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3 R’s Every Kid Needs

Kids need Rules, Routines, and daily Responsibilities.  Last time I wrote about Rules.  This time, let’s think about Routines.

The older I get, the more I like routines.  I have to intentionally kick myself out of ruts from time to time, because of this.  Sometimes ruts start as routines.  Many years ago, a friend told me that a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out.  He was probably right.

But even accounting for the dark side of routines (ruts), there’s a huge upside with them.  Having routines means I have fewer things to tax my brain with for decision-making.  Like when will I get up in the morning and go to bed at night.  How, how much and when will I exercise?  What tasks will I dive into at the start of my workday?  I have a pretty routine way to drive to my office.  I routinely take this way, out of the three ways that are available to me.  Sometimes I shake things up and take a different route, but I mostly take the same route.  Creativity people say going to work the same way will stifle my creativity if I do it all the time.  Like my friend, they’re probably right.  So I take alternate routes from time to time.  But most of the other routines in my life are there to make it easier to me to get from point A to point B, and they simplify my life.

For kids, routines help provide a stable and dependable environment.  If bedtime is almost always at the same time every night, and rise-and-shine time is almost always a the same time every morning, it gives them stability.  They will tell you they want to go to bed and get up whenever they want to, and may even make a convincing case for it.  But the two bookends for their day need to be routine and stable.  Nobody becomes an ax murderer because they had inconsistent bedtimes, so don’t put this in that category.  Kids need to have some things in their lives that they can count on, though, even if they don’t particularly like them.

Think about the routines that are in place in your household.  What are some things that almost always happen at the same way, at the same time every day or night?  And then ask yourself why this is.  Some routines have no really good reason to be in place.  You’d be smart to get rid of those.  But some routines are routine for a good reason: they work.

Your kids don’t know that they thrive better with routines.  They’re not likely to ask you to initiate routines, so don’t wait for that to happen.  Since you’re the adult, you’re the one who can best set routines that are good and appropriate.

I’ll give you a few suggestions, but there are lots of simple ways you can create worthy routines in your family.  I mentioned bedtime and rise-and-shine time.  Here’s a few more.

  • Where do dirty towels go after baths or showers?  Make a designated place for them, so that they can go there routinely.
  • Where do backpacks and/or book bags go when kids get home from school?  Make a designated place for them, so that they can go there routinely.
  • What time is dinner?
  • What comes first?  Homework or free time?  Decide and make it a routine.
  • Prayers at bedtime and mealtime should be routine.

You get the picture.  There are lots of important things that need to happen every day, or several times every day.  If you put them into routines, you help everybody remember to get them done, and you provide a source of consistent stability in almost subliminal ways.  Even very mundane things that can be put into a routine.

Breaking with the routine can be good, too.  Sometimes deviating from the normal is a good thing.  Variety is good.  But so are routines.  And leveraging routines with consistency is a small way to give your kids consistency and stability that will set them up to thrive.

3 R’s for Real Freedom

My dad was raised in rural Missouri, not quite a hillbilly, but about as close as you could come without being one.  He became a well-educated and respected minister and addiction recovery counselor, with many years of formal education and rare experience in his field.  No longer a hillbilly.  You probably know that you can take the boy out of the hillbilly life, but you can’t take the hillbilly life out of the boy.  It was true of my dad.  Dad always said the 3 R’s were “Readin’, Ritin’, and Rithmatik.”  He wasn’t the only one of his generation who had these as the 3 R’s.  If a kid could read and write and do arithmetic, they could make it in life.  If not, they’d struggle mightily.

I came across 3 other R’s that kids need for life, recently.  Kids need rules, routines, and daily responsibilities. Author and child psychologist, John Rosemond, says, “These ‘Three R’s’ simplify kids’ lives, promote security, and provide a stable framework within which creative freedom is possible.”

Some people love rules.  They live by them.  Their consciences have been educated to stay between the lines.  These are the people most 1st grade teachers love.  They do their work, stay in line for lunch, don’t poke their neighbor, smile when they’re supposed to.

