Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why a Resolution With the Word MORE in It Will Likely Not Be Met

I recently looked up top resolutions for the new year—and saw some interesting lists. They were the typical ones you would expect—lose weight, exercise, get out of debt, eat more healthfully, spend time with family, etc.

But what struck me most was the recurring use of the word MORE.

+Exercise MORE

+Spend MORE time with family

+Get MORE organized

+Pay off MORE bills

+Cook MORE healthy foods

What exactly does a resolution that has the word MORE in it even mean?

MORE than what? By what measuring stick? How will you know when you have achieved it?

Resolutions that contain the word MORE will likely not be realized simply because they are too general, too abstract, too non-checkable—if that were a word.

Any change—be it a New Year’s resolution or a beginning of the school year plan or a new family schedule must be quantitative in order to be met. In other words, there has to be some sort of method by which the resolver can see whether or not the resolution, plan, habit, or schedule has been met.

My husband and I are problem solvers—both of us. Sometimes we butt heads because he has an idea to solve a problem at the same time that I have another, albeit superior, idea. Smile... More often than not, though, the fact that we are both problem solvers has not been a negative but rather an amazing way to propel us to accomplish goals for our family.

In our problem solving, we have had to be extremely specific in what the steps to success were—no use of the words MORE, better, less, fewer etc.

Rather than saying that we would read the Bible or worship with the kids MORE, we said that we would have devotions more often than we didn’t. (This was one of our favorite benchmarks for many good things with our kids through the year--more often than not!)

Rather than saying that Ray would meet with our boys MORE to mentor them, we said that he would meet once a week per boy—or once a month per boy—or whatever the goal was.

Rather than saying that I would read with a new reader MORE, I said that I would read two times a day with the new reader—right after breakfast while the olders cleaned the kitchen and right before I began dinner preparations (with another older!).

The other thing we have found in our quest to be problem solvers is that we can’t solve too many problems all at the same time! In our parenting seminar, Raising Kids With Character,” we encourage parents to choose one or two things from each session that really spoke to them—one or two things that they want to implement or utilize right away in their homes. This keeps parents who have just sat through six hours of parenting lectures from being so overwhelmed that they are unable to implement any of the tips and strategies.

Throughout our thirty-one years of parenting, we have tried to tackle one problem or aspect of our family that needed changed per week (and later one per month or so). We sat down together and decided what one thing we would work on—and exactly how we would work on it (without using those taboo words of MORE, better, etc.!).

Sometimes we want lots of changes immediately! We are so quick to see the areas in our family that need work—and maybe there are many areas that we need to work on (we could always think of many!)….but if we set out to change everything all at one time, we will seldom change anything.

If you have a dozen things you would like to work on this year, consider doing one per month—and really dedicate a month to making that one thing happen…with a plan of attack that is measurable and concrete and doable. Then when that one is realized, add another the following month and so on.

Too many resolutions and too many vague words are both enemies of real change and problem solving. So try to make FEWER resolutions and keep them BETTER! Smile….

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Tradition: "White Christmas" movie and White Spaghetti

 For Christmas, we love to have shrimp! We start out at the end of November having shrimp cocktail and breaded shrimp for our family decorating night. Then we move into the first week of December or so and have Shrimp Alfredo for our White Christmas movie night. (It started out as White Spaghetti and White Christmas...get it?) Then for Christmas Eve, we bring out the cocktail shrimp again.

Then our shrimp days are over. We literally do not have shrimp any other time of year...sadness. Too many teens and young adults and boys and hearty eaters and....well, that equals a lot of shrimp, which equals a lot of money!

So, this is our holiday recipe. However, it is almost as good made with boneless, skinless chicken breast too!


                      Shrimp (or Chicken) Alfredo

4 to 6 lbs shrimp (or chicken tenders)
2 or 3 sticks of butter
Italian seasoning
garlic and wine seasoning
black pepper
minced garlic
3 lbs fettucini (sp?)
12 oz cream cheese
1 pint half and half
1 pint whipping cream
16 oz (up to 2 lbs, if wanted--don't use powdered Parmesan!) Italian finely shredded cheese blend (all white)

Serves 16

1. Boil pasta until al dente.

2. Melt butter and add seasonings (not sure of amounts--we just keep adding and tasting!)

3. Detail shrimp (defrost first) and drain/blot with paper towel.

4. Stir fry the shrimp in large skillet in the butter and lots of seasonings. (We do four batches.) Make this as if you were making garlic chicken tenders or shrimp scampi--you want the meat well-seasoned. We hate it when it tastes like pasta with white sauce and boiled chicken or shrimp! ;)

5. Drain the pasta and add the cream cheese and white cheese and stir until they are melted.

6. Add half and half, whipping cream, and shrimp/butter mixture to pasta/cheese mixture. Add lots more yummy seasonings!

7. Stir until yummy and heated through.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting Kids Ready for Holiday Get Togethers--All Four Parts (Reprinted)

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what

you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou

How our children treat their grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors, teachers, etc., has a huge bearing on how they will treat others in the future.


Many years ago when we had seven children fourteen and under, we decided that we wanted our children and our family to be blessings to others—not burdens. We knew that bringing seven kids into situations can seem overwhelming to hosts. We wanted people to look forward to our family coming—not dread seeing our big thirteen passenger van pull in the drive-way! We decided that when we went to a get-together, as Christians, we should be energy-givers, not energy-zappers!

We knew that going to a family get together of any kind, but especially any with non-Christians, and trying to “show” people our Christianity by our standards wouldn’t work. Non-Christians do not care about your standards—they do not worry about what you are wearing, what you are not watching, and other outward signs that we often think are important (and they might be, but they seldom show our faith as much as we think they do). What non-Christians care about is how they are treated (which is what everybody cares about, really!).

