Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Parenting: Helping Your Kids See Themselves Appropriately

There is one key concept that too many parents these days are neglecting in their parenting. The world (or universe) does not revolve around them. Now I love my kids (and grandkids) with all my heart. I get tears in my eyes everytime I think about how terrific my grown children are and when I have to leave the grandkids and return home.

And we've desired with all our hearts to help our kids develop their gifts, spread their wings and learn to be productive, godly, fulfilled adults. There were of course many years where they were a high priority and we gave them, as we should have, much of our time, love and other resources. There's nothing wrong with that.

However, it's possible that blended into our best intentions and passionate love for our children is the wrong message. They can start to believe if we're not careful that everything, including all of mom and dad's time and energy, should focus on them. In fact, they can subtly start to think that others should also give them the same status and priority wherever they go - school, church, community activities and the like.

What are some of the symptoms? Parents who always give in. It's wonderful to give our children opportunities to develop their skills, interact with others and make decisions and choices. However, some parents let their kids do and have everything they desire. The whole family's schedule and use of resources begin to be determined not by what mom and/or dad think is best but because the child wants to do one more thing, attend one more activity or play one more sport.

A second symptom is extreme selfishness. We're all selfish to some extent but children who think they're overly important and deserve all the attention go to extremes. Whatever they want they get and when they don't get it they throw a fit. Some parents will unwisely let their tantrums go, too, and just brush them off as "that's the way Sean is and how he handles conflict."

A third outcome is when children always have to be asked to do something for others. Now granted most children need to be reminded about chores, helping out and the like but a maturing child should begin to develop some desire to help others if he or she has been groomed to do so.

So how do we help our kids to give as much as get and not become self-centered? One way is to help them learn early on that they don't get everything they want. As I've said in earlier posts you don't need to be an ogre or the wicked witch of the west to do that. Sometimes choices are helpful for children old enough to choose. "You know, Erin, you can pick one of those activities to do this summer. Which one would you like to do?"

For younger kids, we'll simply have to say "no" and lovingly, but firmly, let them know that there's no more discussion about it.

But on an even more positive note, we can start our kids early learning to serve and give to others. We used to do Christmas caroling in our neighborhood when our children were smaller. But what we did was tell them that we weren't going to the neighbors to get anything, but rather we were going to sing for them and take them something. And we did. It was great fun.

When they get their first job, even babysitting or a paper route, require that they put some aside for savings, some for God or the church and some for others. We were really proud when Tim announced after he started making money with his paper route that he was putting aside ten percent to give to church!

As the old saying goes, more is caught than taught. Think about what you might do to help your kids this week, this month , this year to give more away than they take and in the process help them to see themselves in a healthy, godly way.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Be the Parent!

Another cardinal rule of effective parenting is to BE the parent, not one of the children. Now I'm not suggesting that we parents can't appropriately and with great fun be child-like now and then. Even as a grandparent I love getting down on the floor with any of my grandsons and playing "bus," or "truck" or building with Legos.

No, being the parent is more of a big picture idea. First of all, being the parent means we don't ask our kids questions that they shouldn't be given the power to answer. For example, don't ask "Would you like to go to bed now?" if it's time for you to decide that it's bedtime or it's a time you've already established as bedtime. That decision is yours not theirs.

Or, "Are you ready to get in the car so we can take you to school?" If it's time to go and important that you leave right away then they shouldn't be allowed to answer that question. As parents we will generally give the direction about when it's time to go to the store, leave for church, etc. Yes, there will be times when we can give them the choice but that's a whole different scenario.

Second, being the parent means we are the ones who make key decisions about family life, how our time is spent and who will do certain things around the house. I remember seeing a family on one of the talk shows describe how for most evening meals dinner was picked up at various restaurants based on what each person and child decided they wanted to eat.

Wise parents, those who are truly acting as parents, explain to their kids that this is what we're having tonight to eat. Depending on their age and the circumstances they can eat it or not eat it but they're not the deciders of what's good for them every night. And you don't have to be an ogre or tyrant to do that either.

In the process they're also teaching their kids lessons about how to give in and enjoy what others enjoy. Now certainly there can be special times when kids get to make requests, enjoy their favorites and have a surprise about food, activities, and the like but that can't be the norm.

