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Motivating Our Kids to Church When They’re Throwing a Fit

Motivating Our Kids to Church When They’re Throwing a Fit

We had a plan, and it was beau­ti­ful: wake up ear­ly East­er morn­ing, get dressed and ready before the kids were up. Sip some cof­fee. And then wake up the three kids ages 5 and under, throw on their East­er out­fits and shuf­fle them out the door (with a donut in their bel­lies) for the ear­ly ser­vice. The ear­ly ser­vice! We were going to make it, on time, and noth­ing could stop us.

Except, per­haps, the kinder­garten­er hav­ing a melt­down about going to church.

But it’s SOOOO bor­ing! I’m NOT going to go! I’m going to stay RIGHT. HERE!” she sat and yelled, refus­ing to put on her dress, arms crossed and absolute­ly ter­ri­fy­ing. This was not in the cards, not in the sched­ule, and was going to make us late.

The­se types of melt­downs aren’t entire­ly unex­pect­ed, espe­cial­ly because the ear­ly ser­vice doesn’t have kid’s pro­gram­ming for kinder­garten­ers. But with the clock tick­ing and our patience run­ning out, it was impor­tant to remem­ber a few keys for help­ing moti­vate our young kids to go to church when they’re throw­ing a fit.

Don’t Fight With Your Back Against the Wall

Anti-church out­bursts are big deals, and we need to be care­ful in how we respond. But take a breath as well. Even on a reg­u­lar basis, the­se respons­es in our young kids are not deal break­ers. Ele­men­tary chil­dren not want­i­ng to go to church does not mean they’re going to walk away from Christ, med­dle in dark witch­craft or start a secret anti-Jesus cult dur­ing Sun­day School.

To be hon­est, I’d be more con­fused by a kid who con­sis­tent­ly does want to go to church and sit through an adult ser­vice than one who occa­sion­al­ly, emo­tion­al­ly (and just after wak­ing up) express­es frus­tra­tions.

Point Out the Group Identity

When­ev­er we help kids process through their involve­ment in church, we need to be care­ful to help them see church as some­thing they’re part of, not just some­thing they go to. This will help them under­stand their impor­tance, the val­ue of their pres­ence and con­tin­ue to rein­force a Bib­li­cal notion of church (I Cor 12:12–31). So, work with phras­es like, “Remem­ber, sweet­ie, that we’re part of church on Sun­day morn­ings because it’s good to be with oth­er Chris­tians!” Or, “The church is some­thing we’re apart of! We get togeth­er with oth­er believ­ers to wor­ship togeth­er — this is some­thing that’s good!”

Both of those phras­es are more help­ful — espe­cial­ly in the long term — than, “No, hon­ey, this is some­thing we need to go to.” Or, espe­cial­ly, “God wants you to go to church.”

While the first two phras­es are unlike­ly to moti­vate your 2nd grader to hop up excit­ed­ly and change his atti­tude on the spot, over time they’ll help rein­force a pos­i­tive, Bib­li­cal notion of what church is and help estab­lish sound guardrails again­st the, “Ugh-I-hat­ed-going-to-church-and-only-went-because-my-par­ents-made-me” men­tal­i­ty.

Provide Space with Boundaries

I’m a fair­ly strong believ­er that kids with invest­ed par­ents will usu­al­ly make the right choice if given a) the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the right choice and b) the space to move past their emo­tions. The bat­tle we need to avoid is the emo­tion­al one — the argu­ing or the par­ent-child Thun­der­dome. So, estab­lish some clear bound­aries and expec­ta­tions, and then get out of the room to allow the child to process their emo­tions and make their own deci­sion.

For our part, this looked like me mak­ing eye con­tact with my daugh­ter and say­ing, “Look, I under­stand that you don’t want to go, but it’s impor­tant and we’re going as a fam­i­ly. I would love for you to fin­ish get­ting ready, and then come down for a donut. You have five min­utes. I’m going to leave and give you that time, but if you’re not down the stairs in five min­utes, I’ll get you dressed and we’re going to leave.” Estab­lish­ing the clear bound­ary, “We are leav­ing in five min­utes” helped give her the space to process through her emo­tions and the act. As I walked out the door, she was mut­ter­ing along the lines of, “This is bor­ing!” and “This isn’t fair!”

But she was down the stairs in five, and the emo­tions passed.