We have taught our children since they were very young that other people matter—a lot. We have taught them biblical truths along these lines—do unto others as you want others to do unto you; put others first; when you see an opportunity to do good to others, do it; prefer others before yourselves (our first born’s first memory verse when he was two—“‘fer others a’for self!”). We taught them to always think of those around them.

We taught them to think of those beside you (your friends and siblings); those ahead of you (grandparents and others who have gone before you); and those behind you (those who are watching you). And we taught them that we are here to serve God and others—not ourselves. And this begins in our home with our immediate family—and then extends to other relatives, friends, church, the community, then the world.

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving get togethers? Everything! We can prepare our children to think of others and serve whenever they can every time they leave the house (including family get togethers) or we can just assume they are kids and should just be kids—and do what kids do. Yes, kids can be selfish—but not just because they are kids. Kids are selfish because they are humans. As parents, we are entrusted with these children in order to train them in the ways of the Lord—which includes training them in selflessness rather than selfishness.

Some might feel that putting expectations on children to have certain behavior, exhibit selflessness, serve others, etc. for grandparents and others is too heavy of a burden—but if our children cannot learn to serve those closest to them (including siblings and parents), how will they ever be able to serve others (especially spouses and their children in the future)?

Tomorrow I will give you a list of ways that we taught our children to serve others, put others before themselves, exhibit good manners and character, and more—at holiday get togethers—and at home! 


Today I will share some tips that we have found helpful in teaching children to be a blessing when we go to holiday get-togethers. I would never say that our children were perfect at gatherings (or at home!). However, I believe that we have met our goal of not having people dreading our arrival! LOL! And many times, I believe, they even look forward to it!

1. Everything starts with you. I know, I know…I sound like a broken record. But the fact is, if you go anywhere to be served, thinking of yourself and what you will get out of a situation, your children will too—only moreso. (We are firm believers in the saying, “What you allow in your life in moderation, your children will allow theirs in excess.”) When we had many small children, we first of all, tried to be sure that we took care of their needs—that people did not feel that we came with all these kids for others to tend to. Secondly, we tried to divide up and help as much as we could. Oftentimes, we had our hands full changing babies, nursing, fixing kids’ plates, wiping up messes, etc. However, anytime we could, we tried to help others—we wanted our kids to see that we are not here just for ourselves.

2. We tried to do things ahead of time that would bless others—staying up late the night before to make special dessert or getting up early and peeling twenty pounds of potatoes were things that we could do at home to bless others there—even if our hands were full at the get together. We always told our children that if you can do something to help others or serve others, try to do it. (Obviously, you can’t always help everybody all the time—but we tried to teach them to always be on the lookout for ways to help others—and God has used that mightily in preparing our now-adult children for their current areas of ministry.)

3. Gratefulness begins at home…okay, everything begins at home. Whatever we want our children to learn and do, we must train them in that in our homes—not hope they get it at church, youth group, Sunday school, or by osmosis. If our children are taught from early ages that everything we have comes from the hand of God—and that without him, we are nothing—they are more apt to be grateful for little things. How is this done? “Slow and steady; steady and slow; that’s the way we always go.” In other words, it’s not a “character lesson” for Thanksgiving week (though it can’t hurt to emphasize that quality this week!) or a book that you can read (though we are reading about gratefulness right now in Character Sketches). It is something that is cultivated as we pray, worship together, remind our children that others are investing in our lives and that God uses them to bless us. Discussion, discussion, discussion. “Did you notice how hard Grandma worked to prepare today for us?” Every little detail of living for God (including gratefulness) can be taught at home through living and talking.


My “tips” are becoming “sermonettes”! Sorry….will continue them below and in next post. Thanks for joining us!

4. Manners begin at home…okay, everything begins at home and must be in us first. There, I said it. I spelled it out. LOL! Manners lessons were definitely something we taught. (Ray just listened to an audio about teaching manners a few months ago and was giving lessons to the boys while we traveled. As we sat in the “thrown rolls restaurant,” and Ray tried to teach the boys about silverware use (yes, you need to teach boys that!), one of the kids piped up with: “Dad, I don’t think a restaurant where they throw the rolls at you and they serve various things on brown paper toweling that they FRIED is a place that cares about manners!”) Need I say it again? If our kids talk with their mouths full, are not made to sit still during the meal, do not pass food (but keep it in front of them for later!), eat with their fingers, etc. at home, guess what? They will do at family get togethers too! Manners are common courtesies that we as Christian parents need to focus on.

5. Focus on respecting our elders. Respecting our elders is truly a lost art in our society—and it is so sad that it is that way. For one thing, the Bible states over and over that they should be respected. Secondly, it is such an obvious extension of the Golden Rule—let’s face it, we all want to be treated with kindness and respect in our old age. Start with the bear minimum—not doing anything that could harm or endanger an elder. For example, we always told our children what we expected of them in every scenario that we went into. “Now you need to talk quietly and not run at Grandma and Grandpa Rager’s because they are not used to having rowdiness—and you wouldn’t want to run into them or have them trip over you.” Then move into the way they speak to elders. We trained our kids to speak to those who speak to them—preferably looking the person in the eye and warmly shaking his or her hand. Moreover, as they learned to not be too shy in that scenario, we taught them to converse with the person and ask about him or her. (We often gave the children “assignments” at church to shake hands and ask about one new person each week to help them learn to do this!) Grandparents, especially, should be greeted warmly and sincerely. I know this sounds trite—but these are their grandparents! They are our fathers and mothers. They deserve kindness, warmth, respect, love, and assistance. Finally, our children learned to look for needs that their grandparents might have and try to meet them. (We taught our children that if Grandma is going in the kitchen to clean up, the Reish family should too!)


