Strategies for Teaching Contentment

The gift shop was closed.

We had spent a fun day at an exotic animal farm bed and breakfast in central Kansas (I know, it’s an odd place for exotic animals). We had fed giraffes, petted kangaroos, heard a macaw say hello and ridden a camel. But all of that enjoyment was sucked away because the gift shop was closed.

My girls really wanted T-shirts to take home with them, and had the gift shop been open, we probably would have gotten them each one. But it wasn’t. It was closed, and it wasn’t going to open before we left. And our joy and contentment was gone.

It could have been a teachable moment. Yep, it could have been. But after wandering around in 100-degree heat for an hour and knowing that we still had six hours together in the car ahead of us, this mommy missed the teachable moment and went for the grumpy one. I essentially told my kids to “get over it.”

Funny how we’re talking about contentment this week, and I missed a perfect opportunity to teach my kids about being content. All they took away from that exchange was “we didn’t get we wanted and mom’s in a bad mood.”

So, in our better moments as parents, how do we teach our kids to be content — with who God made them to be, with the stuff they have and with the circumstances in their lives?

It starts with us. You’ve probably noticed that most of the posts about contentment this week haven’t included a lot about teaching your kids to be content. That’s because we have to learn contentment before we can teach it to our kids. This is one of those things that is more often caught than taught. So, if contentment is a struggle for you (and I think it is for most of us), now is the time to begin working on it. As you teach your kids, be honest with them about your struggles with being content. Knowing that you struggle will help your kids to know how difficult it is and make them more willing to open up about their struggles.

Give your kids a broader view. Help your kids understand that not everyone in the world lives like they do. Get them serving those who are less fortunate in your community. Work at a food pantry, organize a book drive or help out an after-school program. Our kids need to see people in need to understand what “having enough” really means.

Cultivate thankful hearts. Make thankfulness second nature. Ask your kids what they’re thankful for on a regular basis. Keep a thankfulness journal or bulletin board, where everyone writes down the things they are thankful for. When your kids get the “gimmes” or have hearts full of discontent, have them make a list of the things for which they are thankful. There’s no room for discontent in a heart full of thankfulness.

Have a contentment code word. Create a “code” word with your kids that you can use to remind each other to be content. Let your kids use it to remind you not to grumble, and you use it to remind them to be content with what they have. Make it something fun and appropriate that only you will know.

Memorize Philippians 4:8 as a family. Talk about the fact that contentment is something we can learn with God’s help. Remind your kids that when they feel discontent, they need to ask God to help them learn to be content no matter the circumstances.

We can all use help learning to be content. Use teaching your kids about contentment as an opportunity for you to learn contentment as well. When we support each other as a family, our entire family grows together. Put contentment on at the top of the list of things to learn together.

Christmas Read-Alouds

I love to read. If I can’t find a good book, I’ll read the back of a cereal box. I’ll read just about anything that I can get my hands on. I also love children’s books. I think there’s nothing better than a well-illustrated, well-written children’s book that makes a story come alive. Chapter books for elementary school kids are also some of my favorites. Do better books exist than Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?

Christmas offers up some great read-alouds for your family. If you don’t have some favorite Christmas stories that you read at Christmastime, start that tradition today. Our whole family looks forward each year to reading about how the Herdmans wreaked havoc on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever or about the donkey Mary rode to Jerusalem in The Small One.

Many of the books we read at Christmas offer opportunities to apply some Biblical principles. They allow us to follow the admonition of Philippians 4:8, which says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Spend some time sharing with a story and some discussion with your kids in this week before Christmas.

To help you get started, here are a few of our favorites along with some ideas for discussion.

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson — You haven’t experienced Christmas unless you’ve spent it with the Herdmans (quite possibly the worst kids ever) and seen the impact they made on the church Christmas pageant.
    • Ask your kids why they think the Herdmans acted the way they did.
    • Ask your kids if they think that Jesus loves the Herdmans.
    • Talk about how Jesus came to earth to save everyone, even people we think are “bad.”
    • Ask your kids who in the story understood the true meaning of Christmas.
  • The Small One by Alex Walsh and Jesse Clay — A fictional account of the donkey who would take Mary to Bethlehem and the power of friendship and sacrifice.
    • Ask your kids how they think the little boy felt when he knew he would have to sell his donkey.
    • Ask your kids how hard they think it was for both the donkey and the boy when they knew the boy would have to sell the donkey to the tanner.
    • Ask your kids how they think the boy felt when Joseph stepped in and saved the donkey.
    • Compare how Joseph saved the donkey with how Jesus saved us.
  • Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Dick Schneider — A story of how a tree gave of itself until its branches were bent and broken and it was no longer worthy of being the queen’s Christmas tree.
    • Ask your kids why they think the tree gave so much.
    • Ask your kids if they think the tree’s sacrifice was worth it.
    • Ask your kids why they think the queen eventually chose the imperfect tree over the perfect one.
    • Talk about why it’s important to give of ourselves to others.

Whatever your favorite read-aloud is, look for ways to tie it back into the important principles of Christmas, and enjoy the time snuggled together with your kids on the couch.

To Shelter or Not to Shelter, That is the Question!

A couple of months ago, we decided to introduce our girls to a movie we had loved when we were kids — The Goonies. In my memory, this was a cute movie about a bunch of kids who stumbled onto a crime, then captured the criminals. I had forgotten about the cuss words and the potty humor. I cringed every time those kids on the movie opened their mouths. After the movie was over, we had a quick conversation about how we don’t talk like the kids in the movie. I got two “I know, mom” responses and we went on with the evening.

