Reducing Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Every human experiences anxiety. It is 100% normal, natural, and essential to life.

Anxiety is a natural force that protects human life. We are hard-wired to sense threats to our wellbeing and to protect ourselves when threatened. Anxiety rises highest when we cannot control something that is a real and present danger to our body, mind, or social standing. Anxiety serves a very good purpose often. It helps us to focus intently on something very important. Some stress is good for us. It motivates us to do what needs to be done to survive or to thrive.

Unfortunately, an unhealthy level of anxiety is on the rise in many ways. The news is making us more anxious than ever about the world in general. Fear captivates our attention and changes our perceptions. Smartphones and social media have increased the amount and intensity of anxiety. Public embarrassment can be swift and practically permanent online. And the stories that we consume on TV often make us all the more anxious, as we perceive that the whole world has gone mad. An anxious culture, anxious families, and even anxious individuals can foster more anxiety among otherwise healthy people. 

Anxiety turns into a ‘disorder’ (a disruption to normal functioning) when anxiety and its sensations and symptoms interfere with a normal lifestyle. There are many anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Panic Disorder, and phobias. 

Approximately 40 million American adults — roughly 18% of the population — have an anxiety disorder (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Some estimates put this number higher – approximately 30 percent – as many people don’t seek help, are misdiagnosed, or don’t know they have it. Continue reading “Reducing Anxiety”

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)”

3 Skills + 1 Passion

For young people to achieve success in their career, it is no longer enough to have a college degree. New college graduates feel like a successful, satisfying, and sustainable career is out of their reach. But there is good news for them that is not dependent on the whims of the labor market or the stock market.

The answer to this problem can be found in a simple equation: 3 + 1.

“3 Skills + 1 Passion” is an idea I am recycling from Tim Ferris’s new book Tools of Titans. In it, Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, explained what he calls the “double or triple threat.”

Continue reading “3 Skills + 1 Passion”

Living on 1 Dollar Per Day

Young people in America need to know more about real poverty, and this video is possibly the best I have ever seen at getting kids to relate to abject poverty. It’s entertaining and educational. They pack a lot of information and experiences into just 28 minutes. Plus, it’s appropriate for kids age 11 and up, since there are no deeply disturbing images.

 

Discussion Questions for Kids

1. How would you describe these men and their lifestyle in America?

2. Why do you think they decided to set such strict rules for their time in Haiti?

3. Does this sort of adventure appeal to you in any way? In what ways?

4. What would worry you the most about living in a tent in Haiti for a month?

5. How tolerant are you of being hungry and eating only simple foods like rice and beans?

6. What is the longest you have ever been hungry? Describe that time.

7. Describe the most grueling physical work you have ever done. What was it? How long did you work? Did you get paid (or fed or anything) for your work?

8. What part of this 28 day experience do you find most intimidating or terrifying? Explain why.

 

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”

The Power of Kindness

Josh was a normal teenager whose father died. His mother moved them from their home in the country to the city, with the hope that a fresh start would improve their lives.

But Josh was ridiculed in his new school for no good reason. In fact, he was ridiculed for a horrible reason.

Instead of responding with hatred or melting into melancholy, Josh chose to be kind. To everyone. Simply kind. And his world changed.

Josh’s kind strength is what our boys and girls should imitate in their own ways.

The Distance Run

CSC_0569I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.

Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.

When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.

Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.

He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”

The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”

Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.06.39 AM
7 year-old has been using tools since 3.

A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her three young children helping their dad build a deck. The seven year-old boy was using a power drill to sink a deck screw.

Another woman posts a picture of her two kids 6 feet high up in the branches of an old oak tree. One is climbing with a garden hose in her hand, while another is hanging upside down.

You’ve all seen pics on social media that make you think, “Isn’t that dangerous for a little kid? Is he old enough for that? Is that safe?”

Those are excellent questions for every parent to ask about every activity. We should always be concerned about the safety of our children, but the real question is in how you respond to those questions.

Do you always choose the safest option?

In my opinion, always erring on the side of safety is a mistake. It seems like the safest way to raise kids, but it’s not. Failing to give young kids experiences with dangerous things will only increase their chances of being hurt later in life.