Last installment…honest! Will follow with more recipes and a couple of book reviews. Happy parenting!

6. Remind kids about situations in which deference should be exhibited. (Note: Deference is the act of deferring or putting off what we want for ourselves—like when you “defer” payments for a whole year—you are putting them off. Deferring (or “yielding,” as we also commonly call it here) is desperately needed. Giving up what we want for the good of someone else will get noticed far quicker than quoting Bible verses or praying before our meal (though, again, there is nothing wrong with those things—but when someone gets treated well, he or she takes note!). We have a saying in our family that “Reish children pick up some floor!” This means that when you are in a situation in which there are not enough seats, you should take a seat on the floor. This is especially true with small children, but it’s not at all uncommon for our big teenage boys to be on the floor in many situations. This is one way that we have taught our kids to defer to others in social situations. Other things to consider are allowing others to go first in the food line, taking small portions or none at all of a dish that is almost out or seems to be in short supply, giving up your chair or place at the table, and many more. These are common courtesies that Christians, of all people, should display. When you talk about deference over and over again with your children—pointing out situations in which they can potentially yield their rights to other people, they will begin seeing these situations for themselves eventually.

7. Teach children to be helpful. You have probably heard the saying that 80% of the work in the church is done by 20% of the people—well, the same is often true in families. The same people often host gatherings, and if you have done much hostessing, you know that it is a lot of work. We continued the theme “if you see a need, try to meet it,” in family gatherings. If children can put chairs away, pick up trash, run the vacuum, or dry dishes, they are ready to be helpers! Note that some hosts truly do not like to have children helping/working with them, so we tried to be sensitive to that as well. Again, if children are taught to be helpful at home, they will be more likely to be helpful in other situations.

8. Bring the fun! We like to bring games, holiday videos, yummy carry in dishes (now is not the time to try to get the extended family members to start eating their green veggies!), and more.

As Christians, we should strive to treat others in such a way that people want to have us around—that we are energy givers, not energy zappers. And we should teach our children to do the same.

Grateful for all of our Positive Parenting (Raising Kids With Character) readers who have made my year of daily writing such a blessing by your encouragement and kind words. God bless your family this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Crock Pot Wednesday: Cheeseburger Potato Soup and Cheeseburger Carrot Soup

I found a great way today to make two soups quickly--one that is an easy family favorite and one that works for my husband's low carb eating lifestyle. 

The first one, Cheeseburger Potato Soup, is one of the easiest soups I make. I am all about Sandra Lee's Semi Homemade books and recipes, and this one could easily qualify as one of hers! Unfortunately, I don't have a "real" recipe--so bear with me while I try to get it down in writing! ;)

Here is how I made it.

1 to 2 lbs of ground beef (we like a lot of meat in ours)
1 (32 oz) bag of frozen hash browns (cubed)
1 quart of half and half or cream
2 to 3 quarts  of milk or half and half
1 1/2 lbs of shredded Velveeta
1/2 lb of shredded cheddar
Optional: 3 stalks of celery and one large onion and olive oil or butter
Seasonings to taste: salt, pepper, basil, garlic herb seasoning, worcestershire powder,parsley

1. Optional: Cook chopped onion and celery in skillet until tender. 

2. Cook ground beef and drain. (When I am making something the next day with ground beef, I put ten pounds of it in my huge crock pot, turn it on low overnight, and let it cook. The next morning I drain it and use part of it for my recipe and either freeze the rest of it or make something else.)

3. Put everything in the crock pot and cover and cook on high for three hours or low for five to six hours. 

4. At the end of the cook time, whisk 1/4 cup of cornstarch in 1/2 cup very cold water and whisk that mixture into the hot soup. Cook uncovered for another hour or so on low or half an hour on high until thickened.

Serves 10.

Cheeseburger Carrot Soup

Same ingredients except for the following:

1 lb of ground beef (we like a lot of meat in ours)
1 lb of carrots, steamed and cut into small cubes
1 quart of cream
1 quart of half and half
3/4  lb of shredded Velveeta
3/4  lb of shredded cheddar
Optional: 3 stalks of celery and one large onion and olive oil or butter
Seasonings to taste: salt, pepper, basil, garlic herb seasoning, worcestershire powder,parsley

1. Optional: Cook chopped onion and celery in skillet until tender. 

2. Cook ground beef and drain. (When I am making something the next day with ground beef, I put ten pounds of it in my huge crock pot, turn it on low overnight, and let it cook. The next morning I drain it and use part of it for my recipe and either freeze the rest of it or make something else.)

3. Put everything in the crock pot and cover and cook on high for two hours or low for four to five hours. 

4. At the end of the cook time, whisk in 1 bar (8 oz) of full fat cream cheese. Cook uncovered for another  half an hour on high until thickened.

Serves 6.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Q is for QUIT FIGHTING--Start Out Right With Siblings/Littles With Behavior Absolutes

Kara (4.5) and Jonathan (almost 3) doing their sibling Bible verse for a special at church: "How happy it is when brothers dwell together in unity!" 

The next tip after trying to set your toddler's taste for kindness is the following: Decide ahead of time what your "behavior absolutes" are going to be. 

1. These are the behaviors or negative character that you absolutely will not allow in your home. What you allow now will become the “acceptable behaviors” to your child. These seemingly innocent actions include “fibbing,” hitting, being mean to others, running the other way when called, etc.

