old ones. (How many million must there be every year?!)

Talk about the things the state government funds such as schools, colleges, prisons, and roads.  (Funded by state income taxes.)  Look at how park fees are used in your state.  It is easy to take these things for granted until their existence is threatened.

And of course, the federal government funds the military, welfare and food stamp programs and so on.  Explain income taxes to your teenager.  When they are old enough to have a part-time job, they will be filing income taxes even if it is just the post card.  Help them understand what the deductions on a paycheck are for.  When Social Security is deducted, employers pay half.  If you are self-employed, you pay the whole thing.  You can also discuss the income tax deduction that is allowed for each child in a family.  Yay!

Another fun thing to discuss is “Tax Freedom Day,” the day of the year on which the average person has earned enough to pay all their various taxes.  In 2000 it fell on May 1.  For 2017 it fell on April 24.  That means over 31% of all the earnings of an average person go to pay taxes.

Jesus even addressed the need to pay taxes.  (Matthew 17:24-27 and Matthew 22:15-22)  

The saying goes that there are two things that are inevitable:  death and taxes.  We may not like paying taxes, but people who don’t pay their taxes go to jail.  And we certainly are thankful for the good life we have in the United States.

For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

NURTURING as a Parent

Last week you may have seen the story in the news about the California family with 12 children, ages 2 to 29, who were discovered in horrendous conditions.  My heart broke, and it weighed on me all week.  How can any parent treat their own children in this way?  Oh, my goodness!  There must be some serious mental health issues with those parents!

So, I have been thinking, what does a nurturing parent really look like?  Does it come more easily to those who are people-oriented than those who are task-oriented?  I think for some it does, but some people-oriented people pay more attention to people other than their own children, so that is not an automatic answer. 

Task-oriented or People-oriented?

I am more prone to being task-oriented than people-oriented, and I must discipline my focus at times.  I had an aunt who wouldn’t let her kids mess up the house at all.  I let our children make huge tents in their bedrooms, in the family room, and occasionally connected all down the hallway.  What fun!  After two or three days, they had to come down, but by then we were all ready for a little order.

Nurturing Defined

The dictionary defines nurture as to care for and encourage the growth or development of something.  Synonyms include tend, raise, look after, support, rear or foster. (Google) More than just having fun with your kids, I think of a gardener tending seedlings, raising them up until they are ready to be transplanted outside when the weather and conditions are right.

What Does it Take?

To nurture our children, we must take time with them.  We have to listen to them.   (For more on how to listen as a parent, see pp. 283-286 in my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.)  If they are not talkers, we must draw them out, ask leading questions, help them express and explain their feelings and needs.  We must be affectionate.  We should hold them when they are small, hug them and pat them on the back or shoulder when they get older.  This may seem awkward when teen girls begin to develop.  Dads may feel self-conscious with their daughter’s budding womanhood, but young girls don’t understand that.  Have them sit by you on the couch and put an arm around their shoulders.  Dad still needs to be the most important man in a teen girl’s life.  Adjust the boundaries, but don’t stop being affectionate. 

Nurturers care for children and family members when they are sick.  We hurt with them when they are hurt – and tenderly bandage them up.  We listen when their friend lets them down.  We root for them as they fight to conquer the challenges they face.

Nurturers learn to speak each child’s love language.  (See The 5 Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman.)  They try to make sure their child’s emotional tank is filled in the way that touches their heart the most, whether it is physical touch and closeness, words of affirmation, gift giving, acts of service, or quality time.

Nurturing in the Bible

Scripture talks about how natural nurturing is.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”  (Isaiah 49:15 NASB)

In the story of the two women arguing over the baby before King Solomon, the baby’s mother was willing to give up the child so it could live rather than have the baby divided by a sword. (1Kings 3:16-27)  Her love and tenderness identified her as the correct mother. 

A friend of mine who was a nanny for several different families found that children who are nurtured by their own parents (even though their time was limited) presented fewer behavior challenges, handled life’s difficulties with more confidence, and were all-around happier people.