Other people love to make the rules.  And they love to enforce them.  Like the rule-keepers in their 1st grade class, they do their work and stay in line.  But they also like to police everybody else and make them (or try to) do their work and stay in line.  Usually they’re self-appointed.  Often they’re first-born, but not always.

Then there are the one’s who view rules as general suggestions.  They don’t so much set out to break the rules as they just don’t let the rules get in the way of a good time.  Their general motto is, “It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

And then there are those who came into the world with their prime mission to seek out rules and break them.  They’re not bashful about it, either.  “Go ahead, make my day.”

In all cases, though, rules are one of the things that give a kid’s world structure and security.  Even for kids who don’t like the rules.  Even for kids who are in that last category, the ones who look for rules to break.  Structure and security are two of the primary needs that children have.  In fact, they will never outgrow these needs.  As adults, we will establish some kind of structure (even if it’s the chaotic structure of crisis management) to help us feel secure.  When kids feel insecure, they will eventually “act out.”  Eventually, they will behave in ways that will get someone’s attention.  Some kids are wired to do this quickly, but others are wired to gulp it down and stuff it out of their way.  It won’t stay out of their way, though.  And when it blows, it will get in your way, too.

I could write a lot more about rules, but you get the point. Rules are necessary.

There is this thing about rules that’s worth thinking about, though.  Sometimes kids break rules they didn’t even know existed.  But when they break the rule, the hammer falls.  This is true for adults, too.  Have you ever been in a situation where you did something innocently, but were reprimanded because it broke an unspoken rule in your place of work?  Great fun, isn’t it?  This happens to kids, too, only in their families, not at a workplace.  When this happens, the rules don’t provide structure and security.  They do the opposite.

Or worse than the unspoken rules are the inconsistent rules.  When it’s wrong to do something on one day, but not wrong to do it on another, there’s no security for the kid.  If rules are made on the fly and enforced on a whim, they will create life-altering insecurity for a kid.  Until they learn how to work the system to their advantage.  Then they’re able to punish their parents (or whomever makes the rules) in a thousand ways with their behaviors and actions.  If you don’t already know it, this is no fun for parents (or teachers).

There are two keys.  First, communicate the rules.  I know of families who have created a sort of Family Constitution that contains the goals of the family, and puts in writing things that are expected and which are not acceptable in their family.  The best of these Family Constitutions don’t have 300 rules in them.  They deal with the broad principles of what is acceptable and not acceptable.  This takes lots of serious thought from Moms and Dads.  And if the kids are in grade school or older, input from them can give a Family Constitution even better traction in real life.

I think the best rules are set up on an if-then basis.  They work on the basis of consequences.  Good behavior produces good consequences.  When you break the rules, there’s a negative consequence.  Making it known to everybody what the rules and consequences are is essential for this thing to work.

And then the second key: consistency.  Paul addresses this in Ephesians 6:4.  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Nothing exasperates a child more than inconsistent rules and consequences.  (And by the way, what Paul originally addressed to fathers goes for mothers, too.)  Once you’ve communicated the rules to everybody in your family, you have to either let the natural consequences happen or cause the planned consequences to happen.  When everybody in your family is convinced that the rules apply to everybody the same way, and consistently, rules can bring a sense of stability and security.  I have a very strong opinion about how grace fits into this, but I’ve used up my word count already, so I’ll have to come back to it at some point.

If you want some help writing a Family Constitution, check this out (it was created in 2015, but it’s got some great tips):



Bunnies and Eggs

I don’t remember when I figured out (or was told) that Santa wasn’t a real person.  He was a fun idea, and he sort of embodied the happy, generous side of the Christmas spirit.  Sometimes a little silly, but kind of fun.  I’m guessing there was a time early on that I thought he was real, though.

I don’t think I ever felt this about the Easter Bunny.  Even a little kid from Nowhere, Oklahoma, knew that bunnies do not lay eggs.  We hunted Easter Eggs like all the other kids in our little town, but it was about finding that one plastic egg that had a whole dollar in it.  I’ve never been a big fan of boiled eggs, and especially not cold boiled eggs, so aside from the possibility of recovering the dollar-egg, I had little motivation to be aggressive about hunting eggs.  There was little about bunnies and eggs that had any real connection to Easter, even in my little-boy mind.

