Connecting with our Kids during the Holidays

I feel so lucky, each time I came home with my two girls the hospital gave me a custom tailored manual on how to raise each of them based on their specific personality.  Wouldn’t that be great!  Sadly that is not the case.  So many times as parents we are feeling our way in the dark just trying to make it to tomorrow.  And unfortunately, no matter how hard we try there is nothing we can do to make our kids love God, go to church, or have their own faith. 

But there is good news!  There are 6 things we can give our kids over time that can show them why they matter to God.[1]  And they are:  drumroll please…

  • Time
  • Love
  • Words
  • Stories
  • Tribes
  • Fun

So many times we feel as if what we do is ordinary, boring and forgettable.  We don’t see the point and we don’t think our kids care.  However, what we do matters, our kids care, and what we do with our kids makes an impact.  So let’s talk about how we can make what we do matter even more. 

Intentional Time

Psalm 90:12, “teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Picture a jar full of marbles, a jar with 936 marbles in it.  Those 936 marbles represent the number of weeks between birth and when a child graduates high school.  We are all losing our marbles.  Each week another marble disappears, each week the jar becomes less full, each week we lose 7 days that we can never get back.  Many times we think we have forever with our kids.  But our time is limited and each opportunity is unique.  When our kids turn 5 we will never have them as a 4 year old again, that time has passed and those unique opportunities I had with them as a 4 year old, I can never get back again.

This doesn’t mean we have to stress ourselves out trying to make every second count, every moment teachable, and every minute scrapbook worthy.   It is a mindset that realizes the importance and value in making the most of the time we have with our kids.  Many times it is making what matters, matter even more.

Trace Adkins says it so well:And she thinks we’re just fishin’ on the riverside

Throwin’ back what we could fry

Drownin’ worms and killin’ time

Nothin’ too ambitious

She ain’t even thinkin’ ’bout

What’s really goin’ on right now

But I guarantee this memory’s a big’in

And she thinks we’re just fishin’

Trace makes the point that the every day ordinary activity is actually much more than it seems.  They are making memories that will last a lifetime.  Even fishing trips you can be intentional on to make the moments special to draw closer to one another.  Making moments more meaningful might mean you put down the phone, you take the opportunity to give an extra special hug, or to steal a moment to speak life and truth into your child.  The point is our time is limited, so take the time to make your moments meaningful. 

When we do this week after week, year after year that time accumulates and makes something new:  history.  Making history with your child is special because it is not just one moment in time but it describes how you have crafted the accumulation of time you have had with your child.  When your child looks back on all the moments together, how would they describe them?  As a parent are you present, patient, and positive or absent, angry, and antagonistic?

Think about it like this:  When Adam and Eve sinned why didn’t God jump straight to Jesus?  Why did we have thousands of pages of Scripture and thousands of years of history.  God realized there were only certain truths that could be communicated over time.  He wanted them to realize there need for a Savior, they couldn’t be good enough on their own, that he would always be there for them and always pursue them.  In other words, God created a history with his people, with us.  God communicated things to us that could only be communicated through the passing of time, through history.

So be intentional, make a history with your child that is worth telling.

Love

The 2nd thing every kid needs is Love.  We talked about time first, because many times kids spell love:  T I M E.  One of the easiest ways to show your kid you love them is by spending quality time with them.  However, there are other ways we show them our love.

I am not saying anything new, I know that, but think about the Pharisees for a second.  The Pharisees were like the professional Jews of the day.  They were the religious elite and everyone looked up to them.  They prayed longer, fasted more, gave more, and studied Scripture harder than anyone else.  However, Jesus had more harsh things to say to them than anyone else.  Why is that?  It is because in all of their zeal to be right and do right, they lost their focus and lost their way.  They were kind of like those hamsters I see running on those wheels, a lot of energy is being put forth but they aren’t going anywhere.  And we can be like that to.

In our culture, no one can accuse us of not being busy.  We are one of the most busiest generations to have come along.  But being busy doing things does not mean we are doing the right thing.  “You figure since you know you love them, and you tell them you love them, they should understand you love them, but instead, their subconscious reaction is:  Prove it.”[2]  There are three easy concrete ways we can do this:

“You figure since you know you love them, and you tell them you love them, they should understand you love them, but instead, their subconscious reaction is:  Prove it.”

Show UpConsistently and Randomly.  We need to create rhythms where they know you will be there.  This might be establishing a family game night once a week, doing Taco Tuesdays, or creating some tradition where you can be together consistently as a family.  Growing up I knew my dad would be at every ball game I played.  I could count on him watching me and cheering me on.  He made sure he scheduled work around my games, and that has always stuck with me.