As I said in an earlier post, kids will learn early on if we're going to truly act as the parent or not. On a much more positive note, kids also need their parents to be emotionally strong for them when life is a challenge, to be the one who takes charge. We parents can't expect the kids to somehow manage things in our place. We can still hurt and be vulnerable when we hit hard times, but we can't ask our kids to somehow parent us even through the worst.

So ask yourself, "Am I being the parent these days with my kids or are they parenting me?" It's important that we remain the adult until they're able to assume that role themselves.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mean What You Say - Part 2

This afternoon Jackie and I sat down and listened to a couple of tapes we found that contained the voices of our kids, Tim and Amy (both adults now), when they were little. It was great fun hearing them proudly say their letters, new words and even sing songs. But as I heard them I was reminded again of how much goes into their little minds at that age. They so easily parrot back what they hear, memorize and develop their abilities.

But they also soak up what we say, good or bad, how we act and the way we respond to things. I remember when Tim was still young enough to be carried and his vocabulary was still developing. He and I were returning from somewhere and so I was carrying him to our back door and we were about to enter the house.

However, as I fumbled in the dark with my keys and then tried to open the door, I heard him say, "Shoot, daddy, shoot." It took me a few seconds but all of a sudden I realized he was simply saying what I'd said on previous occasions when trying to get the key into the lock. Yes, I would say "Shoot." Thankfully it wasn't worse. He probably thought that if you say "shoot" the door will open better.

So, let's think for a minute about meaning what we say in this context. Are those words we say in anger towards our spouse really what we mean to say to both our spouse and in front of the kids? Or when we blow up at the kids themselves and don't use better and more effective ways to get them to obey, is that the message we mean to send to them? Whether we meant it or not they will likely remember or model it.

In the book of Proverbs in the Bible it says in chapter 12, verse 18, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." And reckless words are often remembered by our child or children for a long time. Much of what our children say and how they see it is what they say because of us!

As I listened to those tapes I was stunned a bit at how much my son now sounds like I did in that recording. I was about his current age back then. But more importantly, I need to be asking myself, "But does he sound like me as a person - did I help him positively develop his morality and character so he sounds like me in ways that count more than tone of voice? " I think so, though I was far from perfect as a dad.

Nonetheless, if you as a parent now of young children will think about what you want to say that your kids will take with them into adulthood, you will do some things right and you'll look back someday and go, "Yes, I really meant to say that and I'm glad I did!"
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some Help For Parents - Mean What You Say

There are a number of principles that apply to parenting in general and pretty much have relevance no matter the child's age. And I can't think of a more important one to start with than this: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Most parents, including me, have given in to the temptation to use threats that we cannot or will not keep to hopefully get our children to behave. At the store . . . "If you don't quit acting that way I'm going to take your new toy and put it back on the shelf." At home . . . "If you don't quit sassing me and talking that way you're going to be grounded for a month!" In a restaurant . . . "You'd better start eating your food or we're just going to get in the car and go home."

Now in some cases our potential actions are actually doable - we just don't follow through because it's inconvenient or maybe we don't want to upset our kids that much. Other times we've put a consequence out there that actually isn't realistic. What we need to figure out are responses that we can follow through on that are reasonable, well-intentioned and that we are willing to put into place.

But don't miss this key point: we have to send the message early on that we really do mean what we say. The sooner we do this, once a child can actually understand and learn from our actions, the better. Now let me be clear here - you don't have to be a mean tyrant in the process. In fact, if you handle this right, you won't need to get unduly angry and let your emotions boil over nearly as much.

For example, it's very important for your kids to know that their bedtime is a given. It certainly will change as they get older (for a while we added 15 - 30 minutes every year). But when you're starting out, you need to have some watershed moments where they know you're serious. As a result with younger children you may have to endure some extended crying, major push back or other defensive responses. But hold your ground anyway. Yes, you need to be realistic about their perhaps being afraid of the dark or going through some unexpected changes or challenges in the home. There can certainly be acceptable exceptions for special occasions and the like.

But don't deal with those initial conflicts by changing your standards. Use other things like a night light, letting them have music to listen to when they first get into bed, reading to them first, etc. to be understanding about their concerns or fears. Nonetheless, you have to let them know that you do keep your word.

I know that it's also a challenge sometimes to get them to even get to their room but you can use something like a timer to give them a signal that their last fifteen minutes is up. "Ryan, I'm going to set the timer and when it dings you will need to go to your room and get ready for bed."

