Thursday, September 25, 2008

What’s In A Name?

I couldn’t find an applicable Bible verse for this topic, but I am pretty sure someone can. If a verse comes to mind that goes with this post, please share it!

Ever since my after-school job as a day-care worker at Little People's Learning Center, kids have called me Miss Dianne. The children of my friends called me Miss Dianne, so I allowed my daughters the same informality of calling close adults by their first names with Miss or Mr. tacked onto the front.

That all changed when my brother-in-law brought up an interesting point. He said, “I think part of the reason why there are so many people charged with crimes committed by a ‘person in a position of trust’ is that we allow kids and adults to get too close. When kids call adults by their last names, the line between who is the child and who is the adult is less likely to become blurred.”

I think he is exactly right. The simple act of kids calling an adult by his or her last name clarifies that the two aren’t buddies. Roles are more clearly defined: teacher and student, coach and player, mentor and mentee.

When I called adults by their last names as a kid, I thought it was a sign of respect. I didn’t feel disrespected when my friends’ kids called me Miss Dianne, but I failed to see that there is more to the issue than respect alone. There is something valuable to our culture when there are clear definitions, or boundaries, in interactions between the generations.

What do your kids call adults? What contributed to that decision for your family? Share your ideas on the subject.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You Want Me To Show You What?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven – Ecclesiastes 3:1

As usual, I am writing my blog post while watching my daughter’s weekly gymnastics class. The kids are all inside the gym while the moms wait in the hallway, watching through a wall of windows.

Here in the hall, it is impossible not to overhear the various conversations, and I am currently enjoying one between two moms whose daughters want them to demonstrate different acrobatic skills at home. Apparently, one mom used to actually try this for her child, but had to stop when she found out she was pregnant. The visual image I get of this mother cart wheeling across her living room to the applause of her awestruck five-year-old audience makes me smile.

The last time I tried to “demonstrate” a handstand, I pulled a muscle in my leg. While I am not what you would call a jock, I do consider myself to be in reasonable shape. I make a point of stretching thoroughly when I go to the gym, and I try to go hiking at least twice a month when the weather permits. So why can I not do a simple handstand without injuring (and embarrassing) myself?

I wonder if perhaps there are certain activities that are meant to be part of childhood (unless you happen to be that thirty-something-year-old mom who competed the Olympics for the German gymnastics team — but she doesn’t count). Maybe losing particular abilities keeps us from getting too cocky about our physical condition.

Or maybe kids feel empowered when they can finally do something their parents can’t. I think this might be the reason God allows us the foolish notion of even trying handstands in our mid-thirties – so we are forced to demonstrate our inabilities and shortcomings for our kids. It is so easy to go through each day seemingly in charge and having all of the answers for our children. It does both generations a bit of good to turn the tables and let the kiddos be the capable ones. When we let them teach us, it builds their confidence even more.

Sure, I may be able to drive the car and work the barbeque grill, but my daughter can do a straddle roll. To her, that is like gold.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dress Code For Life

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. – Romans 12:1

It is an issue that has kids groaning and parents singing for joy—school uniforms. The charter school my children attend requires its students to wear uniforms. The kids can only wear navy blue pants or shorts, and skirts and jumpers are only available in a blue and green plaid (which I personally find adorable). However, there are a number of shirts styles and colors available, as well as a sweatshirt, sweater, and sweater vest.

In addition to the uniform, the school enforces a fairly stringent dress code. Tops tuck into bottoms, hair stays neat and out of the eyes, and pants rest around the waist with the help of leather belts. Everything works together to give the students a neat, clean appearance.

I love the uniform and dress code because it makes mornings easy. There is no debate over what to wear or what is appropriate. As my kids get older, I will be free from the pressure to buy brand names, and we won’t battle over clothing that is too tight, too short, or too revealing because it is simply not allowed at school.

Recently, however, a conversation with a parent from the school made me realize another potential benefit of the uniform. “My hope,” she said, “is that by growing up in modest, neat clothing, my kids will become most comfortable when they dress that way. I hope this is how they will want to look when they move on from this school.”

She has a great point, and I see it happening already. My kids have play clothes for after school and on the weekends, but they like to stay in their uniforms. And when they do put on play clothes, the shirts get tucked in as a matter of habit.

Another thing to consider is how much easier it is to continue a good habit than to break a bad one. Toddlers are cute when they wear their ballet attire to the grocery store, but thirteen-year-olds don’t look so adorable when they go out in leotard-tight tops. This means I need to remember to bring a dress to pull over my daughter’s gymnastics outfit when we stop by the store after class so we get a good habit established now. Likewise, I smile when I see a little guy’s diaper sticking out of the top of his pants, but I feel sad for the teenage boys who wear their pants low to intentionally show off their boxer shorts. Teaching my kids about privacy now may help them avoid this “fashion trend” later. Let’s face it, establishing healthy guidelines for modesty is easier when kids are young. By the time they are teenagers, the battle in this arena is pretty much over.