Continue reading “Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things”

Raising Resilient Children

Rubber Band with white backgroundResilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to well-being. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed, explains that even kids who grow up in the most difficult situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, and stress can rise up from the ashes. It may not be the norm for kids of adversity, but with help, they can do it. “The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for the children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when wounds produce bad decisions. But teenagers also have the ability—or at least the potential—to rethink and remake their lives in a way that the younger children do not.”

Young teenagers who are supported by family and adults who empower them will face life’s challenges with more guts and stamina than those who fly solo. Those who have a strong sense of belonging, hope, and purpose will hold up better in the face of obstacles. Good parenting can transform a child into a happy, healthy, successful young person.

Resilience is not callousness. It is toughness. I think of certain people in my life who exhibit toughness when it is necessary and sweet sensitivity when it is called for. I call it “kind strength.” Continue reading “Raising Resilient Children”

Families Should Be Tough

My wife is kind and compassionate, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever known. She does not have a mean bone in her body, but she is strong. She will tell you like it is and somehow make you feel like she is on your side. And when it comes to being a mom, nothing will stop her. She is tough for her children.

She is the kind of tough that can handle trials that makes most women wilt. Just ask anyone who knows her. And yet she is kind toward others and displays a genuinely positive attitude most of the time, even though her days are full of service to others and hard work.

Monica BelluciMy wife’s strength is a large part of her beauty. Mel Gibson once described his leading lady in The Passion, Monica Belluci, as someone who looked absolutely beautiful no matter how much grime that the makeup artists put on her. They kept trying to make her look like a beaten-down beleaguered Mother Mary, and they just couldn’t seem to get her to look bad enough. That’s my wife, metaphorically speaking.

She is an eternal optimist and can be an unstoppable force. You can slow her down. You can make her sick, you can make her cry, but you cannot ultimately stop her. You can put her child in the hospital for major surgery, and she will go toe-to-toe with any nurse, doctor, or therapist. You can take away her sleep and give her  a nasty sinus infection, but that won’t stop her. You can give her three days worth of work to do in one day and make her kids sick and whiney all day, but she will not give in. Day after day. You can knock her down, but you can’t knock her out. She is Rocky Balboa tough.

Beyond her ability to persevere, she is a protector of her children. She wants them to grow up strong, so she pushes them and is not afraid to let them struggle. She knows that strength comes from the struggle, so she passes that legacy along daily. Continue reading “Families Should Be Tough”

Fear Less, Parents

With the tragic news of the abduction and murder of ten-year-old Hailey Owens this week, many parents are afraid that the same thing may happen to their children. And many are wondering if they should be doing more to protect their children. Those are legitimate concerns and questions, and there is not a simple sound-bite response. Instead, I will offer two articles that I hope will help.

1. I highly recommend this article about Patti Fitzgerald‘s advice for parents of young children. It is an excellent explanation of why children should not fear all strangers, only certain types of strangers. Click Here

2. In addition, I wrote a chapter about parental fear in my book, Critical Connection. Here is an excerpt from that chapter. I hope it helps clarify that often we are most afraid of the wrong things. We tend to be afraid of the most emotionally terrifying things, but we should rather focus our attention on less scary but far more dangerous things.

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Family protectionFamily Fears

In their best-selling book, Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, and so on):

No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent. A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. The problem is that they are often scared of the wrong things. Separating facts from rumors is always hard work, especially for a busy parent. The facts they do manage to glean (from experts and other parents) have been varnished or exaggerated or otherwise taken out of context to serve an agenda that isn’t their own.1

Rumors and sensational stories rule the day, making us afraid of letting our kids near everything from tap water to corn syrup. New parents fear that their infants will die in their sleep. Parents of toddlers fear sharp edges on furniture. Parents of preschoolers fear that their children won’t know how to read before kindergarten. In fact, there seems to be a new set of fears for every stage of development, many of them introduced by marketers of child-safety products and fueled by the media’s fascinating and often terrifying stories.

Reasonable Fears

Some fear is healthy; only adolescents think “NO FEAR!” is a great motto for life. That may make sense in the video-game world where you can hit the reset button at any moment, but it’s a ridiculous notion in the real world. A little fear is a very good thing. Reasonable fears motivate us to wear seatbelts, drive within the speed limits, and avoid texting while driving. Continue reading “Fear Less, Parents”

Connect With Your Young Teen

First Connect, Then Guide

celebrateThe best parents are the ones who are deeply connected with their children and offer support and guidance all along the path of life. They’re the ones who care enough to say, “No, you can’t do that, because I love you too much to let you settle for that.” And their children know that they mean it.