When you’re a PK (Preacher’s Kid), you grow up knowing that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and Easter is about His resurrection.  Everything else about the holidays were nice, but they really didn’t have much to do with the real meaning of the days.  Not necessarily evil, but irrelevant.

If you’re taking your kids to hunt Easter Eggs today (or already have), good for you.  You’re having some good, clean fun with them.  Almost no family wouldn’t do well to have more fun.  And if you had their picture taken with the Easter Bunny, you’ll have a great memory to bring out to show their Prom date a few years from now.  Especially if they’re freaked out by the Easter Bunny…

But since you found me here at HomeworK, you probably know that I come from a Christian perspective and world-view, so you know I’m going to urge you to go deeper than eggs and bunnies on this Easter Sunday.  If you didn’t already know this, well, now you do.

On Friday, Good Friday, we reflected on Calvary and Jesus’ death.  The beatings, the pain of the spikes in His hands and feet, the humiliation, the death of the disciple’s hopes.  The Passion.

To meditate on what actually happened on that Friday requires seeing a figure quite different than you’ll ever see on a crucifix or in a painting, more brutal even than the images in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (though it comes perhaps as close as we could endure).  I don’t advocate that children be exposed to these disturbing images.  That would be inappropriate.  Very inappropriate.  They’ll be ready to see more of the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus when they’re teens.

But for Easter morning, there’s no developmental hindrances or considerations.  The overwhelming sadness and brutality of Friday were swallowed up on Sunday by the victory of the resurrection!  Even young kids can get the joy of this.  Even kids who don’t really understand death yet can understand the happiness the disciples felt when their friend, Jesus, Who they thought was gone forever, came out of the tomb.

Theologically, our faith hangs on this one event.  Without the resurrection, there would be no proof that the crucifixion was anything more than a sad an unjust end to an inspiring and wonderful life.  Another man killed because of his convictions.  History’s full of these.  You can visit many of their graves.  We’re not quite sure exactly where Jesus’ tomb is.  Which is not a huge problem, actually, since His remains aren’t there.  They were only there Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night, and into the early morning hours of Sunday.  The location of the tomb would be a nice thing to know, I suppose, but it’s a bit irrelevant.  His death and burial are verified by history and historians, whether we can locate the tomb into which Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea  placed Jesus’ lifeless body.

But because Jesus’ resurrection happened, everything He said and did matters.  Our faith rests on the fact (not the idea, but the fact) that He conquered death.

Smarter men than me have written extensively about the veracity of the Gospels’ account of the resurrection.  Skeptics have been taking shots at it as a fabricated story since the morning it happened.  But for more than 2000 years, no one has been able to push it out of the world of facts.

I love what Chuck Colson said about the resurrection.  “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Your grade-schooler won’t connect with all this theology, but your teen can.  They probably won’t if you don’t, though.

Maybe the best thing you could do for your family this Easter would be for you to enjoy the trappings of it, but to talk about the meaning of it.

What’s Good About That?

They call it “Good Friday.”  Actually, it’s also called “Black Friday,” “Great Friday,” and “Holy Friday” among Christians.  In the Czech Republic, it’s called Big Friday.  If you’re on Jeopardy, and the category is “Christian Holidays,” you’ll be able to buzz in.  You’re welcome.

No matter what you call it, this particular day commemorates something that, when it happened, would most certainly not have been good.

The Jewish religious leaders might have called it good, as in “good riddance.”  They were thrilled that Jesus had been dispatched in the most humiliating fashion possible.  Striped naked (our images of Jesus on the cross always have Him wearing a loin cloth of some kind, but the tradition of crucifixion was that the victim would be stripped naked), beaten beyond recognition, nailed with spikes to a rugged cross piece, hoisted to a crude saddle at the top of an equally rugged standard beam, and then thumped into place, then a spike driven through his feet into the standard.