2.  For us, these “behavior absolutes” included the following:

a. Talking back (no toddler saying “no” without being punished)
b. Lying or deceit
c. Temper tantrums
d. Striking (hitting, pulling hair, throwing things at someone, etc.). 
e. Being mean

Obviously, we wanted our kids to learn to obey and submit to us and to learn the many character qualities that are crucial to living a Christian life, but these five things were things we never wavered on—and things that we made huge deals out of when they were not adhered to by the toddler/preschooler.

Kara (now 23) and Jonathan (now 21) have been best friends since they were very young.--honest! ;)

One question we frequently get when discussing the idea of behavior absolutes is "How do we make a certain behavior an absolute?"

Before I delve into a couple specific tips for this, I do want to say that keeping sibling fighting to a minimum, helping brothers and sisters love each other, and instituting and enforcing a no striking policy is more a way of life than it is a list of do's and don't's. 

Obviously, we believe that there are some key things that accounted for our children's very limited fighting and not harming each other, but more than that list of things we did is the idea of being "that family." Not weird or trying to outdo others with our "uniqueness"--but rather our children knew that though others might fight all the time, we were"that family"--the family that doesn't allow that. Though other children may raise their hands to harm their sibling, we are "that family"--and we do not permit hurting each other.

A way of life--one that begins with "setting tastes" for kindness and good character and one that has certain expectations always in place. Not expectations that "do this or you're toast" but expectations that Mom and Dad taught us this way, and this is how we live. 

But on to that list--a few things that we think can help a family develop certain behavior absolutes (including loving and being kind to siblings):

1. Behavior absolutes begin with a mindset. 

This mindset is one with faith in what you are doing. Faith that making behavior absolutes that our children will learn to follow is what is truly best. Faith that these things that we are saying are not allowed in our home are things that God would have us do. Faith that God will bless our family's consistency, efforts, and desire to please Him. Faith that consistency and godliness in our home really will work.

It is also a mindset that says, "What I am trying to do here is so important that I am going to put the time and energy into it that it takes to accomplish it. I am not going to let things slide that I know will cause us not to meet our goals for our children's behaviors. I am not going to look the other way when I know something is not right. I am not going to downplay something that we have deemed as important from the beginning."

That is a tall order. But it is one that can truly be carried out. When we go into this parenting endeavor with an idea of what we truly want our homes to look like--and the determination to follow through on it--it is very possible.

2. Your reaction to behavior absolutes being broken is crucial. 

My husband has an annoying saying (it used to be; now that our kids are mostly grown, I agree with him!): "We are getting the behavior that we want. if we wanted something different, we would do something different."

While that isn't one hundred percent accurate, the concept is true. If we want our children to be kind to each other and not strike each other, then those behaviors have to be treated as terrible behaviors. We can't just say, "Be nice" and hope that their behavior changes. 

We liken behavior absolutes to sitting in a car seat. We can say over and over, "I just can't get him to quit hitting his sister." 

However, we somehow (eventually) get our child to quit screaming in the car seat and sit in there until he is five or six! How is that? It is because sitting in the car seat is a behavior absolute.  We would ever consider letting a child have his own way and sit up front between Mom and Dad. It is the law. It is the way it is--and it can't be changed.

So it is with behavior absolutes. We have to feel so strongly about those behaviors that we will not budge on them. When one of our kids is mean to another one, we will not just say "Be nice" and send him to his room. We will instead respond as though he just did something very, very bad. Because if meanness is one of our behavior absolutes, it is a very, very bad thing.

I have to inject a note here about spanking--because many "modern moms" are either against it or believe that it doesn't work. Or buy into the philosophy that spanking a child will make him mean or will make him strike others. 

I know that a family of seven children is not a full-blown case study. However, I don't see how the whole "spanking causes children to be violent" could possibly be true when all of our seven children were spanked (not carelessly; not in anger; not for frivolities or childishness) for the Four D's --and yet they are seven of the most peaceable adults you will ever meet. As children, they didn't often fight with each other--and seldom (if ever) struck another child (or bit, pulled hair, pushed, hit, etc.) after age two or so. (I'm sure they probably did as toddlers--but we treated it very seriously and nipped it in the bud.)

So yes, we spanked our children if they were mean or if they hurt others (as well as for other defiant behaviors). But we didn't have to do it often. Peace with each other and not harming others was a way of life, so it didn't take a lot of discipline for it. 

Thus, the way we respond to our behavior absolutes will have a huge bearing on how "absolute" these behaviors become. Don't take them lightly. Don't put kids in their rooms with video games or televisions because they were unkind. Don't tell children who hit that they shouldn't do that--and they should be nice. Respond with the level of unacceptability that you would for something really bad--if you think it is really bad.

3. Don't make too big of deal out of things that aren't important.

If we truly want to develop behavior absolutes in our homes, then things that are not that big of deals can't be made into big deals.

We see this all the time. A parent responds to a child leaving his socks on the living room floor in the same way that she responds to his backtalking or being unkind to his sister. While we recommend that the things you feel are behavior absolutes be given a high priority and level of response, we also believe that in general parents need to "lighten up" when it comes to childish behaviors (being too loud, making a mess, forgetting to pick up his socks, etc.) and focus on behaviors that are truly important (and from the heart)--such as direct disobedience, meanness, disrespect to parents and other authorities, etc. 

When everything our kids do is the same level of "wrongness," they will not learn the difference between sins and mistakes. When everything our kids do is punished in the same way, they will feel that they can never please us--that no matter what they do, we will find fault in them.

I won't spend a great deal of time on this as we have several posts about this under the character training label and we teach about it extensively in our parenting seminar, but just examine your parenting and see if you are placing too much emphasis on the wrongness of a behavior that is just a kid being a kid and not enough on something that is coming from a child's heart.