Good parenting is about being confident that you have a far higher calling than to just be a friend or dish out punishment. It is about being an authority who loves always and takes the time to guide and train a child to grow into an independent person. Continue reading “Connect With Your Young Teen”

Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury

So, your teenager is injured and is out for the rest of the season. Of course, his or her initial reaction will be anger, sadness, self-pity, confusion. That is normal, since this is a form of grief – the loss of something beloved.

But after a few days of sulking and trying to come to grips with the loss, a young athlete has a choice to make. Will he or she make the very best of the situation, or not?

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3d rendered illustration of a painful shoulderWhen I was a high school freshman, I was a big shot quarterback, playing up with the older kids on the junior varsity team. In the first game of the year, I played well enough to lead the team to a win, but I broke my collarbone on one of the last plays of the game. That was it for the season. No more football until next year.

After a week of pain and anger at home, I was back at school, feeling better but not able to run, throw, or do anything athletically. It seemed totally pointless to go to practice or games, so I just stopped showing up. I would hang out after school for a little while, then get to my homework early.

After a few days, one of my coaches asked me when I would show up to practice and games. I was surprised. I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, since I can’t play for the rest of the season.”

Coach pushed back a little, “Well, you can come to the games at the very least and still be a part of the team, right?” Continue reading “Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury”

Living in Crisis

 

Our family is in crisis. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

Three weeks ago, our severely disabled 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn, had a full spinal fusion surgery. According to the “pain team” of anesthesiologists and neurologists, it is the second most painful surgery to recover from. (It’s second only to a certain kind of chest surgery.) So, we have been dealing with a lot of crying, screaming, tears, flailing arms, beeping machines, doctors, nurses, specialists, sleepless nights, and hospital meals – just to list a few of the trials of the last month. It’s been a hell of a month.

Depressed manTo add to the complications, both my wife and I have been dealing with health problems of our own that manifested in the week before the big surgery. Julie earned herself a hernia in her abdomen, which was surgically removed three days before our daughter’s surgery. She is not allowed to lift anything for several weeks, which is pretty challenging for the mother of a disabled girl. In addition, I earned myself an ailment called Meniere’s Disease, which landed me flat on my back on two occasions with two-hours of nasty vertigo – both episodes were during the week of Kathryn’s surgery.

Fortunately, we have a good support system made of our family, friends, and medical community. Continue reading “Living in Crisis”

Ten Ways to Help Someone in Personal Crisis

Our family has been going through rough waters related to some serious medical issues, and we have only been making it with the help from family and friends. People keep asking what they can do to help us. They want to help, but they don’t know exactly how. We have been very specific with them, which they appreciate.

Certainly, every situation is different, but here are some tried and true ways to help others in great need. 

1. Write notes, emails, texts, Facebook posts, or tweets of encouragement.

2. Gifts – flowers, fruit, ice cream, coffee, magazines, books, movies…

3. Gift cards to nearby restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theater…

4. Do Errands – groceries, library, dry cleaners, or whatever they need.

5. Do Laundry. This can be a huge help for a family.

6. Housecleaning or yard work.

7. Child care, pet-sitting, or house-sitting.

8. Visit, according to their best day, time, length of visit, etc. Just ask what they prefer ahead of time.

9. Listen to them vent about their problems, if that is what they want to do. Be the listener, not the advisor. See note below about the ring theory.

10. Bring humor. It’s good medicine. Share funny stories. Bring a light heart, not your own set of first-world problems that you want to gripe about.

Just remember that every family is different and every crisis is different. Do your best to customize your support for their specific situation. Ask what they prefer, and ask them to be specific. Sometimes the giver must drag the information out of the receiver. Be persistent in finding out how you can bless them in the most helpful way possible.

NOTE: An important aspect of caring for someone in need is the language that we use with them. My copy editor and new friend, Meghan Pinson, sent me this outstanding article about how to communicate with people in any sort of crisis. It’s the ring theory, and it is such a brilliant concept that you must read it. CLICK HERE for the article.

 

Storm Preparation

A Creeping Crisis

Some crises develop gradually. Some are excruciatingly slow.