There He hung, along with two others who had been sentenced to death by crucifixion for their crimes.  On the outskirts of Jerusalem, but not in a secluded location.  This hill that resembled a skull, Golgotha, was on a well-traveled road.  Crucifixions were staged there intentionally.  The Romans believed public executions were good for sending a law-and-order message to its citizens.  The Jewish religious leaders were thrilled that they could send a message to their people in a graphic way: “Blasphemy is a capital offense.”  Never mind they had to manipulate the system to accomplish this.  And by the way, this one you thought was the Promised One is no different than the criminals being killed on either side of him.  He’s just a man.  And this is his end.

For Jesus’ followers, there was nothing good about this day.  Nothing.  Their world was coming apart at the seams.  With Jesus’ last breath, the hopes that had seemed so bright the week before, with crowds cheering and shouting in joy as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, died with Him.

And it wasn’t a dignified death.  There was no honor to it.  If He had been a military commander, dying in battle, even if He had been badly wounded, covered in blood, unrecognizable, a battlefield death would have carried honor.  His followers would have been saddened by his death, but they would have been able to give Him a hero’s funeral and burial.  Criminals who died on crosses didn’t get honorable funerals and burials.  And they didn’t die well, generally.

Death by crucifixion was actually death by asphyxiation.  The crucified were stretched and spiked in such a way that filling their lungs required pushing against the spikes in their feet and pulling against the spikes in their hands (most probably their wrists, which were considered part of the hand).  Full breaths gave way to short, shallow, panting breaths as the pain and fatigue set in.  Eventually, there was nothing left to push and pull against the spikes with.  They died gasping for breath.

If you saw the film, The Passion of the Christ, you have an idea of the graphic horror of Jesus’ death.  It was enough to garner the movie an R rating.  Believe it or not, the film’s depiction was a somewhat sanitized presentation of what actually would have happened.

There was nothing good about that Friday in Jerusalem.  Even the elements seemed to shout this.  Darkness covered the land for three hours in the middle of the day  (from Noon to 3:00).

It took Jesus about 6 hours to die on the cross.  It’s amazing to me that it took this long, considering the physical trauma Jesus had sustained in the hours of the night before and the wee hours of that morning.  Beaten by guards before and after his kangaroo court with the Chief Priest and his cohorts.  Then more beatings at Pilate’s complex.  After the night of beatings, He carried His own crossbeam to the Place of the Skull.  Blood loss, shock, mental and physical fatigue.  And this doesn’t even account for the emotional and spiritual agony.  So deep and so strong was this agony that one of the last things Jesus uttered from the cross was the hoarse and desperate cry, “My God, My God, why have Your forsaken me?”

Finally, He cried out, “It is finished!”   His head dropped one last time to his chest, and His breathing stopped.  It was over.

At the foot of the cross, a handful of His followers, including His mother, a few other women, and a true friend, John, wept.  They were abandoned, lost, devastated.

The curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies), was ripped in two from top to bottom by an unseen hand.  The physical symbol of the “apart-ness” of God’s holiness was no longer intact.  There was no more curtain of separation.

With His last breath, Jesus had pad the debt once-and-for-all to destroy the barrier that had stood between mankind and God from the time Eve ate the fruit, and Adam after her, in the Garden of Eden, and sin entered the world.  The curtain in the Temple had been the symbol of this separation.  Only one man, the High Priest, could go behind the curtain, and he could do this only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, on behalf of the Nation of Israel.  But now this barrier had been destroyed.

The Devil and all of hell danced with glee that Jesus was finally dead and gone.  The plan had worked without flaw.  He had come to a disgraceful end.  Except this was not His end.  It was only the beginning.  On Sunday morning, when Jesus stepped out of the tomb, He proved that His payment was real, that the debt of sin had been paid, that there was no need for a curtain to separate God from humankind.  And this, I think, is the ultimate good.  It is what made the worst Friday in all of human history truly Good.