Communicating with Children: What You Say Doesn’t Matter

Communicating with Children: What You Say Doesn’t Matter

Whether you’re par­ent­ing a two year-old or a 17 year-old, you know that com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be one of the hard­est parts of life. Some­times, no mat­ter how clear­ly or con­cise­ly you make a point — no mat­ter how elo­quent­ly you argue your posi­tion — the child just sim­ply does the oppo­site. “What will it take for you to lis­ten to me!?” you say, while pulling at your hair. “What do I need to say?!?”

The truth is sim­ple: in regards to lis­ten­ing, it doesn’t mat­ter at all what you say. There are twen­ty dif­fer­ent things that you might say that could result in the same behav­ior from your child. No, what you say doesn’t mat­ter — it’s what the child hears. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is tricky like that — it’s so much more than the words that are used. Depend­ing on the con­text, “Go clean up your room,” could very well be inter­pret­ed as, “You’ve done a ter­ri­ble thing, John­ny,” “Your grand­par­ents are com­ing over,” “It’s that time of week again,” or even, how­ev­er unlike­ly, “Go clean up your room.”

So if it’s not pri­mar­i­ly what you say, how do you best influ­ence your kids? How do you help your chil­dren under­stand just what you’re try­ing to share? Here are three com­po­nents to com­mu­ni­ca­tion clar­i­ty that are good to focus on in par­ent­ing:


Hav­ing a strong, con­sis­tent rela­tion­ship with your chil­dren will help improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion per­haps more than any­thing else. When your kids know who you are and what you stand for, they’ll be much more con­sis­tent in inter­pret­ing your words and requests for what they tru­ly are, instead of skew­ing them or pur­pose­ful­ly ignor­ing them.

Our chil­dren need to know our hearts. As our kids grow and our rela­tion­ship with them deep­ens, they’ll bet­ter be able to under­stand what we’re ask­ing and expect­ing, and will bet­ter lis­ten and fol­low. The old adage applies, and can be mod­i­fied: Rules with­out rela­tion­ship results in rebel­lion, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­out rela­tion­ship cre­ates con­fu­sion.


Sim­ply put, our chil­dren need to respect what we’re say­ing and not feel they have the lee­way to pur­pose­ful­ly mis­in­ter­pret what we’ve tried to com­mu­ni­cate. There is always going to be acci­den­tal mis­un­der­stand­ings, but an inten­tion­al dis­re­gard for what we’ve asked? There can’t be room for this.

We par­ent out of con­fi­dence in the role God has given us, and assur­ance in our author­i­ty. Nei­ther of the­se lend them­selves to fear — in short, we can’t be afraid of our kids. If we’ve asked them to do some­thing and they’re sim­ply ignor­ing it, there needs to be imme­di­ate con­se­quences. Con­sis­ten­cy in this area will improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion.


But final­ly, there are many sit­u­a­tions which just require repeat­ing what we’ve said in order to get the point across. And repeat­ing again. And again.

Par­ent­ing requires so much wis­dom, and one of those gray areas is always in the realm of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Did my child under­stand what I said and is ignor­ing it, or did she mis­in­ter­pret or for­get or not grasp it?” This is a huge ques­tion — and an impor­tant one. The answer will inform how we respond.

A gen­er­al rule of thumb is that the more dis­rup­tive a request, the more like­ly a child will ignore or dis­obey. So say­ing, “You can’t watch TV any­more ever and instead can only eat lima beans,” will be more like­ly dis­obeyed or re-inter­pret­ed (prob­a­bly cor­rect­ly) than, “Before you watch TV, you need to pick up your dirty under­wear.”

If we say some­thing that is light or minor — even some­thing like, “It’s time to get ready for school,” and then return 10 min­utes lat­er to find no move­ment to lis­ten, we’ll need to ask, “Is he pur­pose­ful­ly dis­obey­ing, or just being a kid?” Like­ly, the answer is the lat­ter. If so, then repeat. “Com’mon Jim­my! I said it’s time to get ready. Say it with me: ‘It’s. time. to. get. ready.’ Good!” If it’s the for­mer — out­right rebel­lion — well, then, refer to “Respect.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion with kids is nev­er easy — they have com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties and focus­es. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be impos­si­ble. The more we remem­ber that it’s not what we say that mat­ters but rather what they hear, the more we’ll be able to effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cate and cut down on frus­tra­tion for both us and for them.