Perhaps it is the approaching death of a parent with terminal cancer. Or it is the military dad/son/husband who will be deployed to an overseas conflict. Or it may be a huge financial crisis, which will likely take away the family’s savings and home.

In these situations, the anticipation of the looming crisis is a danger in itself, for anxiety can take deep root early, and that can be paralyzing.

At some point a person facing a slow-moving crisis makes decisions (conscious and subconscious), to deal with it or ignore it. Psychologist call it the “fight or flight” response. We can run from our problems or fight them head on. Of course, we often do both. We fight something for a bit, then flee it for a while. I suppose, that is not a bad strategy, actually, as long as the general attitude is to win, not just avoid. So, we can fight. Regroup. Then, fight again. Continue reading “Storm Preparation”

Preparing for the Storm

If you have ever sat with a weather radio in a dark basement or closet during a tornado warning, or if you have ever hastily prepared for an oncoming hurricane, you know the anxiety that an approaching storm can bring. As a native Midwesterner with friends and relatives scattered about “tornado alley” and with a father who lives on the coast in Florida, I know a little about these times of uncertain anticipation of imminent danger.

Dark, Ominous Clouds Promise Rain and poor Weather.

The storms-of-life metaphor is an ancient archetype, as powerful today as it was thousands of years ago. Storms are used in nearly every movie, book, and play to create the setting for trouble, the mood of tension, and the dramatic dance between eerily-quiet darkness and the jolting of cracks of thunder, lightning, wind, and hail. And in many cases, heroes are made in storms. The Bible is full of stories of storms that radically alter and often ruin people’s lives. Storms are used by God in the Old and New Testament to judge the wicked, test the faithful, and reveal life’s harshness and God’s goodness in both justice and mercy. Through the ages, countless poems and songs have alluded to storms as a way to communicate the universal fear of destruction that moves every man, woman, and child to fears and tears.

The distant storm is a unique sort of crisis. At times, we face a slow-approaching storm in our life, one that we can see steadily advancing toward us for days, weeks, or even months. Continue reading “Preparing for the Storm”

The Nature Deficit

I go into nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in tune once more.”   –    John Burroughs

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I’m on vacation in Destin, Florida, and my extended family – all 14 of us – are spending each day building sandcastles, playing in the waves, cooking seafood, and sharing life’s problems. And I can’t believe how many teenagers (girls mostly) walk by with their smartphones in their face, oblivious to both the wonder of the ocean and the people with whom they walk.

The statistics say that kids spend over 40 hours per week in front of electronic screens, while they spend less than 40 minutes per week in nature.

Richard Louv is an author who understands this problem more than anyone, and he loves children enough to cry out for them, “Let the children play outdoors!”  His books and lectures are inspiring a national movement to leave no child inside.

Louv explains how this generation is suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” a preventable ailment of the body, mind, and soul. Kids just don’t go outdoors anymore. Just look out the window and count the children; Continue reading “The Nature Deficit”

What Does it Mean to Grow Up?

This is the time of year when I start to see some signs of maturity in my 7th grade students. Many of them are growing up, and I’m actually starting to see it, much like the first shoots of daffodils this time of year.

In my English class we read a few coming-of-age novels. Recently, we read The House on Mango Street, and we discussed what it means to grow up. As a way to kick off the discussion, I gave them two definitions that I found from unlikely sources.

The first is just a comment on a blog by someone named Sarge927 who says, “A person “grows up” when he/she learns to take responsibility for his/her own actions and stops behaving as if the world revolves around him/her. Many people never truly grow up because they constantly blame others for everything “bad” that has happened in their lives or they expect everyone and everything in their world to conform to their point of view. People who are grown up will suck it up and pay the price if they get caught breaking the law, even if it’s just a speeding ticket, while those who are not grown up will try to find any and every way to weasel out of it. People who are grown up will give and don’t always expect to get, those who are not grown up will always ask “What’s in it for me?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And then there is this classic from  a “Dear Abby” column, in which she defined growing up in the following ways:

Maturity is the ability to do a job whether you are supervised or not; finish a job once it is started; carry money without spending it and be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

Maturity is the ability to control anger and settle differences without violence.

Maturity is patience. It is the willingness to postpone immediate gratification in favor of the long-term gain.

Maturity is perseverance, the ability to sweat out a project or a situation in spite of heavy opposition and discouraging setbacks.