6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 6

I’m a People Pleaser. I’d like to think I’m moving toward recovery from this, but I can’t say I’m recovered yet.  I’ve always wanted people to like me.  I mean really, really like me.  For most of my life, pleasing people was the best way to get the affection and affirmation I longed for.  Be funny.  Be smart.  Be happy.  And most of all, never tell people “no.”  Nothing displeased people more than say no.  So never say it.  Just say yes to everything.  And then kill yourself to do what you said yes to.

There are many problems with this.  Not the least of which is that it’s very hard to keep track of what you’ve said yes to when you say it often to many different people.  So as much as I wanted to please everybody, I constantly found myself disappointing them.  Normally this wasn’t because I didn’t try to keep my commitments.  I tried really hard.  Most of the time it was because I hadn’t been able to keep track of all of them, and some of them slipped off the map.

Until I was well into my 30s, I didn’t even know I could say no.  Being in paid ministry as a career didn’t help this much.  It’s not really a good excuse.  It’s just a reason.  I thought if somebody in the church asked me (or told me) to do something, I was automatically bound by their request or demand.

Getting a calendar and learning how to live by it helped.  At least with a calendar, fewer things fell off the map.  It was part of the answer, but not the whole answer.  The bigger part of the answer to this problem was learning a skill I hadn’t developed up to that point in my life.  I didn’t know how to say no.  When I began learning how, my life got a little less messy.  Not everybody was happy that I had learned to say no, though.  This took me a little by surprise, but I believe it’s just the way it works.  I’m not great at it yet.  I’m still learning.  But I’m getting better at it.

All this shameless self-disclosure set me up to talk about the 6th thing on my list.

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

I believe knowing when and how to say yes and how to say no is a life-giving skill that you will want your kids to have.

Remember when they were 2?  Saying no wasn’t a problem then.  It seemed like that was their favorite word.  Until they turned 3 and it became “why,” because they didn’t always want to say no.  Obviously, we’re all capable of articulating this very big two-letter word, and have been saying it for a very long time.  The problem is we’re not very often good at saying it at the right time for the right reasons.

So let’s start with a wrong reason to say yes or no, Peer Pressure. If you’re kid’s in preschool, there’s peer pressure there, even if the literature the director of the preschool sent home with you assures you otherwise.  If you’ve got human children in the room, there will be peer pressure.  You remember from your own school career that peer pressure is omnipresent.  There’s no getting away from it.  Lots of bad things have come to pass in kid’s lives as the result of buckling to peer pressure.  Perhaps some good things have come from it, too, but the scales are tipped very far in the direction of bad things.  It’s a reality that you can’t make go away.  You can’t afford to pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it’s not an issue for your kids.

Most kids will try to leverage peer pressure as a trump card.  “But EVERYBODY’s doing it.”  If you haven’t heard it yet, get ready, because it’s coming.  And if you’ve heard it, you’ll hear it again.  Even thoroughly well-adjusted kids feel the pressure of what everybody’s doing.  I don’t know of a good work-around for this.  My best advice is, “Don’t try to reason with them on this.”  Your air-tight line of reasoning won’t overcome the emotion your kid is feeling.  They’re not telling you that everybody’s doing it because they’ve done the research on it, and it seems like the very best thing is to join in and do it, too.  They’re telling you this because they really, really want to do it.  It’s very strongly emotional.  So strong, in fact, that it will often become irrational.

What you most want is for your kid to develop their own criteria for saying yes or no.  To get to that destination, you’ll have to be directive.  Especially when they’re young.  Sometimes you’ll just have to draw a line in the sand and say, “No, you won’t be doing this,” and live with the backlash.  When the dust settles and their blood pressure comes back to normal, talk about why you said no.  This is when your reasoning matters.  But not when and they are in the stress of the disagreement.  Come back to it.

To do this, you have to think through and own your personal criteria for saying yes or no.  Out of this, you’ll be able to guide your kids to a good criteria for them to own and use.  So what’s your criteria?  I’ll make a few sketchy suggestions.