Dads Can Nurture Too

And it is not just moms who nurture.  Just like God is the husbandman (gardener, farmer, shepherd, etc.) who sees to the growth and development of all that is under his care, fathers have a natural desire to do the same.  They watch to see what a child’s natural bent is.  Athletics?  Computers?  Engineering?  Accounting?  They help find ways to encourage each family member’s growth and development.  It was my husband who made me teach the kids to do chores.  I felt it was easier to do them myself, which was true.  He said that would not serve them well when they grew up.  He said, “Anything they can learn to do, I want you to teach them.”  I took a deep breath and embraced the hard work ahead of me.  Now that they are adults, people often comment on how capable and impressive they are.

Nurturing takes time.  This is a tall order for single parents.  It is hard for busy working moms.  Move it up your priority list.  Your care and tenderness are an example of God’s love for all his children.  Enjoy this natural, lovely part of parenting.

For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Valentines Day is right around the corner.  You can use this as a teachable moment for your children.  It usually means some sort of exchange of little cards at school or with friends, and perhaps some challenges with friendships or lack of friendships.  There is an undercurrent (or perhaps something more in-your-face) of pairing up.  So often, this is a time when pre-teens may worry about whether they will ever be liked, accepted or wanted by someone of the opposite sex.  (Belonging and acceptance are foundational needs for every human being.)

As a parent you can set the tone for Valentine’s Day.  Here are some things you can talk about while you are addressing Valentines cards or doing that cute craft project. (There are some downloads and ideas at
  • ·         Discuss the legend of St. Valentine, for whom this holiday was named.  According to he was a Catholic monk who was martyred in Rome.  Claudius the Cruel (what a name!) had forbidden engagements and marriages, wanting to get more young men to join his army.  Valentine felt that was wrong and continued to secretly perform weddings.  He was beheaded for it.  He is said to have left a note for a young friend signed, “From Your Valentine.”
  • ·         Talk about the love of God – He is the author of all love. (1 John 4:7) Because of His love, He gave us Jesus. (1 John 3:16) He wants us to love one another. (1 John 3:11) If someone does not love others, he cannot claim to be a Christian. (1 John 4:8)
  • ·         Children and teenagers need to learn how to be a good friend before they worry about falling in love.  Friendship is the foundation for a good marriage.  Dr. James Dobson wrote long ago that friendship was the missing ingredient for so many young men and women’s relationships.

We used to tell our kids’ friends (and their parents!) that our children were not old enough to be boyfriends or girlfriends.  They could only be friends until they grew up more.  (What IS it with parents trying to pair their kids up for life at the age of 9 or 10 or 12?  Yikes!)  If they learn how to be a good friend, then they are ready for learning about courtship and romance.  If they are pairing up at 12, what will they escalate to at 16?  Slow things down, for Pete's sake!

So, what does it take to be a good friend?  A friend knows you and likes you for who you are, not for what you can do for him.  They aren’t trying to make you into something you are not.  She is a good listener, able to have a give-and-take conversation, not dominating all your time together.  She shares her thoughts and ideas, but gives you time to express yours.  A friend likes many of the same things you do.  They value most of the same things you do.  They are honest without being rude about their feelings.  Their actions and their words match.  They do not gossip about you or about others. Mature friends are willing to work on disagreements and conflicts.  Good friends are not too busy to spend time with you, especially when you need them in a hard season.  (Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) Of course, this is a growing, developing thing for young children.  They cannot expect their young friends to be fully-formed in these areas. Pick one area to work on with your family, then in 6 months, tackle another.  Talk to them about what they like in their friends.  Draw them out about their friendships.  Teach them how to choose good friends.

I love to buy candy hearts for our kids.  My husband takes our single daughter out on a date, so she will not feel forlorn in this season.  I buy a little box of chocolates for my husband.  Some families put loving notes in lunch boxes for their kids.  This is a wonderful time to do something special for that single parent friend as well.  Enjoy this season and spread your love around! 

For more parenting help go to or consider my book, Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Parents.  There is also a Small Group guide with discussion questions for couples or groups.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


One of the traits for this month from our Intentional Parenting list is “initiative.”   Great trait, but how do you teach that? 

First of all, initiative means being the one to take the first step or action; starting something without being told to do so; being the one to see what needs to be done, then starting so others may follow. This is not the same as being a natural helper.  It goes farther than that. 

