I think I will begin with a story...I hope you don't mind.
Have you ever gotten into a negative cycle with your children? Where you purpose with everything in you that you will find something positive to say to them only to be faced with the need to correct their behavior over and over again? Where it seems all that they have to say to one another is negative and critical? (No, you say, your family is perfect? Maybe you should come back tomorrow...:))
Awhile back I found myself and my children stuck in a pattern of negativity and after I dropped the older two off at school I sat in my favorite chair, Bible open, and cried. I felt like such a horrible parent. Try as I might, things just weren't improving. I couldn't bring myself to do the Bible study that I was a part of at the time. Instead, I just flipped through my Bible and read all of the verses that I had highlighted, underlined, or wrote little notes beside. (If you are one of those people who don't write in your Bible, you are truly missing out...and so are your children I might add...my grandfather's Bible is precious to me; notes and all.) I do that sometimes when I am discouraged. When I don't have any specific direction and my heart is just calling out to God to open my eyes and heart to something that He has for me.
I came across the verse, "and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:3
I began to pray that my children would "be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." And I began to cry again wondering if they ever would be. If they are ever going to "get" what I am attempting to instruct and teach them in.
And then it hit me. "a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." My heart was despairing -my own parenting skills and the apparent lack of teachable spirits within my children. It was as if God lifted my chin and spoke to me. "You need garments of praise."
Now, I am NOT a crafty person (really truly NOT.) But God gave me this idea to create "garments of praise" with my children. I drove to my local craft store and bought t-shirts in the sizes of my children and my husband (because I firmly believe in a mothers ability to help cultivate positive relationships between father and child), bought special fabric markers, and went home. I wrote their names in the center of their shirts in a glow-in-the-dark bubble paint and counted the minutes until I could go pick them up from school.
After they unpacked their things I had them come to the table. I passed out their shirts and told them that we were going to make "garments of praise" for each other. We would focus on one person at a time and they would need to tell me all of the positive things that they could about that person. I was so excited. They were not. Silence. I decided to begin with a neutral party - Dad. I asked them to think up all the positive things that they could think of about their father and I started it off:
"He is a great tickler!" (One of their favorite things to do when he gets home.)
They began to chime in...and I wrote:
"He's a good mower." (He had just mowed the lawn the night before.)
"He makes money so we can live in our house."
"He builds great with Legos!"
"He makes me laugh!"
"He's a good snorer!" (lots of laughing going on now.)
"He's a good eater!"
"He's a great bike rider."
"He loves God."
Then I switched shirts. O.k., what about Beauty? (My daughter)
"She's a good bike rider."
"She's pretty." (My daughter is GLOWING after my son said this...)
"She's a good reader. (Full smile breaking across her face.)
On and on it went until all of the shirts were finished. Praise is such a powerful thing. By the end; the atmosphere in our house had completely changed. They even called out a few of my positives although I hadn't planned to make a shirt for myself. They LOVE their shirts. If one of them is having a tough day; the shirt goes on. Not because I have told them to do it; because it is affirming to them what their family members believe to be true about them. They were also so excited to show my husband his "garment of praise" when he arrived home.
So there is one idea. But the point I hope is not missed is that when we need ideas; we can call out to our Heavenly Father who is the wellspring of everything good. He WILL prompt our hearts into action with our children if we are willing to seek and then to LISTEN. This question and post has reminded me of that truth. (Thanks Bethany!)
Two more quicker ideas:
1. We play something called, "Who Am I?" at the lunch/dinner table (usually when the four of us are still waiting for our two year old to finish eating.) We do both animal and people versions. Basically we take turns giving clues about an animal or person until someone guesses correctly. One clue is given at a time until someone guesses the correct answer. An example or two:
*I was created on the fifth day.
*I am nocturnal.
*I am considered wise.
Who am I? (Any guesses?)
Or for a person:
*I was one of Jesus's Disciples
*I was a passionate person
*I cut off a soldier's ear in the Garden of Gethsemanie
Who am I?
My husband is also a trivia buff so we do a lot of Bible Trivia in our home.
For service related projects:
My daughter enjoys making cards for people when I am making meals for them. I don't ever require it of her. She has received enough words of affirmation from those who have received them to keep her going.
We try to serve our neighbors.
One set of our neighbors has physical limitations so my son will often bring their paper to their doorstep.
We also planted a flower bed in the front of their house while they were on vacation last year (My daughter's idea - we took a little bit of a risk; but we know them well by now so we were 99% sure that they would love it.) We planted three flowering bushes - one for each of the kids. (They each planted their own bush.) And my daughter will go over and weed it for them. (Not consistently; but she tries.) They did love it in case you were wondering!
We encourage our kids to take initiative - if they see something that needs to be done (or even could be done to make things better) do it! Around our own house and our neighbors as well. (After checking with us and them.)
Lest you think that they are perfect children and I am a perfect parent at the end of all of this; just re-read that first paragraph. We take one day at a time bathing in the grace and forgiveness that God provides so lavishly.
AND BETHANY & I COULD REALLY BENEFIT FROM HEARING SOME OF THE THINGS YOU ALL DO AS WELL! So, please share generously, even if it is just something you have had an idea about doing and haven't tried yet. We can all learn much from one another!
*I do have one question so far that I will be doing my best to answer tomorrow; if you have any additional questions feel free to ask. This (official) Q & A will end tomorrow.
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