With my girls I do craft day with dad on Saturdays.  Sometimes we buy crafts or make things or do Legos or get a bunch of cereal boxes from the recycle bin and see what we can me.  But my girls know every Saturday we will spend time together.  I put down my phone and they have my undivided attention.  We also need to show up randomly.  We need to once in a while surprise them and do something special.  I do date night with my girls on their birthday.  They know they will get to spend a special evening with their dad.

Know them –  You need to get to know your kids:  their favorite color, princess, what they want to be when they grow up.  When you know your kids and know what is going on in their life, your kids will know you love them.  We do questions at the table.

Never Run Away –  You need to let them know you will always be there for them and they can’t do anything that will make you love them less or make you turn your back on them.  You are modeling Christ to them and that is an important and HUGE job.  Kids and teens have a HUGE identity crisis.  They have an enormous need to be accepted and feel loved.  I think half of what a teen does is because he or she wants to feel accepted, they want to feel like they belong.  If a teen doesn’t feel accepted he or she will do just about anything to get that feeling.  However, if they know they are known and loved, that is a huge vaccine against the poison of a culture that is trying to pull them away.

Words

The greatest miracle in all the Bible started with a word, God said, “Let there be light.”  Words are powerful.  The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” could not be further from the truth.  Words encourage, build up, and give life.  Our words shape the outlook, trajectory, and identity of our kids.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time convincing you of the power of words because you already know their influence.  Many who are reading this have jobs or hobbies because someone encouraged you to pursue that interest.  Others have been brought to tears, happy or sad, because of the words spoken to us.  So let’s get really practical and talk about two ways we can use our words to speak life into our kids.

Our words shape the outlook, trajectory, and identity of our kids. 

Weigh What You Say

Because our words are so powerful, we have to be careful what we say.  It is easy when we are mad at our kids to fly off the handle and say things we don’t mean:  “You are always so messy,”  “Why are you so mean all the time,” “Why can’t you be like your sister.”  We have to be careful how we frame conversations.  I know my girls are very creative and so there are disasters all around our house.  Instead of saying, “You are the messiest kids ever!  Clean up this mess,” in my good parenting moments I say, “I love how you are creative and make so much cool stuff, but we also need to clean up when we are done.” 

What a fantastic way to speak truth and life in to our kids at the same time telling them what they need to do.  I think this can be so hard for us.  We are overwhelmed, just trying to tread water ourselves and focused on the here and now.  But because words are so powerful we have to be careful what we say.  When my girls are acting crazy and running around yelling, I want to say, “STOP BEING SO ANNOYING!”  Instead I try to say, “Girls, I love your energy and I’m so glad you are playing, but you need to go outside to do that.”

Another way we weight what we say, is by understanding not all of our words have the same worth.  We don’t need to just compliment them when we are trying to get them to clean up and be more quiet, we need to find intentional times to build them up and encourage them.  Positive Reinforcement should be the backbone of any parenting strategy.  Yes we punish, and we can be stern but positive reinforcement can head off problems before they start.  Great ways to start one of those sentences would be:

  • I love how you…
  • I’m so proud when you…
  • I appreciate how you…
  • I hope you know…
  • I’m really glad…
  • I have noticed…

Find ways to compliment your kids and point out all the things that make them great.

Recycle Big Ideas

This one is short.  Take everything I said above and repeat it.  Our culture does a great job and wiping away self-confidence and positive self-image.  We need to constantly find ways to build up and encourage our kids.  This is not a one and done thing.  This has to be a new way of speaking.  It is amazing how what we say to and about our kids becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we always call them lazy, guess what, they will probably grow up to be lazy.  If we are continually telling them they are smart and a hard worker, dollars to donuts they will grow up to be smart and a hard worker. 

Also, find central core truths you want your kid to know and repeat them often and in a variety of ways.  It might be:

  • “I will always love you.”
  • “God will always love you.”
  • “I’m so proud of you.”
  • “I’m so glad you are mine.”

Let the repetition of our statements drill those truths deep into your kids hearts and souls.

Tribes

“All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” — The Beatles[3]

“I Know You Don’t Want Me To, But I Miss Home. I Miss Minnesota. You Need Me To Be Happy, But I Want My Old Friends, And My Hockey Team. I Wanna Go Home. Please Don’t Be Mad” – Inside Out Movie

We see this theme in books, movies, music, and poems.  There is no other stronger primal urge than to want to belong.  And not belonging can be devastating; it leads to loneliness, isolation, rejection, and depression.  This is what tribes are all about.  Tribes are about giving a sense of belonging and a sense of identity. 

God understood this all too well.  His people, the Israelites, were entering the Promised Land and He wanted them to remain faithful and not be influenced by the surrounding people.  How was he going to accomplish that?  He set up food laws. Food laws were enacted to set his people apart as unique, distinct, and holy from the nations around them (Leviticus 20:25-26).  God did not want his people to be influenced by those pagan nations so he put laws in place so they could not even eat with them!  These laws gave them a sense of community and belonging and helped them to stay faithful over the millennia.  What are ways we can foster Tribes?