I will move on to older kids--including punishments that are appropriate for fighting, helping kids learn how their behaviors affect others, and teaching our kids to love and respect each other--very soon. Thanks for joining us!

And here is the sweet sibling pair when they were teens--Jonathan (17) and Kara (19). The cute thing about this pic is that it was taken when they were traveling on a summer drama team together--and they both kept it as their profile pictures on Facebook for several months. Sweet!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Q is for QUIT FIGHTING--Setting Toddlers' Tastes for Kindness

Yes, they really were as sweet to each other as they look in this picture--with a lot of orneriness thrown in for that little guy on the right! ;)

I am going to start our series with toddlers and work up chronologically. Those of you with only little kids can do some key things early on to avoid fighting and bickering between/among your children.

Two of those things are elaborated on in general (not just for fighting) in the article below, but here are some thoughts applying to the first one--SETTING YOUR LITTLE ONE'S TASTES FOR KINDNESS:

Set your little one's tastes for kindness--in our parenting seminar, we teach about how Hebrew midwives would put a dab of date paste on infants' tongues to give them a taste for Hebrew foods--and the verses that apply that to parenting and giving our children tastes for things early on.

We believe (and have experienced it with our seven children) that as parents we can set our children's tastes for good things--obedience, kindness, contentment, etc.

In terms of siblings, this means that we set their tastes for loving siblings, for kindness to their brothers and sisters, etc. from toddlerhood. Here are some thoughts on carrying this out:

1. Speaking kind words to our littles

2. Hushing them when they shout, scream, say no to you or other authority or in general are harsh/not kind--NEVER let it go!

3. Using vocabulary with them from the beginning that teaches them kindness ("let kindness be on our tongues")--words like "be nice to sissy; we love sissy" and "don't shout at her; say nice words" and "be nice"--but not just as passing, trite phrases--more like "these are our family's ways and words"

4. Pick the child up, hold him firmly, use wording from above, and be his external control when he has none. Don't just take the toy and give it back and say a passing "be nice"--really take the time to give him a taste for kindness whenever he starts to show meanness. If it continues in that setting, pull him out entirely (and put him in his crib). Do not ever let meanness continue in a toddler--remember, you are setting his tastes for kindness to siblings and others.

Our daughter who is expecting a baby boy in January (her first) just said the other day, "Our little boy is going to be so cute--and sweet just like the boys were when they were little" (her younger brothers).

What makes her think that her little boy will be sweet? She knows that it is possible to set his tastes for kindness. She knows it can be done--and is going to try her best to do it. I just love that! ;)

Here is a past blog post about setting tastes and character training in toddlers.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Morning Routines for Littles!

When "littles" have routines and consistency, every day can be a joy!

Yesterday I introduced the concept of the morning routine for all children. Today I would like to spend time on helping parents develop morning routines for their preschoolers. Tomorrow I will address older children and teens in this area.

I mentioned that a mom at a parenting seminar taught us about morning routines when we only had first graders and under. As she explained developing this routine, she showed her littles’ morning routine chart—a darling “board game” that she made on half sized poster board with every other square of the “Candyland” type of board containing a picture of something that the child needed to do in the morning—a child dressed; a child making his bed; a child putting his pj’s away; etc. It was so sweet—and we came home and promptly made “morning routine board game charts” for all of our kids who were old enough to follow the board and do a morning routine. (We used little people/animals with that tacky stuff placed on the bottom of them for the child to take around the board as he does his morning routine. These boards hung on the refrigerator, so it was important that the little pieces were lightweight and stuck well when the child put them on a square.)

Here are some additional tips for implementing morning routines with your little ones:

1. Timing each activity before setting the morning routine time is more important with this age group than any other. Small children can get discouraged if things seem to take too long—and a timer and reporting back to you while developing the time for the morning routine will help him see that this morning routine is truly doable.

2. Consider making a game board like the one described above, with pictures of children on them for your non-readers. (We wrote the task at the bottom of each picture, so the child had the picture as well as the words.)

3. You know your little ones better than anybody. Only put in the morning routine what your child can truly go do fairly independently. Start out small with just a few tasks and then increase as his responsibility and diligence increase.

4. If an entire morning routine chart would overwhelm your young kids, consider an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of tag board divided into four equal quadrants. In the upper two, put GROOM and ROOM; in the bottom two, put DRESS and MESS. Start with the upper left hand square and work towards getting that part done without complaining and dilly dallying. This GROOM one might include washing face and hands, brushing teeth, combing hair (or coming to Mom with brush and ponytail rings to have her fix your hair). Once that is well underway, add the ROOM one—and have him straighten his room and make his bed in the morning. Continue in this way until all four quadrants are part of his morning schedule. (You can laminate this and have him X each quadrant with a white board marker as he finishes it each day.)

5. Be consistent. If you say that morning routines will be done before breakfast—and before the television is turned on, then follow through. As soon as you start varying from the plan (letting him watch a cartoon when his morning routine isn’t finished, etc.), the morning routines will go by the way. He needs to see that you are serious about helping him learn diligence, responsibility, time management, obedience, and more by being consistent with his morning routine.

6. As mentioned yesterday, consider something fun, like a first-thing-in-the-morning story to get your little ones moving—then do the morning routines.

7. Only put things on the morning routine chart for this age that truly must be done in the morning. You do not want to fill the morning with so much activity that it cannot all be accomplished. Anything that can be done ahead of time, such as packing backpacks, laying out clothes, making sandwiches for lunch, etc. are better off done the night before rather than trying to cram too much into the morning.

8. Develop consistent morning routines for yourself. We can’t sit down with coffee and the morning show in our robe while expecting our children to be doing their morning routines. Modeling goes a long way in teaching thoroughness, time management, and much more.