My Kid’s Are So Annoying — But I’m Worse

My Kid’s Are So Annoying — But I’m Worse

It hap­pens almost every day: I walk into a room, see some­thing annoy­ing my kids have done (or not done) (or left out) (or put away) (or bro­ken) and throw up my hands in exas­per­a­tion.

Say it with me: Kid’s are so annoy­ing! Why can’t they just fig­ure it out? Is it real­ly all that dif­fi­cult to clean up after your­self?

The oth­er night, as I walked through our fam­i­ly room on my way to the bath­room to brush my teeth, I noticed a pair of cups still half-filled with Fres­ca, an open bag of chips and a bowl with the remains of gua­camole in it. I threw up my hands in frus­tra­tion… then put them back down and cleaned up my own mess.

Say it with me: I am so annoy­ing!

So, fol­low­ing, is an absolute­ly incom­plete list of the things my kids do that dri­ve me absolute­ly insane (that I also do all the time).

Leave out food dishes.

It’s not just the dish­es, real­ly. It’s the food rem­nants still in the dish­es. Have sci­en­tis­tic stud­ies how Rice Crispies become hard­er than cement when dried on the side of a cere­al bowl? It’s a remark­able fact. And it’s also incred­i­ble how lit­tle time it takes a banana peel to become absolute­ly dis­gust­ing.

That said, I am just as ter­ri­ble, with the cheese fries, soda bot­tles and left­overs from din­ner still on the table. It’s almost as if it isn’t offi­cial­ly a snack if I clean up after myself. And boy do I like to snack.

Don’t pick up their clothes.

Piles. Piles every­where. Piles in the clos­et, piles next to the bed (and on the bed!) — piles in the bath­room, by the back door, at the top of the steps and in the mid­dle of the liv­ing room.

And my kids leave their clothes around as well — it’s not just me!

Play music way too loudly.

For some rea­son, a few of my kids like real­ly strange oldies music, and oth­er kids like real­ly strange mod­ern music. So we alter­nate between Rock the Cas­bah, Funky Town and what­ev­er is on pop radio. It’s all weird. And it’s all too loud. If I had a nick­el for every time I heard, “Turn it up…”

That said, when I’m feel­ing the urge to play dc Talk and dance around with a broom, I’m not too mod­est on the vol­ume either…

But there’s a takeaway.

Ulti­mate­ly, the more I’ve reflect­ed on this back-and-forth, the more I’ve learned to give grace to my kids and to dou­ble down on dili­gence for myself. It’s easy to slack on the details — on the pick­ing up and the fol­low through and fin­ish­ing.

Matu­ri­ty doesn’t mean the details come eas­i­ly — matu­ri­ty means we’re will­ing to do what’s hard. Dili­gence is one of those matu­ri­ty pieces we all need to grow in.

Finding the Wonder of Christmas for Our Kids

Finding the Wonder of Christmas for Our Kids

Christ­mas is an incred­i­ble sea­son when we remem­ber one of the most mirac­u­lous events of human exis­tence — God became man. Thou­sands of years ago an act so scan­dalous, so remark­able and so near­ly-unbe­liev­able took place and forever changed his­to­ry. But to many of us who grew up in the church, the incar­na­tion is so “old hat” and ordi­nary that we have a hard time being caught up in the won­der of it all.

How can we help our­selves and our kids from miss­ing the won­der in the incar­na­tion? Here are some ques­tions to con­sid­er talk­ing about and wrestling with dur­ing Christ­mas­time this year:

Wait, I thought Jesus was God? How can God be born?

Why in the world would God put him­self in a sit­u­a­tion where he need­ed a young lady — one of his cre­ations — to clean his dia­pers?

We sing “Silent Night.” But do you think the night was real­ly all that silent with a brand new baby?

God knows every­thing, right? So Jesus knew exact­ly what it was like to be human. Then why did he decide to become a baby?

What did Jesus need to give up in order to become human?

God choose to have a mom?!??

What does it mean that Jesus is Emmanuel — “God Among Us?”

God cre­at­ed Adam as a full grown man — why didn’t Jesus just come to earth a full grown man?

We hear lots of sto­ries of kids born into hard sit­u­a­tions who grow up to amaz­ing lives of suc­cess. Why would God leave an ‘amaz­ing life of suc­cess’ to grow up as a kid in a hard sit­u­a­tion?