If they balk at this point then you may have to literally carry them or take their hand and firmly, but lovingly, walk them to their room. Eventually, however, they'll get the message that you are serious and that yes, you mean what you say. And as they mature, you'll likely get less negative responses because they've seen you stand firm before.

And isn't that better than, "But mom, I just need to reach one more level of this game," or "Dad, can't I just watch one more program?" and still have a battle on your hands and a kid who is still up at some late hour? I know it's better and that you will also help your marriage in the process. Mom and dad still need time together, more than ever before, or if you're a single parent you buy yourself some needed time to relax.

If you start now to show your kids you mean what you say, including the good stuff like "I love you," and "we'll play together tonight," you'll reap the fruits of healtier relationships and better actions for years to come. More in the next post.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Being There For Hurting People

Recently, I put a quote from one of my graduate school/seminary teachers, Larry Crabb, on my Facebook page and got quite a response. The quote was simply this, "People are hurting more deeply than we know." Lots of people apparently resonated with that thought. What prompted me to think of that yesterday? Running into more hurting people through what I do as a pastor and counselor.

But what's interesting is that you don't always know that others are troubled. In fact, most of the time you don't. Some of the most together people we know, however, are dying on the inside. Their marriage is a wreck, they feel like a failure, they have an illness that could be terminal, their kids are struggling, they just lost their job, they feel like God has left them, they're exhausted and discouraged or a thousand other things.

Why don't people typically open up, even to their spouse, their parents or close friends? One reason is fear. Fear that others will look at them less favorably, fear of appearing weak, fear of not having it all together.

A second reason is probably time. We're so busy and there is so little margin in our worlds, that we often don't have time to share our story or listen to another's so we simply keep things light and move right past one another.

A third reason is likely past experiences. When we've told someone else we're hurting, we may have gotten a trite, "Yeah, I know what you mean," or been given an easy answer or gotten the impression that somehow if we just trusted God more we wouldn't be struggling. Sometimes people don't keep your story confidential and others who didn't need to know found out.

So we have to assume that people around us, even closest to us, probably have struggles, even deep pain, but won't just come out and tell us. And I know we can't solve everyone's problems but we can listen to someone today who needs to tell their story. I don't even know how that will always happen but I have a couple of suggestions for those of you who don't have people walk into their office and just open up (and I don't either by the way, at least a lot of the time).

First, pray for someone to encourage today and then have your eyes open. You never know who it will be or where they will show up. Second, listen for when a person may want to tell you more. Sometimes your merely saying, "Wow, sounds like this is a tough time for you," can open the door for a longer conversation. If not, don't push it.

Third, start by having your radar on for those closest to you. Ask yourself, "Does my spouse or do my kids know that I'm available and that I care about their hurts too? Do I make myself available and do I talk about things that really matter or hurt me? Have I sent the message that it's OK to not have life all together? When they do talk about hard things how do I respond?"

Yes, people are hurting more deeply than we know. And if you're the one doing the hurting, then ask God to bring a great listener and encourager into your world too. In the meantime, be that to someone else. It could change how you see your world today.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Making It 30+ Years: Our Words and Communication

Jackie and I were sitting in a restaurant not long ago and couldn't help but notice a couple nearby who the whole time barely said one word to each other. They ate their meals and read the paper but this meal was obviously not a time where they were going to bare their souls to each other. I'm not sure they even looked at each other except by accident.

Now to be fair, we didn't know anything about them. They may have wonderful, deep, intimate discussions at other times and agreed long ago to use some of their restaurant time to get caught up on the news.

However, I wonder how many couples really never discuss much of anything of consequence with each other. They're like the two people in the restaurant at least appeared to be - in the same room but not really connecting. Instead they spend time together and with their families but they make no time or effort to talk about what's going on inside each other. And even if they did have time they possibly wouldn't know what to do with it anyway. Other couples may talk more to each other than some but never get any deeper than discussing the days events, the kids' schedules and the relatives' faults.

So how do you have a meaningful, intimate discussion with your spouse (and this applies to other relationships as well) without it turning into an argument? How do you enjoy emotional intimacy as God intended and still speak words of life to one another even when you're unhappy with the other person?

Gary Smalley, author and popular speaker, has identified five levels of communication. Starting with the shallowest to the deepest they are: cliches, facts, opinions, feelings and needs. Cliches have their place. Facts of course are important, even in disagreements. Have you ever had an argument only to find out that one or both of you didn't have all the details straight?