The whole scenario, though, brought up the question of how much should we shelter our kids from things like movies, books and music. Some families I know don’t allow their children to watch anything that they haven’t seen first. One of my friends reads nearly all of her daughter’s books before she allows her daughter to read them. Other families I know don’t seem to have any rules. Their kids are watching R-rated moves at the age of 7.

It’s a tough subject because there are no clear-cut answers in the Bible. Philippians 4:8 tells us “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” That list is a fine concept, but each of those things is subjective. Do you throw out an entire movie with a great message because it has a cuss word in it? Do you not read a work of great literature because you don’t agree with the lifestyle the author lives? Do you prohibit your kids from listening to a song because the artist that sings it wears skimpy clothing at her concerts?

It’s a tough call as parents as to how much or how little to shelter our children from the influences in the world around them. If we shelter them too much, we leave them unprepared to navigate the world themselves, but if we expose them to too much, we run the risk of snatching their innocence away from them. If there are no rules and no filters, we leave our kids to navigate the treacherous waters of society alone, but if there are too many rules, we run the risk of making the forbidden seem better than the allowed.

Personally, I think the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. You know your kids best, and you know what they can and can’t handle. Make your decisions based on your kids’ personalities and temperaments. In our house, we set limits based on age and responsibility levels. Right now, my kids are allowed to watch G and PG-rated movies and play E and E10 (with approval) video games

We also have a no limits policy on books. If you want to read a book, and we think it’s not appropriate agewise, we’ll put it aside and wait until you’re old enough. If you want to read a book that we think the subject matter is questionable but it’s age-appropriate, we’ll read it together and discuss it.

We try to strike a balance between setting some limits for our girls without making things more attractive by making them forbidden. This may not work for everyone, but, so far, it’s working for us.

I truly think this is one of the biggest challenges that Christ-following parents face. Our job is to help our kids filter the stuff the world throws at them. We need to stand in between them and the world, only letting in the things for which they are ready. We can’t always control what they see and hear, but we can help them understand it and put it into a Christian perspective for them.

To help your kids understand why you set limits on the things they see and hear, give them a colander and some sand with rocks in it. Have them filter the sand through the colander. When they are done, they should have rocks left in the colander. Explain that the sand is the stuff that is good for them to see and hear. It’s age appropriate and it won’t hurt them. Tell them that rocks are stuff that they either aren’t ready for or could hurt them. Explain that you are the colander. It’s your job to be a filter for things. As they get older and more responsible, the holes in the colander get bigger and more subjects can get through, but you still act as a filter. Explain that when the colander filters out the rocks, it’s so the sand will be softer and smoother. As a parent, your role is to weed out some of the bumps in the path to make it easier for your kids to navigate life. The colander is a great visual for kids to understand your role in helping them to filter the world.

No matter where you are in raising your kids or what size the holes in your colander are, always remain available to act as a filter for your kids. Don’t be afraid to keep them from something you know they are not ready for. God gave you the role of colander. Be a good one.

Impulse Control

My youngest was at a tailgate party for her hockey team last week when one of the little boys on her team said to her “Girls playing hockey is stupid! You’re stupid!” Now, before I go on with this story, keep in mind that this is my child who has never backed away from a fight, and by any measure, those were fighting words. Keep in mind, also, that she had a the perfect weapon — a hockey stick — in her hand. However, on this night, it appeared that everything we had been trying to tell her about hanging on to her tongue and not letting other people bother her, had sunk in. She looked at the little boy, said “So, what?” and walked away.

I wasn’t there to witness this breakthrough moment in my child’s life, but I was so incredibly proud of her when she told me about it. I was even more proud when she told me, “I wanted to say, ‘I think you’re stupid,’ but I didn’t.” In this one instance, my youngest had mastered the fine art of holding her tongue and taking the high road.

Too often, we speak or act first and think later. We act on our first impulse, which in tension-filled situations is rarely the right one. Think of all the hurt feelings and fractured relationships that could have been prevented if one person in a situation had simply taken three seconds to think before they acted or spoke. Adults who should know better often don’t practice this in their relationships and broken homes and hearts are often the result.

Before we talk about our kids, today, take a moment and examine your own response to situations. Is it your natural reaction to speak first and think later or do you take a moment to look at the situation and decide on the best response? If you struggle with this, ask God to change your actions so they honor Him.

James 1:19 says “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” The key word in this passage is slow. Too often, we are quick to speak and quick to take offense. If we simply slow down and take a moment to think, we will be able to either defuse a tense situation or simply walk away from a volatile one.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Being quicker to hold your tongue than to speak is the sign of a wise person. We want our children to be wise in their choices, so we need to teach them how to control their impulses and think before acting.

  • Institute a three-second rule. Encourage your kids to count to three before they decide to say or do  something. They should use that time to think about whether what they are about to say or do is the right thing to do. Have them use the criteria found in Ephesians 4:29 and Philippians 4:8 as a measure for their actions.
  • Show your kids how just taking a few seconds to think can make a huge difference in the result. Set up a quick obstacle course in the yard (it can be as simple as weaving in and out of some cones). Don’t let your kids see the course until after you have given them instructions. As soon as they approach the course, they have to run it — no time to think or plot a strategy. Time them on a stopwatch. Then, let them run it again, but give them a minute to look at the course to decide the best way around it. Time them again. They’re second time will usually be faster. Talk about how taking time to think about a situation allows us to choose the best way to navigate through it — just like with the obstacle course.
  • Prepare your children for different situations they might face by talking about them beforehand. Ask your kids what they would do if someone was picking on them or being mean to one of their friends. Plan strategies for dealing with a situation with tact and grace. When they are faced with those situations down the road, they will have already thought them through with you and will be better equipped to handle them.

Employ these principles in your own life, so your kids have a model for how to deal with a touchy situation. This week, consciously take time to think before you act.