Maturity means dependability, keeping one’s word, coming through in a crisis. The immature are masters of the alibi. They are confused and disorganized. Their lives are a maze of broken promises, former friends, unfinished business and good intentions that somehow never materialized.

Well said.

So, we all have some growing up to do, don’t we?

 

You win some; you lose some

Life is unfair – extraordinarily unfair. Sometimes the good guys lose, while the bad guys revel in their victory.  Sometimes, evil dictators prevail for decades, while innocent children starve and suffering saints are martyred.  Is this too much for kids to handle?  Dare we tell them the truth?

I think the truth sets kids free.  In fact, I think we do our kids a disservice by shielding them for too long from the fact that life is not fair.  Unfortunately, some kids never learn the lesson, and they are ill-prepared for the world.

Somewhere around eight years old is when kids need to be taught that “Yes, life is unfair.  Sometimes you get the raw end of the deal.”  That is a fact of life – everyday life.

And yet, kids also need to hear that sometimes you get the unfairly good deal.  Sometimes you win, when you shouldn’t have won.  Sometimes you find a twenty dollar bill on the street.  Sometimes you get way more than you deserve.  And yet, you don’t whine and complain about how unfair it is that you were unfairly rewarded.

And kids need to be reminded that they have gift, talents, and blessings that far surpass most kids in the world.  They enjoy so many wonderful things that others will never get to enjoy, for the world is full of underprivileged children: the poor, the disabled, the abused, the uneducated, and the weak.

Our kids need to see the truth about the inherent unfairness of life.

You win some, and you lose some, and it’s not necessarily fair.

Now, some people will take this truth and apply it to God.  They see the unfairness of life, and they think that it must also apply to the Creator of Life.  In other words, since life is difficult and unfair, then God must be difficult and unfair.

Philip Yancey wrote in his book Disappointment With God, “We tend to think that life should be fair because God is fair. But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life – by expecting constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment… The cross of Christ overcame evil, but it did not overcome unfairness in this life.”

Pastor Todd Wagner (of Watermark Church in Dallas) recently posted on Twitter, “God does not promise to give us whatever our heart desires. He promises that He is what our heart desires.”  It’s the good news of an unfair life.  Life is hard, but God is good – all the time.  Kids deserve to know this.

 

Loving Grandpa

One of my favorite 7th grade essays ever is this memoir about a grandfather. Ashley Aucker, is now a 25 year old, wife, mother, singer, and songwriter. She was a sweet, quiet little 12 year old in my 7th grade English class many years ago when she wrote this essay. It blew me away then, and it still moves me now. It’s a tribute to the power of a loving grandparent and the deep the inner lives of children.

The first thing I saw upon waking up were tears streaming down my mom’s face. My eyes were still groggy, but I could tell she has been crying a lot. She told me to get up and get dressed as quickly as possible. The one thing about mornings is that it is the most confusing time of day. Therefore, asking no questions, I got up and did as my mom told me. I threw on a shirt and jeans, brushed my teeth and hair, and ran out to the car.

“We are going to see Grandpa,” she finally told me on the way over to my grandparent’s house. I soon understood what was going on. Grandpa had had cancer for about two years, and this day he was struggling greatly, and I knew that this day he would breathe his last breath. Continue reading “Loving Grandpa”

Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

Hard Times

Life has a way of kicking you down, then kicking you when you are down.  It’s happened to me more than a few times, and I’ve learned that if I can just keep my faith in a loving God who has reasons for the madness in my life, then I can get through to the other side of the pain.  And once I get through, I can be thankful and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose.

Alison Krauss sings a beautiful song about this.  The lyrics are here, but the video is on YouTube, so go ahead and read the lyrics first, then skip on over to view the video.  It’s worth it.

There is a Reason

Written by Ron Block; Performed by Alison Krauss & Union Station

I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There isn’t any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all

I’ve trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I’m living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all

In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see
I do believe but help my unbelief
I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There is a reason for it all

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Same Lake, Different Boat

When you are a parent of a child with severe disabilities, you have to accept the fact that your life journey is going to be much different than most people’s and that you are not in control of circumstances.  Those two truths are much easier said than lived-out, but they are crucial to living well.