  1. Is it morally right?  Sounds too easy, maybe, but if you don’t start here, you’ll wish you had.  For young children, don’t ask if it’s morally right.  Ask if Jesus would say it’s a good thing to do.
  2. What will doing this (or not doing it) do to your reputation?  More importantly, what will it do to Jesus’ reputation?  This is really part b to the first one on morality.
  3. How much time will doing this take?  It doesn’t apply to every decision, but it’s more often than not a consideration.
  4. Can you do this and keep your commitments?  In other words, will you have to say no to something you’ve already said yes to in order to do this?  Is there room in your life for this without missing a commitment you’ve already made?
  5. Do you have the money to make this work?  I mean, do you have it now?  Because if you don’t have it now, you really should say no until you’ve got the cash.
  6. Have you done your homework?  Just thought I’d put this one in, because it will probably fit…

You should add to the list and replace items that don’t work for you.  You need your own list.  And your kids do, too.

6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 5

Money doesn’t grow on trees.  Just offering this as a Public Service Announcement.  You already knew this, but there’s a chance your kids haven’t figured it out yet.  That’s why I want to do some thinking about Number Five on my list.

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

You noticed my intentional order.  Make, save, spend.  Your kids won’t need much instruction on how to spend money.  That’s a skill that comes amazingly easily.  If you’ve ever taken a toddler with you to the grocery store, you know that what Darth Vader said of Luke Skywalker is true of your kid, “The Force is strong in this one.”  The force to entice them into wanting most everything they see on the shelves.  Especially in the checkout line.  What evil genius figured out that moms and dads will put hundreds of dollars worth of that stuff in the shopping cart to keep their kid from making a scene in that little space that’s hardly wide enough for you and your cart?

Impulse buying comes naturally.  I know this because I’m in recovery from impulse buying.  Debbie almost never sends me to the grocery store.  And when she does, she has a very specific list of what I’m supposed to bring back.  She even puts it on the list in the order in which I’ll encounter it as I walk through the store.  I got my “Chump Consumer” merit badge early in life, and have kept the certification current.  Oh, the shame of it.

Young kids don’t earn money.  It’s given to them.  But as they grow older, one of the smartest things a parent can do is give them opportunity to earn it.  There’s a mixed bag of ideas on whether kids should be paid for doing their chores.  One line of thought is that doing chores is just part of their contribution to the family,  not gainful employment.  There are others who say paying your kids for doing their chores is a smart way to give them something to work with, and some motivation to do their chores.  I can see merit in both of these.  I say do what seems right to you.  But if you don’t pay your kids for doing their chores, you’ll need to come up with tasks and jobs outside of their chores they can do for cash.  Things like cleaning out a closet (other than their own), or cleaning the garage, or raking leaves, or mowing the lawn, or some other task that them doing would benefit you.  If these things are on their “chore list,” you’ll have to be more creative with figuring out jobs for them.

The point is they need opportunities to earn some amount of income because they did some amount of work.  You see why this is important.  When kids get income without working, they grow up thinking that’s how the world works.  No matter who gets elected in the next election, that’s not how it works.  When kids learn this in their elementary school years, they get a more realistic picture of real life early on, and that’s a very significant advantage for them.

DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME!  Your kids should never be slave labor.  You won’t do yourself any favor by cracking the whip until they do what you told them to do.  And you’ll harm your relationship with them if you just give them the dirty work you don’t want to do.

Every job you create should be within their capabilities (as they get older, maybe just barely out of what they think is their reach – this will stretch them toward growth).  But not every job done should bring them income.  It’s a tough balance.  You don’t want to raise your kids to believe that if they don’t get paid, they won’t do the work.  But you do want to raise them to realize that when they get paid, it’s because they worked.  That’s a tough tension to manage.

And when they’ve earned money, you’ve got to teach them how to save some of it.  Every kid is different with this.  All three of our daughters approached their money differently, because they were all three wired a little differently.  But we taught all three of them to save in the same way.  Our rule was give 10% to God, save as much as you wanted to.  We discovered that Dave Ramsey’s advice is right for this. We gave them envelopes to put their money in for all three purposes: tithe, saving, spending.  It’s a simple and imperfect system, but it worked pretty well.  Many thousands of other families will tell you the same.  I only learned the habit of tithing when I was a kid, and I’m grateful for that, but the habit of saving I did not learn as a child, and it has been very difficult to do as an adult.  That’s why you want to work on this with your kids when they’re young.