Plus, growing up properly dressed is important in building self esteem and developing a strong, positive self image.

Every week I see a little boy, around age three, who wears his hair in a Mohawk. Sometimes it is green, others pink, but it is always colored. He typically looks nervous, as though he knows people are wondering why his hair is so unusual. He is growing up feeling out of place—like an oddball. And since he is so young, this decision clearly falls to his parents.

Thankfully, our world offers so many positive ways to express our individuality and creativity that we don’t need to resort to harmful or uncomfortable ways of exerting our uniqueness. Our kids don’t either. Opportunities abound to stand above the crowd in sports, music, art, writing, and serving others. The eight-year-old daughter of a friend of mine raced in a triathlon. Several elementary school students I know had their art displayed in a local museum. My nieces and nephew perform in full-length, professional quality plays at their church. One teenager actually writes plays for the dinner theater in his community. Help your kids find ways to excel and feel great about themselves, and encourage them to steer clear of behaviors that bring negative attention.

If I want the Holy Spirit to dwell happily in me, I need to provide a comfortable place for it. That means having a body I am comfortable living in—not one that attracts attention in ways that make me uneasy or self-conscious. The same applies to my kids. By teaching them today how to monitor their outer appearance, I hope to be building their inner confidence for tomorrow.

What “dress code” issue does your family face? Share your ideas or tips for encouraging individuality in positive ways.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Little Laborers

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… Colossians 3:23

The observance of Labor Day this week got me thinking about work—specifically kid work. The type and amount of work kids do around the house, as well as their compensation for it, are hot topics with moms. In fact, when I speak to moms groups, I get more questions about allowance than any other topic. And I don’t even give a formal talk on the subject!

I think chores are a grey area in parenting because we all have different opinions on what jobs are appropriate at what age. For instance, I have a friend whose seven-year-old is responsible for vacuuming out their car. That works for their family, but because I know how much trouble I have maneuvering that fat hose into all of the tiny nooks of my SUV, I don’t ask my seven-year-old to do it.

Another cause for the variation in chores is the fact that each child has different abilities. My five-year-old, for example, has a very short attention span. Trying to get her to clean her entire room in one sitting is an exercise in futility. However, her ability to focus lasts about the same amount of time as is required to clean a bathroom sink, making that the perfect job for her.

There is nothing that says your kids have to do certain chores at specific ages. There is also nothing that requires them to do the same jobs your neighbor’s kids do. You, as their mother, know what they can handle.

The next area of concern is how to pay kids for their work, if you pay them at all. I hear a lot of “experts” saying that kids should just work because they are part of the family and each member needs to contribute. I agree with that to a point. However, the benefits of an allowance are just too great to ignore.

In my family (recognize that I am not saying this is how you should do it), the kids have specific tasks they do in order to receive an allowance. They also help in additional ways because they are contributing members of our family. Both of my kids earn $2.50 per week if they do all of their allowance jobs every day. Allowance jobs include things like putting their shoes away, keeping their rooms tidy (at a level reasonable for their ages), making sure the dog has food and water, and cleaning their bathroom sink. If they do all of their jobs, they get all of their money. If they miss something, they miss their allowance until the following week.

Additionally, I will periodically say, “Okay kids, I’m doing the bag tonight!” This means they need to get all of their odds and ends picked up from around the main living area of the house before going to bed. Anything left out after bedtime goes into “The Bag” and they must buy each item back for $.25 at the end of the week. I pay my kids their allowance in quarters so they can buy back the socks that are left under the dining room table and the movie boxes that sit next to the DVD player. Everything must be purchased and then put away or added to the Goodwill pile. If someone needs something before the end of the week (like the time my daughter left her gymnastics leotard sitting out) it may be purchased early for $.50. Deciding to leave something in the bag rather than buying it back is not a choice.

This system works great for us because it really motivates to kids to keep things picked up and it helps add value to their allowance.

In addition to their allowance jobs, the kids also help clear the table after meals, help sort laundry, dust furniture, or do whatever else I ask them to help with. They are generally happy to help because they enjoy being part of family activity and my husband and I strive to show them work in a positive light. We never use added chores, or yucky ones, as punishment.

Even though it gets tiring and mundane, I consider the ability to do work to be a blessing. I am fortunate to be physically able to take care of my home, and I hope my children will grow to see it positively as well. And while no one likes cleaning toilets or taking out the trash, the house sure feels nice once it is done.

Tell us how you make job-sharing and allowance work in your family.