9. Rewards and encouragement go a long way for this group!

I think back nostalgically to the days of five littles nine and under—all learning how to work, become organized, and more via morning routines. They were so proud of their morning routine game boards and would often take visitors to the fridge to show them and tell them what their early mornings consist of. Two of our little ones even did recitations at a “homeschooling expo” in which they showed their charts and told the audience what they did each morning when they got up. Wowsie…that makes me smile…with a few tears of longing mixed in.

Note: We used Choreganizer chore cards to develop our preschoolers' morning routine charts (available at http://www.rainbowresource.com/proddtl.php?id=018244). Clip art programs would also work well for obtaining pictures to use on charts.

Proactive Parenting: The Morning Routine

“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” Anonymous

Image Blessed Femininity

One of the most valuable “Proactive Parenting” tips that we have followed is that of the “morning routine” development. Twenty years ago we attended a parenting seminar in which a young mom was discussing how we could make our mornings run more smoothly, teach our children to be more independent, etc. through this thing that she called morning routines. She even had darling picture-filled charts that she made to help her non-readers follow their morning routines. We began morning routines immediately upon arriving home—and we still use them over twenty years later.

I tell moms in our workshops that “morning routines will change the way your entire day goes.” This has been true for us as a homeschooling family, but I definitely think that parents whose children need to get up, around, and off first thing in the morning would really benefit from developing these routines. If you find your mornings extra stressful—and you drop your kids off at school in less-than-happy moods as a result of the hurried, nagging-filled morning or you homeschoolers start your school day off with kids still in pajamas or carrying Lucky Charms into the school room when it’s time to begin—then morning routines are for you.

Below I will give you some tips for starting this outstanding daily habit—and in days to come, I will address various age groups and the morning routine more extensively.

1. Decide how extensive you want your child’s morning routine to be. For older kids (especially girls), we have found that it can be a full ninety minute block that includes their personal morning habits, as well as chores, devotions, and exercise. For younger children, especially boys, we have had morning routines that were simple—and called “room, groom, dress, mess”—signifying that it includes straightening their bedroom, person grooming, getting dressed, and cleaning up any messes they have from the night before (i.e. water glasses, books upstairs, making bed, etc.).

2. If your mornings are chaos now, I recommend starting with a simple list of five to eight tasks that have to be done upon rising—the most basic things that must be done. For example, getting changed, grooming, putting away pj’s, making bed, packing bag for day, etc. This can be added to later once these daily habits are established.

3. Consider what you truly have enough time for in the mornings. We are flexible with our mornings in that Mom and all of the kids stay home and do school, so we have a morning routine time, a chore time, and a personal devotion time—all before breakfast. (When our girls were home, they usually had an exercise time, as well.) If you need to get your kids out of the house early in the morning, you will not want to try to do so many things in the morning as your kids’ rising time would likely be unbearable to get all of those things in before a seven a.m. school bus trip.

4. If your children are always sleepy in the mornings—and hard to motivate, consider starting your morning ten minutes earlier, and waking them up to a story or a chapter out of a chapter book. When our boys were younger, I would sit on their bed in the morning and read to them to wake them up—then they got up and started their morning routines. This seemed to give them some time to get used to getting up and moving.

5. Be realistic in how much time everything takes. When we first set up our preschoolers’ morning routines, we used a timer and had them go do each task, then report back to us. We told them how long that activity took—and wrote down that time plus ten or twenty percent (since they will likely move more slowly in the mornings). Then we added up the total list and came up with an allotment of time for morning routines. This way both of us knew that they truly could get that little list done in that amount of time.

6. Set up consequences or rewards, depending on your parenting style. If you are having really harried mornings now, I recommend that you start out with rewards and then move to consequences. For example, you might have a jar for each child and every morning that the morning routine is completed without reminding, complaining, etc.—and on time—you put a quarter or fifty cent piece in the jar for a treat at the end of the week. After a couple of months, you could remove the reward incentive, but tell them that morning routines are still part of your day—and that if they do not do them according to the guidelines, they will lose a privilege.

The goal of morning routines is that everybody is doing what they need to do in order to start their day—without fighting, coaxing, cajoling, stress, and yelling. It is, in essence, a step toward teaching our “children to get along without us.”

*Watch this blog for future posts on morning routines at different ages and stages, chore charts, and more.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Be Proactive! Be a Problem Solver! (Partial Reprint)

"When a child is allowed to do absolutely as he pleases, it will not be long until nothing pleases him" (Anonymous).

If you don't want your kids to get muddy, don't let them play in the mud! But if you're like us, and think there are many more important things in life than if kids get muddy, go ahead and let them play! The key is to be proactive--decide ahead of time what you can and cannot tolerate!

One of our favorite Preventive Parenting tips is that of becoming a problem solver. As parents, we can complain that we do not like how something is going or how our children are behaving--or we can decide to solve the problem at hand. 

We have found that many things that seem insurmountable--getting kids up and around on time in the mornings without too much stress, having the evening meal on the table at a certain time, and being sure that our kids are reading a lot--are easily taken care of when we decide to solve the problem--rather than just complaining about it or wishing that things were not as they are.

Let me give you some real life scenarios that I have recommended or heard of lately to get your "thinking skills" and "problem solving strategies" working:

1. Kids up running around in the morning, getting into things, etc.,  before Mom has had a chance to get herself ready--and prepare for their rising! 

Make a "nobody up until you are told you can get up" rule. Our preschoolers were not allowed to get up whenever the pleased. 

Just like they had to go to bed at a certain time, they also were not permitted to get up at random times. We had tape players in their bedrooms with radio dramas and talking books available--and also had them put their favorite books on their headboards. They were allowed to read or listen to tapes in the mornings, but they had to wait for me to get them up before they got out of bed.