Same Lake, Different Boat is a book that puts the right words to so many truths that I have learned in that past eleven years since my daughter’s birth.  A reviewer, with whom I agree, says of Stephanie Hubach’s book: “Concisely written, personal in tone, she provides a solid basis for tearing down judgmental barriers and building effective communities among people with different needs. A must read for anyone interested in learning about loving and caring for “normal people in an abnormal world.

Here are my favorite parts:

Much of our 21st century life is organized around denying the reality of life’s difficulties. We can surround ourselves with material comforts that give us the false sense of security that, maybe, life is not so difficult after all. We can create an illusion of control that, perhaps, we really are the masters of our own destiny. However, when the reality of disability strikes, neither a thousand trips to Wal-Mart nor unlimited funds in a retirement account can insulate the blow. When disability strikes a family, it is the startling splash-of-a-bucket-of-cold-water-in-the-face that reminds us that, indeed, life is difficult.  And we are not in control. (Hubach 99)

Whether we recognize it or not, we all have implicit expectations about our future that reside in our minds. Continue reading “Same Lake, Different Boat”

Growing Up Too Fast

Our culture tends to throw kids in the deep-end of the pool without teaching them how to swim. Kids are given adult freedoms and privileges, without the responsibilities and training to help them handle it.  Now more than ever, it’s essential to give kids age-appropriate responsibilities, privileges, and freedoms.

Knowing exactly what is and is not age-appropriate is no simple task.  The unpredictable nature of adolescence makes it especially difficult. Every day I am amazed at how 13-year-olds are both incredibly immature and mature.  With any group of seventh graders, there will be some kids with tremendous maturity and some with absolutely none.  Even more amazing is how a single student can seem so mature one moment and so utterly immature the next moment.  It’s a paradox that makes my job as a father, teacher, and coach constantly interesting and challenging.

This is not a new phenomenon, but I think it has grown from a simple stage of development to a societal problem.  The problem is that many children are growing up too fast without developing properly.  Kids are growing up fast but not well; they are not ready to handle the adult things that they are getting in to so young.

David Elkind wrote The Hurried Child in 1981 and has updated it several times since, in response to the fast-changing world of media and technology in which kids live.  He discusses the effects of television on kids in great detail.

Continue reading “Growing Up Too Fast”

Parenting With and Without Fear

Fear is universal.  Columnist Dave Barry writes, “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears — of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words “Some Assembly Required.”

We are all deeply motivated by our fears, and they influence nearly every one of our decisions.   Some fears are entirely legitimate, while others are unwarranted.  Some fears are healthy, while others are neuroses.   And while children are naturally prone to fears of all sorts, due to their lack of knowledge, adults are often victims of unfounded fears due to faulty knowledge or perspective.

Parents, in particular, are afraid of anything that poses a threat to the wellness of their children.  In their best-selling book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc.):

 No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent.  Fear is in fact a major component of parenting.  A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared. Continue reading “Parenting With and Without Fear”

I Wish You Failure

Once again, I offer an article from NPR’s This I Believe.  Jon Carroll started at the San Francisco Chronicle editing the crossword puzzle and writing TV listings. He has been a columnist for the paper since 1982.

Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and, as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying. What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure.

Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.

Failure is how we learn. Continue reading “I Wish You Failure”

The Blessing

Most parents deeply love their children but do not express their love in the most effective ways.  For many children, they feel that their parents love them when… or if… or as long as…

It’s a shame that the love that lays in the hearts of moms and dads so seldom is expressed freely, clearly, daily, and without conditions attached.

Many are fortunate to experience love from their moms and dads and other significant adults in ways that give them a solid sense of acceptance and worth.  They grow up, knowing that they are loved “as is” and that someone is very proud of them.

Unfortunately, most kids strive for a blessing from mom or dad or other adult that they never quite get.  They suffer under a love that is either conditional or unexpressed or both.  As a result, they are not free to give and receive love as well as they need to.  It’s such a shame, since in most cases, the love is there, but it’s just not communicated, or it’s expressed only with strings attached.

In their book, The Blessing, John Trent and Gary Smalley explain how important the family blessing is to every young person.  “The family blessing not only provides people a much-needed sense of personal acceptance, it also plays an important part in protecting and even freeing them to develop intimate relationships… The best defense against a child’s longing for imaginary acceptance is to provide him or her with genuine acceptance.”  There is no substitute for honest affirmation at home.

So what does a blessing look like? Continue reading “The Blessing”

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