You remember the old saying, “Some people make things happen, some people watch things happen, and some people wonder what happened.”  People who take initiative are “self-starters,” a trait valued in business and the work force.  They have self-discipline and are motivated internally.  Again, some of these traits are built into people naturally through their personality type, but there are ways to train it in as well.

Is Initiative in the Bible?

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the story of Jonathan and his armor-bearer in 1 Samuel 14.  The land is at war, and Jonathan says, let’s go confront the enemy.  No one knows they are doing it.  Jonathan comes up with a plan, and the armor-bearer says, let’s go – I am right behind you!  (If you research the location, it was crazy-difficult!  Check out this picture!)  They kill about 20 people in a half-acre space, then God sends terror on the enemy and they all turn and flee.  Jonathan’s initiative and God’s response turns the tide in an ugly situation.  Israel wins a miraculous, God-given victory, but it starts with Jonathan’s initiative.

Of course, in the New Testament we see God’s initiative in reaching out to love us before we knew him when he sent Jesus to die for us. (Ro. 5:8) This, by the way, is the pattern for courtship and marriage:  young men should initiate dating / courtship and girls can choose whether the young man is the match and has the qualifications they want.  Girls should not do the pursuing.

This past fall, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting the 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg church.  What initiative!  His bravery and speaking out changed the known world and the church forever.

Nagging or Initiative?

Consider how things get done in your home.  How much of it requires you to tell others what needs to be done?  Are you telling the kids everything to do?  Do you remind (or nag) them about their chores?  About hygiene tasks?  Isn’t that wearing?  Does that set them up for success as adults?  Go beyond developing habits, to teaching kids to think and choose well in life.  Once trained, they need to take initiative with daily tasks.

For little ones, we had helping hand jobs, with pictures posted on a hand drawing (wash face, brush teeth, make bed, pick up toys, pick up clothes).  I could just say, are your helping hand jobs done?  For older kids we had chore charts which rotated each week.  (They had already learned “helping hand jobs.”)  But rather than ask when they were done, we set up rewards with a point system.  For example, if their chores were done before 9 AM when we were going to start homeschooling, they got a point.  And there were consequences if your chores did not get done.  For example, when the new week came and the person who had inherited backyard pooper scooper chore found that the person had not done it well the week before, the violator would find themselves doing the chore for another week. (More practice needed apparently!)  Of course I inspected things at the end of each week. (Children don’t do what you expect, but what you inspect.)

With homeschooling, I set their schoolwork up for the week on a chart.  Items they needed to do with me were highlighted in yellow.  They were to ask for my help after I was done with reading class for the younger kids, my first task.  Things could be X-ed off the chart as they were completed.  If they got done by 2 PM, they got points.  If they were done by noon Friday with the whole week’s work (and, of course, I checked it!) they got extra points.  If they were done by the end of the day Thursday, all 5 days’ work counted as such, but they got a day off to play or do what they wanted to.  On the downside, if they dawdled, I was not available to help them with schoolwork after 3 PM.  I had other things I needed to do.  That math or spelling test would have to wait until the next day.  They could drag out their schoolwork until 5 or 6 PM if they wanted to, but they would be the one who suffered.  It didn’t take long to learn to manage their workflow and have time for reading, jumping on the trampoline, or playing Legos.

At the end of the week, they could use their points to buy items from a treasure chest.  It contained goodies from the dollar store, candy, and certificates for picking out a movie, going on an extra date with Dad (ice cream or McDonald’s) or have a friend over.  Warning: be sure to figure out how many points your kids can earn in a week and decide how much you can afford for those points to be worth.  When I first started this, I created points for so many things, we could not have kept up with the cost of the rewards.  I had to scale back on what we gave points for and how many points it took to get things from the treasure chest.  And our kids learned to save up their points and use them judiciously.

Another by-product you will have to explain to your children is that results and rewards are not equal.  The person who take initiative earns more.  Not everything has a material reward, but in life those with initiative have a leg up.  You can provide equal opportunities, but not guarantee equal results.  THAT is a real-life lesson!

Initiative in Good Works

Be sure to notice when kids initiate good actions or events.  If one chooses to help an elderly person, compliment the child in front of the rest of the family later.  If she helps clean up after an event at church, thank her especially if they just noticed the need and dove in without being asked.