It’s the most amaz­ing time of the year! It’s mag­nif­i­cent. It is scan­dalous. And it should be won­der­ful.

Let’s not lose the won­der!

Mer­ry Christ­mas!

How to Provide Intentional Space for Your Kids to Repent

How to Provide Intentional Space for Your Kids to Repent

Our kids, espe­cial­ly as they move into pre-ado­les­cence and the teenage years, are going to sin. (sur­prise!) They’re going to stum­ble into sin, they’re going to eager­ly walk into sin and they’re going to be intro­duced to and taught about sin by their peers. As par­ents, we des­per­ate­ly want to pro­tect them from the­se things, and our wis­dom and dis­cre­tion can min­i­mize the dam­age pop­u­lar cul­ture caus­es. But we can’t stop our kids from sin­ning.

In respon­se to sin, one of the most essen­tial rhythms of the Chris­tian life is repen­tance (I John 4:9, Acts 17:30, II Cor 9:7–11) — the pub­lic con­fes­sion of sin and the turn­ing away from sin. As par­ents, we have the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to be teach­ing our kids how to reg­u­lar­ly repent, and then be pro­vid­ing them the space to do so. But the pace of life is busy — fran­tic even! — and this can mean we miss oppor­tu­ni­ties to teach and allow our kids to repent.

Do you provide inten­tion­al, soft open­ings for your kids to share things they might oth­er­wise not?

The ques­tion to wrestle with is this: as our kid’s make mis­takes or strug­gle — do they know what to do with that sin? Do they have space to talk about it, share and repent?

Your first respon­se might be, “Of course! My kids know they can always talk to my about any­thing!” And that’s won­der­ful! But even if they know they can talk about any­thing with you, do they have the time to? The space to?

In oth­er words, do your kids have the emo­tion­al open­ings in a reg­u­lar week or day to share real­ly dif­fi­cult, some­times embar­rass­ing ques­tions or con­cerns? Do they have actu­al time in the week to ease into a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion? Do you provide inten­tion­al, soft open­ings for your kids to share things they might oth­er­wise not?

As I’ve thought about my weeks and my fam­i­ly, my answer has been, unfor­tu­nate­ly, “no.” I’ve become con­vinced that if my kids were wrest­ing with a secret sin or with a mis­take they know they made, they might not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to time to con­fess or repent from that sin. How about you?

In respon­se, we need inten­tion­al ques­tions to ask our kids in order to give them that space to repent. And we need inten­tion­al times to ask those ques­tions.

Here are some ideas:

Questions to Ask Your Kids

  • Is there any­thing that hap­pened over the past few weeks that you regret?
  • If you could change one things about the past mon­th, what would it be?
  • Do you have any friends who are strug­gling with some sort of sin? Do you see that reg­u­lar­ly? How do you think they end­ed up there — strug­gling like that?
  • What makes you most dis­ap­point­ed?
  • Hey, is there any­thing about your day that you real­ly want to change?
  • How do you think bad habits form?
  • Are you ever afraid that not telling me some­thing might be wrong?
  • Did you see any­thing this past week that you think might be wrong? Why do you think that?
  • Is there any­thing you want to talk about?

And please, please, don’t miss this essen­tial ques­tion — a great lead in, soft­en­er and oppor­tu­ni­ty, no mat­ter the answer:

  • How can I pray for you?

Times Of Intentionality

Bed Time: The temp­ta­tion before bed is to run through the process as quick­ly as pos­si­ble and tuck them in and run away. After all, bed time is what stands between us and free­dom! But pause, at least every so often. Bed­time is a unique time, with low­er inhi­bi­tions, that can lead to inten­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions and shar­ing.

Car Time: Turn off the radio. You’ve got 10 min­utes (or more) of ded­i­cat­ed con­ver­sa­tion time. Kids might be dis­mis­sive — and you might be a lit­tle dis­tract­ed try­ing to keep the car on the road — but this is pre­cious time.

When Con­front­ed With Sin: Did you just need to fast-for­ward through a sex scene in a movie, or dri­ve past a car with a bumper stick­er that clear­ly said some­thing you *real­ly wish your kid didn’t see but you know they did?* Don’t avoid the moment — lean in to it! Use it as a con­ver­sa­tion starter. Use it as a spring board. “Have you ever strug­gled with that?” “Do you hear those words oth­er times?”