Favorite Children’s Books

I vividly remember reading Guess How Much I Love You to my newborn son as he lay on my chest as I lay on the couch. It was the first children’s book that I ever read as a dad. It meant everything to me and probably nothing to him. After all, he was a just week old and could not interpret English yet, while I was 28 and desperately needed to embrace both the challenges and the rewards of fatherhood.

It was the summer of 1998, and my life was being turned upside down and inside out by just one tiny child. We were in process of preparing for a cross-country move, changing careers, selling a house, buying a house, all with and a colicky newborn. In no small way, that book helped me to put things in better perspective. Yes, my life was changing radically, but the “I love you to the moon and back” message of the book was a mantra that helped me to embrace a new lifestyle of sacrificial love.

Reading children’s books has been a daily activity in our home ever since then. Our 19-year-old daughter has intellectual disabilities and cannot read on her own, but she absolutely loves to read with others. Fortunately, her favorite books, like The Grumpy Monkey, are also our favorites. These books remind us of some of life’s most important lessons. They help us to process our emotions. They put things in better perspective. And they make us laugh. A lot. Which is often all we need. Sharing laughter with a child is sacred, priceless, and healing.

A good children’s book, read together in close physical contact, is a powerful tool for instilling the secure attachment that children desperately need. A good story. A good laugh. A good hug. This combination is 10,000 times better than letting a child play with an iPad. It is the antidote to the electronic walls of isolation that so many of our children are growing up within.

Reading with children is the foundation of a healthy childhood

Here are some all-time favorite books for children of all ages (although they are written for very small children). Please buy them for the parents, children, and school teachers you know.

The Grumpy Monkey

Guess How Much I Love You

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings

You Are My Heart

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Hey! Wake Up!

Tickle Monster

A, You’re Adorable

Curious George’s First Day of School

The Runaway Bunny

The Wide-Mouthed Frog: A Pop-up Book

Frog and Toad Are Friends

Give Me Back My Dad!

I Like It When…

The Ox-Cart Man

Little Owl

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

The Jesus Storybook Bible

When We’re Together

Pajama Time!

Bedtime for Little Bears!

I Love You. Goodnight.

Snuggle Up, Sleepy Ones

I Love You, Sleepyhead

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)

The trends are not looking good for the mental and emotional health of young people, across all demographics. For instance, most people think of college as one of the happier times in a person’s whole life. However, according to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of college students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from severe depression during the previous year. Those are some staggering numbers. Apparently, the freedom and excitement of college life offers little relief for the inner troubles of young people. As we discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this series, the current culture is toxic for families and for young people.

What can we do about it? Clearly, we can’t change the culture right away, so what is a person to do?

Benjamin Franklin famously penned, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Does this apply to avoiding anxiety, depression, and addiction. Absolutely!

No young person intends to get addicted to anything. Generally, an addiction begins small and benign, then grows like a cancer undetected, until it’s a serious problem. For this blog post, we will focus on that intermediate stage of growth, when it is neither too soon to detect nor too late to treat effectively.

The most common concern of parents regarding dependency is related to electronics, and it goes something like this: “We struggle constantly with our kids over screen time” or “I know my kids use screens a lot, but the screens are literally everywhere. What can be done?” Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)”

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

In the previous post, we looked at how young people today are growing up in a culture which encourages extreme individuality. This individualistic lifestyle discourages healthy family life and social life, and it ultimately generates deep-down detachment and loneliness. This eventually creates chronic anxiety and / or depression. In response, the culture encourages the use of coping behaviors that help the individual feel better immediately but ultimately just yields more anxiety and depression. The cycle fulfills itself. The lonely get lonelier, in spite of all the attempts to cope. Because this cycle is self-consumptive, we neglect each other, which weakens our communities further. Eventually, the social norms devolve into creating a generation of young narcissists who can only demand instant gratification. In time, the whole culture, including the elders, becomes self-absorbed, addicted, and sick. It is a sad story. But it is not hopeless.

While the culture is toxic, our young people are not slaves. They can rise up against their oppressors and live a free life. But they will need some help. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)”

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)

In the late 1990s, author J.K. Rowling invented the term “muggle” as a derogative term for the normal people of modern Britain. Muggles are all the ordinary human beings in Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Muggles do not have any magical powers or awareness of anything magical. They live for comfort, they conform to society, and they have petty concerns. They are boring and bland, at best – miserable and mean, at worst.

In the context of this very ordinary world of muggles, Rowling created a parallel universe of magic. At the center is Hogwarts, the school for youngsters who wish to pursue magic, a better way of life. Rowling knew that children wanted more than what the modern world was giving them and that they would identify with the struggle against muggles, scoundrels, monsters, and villains.