2. Kids outgrowing their naps but fighting with each other when Mom and other littles are trying to rest. 

We can come out and referee fights, yell at our kids for waking the baby, etc,. or we can make a quiet hour--a time in which only quiet activities are allowed. For us, these quiet activities were in a tub marked Quiet Hour--and were items that did not need any assistance to use.

 In the case of fighting after outgrowing naps, the two who are fighting must have Quiet Hour in separate rooms--and if Quiet Hour is violated, it's back to naps for them.

3. Kids not ready in the morning on time, stress and fighting, etc

Implement morning routines--a set list of things that each child does from rising times until breakfast, or whatever the end of morning routine time holds. Figure up the amount of time needed to get those things done, subtract that from leaving or ready for school time--and make that time the Morning Routine time. (Read more about morning routines here.)

The point of this post is that so many things that cause us stress, fights, poor relationships, nagging, etc. can be handled through problem solving--proactive parenting--parenting in a way that we prevent those times, as opposed to always putting out fires because we did not prevent them to begin with.

Proactive Parenting provides a much more peaceful environment in our homes. It allows us to work on the discipline issues that are really crucial--and to ward off punishment, etc.,  for situations that can be handled ahead of time, rather than in the heat of the moment. 

As an added bonus, Proactive Parenting teaches our kids how to solve problems, come up with options, get a handle on things before they become too big, etc.,  as they watch us model these skills for them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Once you learn to "Delight in Dailies" and get the things done that need to be done on a daily basis, it is time to get other things done, but what?

I can remember when my husband and I were first married, I would ask him, "How do you know what to do every day when you go to work?" I just couldn't figure out how he knew what needed to be done.

He would always ask me, "How do you know what to do when a student comes for tutoring?" or "How do you know what to do around the house and with the kids every day when you get up?"

I remember telling him, "I just do." And he would say it was the same for him at work.

Prioritizing at work and at home are two very different things though. I mean, at work, you have a boss waiting for you to finish something. And you have deadlines, etc.

But at home, once you get the dailies done, everything else that isn't a daily is always screaming out to you! (Come to think of it, before you get the DAILIES done, everything is screaming out to you!)

I have followed two very simple tips in working on non-dailies:

1. I always do the next thing that is due. I call these my TIMELY TASKS.
(Well, almost....like just now I was printing recipes for my cooking morning tomorrow and I got sidetracked writing this post. Technically, the recipes are due before this because my cooking day starts at 8:30--and this could wait until tomorrow--but I digress!)

Once I am done with my dailies, I always ask myself what is the next thing that has to be done--my editor is waiting on a document; student papers have to be edited for class the next day; tomorrow's meat has to be marinated; bedding has to be moved to the dryer in order to go to bed tonight, etc.

This one little tip always keeps me moving in the right direction!

2. I have an ABC WEEKLIES list. 

Yes, for many years, I hardly saw this WEEKLIES list, but now I get to some of the things--and I am having so much fun! 

After I get my dailies done--and I have "put out fires" by doing the next thing that is due--then I am ready to consult my WEEKLIES list. (I finally get to organize a closet or clean out the snack cupboard!!!)

But I don't just have a WEEKLIES list; I manipulate my WEEKLIES list. I go down the list task-by-task and write an A, B, or C beside each one.

Then when I have a chance to do something off of it, I do an A task. And I keep on doing A tasks all week--anytime I get a chance (after my dailies and timely tasks).

No matter what else happens in any given week, I know that I have my DAILIES done; I have my timely tasks out of the way; and I did as many A's as I could (and occasionally even a B or two!).

This isn't a glamorous approach. I don't craft beautiful things. I don't decorate my home Better Homes and Garden style. I don't always cook from scratch. I don't scrub between the washer and dryer.

But I feel like an organizational genius. And my home runs fairly smoothly. And I spend time with my kids and husband. And we eat decent meals. And we always have clean clothes and the trash out of the house....because these things are my DAILIES.

When I was homeschooling a houseful of children, the new readers read, the writers wrote, and I checked their work, read aloud to them, talked to them, and taught them the Bible...because these things were my DAILIES.

Because I always did my DAILIES.....I became an organized homeschooler! 

Everything is always crying out to be done. People want us to do everything. Our extended families need us. Our church needs us. Our ministries need us. Our jobs need us. Our children need us. And we can start to feel like the hamster on the wheel very quickly if we don't have a plan in place to get to the important things.

My DAILIES, TIMELY TASKS, and ABC WEEKLIES have helped me do that for many, many years!

(Now back to my recipes!)

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Impact of Teaching Our Children to Minister to "the Least of These"

The homeschooled kids in our area start out young (as early as ten years old with their parent) serving in the One Heart Disability Ministry. Look at the joy that children bring to those with disabilities!

A Facebook post just came through from my daughter and her husband concerning their 

disability ministry, One Heart:

"Got some sad news this morning that Charlie, one of our dear One Heart members passed away this Wednesday night. Charlie always made us smile and brought us joy. I bet he's bringing other people joy in Heaven now! He always answered questions about the Bible with, 'Jesus died on the cross for us.' What a simple, amazing truth. Last year at the Talent Show he sang 'Jesus Loves Me.' So blessed that he was part of our lives!"

My son-in-law Joseph with Charlie

If you have heard Ray and I speak in our parenting seminar, "Raising Kids With Character," or at a homeschooling convention, you know that we are big advocates of teaching children to serve at young ages. You might also know that we believe there is a hierarchy of service outlined in the Bible that teaches children to serve the Lord at home--to serve their own families---first, followed by reaching out to those locally and finally to the "uttermost parts of the world."