Right Ratio

Youth Ministers have been talking for a long time about what is the right ratio for adults to teens.  Do we need to have 1 adult for every 10 teens, 7 teens, 5 teens?  This was a hotly debated issue until Chap Clark came along and flipped the discussion on its head.[4]  He recommends that we have 5 adults for every 1 teen!  The culture the teens are swimming in is pushing teens further and further away from a Christ centered life.  To help combat that, ever teen needs 5 intentional adults who will be intentional and strategic about disciplining that teen. 

Having intentional adults is going to help give that teen the proper sense of identity and sense of belonging they need to continue to swim upstream from the world.  So as a parent pull in adults you admire and ask them to spend time with you kids.  Or if you are an adult that hangs out with kids and teens, be intentional about how you disciple them and speak into their life.  Realize that they need you and are counting on you.

Keep a Tradition

Traditions are fantastic ways to make your family distinct.  Traditions help define a tribe, make you feel a part of something, and give a sense of identity.  It might be family movie night, you always cut down your own Christmas tree, you have a family song.  Whatever it is, have things that only your family does.  Those traditions will help bond your family together and keep you all close.

Eat a Meal

We all understand the importance of family meal time.  William Doherty says, “Meals are where a family builds its identity and culture.  Legends are passed down, jokes rendered, eventually the wider world examined through the lens of a family’s values.”[5]

So Eat Together, But Remember:

  • It doesn’t have to be dinner.
  • It doesn’t have to be every day.
  • It doesn’t have to be gourmet.
  • It doesn’t have to be at home.
  • It just has to be together.

Fun

Our kids know we love them, but do they know we like them?  This is why fun matters. 

We want the best for our kids and we want them to excel and so it becomes easy for our don’t list to grow bigger than our do list.  It is easy to keep saying “No” when we also at times need to say “Yes.”  When this happens our house can be stifling and becomes a place our kids don’t want to spend time at or have friends over to. 

There are plenty of Scriptures that seem to indicate we should have fun as Christians:

“May the righteous be glad…” – Psalm 68:3

“Rejoice in the Lord always…” – Philippians 4:4

“…and a time to dance…” – Ecclesiastes 3:4

“Celebrate a festival to the Lord…” – Exodus 10:9

“A cheerful heart is good medicine…” – Proverbs 17:22

“Worship the Lord with gladness…” – Psalm 100:2

“The fruit of the Spirit is … joy…” – Galatians 5:22

Playing is one of the quickest and easiest ways to build bonds with your kids.  And playing is not just for young kids.  All kids like to play, it just looks different at different ages.  Let’s look at a few ideas to make play purposeful and productive.

Loosen Up

Don’t take yourself to seriously.  You don’t have to prove to your kids that you are an adult, they already know, trust me.  Let them also see that that you can have fun with them.  Goof off with them, be goofy.  Let them know you care more about what they think of you than what others think.  Having fun and laughing is a powerful tool that can bond families together.

Learn What They Like

As adults we are always telling our kids what to do, after all we are the experts.  But when it comes to fun, they are the experts.  Listen to them. Follow their lead.  Learn what they like to do.  Be willing to make some sacrifices so you can have fun with your kids.

Lose the Agenda

We have so much to do and so little time.  We need to make it clear that our kids our more important than our schedule.  Throw caution to the wind and throw you planner out the window (not literally because many of us live and die by our planner).  For many of us it means we need to loosen up and do what they like but it can also mean something else. 

Especially as kids get older, there will be tensions and tough conversations that need to happen.  At time relationships will feel on edge.  You need to start the habit now, that no matter what is going on, at times you will put those issues and agenda items aside and make time for play.  Problems should not get in the way of fostering healthy relationships.  Also, here is a pro-tip for you:  Many times kids and teens are better at talking about problems and issues when you are just playing a game or just sipping a shake.  I can’t remember how many times kids have talked to me when we are hanging out and having fun and how many times they have clammed up when I sit them down in my office to ask, “What’s wrong.”  So lose the agenda and have fun with your kid, you will be glad you did.


[1] The material from this series is taken directly from “Playing for Keeps” by Reggie Joiner.  If you want to learn more I encourage you to read the book.  It is an easy read and very informative.

[2] Losing Your Marbles, 56.

[3] The material from this series is taken directly from “Playing for Keeps” by Reggie Joiner.  If you want to learn more I encourage you to read the book.  It is an easy read and very informative.

[4] https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2004/in-spite-of-how-they-act/

[5] William Doherty, The Intentional Family:  Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties.

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