Opinions also have merit but unforunately this is the level where we usually argue and get stuck. For a variety of reasons we believe that we have to win the argument, that we must be right and that we can't come out of this looking bad. Unfortunately those premises are wrong. Nonetheless, we fight to the finish only to have our feelings hurt, our guilt heightened and our problem unsolved.

That's why we need to learn to move into the next two levels of healthy communication: feelings and needs. It sounds like Counseling 101 class, but feelings do matter. Women especially want to know that their husbands understand them, in fact, understanding may be the majority of the issue much of the time. If we men would just listen actively and try to discover what they are feeling we may not need to solve the bigger problem, at least right away!

And men, you care about feelings too. You just don't want to admit it. Deep down we too get hurt, angry, depressed, overwhelmed and confused just like our spouses. We just think that to be manly we must suck it up and never tell. The problem is that most of us tell someone, just not our wives. Who? The guy (or woman) at work, the bar, where we get our hair cut, lots of places. Bad idea.

If we're going to have real intimacy with our spouse and safely guard our emotional well-being we need to be sharing our feelings and being alert to them in our spouse. You don't have to be a counselor to do this. You start by listening and then continue by guessing. Yes, that's right -guessing. "So, it sounds to me like you're pretty angry about all this?" "Hmm, if it were me I would be really overwhelmed right now."

Get the idea? If you're wrong, the other person will tell you. You won't die if you're wrong. I do counseling a lot as part of my ministry and I'm wrong all the time. Remember, every time you're wrong you learn something that helps you become more right.

But the last level of communication is worth going after at some point: needs. This is especially important when you're part of the problem and your spouse (or the other person) has become frustrated in some way with you. After you've nailed down their feeling or feelings, a fair and helpful question would be, "So what do you need from me now or next time that would help you feel less (blank)?"

At this point you're on your way to solving what caused the problem in the first place and hopefully avoiding it in the future. You'll also be sending a message that you really do care about the other person and want things to be different.

And one more thing for today. None of this has to be done while yelling. I like to say, only yell at your spouse when they are in immediate danger. Instead try some new, more effective levels of communicating with your spouse and with others you love. It will take practice but it will be worth it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Making It 30 Years and Beyond - Our Words

There’s a second key trait of every marriage that lasts. It's a topic I mentioned I'd come back to again so here we go. It comes from a verse in the Bible, Proverbs 18:21, which says, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Our words have impact, especially in our homes. The language that we share with those we care about most matters.

Sadly, many people think just the opposite. They excuse destructive or hurtful words with comments like, “Well, that’s just the way Jon is. He blows up and then 30 minutes later he’s fine.” Or they believe that for some reason the other person will understand that they really didn’t mean it. If they didn’t mean it, why was it said?

You see, I’m confident that we all know better. We might cover up for our angry, threatening, degrading words or those of others, but deep down inside hurtful words hurt! Perhaps they’re not said that often or in great quantity each time but over the years they add up and emotional bruises and scars eventually appear and the bonds of a great marriage weaken.

What’s the antidote? First of all, commit to avoiding words of death. No, our words would not typically cause physical death but they have a way of injuring our personhood. When we hear enough criticism, name calling or other forms of contempt, we can begin to think we really don’t matter, at least to the other person, and our confidence and joy in the relationship begin to fade away.

Words of death typically attack the other person’s character. “I can’t believe you are so stupid.” Or, “you’re just like your father,” or “you never change, do you?” What we’re really saying is that the other person is unacceptable to us and in reality can never be any different.” Often we’re merely modeling what we heard at home or demanding that we must have our own way, but in the end we’re in the process of degrading another person and probably losing our relationship.

Second, do the opposite – speak more words of life. There’s an old joke about a woman who asked her husband, “Why don’t you say ‘I love you’ to me any more?” To which he replied, “I told you that when we got married and I figured you still knew it.” Not really that funny, is it? Say I love you, you matter to me, I’m proud of you, thank you for all you do, and the like often. The more words of life you add to your relationship the less damage a slip of the tongue or bad moment here and there will do.

In fact, how about this phrase being said now and then? If I had it to do over again I’d choose you!

Third, learn how to communicate in a healthy way when you do disagree or have a conflict. Having a great marriage doesn’t mean you’ll never argue, have unique preferences or come to an impasse. But in those times there are ways to talk to one another still using words of life and not causing significant damage that will keep you from fixing the problem anyway. I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

Have a great 4th of July. And speak some words of life as you celebrate!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.