"Journey Through Easter"--drama and walk through (with petting zoo!)--is always a hit with the One Heart attendees

Without going into the entire seminar session, I will give you some keys that have led us to this thought process:

1. "To whom much is given, much is expected."
2. "He who does not provide for his own family is worse than an infidel."
3. Parable of the talents
4. Serve in your own "Jerusalem" then your state/region....then the uttermost parts of the earth

One of my sons helping a One Heart client fill in his VBS book

We began this teaching with our kids when they were two or three years old--teaching them to pick up around the house, unload the silverware in the dishwasher, help put away laundry, etc. Then they continued to learn household skills that they could/would eventually use in serving others.

As they grew, they served with us--starting with setting up chairs for small group or homeschool support group meetings and moving into going with us to nursing homes and other local outreaches. 

Soon the time came for them to go "out" and serve others--that is, they had learned to serve their family so well and so cheerfully and so diligently that they could take the skills that they had learned here and serve on their own.

The skills that we have built into our children during their formative years--cooking, cleaning, organizing, serving, music, drama, reading, writing, leading, Bible teaching/studying, etc.---are used over and over by our young adults in their various ministries

This has looked different for different kids--from preaching in young adult services to leading/directing dramas in church to singing on the praise team to working in children's ministries (locally and at state homeschool conventions) to "going to the uttermost parts of the earth"--such as taking wheelchairs around the world with Joni and Friends; serving at state capitols every weekday for a semester; leading drama teams of teens in summer drama traveling around the midwest or southern USA; and even starting a ministry that would some day reach over one hundred disabled adults every week for many years.

Boys' sports night (along with a trophy for each client!) is always a hit with the One Heart male clients

The latter is what this post is going to focus on--and the impact that teaching our children to minister to "the least of these" really has on our children--and their futures.

When our third child, Cami, was seventeen years old, she served at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat (the world-wide disability ministry of Joni Ereckson Tada) for two weeks. At the end of the retreat, she told the leaders there that she wanted to do something similar to the retreat back home--on an ongoing basis. They told her to go back to her pastors and tell them and see what she can start. 

One Heart "Special Deliveries" is a yearly outreach to nearly three hundred disabled adults in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area

Cami was a senior in high school when she began the One Heart Disability Ministry (One heart...one soul..is worth it...). She had trouble getting volunteers (it is difficult to work with disabled people--and many adults do not want to get involved), but she started rounding up her younger sister and little brothers and their friends, and before she knew it, she had a weekly ministry, sort of a "Sunday school" every Tuesday night for adults with cognitive disabilities. And it grew. And grew. And grew.

The joy that One Heart brings to the lives of those who attend is unmistakable

Within two years, she had her associates degree in church ministry with an emphasis on disability ministry, and she was asked to come on staff at the church as the Disability Ministry Director, the "official" head of One Heart Disability Ministry.

Four years ago Cami married a young man who has a paraplegic brother and cousin with severe brain injury--and also a heart for the disabled and broken, much like Cami has. They have continued leading One Heart together with their combined compassion, love, and selflessness.

In addition to the weekly services that are held with over one hundred disabled attendees all throughout the school year, One Heart delivers gifts and goodies to up to three hundred disabled adults in the Fort Wayne are every Christmas, hosts a summer VBS, and has other special events throughout the year. 

My message today is not what kids can do when they are trained in so many skills (that would take a book--and I would love to write it!); nor is it about having kids serve in general (though that is a good idea too!). My message today is this:

Teaching our children to minister to "the least of these"--the widows, elderly, disabled, and orphaned--has the potential of having a bigger impact than almost any other ministry or service opportunity they could do.

Why do you suppose this is the case?

It is consistent with Scripture--"do not only invite those who can invite you back"; "care for the widows and orphans"; and Jesus' ministry to the blind, mentally challenged, poor, hungry, homeless, etc.

It builds an empathy in our children that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. Truly, we can tell them there are poor children who do not have enough to eat, but until they serve food to them in a summer ministry in the park, they cannot comprehend that. We can tell them that there are people whose brains do not work like ours do and they cannot do for themselves, but until they go week after week and listen to these people tell the same stories over and over or teach them to color or tell them about Jesus, they cannot FEEL the feelings that we should as Christians feel for those less fortunate than we.

Our four youngest children started working in One Heart with Cami as soon as they could be trusted to fully obey their older siblings and really work hard without parental supervision (not be tempted to play ball in the gym during the gym night but instead stay focused on the people they were there to serve). This was between the ages of eight and ten for all of them. 

And as a result, they are four of the most sensitive, compassionate kids I have ever known. 

Would they have developed this sensitivity and compassion without serving "the least of these" in an ongoing manner? 

Maybe. Maybe not. But I know that this consistent outreach--having to give up their own interests one evening a week, being responsible for their parts (teaching, serving refreshments, leading games and crafts, etc.), and learning to love and reach out to those who are "different" and extremely-mentally challenged--has had a huge impact on the kinds of people that they are growing up to be. 

P.S. Cami and Joseph are expecting their first baby in January, and Cami recently posted the status below. It is such a blessing to think that my grandson is going to start learning to serve "the least of these" from babyhood.

"Funny story from One Heart last night....(this is even better than last week's story!) I (Cami) was closing the evening in prayer with a full classroom of people and as I stood in front with my eyes closed, I feel someone patting my belly. I look down (mid prayer) and I see Susie, a One Heart member with down syndrome, just patting my belly and smiling as if she was talking to the baby. It was adorable and hilarious all at the same time. I got through the prayer without cracking up too much and dismissed everyone. Love it that the One Heart people are so excited about our baby. Can't wait until he is here and can meet everyone. He is loved already!"