You might want to have an extra chore/job or two in the back of your mind in case a child asks you if there is anything they can help with.  If a child jumps in and helps with something you are doing, be sure to say, “Thank you for noticing I needed some help.”

Point out when someone else is taking initiative and explain it to your kids.  Talk about noticing people’s needs and about thinking ahead about what needs to be done.  Talk about how ministries and nonprofit organizations get started through the heart and vision of a leader.  You might even want to plan a “Family Initiative” project.  Get together as a family to brainstorm about something you could do together to help someone or to raise money for a worthy cause.  Talk to kids about needs you notice around you.

Initiative in Life Skills

One of the things I love about the Boy Scouts is their many opportunities to learn while earning merit badges.  Young scouts get to choose a topic to work on.  Sometimes the troop will offer classes or opportunities to earn a badge. 

Take a look at the life skills list in Chapter 17 of Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Families.  Let your teens pick a skill to work on.  Discuss it with them and help them develop a plan to learn that skill.  It might mean they need to contact a family friend to see if they can shadow them at work.  Or you might have to schedule extra time to help them learn to use the city bus system.  Letting them choose and move forward prepares them for real life in the real world.  And it’s safer to be learning that while you are handy to help if needed.

Initiative in Earning Money

Letting kids take initiative to earn money to buy something they want is a great lesson.  I remember my sisters making and selling peanut brittle to go to youth camp.  They became known for it and it became an income stream for them until they were old enough to get regular jobs.  Recently, a young man who was about 12 knocked on my front door.  He had a lawn mower and perceived that my lawn needed attention.  He would charge me $40 to do the front and the back.  Was I interested?  I was a little bowled-over, actually.  Such a rare thing to see such brave action by one so young.  My husband was out-of-town, so how could I say no?!  I asked him what he was earning money for and he explained that he wanted a particular video game.  Hooray for parents who gave him opportunity to learn a life lesson, rather than just granting the wish. 

Sometimes we think we are doing the right thing by telling our kids what to do.  Take it to the next level by creating ways for them to learn initiative.  Blessings to you as you teach your children this valuable character trait!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Parenting Resolution

Happy New Year!  As I think about parenting resolutions for the year ahead, I believe one that would produce amazing fruit would be to resolve to take time to work together in unity as parents.

You know how it goes:  Junior asks Mom if he can stay up an extra half-hour.  Mom says, "No, tomorrow is a school day."  Junior quietly goes to the next room and asks Dad the same question.  Dad says, "Sure, I guess so."  Boom.  He got the answer he wanted.  Now Mom is upset with both Dad and Junior.

Kids will try to divide and conquer adults, even though the results might get them in trouble.  Kids don't necessarily think about what is wise or healthy.  They just want what they want.

Next time, Dad would be wise to ask, "Have you already asked your mother?  What did she say?"  When in doubt, Mom and Dad might want to confer with each other (behind closed doors for serious matters).  This give opportunity to come to agreement, the proceed with a united front when they come back to give Junior his answer.  My husband and I always told the kids, "Mom and Daddy always agree.  Even when we didn't.  We took a time out to discuss things in private, then presented only the unified answer to the kids.  Any disagreement was inside information, not for little ears.  Even in football, the referees confer before announcing a penalty.

What about consequences for a child who has successfully manipulated and pitted one against the other?  Consequences work best when they are related to the infraction.  For example in the case of getting to stay up later, a good consequence might be to have to go to bed 30 minutes earlier the next night or two.  The consequence needs to be heavy enough to make it not worthwhile to try this game in the future, but not so heavy as to break the relationship between parents and children.  A good consequence for weaseling out of chores would be extra work. (Tell the child, "You must need more practice!")

Secondly, be sure you are getting to the heart of the child with the consequence.  Don't focus only on the bad behavior, but discuss the deception the child tried to pull off.

And as an aside, be sure you are updating limits as kids get older.  Bedtime for a 12-year old should not be the same as for a 6-year old.  Be sure you are pulling back from controlling everything for teens.  (See chapter 13 in my book, Intentional Parenting, a Guide for Christian Families. )

Have a great 2018!  And may your parenting be more unified than ever!