For most people in our country, saving and spending aren’t really connected.  That’s what credit cards are for.  Right?  You just get what you want, when you want it.  If you don’t have the cash on hand for it, put it on the card and pay for it later.  No biggie.  Except it IS a biggie.  One study I read (from April of 2019) said the average consumer debt per household is $5700.  That may not be as overwhelming a number as you thought it would be, but realize this amount is compounding at 17-20% interest.  The other side of this coin is that the median savings account balance across American households is $4,830. Lots of people can’t support their debt.  My theory on this is that almost none of us were taught how to live within our means, how to spend what we have and not spend what we don’t have.  If you were taught better, good on you!

So how do you teach your kids to spend wisely?  Of course it starts with them seeing you spending wisely, and then it goes to you helping them think through their purchases.  This is another thing that carries a difficult tension.  Don’t be the Spending Nazi who always puts the kibosh on what they want.  It’s not your money.  On the other hand, don’t just look the other way and let them burn through their cash on bubble gum.

One of the keys on this, I think, is helping your kids develop purchasing goals.  In other words helping them think through what they would like, and then set goals for saving toward it.  Some expensive things you’ll want to help them with, but don’t rob them of the satisfaction of knowing that they were able to get this for themselves.

One of Debbie’s and my mentors in our early married life gave us great advice.  He said, “When you think you really need something, find the best price for it you can find, and then wait 48 hours before you buy it.  If after 2 days you still feel you need it, then buy it at the good price.”  This helps cut impulse buying out of the equation.  Enforce this little rule on yourself, and teach it to your kids.  Don’t try teaching it to your kids without enforcing it on yourself first, though.

The younger your child is, the more of your direct help they will need with this.  But give them freedom as soon as they give you reason to believe they can handle it.  And be ready for the fact that almost all of us will fail some in this endeavor.  When they do, DO NOT shame them.  Instead, use it as a teachable moment.  The best question you can ask is, “How could you not have this happen again?”

How you earn, save and spend your money is a huge indicator of your maturity.  Seize this moment with your kids and help them grow up into mature habits with their money.  I think I can say you’ll never regret it.  Well, at least not when they’re up and grown and have money enough to send you on a fabulous vacation.  Just kidding.  Maybe not.

6 Things You Want Your Kids To Be Able To Do – pt 4

What is the feeling you most consistently have?  That should be an easy question to answer, right?  Nope.  It’s a toughie.  There’s no right or wrong answer to it, but it’s tough to come up with.  Go ahead and take a few minutes to ponder your answer.

Emotions – feelings – are powerful.  They can be denied, sublimated, stuffed, but all attempts to make them disappear or go away without processing them are futile.  When feelings go underground (which is what happens when they’re denied, sublimated, stuffed), they rarely die.  At the most socially inappropriate and inconvenient times, they resurrect and begin wrecking everything within their very wide reach.  It can be entertaining if you’re an observer, but it’s devastating if it’s happening to you.  Which is why number 4 on my list is so important.

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

Knowing how to express emotions appropriately is one of the primary marks of maturity in people.  Only mature people can pull this off.  And even for mature people, it’s often not easy.

Step number one for knowing how to express emotions appropriately is learning how to identify them.  I often joke that most men have a feelings vocabulary of only a few words: happy, sad, mad, hungry, tired.  There are a few others that go on most men’s list, but not too many.  In my work with people for these last four decades, I can tell you that this really isn’t a joke.  It’s the sad truth.

Women, on the other hand, have an extensive list.  They expand a man’s list exponentially.  Not by hundreds, but easily by dozens.  Generally, they’re more expressive of their feelings than men, too.

In both genders, though, I see emotions usually being expressed but not being identified.  I see men acting in emotional ways, like in anger, but not identifying the emotion of anger.  I see women doing the same thing.  And guess what?  I see kids doing this.

