Empathy in action with a family “night” activity

IMG_9720Family nights (or mornings, afternoons or whenever!) with our children are important to us and we try to do something special at least once a week. It need not be fancy or expensive, as long as the family enjoys some time together as we seek to build a strong family identity and close relationships.

With colds passing through the family, we didn’t have the energy for a physical activity the week so we decided to do one of the ideas from those we have been discussing and using to build empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness during our Easter circle time.

Each child was given $2 to spend at a secondhand shop. The catch was that they were not allowed to spend it on themselves. Each person drew the name of another family member out of the hat and endeavoured to find something special for them within their budget. We all helped with spotting good ideas and all purchases had to be approved by Mum and Dad first. (No, our oldest son does not want a Barbie doll!)

While many broad hints are given as to what might be a great idea for themselves, we usually manage to keep most of the gifts a surprise and smuggle them home without the recipient seeing them or at least without them being sure of what they are getting. Each child wraps their gift and we all get together for the presentations.

We took the opportunity for a review of gift giving and receiving etiquette  and how to show thankfulness when receiving a gift, which is so important.

Today our gift exchange morning led to a spate of tidying out desks and wrapping up even more gifts for each other which was lovely to see as these ones really did come from the heart. Those children who’s love language is gift giving were particularly over the moon and were seen dancing about with huge smiles on their faces for the rest of the day.

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Bickering and nitpicking between siblings – it wears me down and spoils my day. I know they love each other, but some days the love is just not shining through. We all need long-term strategies that seek to address the underlying character issues in our children and must be constantly working on relationship building, loving God and each other and following the biblical mandates regarding speech, tone, building each other up and the like. There are times though, that a well-directed consequence is called for. I need consequences that I can consistently apply whether I am busy or not, repeat over and over, don’t require a heap of supervision and most of all, are effective in addressing the issue.

I recently sat the children down and had a little chat about the unkind speech that was being heard between them. We discussed how that made them feel, what we wanted our family to be like, read some relevant bible verses and then I made up my own little mini metaphor. I asked them to picture a freshly painted wall. How nice and crisp and fresh it looked and how pleasing it was to look at. I then asked them to picture the same wall with dirty fingerprints and food splashes all over it. We talked about how the dirt spoiled the wall in the same way that the unkind words spoiled their friendships.

I let that sink in for a moment or two before informing them that from now on, at the first sign of unkind speech or bickering, the offending child would be given a spray bottle and cleaning cloth to wash down a section of wall. As they cleaned, they can think about “washing” the dirt out of their relationship by replacing their unkind words with words that build others up.

It’s an instant consequence and is easy to enforce. The bickering siblings are separated for a while (which usually helps in itself) and something useful is getting done at the same time. I love it! The only problem is that the clean wall sections make the rest of the wall look even worse… Oh well, I’m sure there will be plenty more occasions that wall cleaning is called for.

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The “if…then” chart

From around the age of three it is important that children begin to understand the principles behind the behaviour we expect from them – the moral reason “why” of any given situation. This allows them to apply the principles to any and every situation they are facing, including those that are entirely new to them. As Christians, this moral reason should be based on the authority of scripture.

It was somewhat of a surprise to me to realise that while I know the right thing to do, I didn’t actually know the biblical reason why in some situations. Everything came back to obedience and respect. While these are important, there has to be a little more to it as our children grow. “Because Mummy said so” is a legitimate response, especially for the very young child, however children need more than that as they mature. Similarly, “because the bible says so” does not cut it for ever. Where does it say so and exactly what does it say?

I also find myself easily falling into the habit of nagging, reminding and scolding the children while not actually doing anything about the behaviours in the form of applying suitable consequences. Many times in the past when I have sat down and thought through what our problem areas are and applied consistent consequences (explaining clearly the moral or practical reasons why behind the rules) it has been a matter of days before those behaviours are no longer a problem. With a plan and consistent reinforcement it takes only days to eliminate behaviours that at times have been driving me nuts for months! Ideally my husband and I will sit down once a week to take stock, plan and work on our children’s moral development, character and behaviour together.

One tool we find helpful is the “If…then” chart. (Available from here or make your own.) Ours has space for a bible verse explaining the moral reason (or practical reason) behind the rule, a description of the behaviour we are working to eliminate and the consequence that will be given if the behaviour occurs. At the same time we work on the positive side of the character trait. It is no good telling children what not to do if they do not clearly understand what it is they should do.

I am also transferring each behaviour onto an A4 page and each child will illustrate the ones particularly applicable to themselves for display. This will help the non-readers to remember what we are working on. I used the book “Proverbs for Parenting”  to find a verse to back up each rule. The book has proverbs sorted into categories/topic areas relevant to parenting which makes it easy to find bible verses relating to a particular kind of behaviour.

We will focus on 2 or 3 behaviours per child that are problem areas for each of the eldest children (consequences will apply to all though) and add more once those problem areas have been significantly reduced. I am hoping to see some very positive changes across the next few days and weeks and I know I will be less frustrated because I have a plan of how to deal with the situations. I will be proactively parenting in these areas, rather than reactively parenting, which is always a better way to go!

Circle Time

I came across the concept of circle time through a homeschooling friend who directed me to Kendra Fletcher’s blog Preschoolers and Peace. I purchased her e-book about circle time and found it full of great ideas and well worth the $6.99 I paid for it. The basic idea of circle time in our family is starting the day with God as our priority and focus, before the business of everything else that we do crowds in and takes our attention away from where it should be. It ensures that we all (apart from Dad who has left for work at this time) spend some time together before we split up to begin our “school” subjects for the day. Circle time is not the same as family devotions (Dad does that in the evenings) and although everything we do at this time links to the bible in some way, it is not necessarily a bible study time. Circle time can be used for a huge variety of things with memorization and character based activities a focus for us. I love the idea of praying together, memorizing scripture together, teaching the children good character etc. but find that these areas tend to get neglected if I am not intentional about it. At the moment we start our time with some scripture memorization through song, followed by a character story, catechism story or one of our other great resources (I will post a list of more of my favourite resources soon) and finish off with a prayer time together. The children really enjoy the time and it makes for a positive start to the day.

Children Arise CD Volume 2

The Children Arise CD’s are scriptures set to music. They are very professionally done with catchy tunes that you find yourself humming through the day and don’t actually mind! I play the same verse each day for a week and at the end of the week the children receive a certificate if they have memorized the scripture. Even my 3 1/2 year old remembers the verses this way and they all love having a record of what they have achieved through the certificates, with each one having the verse printed on it. 9781605771342

We are reading through the “Help Me Be Good Series” by Joy Berry (they are not Christian and occasionally need verbal editing as I read!) and the children love them. We talk a lot about each page and how we can apply the positive character traits in our lives with each other. We are half way through “The Way of the Master For Kids: Teaching Kids How To Share Their Faith” by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Their adult materials and free sermons are great and we are enjoying this book with their signature message written for kids. The book has three age sections, starting with the very young and moving up, but the younger kids are having no trouble at all understanding the sections that are written for the older children. The Way of the Master for Kids: Teaching Kids How to Share Their Faith