Young readers happily entered the Harry Potter universe in droves. Reading among adolescents exploded worldwide, as hundreds of millions of children read 600-page book after 600-page book. Even adults joined in. Rowling struck a chord. People want more magic, less muggle. And a whole generation, now known as the millennials, identifies with the Harry Potter, the boy who struggles to live with more magic and less muggle.

It is no different in America today. The typical American is a muggle. Isn’t it the norm to seek comfort and conformity? Isn’t it normal for us to be a little bit foolish, a little petty, and sometimes mean? Doesn’t social media illustrate these things pretty clearly? We are muggles, more often than not.  If we are honest and will peer around our blinds spots for a moment, we can see the muggle inside us and all around us. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)”

Character Matters Sooner Than Later

Teenagers may think that the middle and high school years don’t matter much, and that having fun is paramount. Or they might think that making good grades, making the team, or being popular is what matters most. Those are common viewpoints held by teens and by the culture at large.

Everybody has their value system, but here is a different way of looking at the teen years. We’ve all heard that the teens are building character, one mistake and life lesson at a time. Let me put it a different way: Teens are building a reputation right now, and that reputation will follow them, unfair as that may be.

If I could speak to every 7th grader in the world, I would say something like this:

“Kids, listen up. Who you are right now in school does matter, and here’s why. Who are you are now is how others will remember you 20, 30, even 60 years from now. It’s a snapshot etched in their memory. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. People will remember what kind of person you were, and it’s that lens that they will see you through, until you are able to replace that lens, which takes a lot of time. Continue reading “Character Matters Sooner Than Later”

Your Family. Your Culture.

The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.

Most parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.

Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.

It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards“I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.

But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.

As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”  Continue reading “Your Family. Your Culture.”

Parenting is Regulating

Every parent should regulate their children’s behavior until they are ready to regulate their own. It will likely be a 20-year process, which starts with full regulatory control of the infant and ends with total release of all control at adulthood.

What does it mean “to regulate?” In grammatical terms, it is a transitive verb, meaning that a subject rules or governs another object by adjusting the time, amount, degree, or rate of something upon the object.

Let’s take food, for example. An infant has no idea how to handle his hunger pains, can’t make decisions about food, and can’t feed himself. It is the parent’s job to fully control the diet of the child. The twenty-year old, on the other hand, should have mature eating habits within his full control: when to eat, what to eat, how much, how to shop, how to cook, how to balance his nutrition with exercise, etc. Continue reading “Parenting is Regulating”

Peace in the Parenting Journey

Being a parent is overwhelming in mid-December, when everybody’s activities and pressures are multiplying. During the holidays, our expectation of family life is heightened along with our kids’ sense of entitlement and their frustrations with school. Arguments are common this time of year. Perhaps a few lumps of coal belong in some stockings. It’s a time of year when we doubt ourselves as parents.

The journey of parenting is far too long and dangerous to warrant any amount of comfort. Deep down we know that any number of things can get sideways in a hurry, and far too many of those things are beyond our control.

So, how do we know if we are on the right path? How do we know if we are making any progress?

Salesmen can gauge success with sales figures, bar graphs, and commissions. Coaches can measure success with wins, losses, statistics, and championships. But parents labor daily without any quantifiers of success.

Mom and sonSome might say that a good apple falls from a good tree, but it’s not as simple as looking at the immediate results of children. After all, we all know a few stable, loving parents who use good parenting techniques but have a child who doesn’t seem to be turning out so well. Conversely, we all know a few unstable families, and yet some of their kids seem to be flourishing. Some kids rebel, no matter what their parents do, while other kids succeed, in spite of all sorts of family dysfunction. In addition, many kids simply take more time to mature than others, in spite of all the efforts of their parents.

We cannot use the current status of a child to accurately measure the success of a parent. It’s not fair to the child or to the parent. As a middle school teacher, I have learned that you cannot judge a person on their 7th grade year. Well, pick any year, for that matter. It’s not fair to judge anyone on a short era in their history. Kids should all come with visible birthmarks that read: “Work in Progress.”

In addition, there is no other measure that satisfies the question: “Am I actually parenting really well?” Continue reading “Peace in the Parenting Journey”

Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.

lonely boy2Once again, his room isn’t clean, not by any standard. Her backpack, jacket, and shoes are scattered about the floor of the hall, again. His grades are sub-par in math, again. She is making the family late to school, again. He seems to be nonchalant about his music audition this weekend. She isn’t running enough to prepare for soccer tryouts next week.

How do you approach the lack of motivation: carrot or stick?

What’s the best approach: direct confrontation, positive affirmation, a new system of consequences? Push hard or back off? Constructive criticism?

Who knows? It’s a minefield, to say the least.

It’s a thin line between motivating your child and provoking him or her to rebellion. Motivating a child, especially a teenager, is not an easy road. There will be resistance, mistakes and regrets, and that is if you are doing it right.

Continue reading “Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.”

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