Kids are usually highly emotional beings.  And usually, they’re unaware of the specific feeling they’re feeling.  They just act it out.  They’re pretty good at acting it out, but not so good at knowing when and where to do this.  And they’re almost never able to identify what they’re feeling.  That’s why they need you to be a consistent, mature model and teacher for them.

Just like with all the other things on my list, the two ways you teach appropriate emotion expression to your kids is by what you say and what you do.  For you to be able to teach your kids how to express their emotions appropriately, you’ve got to know how to do this for yourself.  Bummer.  And like I said a few paragraphs ago, you’ve got to be able to identify your feelings if you hope to express them appropriately.  How consistently do you do this?  Lots of us aren’t great at it.

There are hundreds of resources on the Internet for identifying feelings and emotions.  Everything from the most basic and simple graphic charts for children, up to complex charts for therapists to work with.  If you Google “feelings chart” you’ll see tons of them.  It would probably be a smart thing to click around with this a little, and utilize resources that are available.

Talking about your feeling, identifying them out loud in the presence of your kids, is a very good thing to do.  You don’t need to make that the sum total of your conversations with them, but if you don’t model identifying your feelings, your kids are very unlikely to ever be able to do this for themselves.  Dinner table talk is a great place for this kind of conversation.  Share a feeling you experienced in your day, and tell them what you did about it.  Then ask them what feelings they had in their day, and what they did about them.  Or ask everybody at the table to share the feeling they had the most during the day, and why.  Don’t make it a family therapy session, though.  Just make it a safe, even fun, place to share.  Above all, DO NOT JUDGE!  Nothing will make your kids run from their emotions like being judged (or feeling they’re being judged) for having them.

Learning how to talk about your emotions is hard enough, but learning how to model acting appropriately when you feel them is way hard.  Maybe among the top 3 or 4 hardest things in life to pull off.  Doing this takes practice and very high levels of self-awareness, along with the last thing on the list of the Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control.

Believe it or not, one of the best things you can do in this is to admit it when you blow it.  Don’t excuse it by saying some form of, “I did this, but they made me do it.”  Own your feelings and your failings, when they happen.  Don’t push the blame for your behavior off on anybody or anything else.  Admit what you did, and then talk about what you wish you had done, instead.  This is very good for your kids.  It gives them a pattern to model when they blow it, which they will do.  It’s also very good for you.  Thinking and talking through a better response is one of the best things you can do for yourself to form a better habit for appropriate emotional expression.

I think there are two things that most often get in the way of this kind of modeling.  First there is habit.  However old you are is how many years you’ve been grooving in your habits of emotional response and reaction.  The longer you’ve had a habit, the more difficult it is to break it.  Breaking a long-standing habit is unnatural and difficult.  The odds are good that your current habits of emotional expression are the same ones you grew up seeing in your family of origin.  That loads the habit with all kinds of powerful stuff.  So habit can get in the way.

But the other thing is possibly even more powerful than habit.  It is PRIDE.  I don’t know that this is true for women, but I can say for myself and the other men I’ve been close to in my life, talking about what I feel is strongly pushed against by my pride.  To admit to a failure in expressing my emotions appropriately, I have to swallow my pride and make myself vulnerable.  I hate this.  I hate feeling like I’m revealing a part of myself I want to keep hidden.  And I hate that I have this very strong pride-motivated desire to be invulnerable.

If you’re a dad, pushing through your pride, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Who wants to help you do this more than you want to do it), is more important than you may realize.  Modeling the humility and self-awareness it takes to do this is huge.  You kids notice.  Even if they can’t articulate what’s involved for you to do this, they see it, and they will mirror your modeling.

Mom, your model is no less essential and powerful.  You already know that there’s almost no time that your kids are in your presence that they’re not watching you, catching all sorts of stuff from you.

A mom and dad who are both deadly serious about growing in their maturity in Christ, reflected in their effort to express their emotions appropriately, is one of finest gifts any kid will ever get.  Mom and Dad may do it differently (probably should be doing it differently), but when they partner with God to grow up in this area, their kids notice.  And, even when a kid may not want it, they get the positive backwash of it, and that leads to them developing the skill of expressing their emotions in appropriate ways.