Got the Giggles? 3 Reasons to Fight Worry With Laughter

 

By Joshua Straub

Just the other night at bedtime our nearly 4-year-old son told me his favorite part of the day was when his mom threw a dirty diaper and hit me in the face. He said, “Dad, it really made me laugh.”

Getting our kids ready for bed, Christi and I got into a little battle with our daughter’s diaper. Before you judge us, it wasn’t a number two, and yes, it was wrapped. It ended in the playroom with me covering my head in fear of it actually coming unwrapped. The laughter filled our house.

To be fair, many nights are not like this. If you were to walk into our home during the bath/bedtime routine, you’d likely hear more frustrated end-of-the-day nagging than laughing. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you understand. Especially right now.

School is in session. So is soccer. Field hockey. Homework. Practices. Concerts. Performances. Church programs. More practices. Even more homework. Oh, yeah, and stress. Lots of stress.

So much stress that you may even be growing a bit angry right now — either at me for posing this irresponsible idea of having more fun, or at yourself for still reading this article. I get it.

One — if not both of you — works outside the home. If the other is home with preschool or homeschooled kids, your work is uncompromising. Once you’re all finally at home together at the end of the day…oh wait, there’s homework. And dinner. Do we have to feed the kids again?

Friends, the daily grind is real. But lying in bed with my son the other night reminded me that if we’re not laughing, we’re not living. We need to laugh more. Our kids need us to laugh more.

Here are three reasons why.

1. We’re teaching our kids how to manage stress.

Though it’s rarely discussed in parenting circles, one research study found that the second most effective parenting strategy behind love and affection was how we — parents — manage our stress. And by the way, behavior management (i.e. time-outs, etc.) was found to be a “poor predictor of good outcomes with children,” turning up seventh on that list.

In other words, the quality of our relationship with our kids, and how happy and healthy they become, begins not by how well we reward positive behaviors or use time-outs, but by how well we control ourselves.

Please don’t misunderstand me when I say this. Our child’s behavior matters. But I’m willing to guess there are more parents who, just like me, need to stop worrying so much about our child’s behavior, and start focusing on our own. Stressed parents raise stressed children.

As Landon reminded me the other night, they’re watching us.

2. We’re teaching our kids how to relate well.

As soon as Landon told me his favorite part of the day involved Christi and me chasing each other through the house with a soiled diaper, I went and got her so she could come hear it too. We sat on his bed together and legit belly-laughed.

I write often about the power of the marital relationship on our kids. Turns out, how well we get along with the other parent is the third most effective parenting practice. Yet, of the ten practices studied, it ranked eighth in parents’ list of actual abilities. How parents manage stress ranked dead last.

If how we manage stress and treat our spouse have more influence on our kids’ outcomes than even their education, behavior management, life skills, and safety, then perhaps it’s time we prioritize ourselves as parents. Prioritizing our kids over our marriage will wreak havoc on both.

Christi and I have a date every week. Sometimes, we have to be super creative to make it happen. But it’s when we don’t that we’re tempted to use the wet diaper more as a weapon than a toy.

As our mentors Dave and Claudia Arp tell us, “Your kids will wait while you grab a few moments to work on your marriage; but your marriage won’t wait until your kids grow up.”

3. We’re teaching our kids what really matters.

Picture yourself sitting around the dinner table 25-30 years from now with your kids’ families, your grandchildren begging for stories. What we won’t hear from our own kids is how well we kept the kitchen clean. How we successfully had them in bed by 7:30 pm every night. How we taught them never to splash the water out of the bathtub. In fact, I don’t even think they’re going to mention the 105 percent they got on the spelling test.

Instead, we’ll hear about the moments that brought laughter. Mom and Dad’s diaper fight through the house. The time the whole family got caught out on a walk and decided to just dance in the rain. The time we stayed up past bedtime to play games as a family. The camping trip. The pancake dates. The leaf piles in the fall.

Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life…which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:25, 27).

And if I may, parents, “Which of you by being anxious can add more joy to the moments he shares with his kids?”

Let’s worry less and laugh more.

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is a speaker, author, and marriage and leadership coach. He and his wife, Christi, cohost the In This Together podcast and are coauthors of What Am I Feeling? and Homegrown: Cultivating Kids in the Fruit of the Spirit.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of ParentLife.

Is Your Child Anxious?

By Dixie Walker

What is that all-consuming, dreaded “something” for your child? You know — the thing that starts your stomach churning and palms sweating at the first thought of it coming up on your agenda?

My number one dread in life has always been flying. I absolutely hate it! So, when I know of a trip coming up when I’m forced to fly rather than travel by ground, my symptoms of anxiety start revving up with great intensity:

  • Fearful thoughts
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness
  • Discomfort internally
  • Sweaty palms
  • No desire to discuss the upcoming trip

It’s no surprise then that apprehensions of many types are an issue for many people — including our kids!

Anxiety defined

True anxiety actually goes beyond the “normal” state of being worried. It would be typical for your child to worry about the results of an important test in school. Or having to stand in front of classmates to deliver a presentation. It’s not unusual to be afraid of frightening things like tornadoes or snakes. But when our worries and fears begin to affect our ability to function in our daily lives, it’s likely anxiety has taken over.

According to anxiety.org, some common symptoms related to anxiety include:

  • Excessive, irrational, or uncontrollable feelings of worry and dread
  • Sensations of panic and uneasiness for no apparent reason
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Ritualistic behavior
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle tension
  • Inability to remain calm
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Stomachache

If you think your child — or yourself — is struggling with anxiety, consider these coping methods to help (adapted from a list by Psychology Today):

Make a problems list

Form a list of specific problems/fears to overcome. Then break each problem down into a series of tasks, and rank the tasks in order of difficulty. Attempt the easiest task first and keep on returning to it day after day until you feel fairly comfortable with it. Give yourself as long as you need, then move on to the next task and do the same thing, and so on.

Use relaxation techniques

One common and effective strategy, called ‘deep breathing,’ involves modifying and regulating your breathing:

  1. Breathe in through your nose and hold the air in for several seconds.
  2. Then purse your lips and gradually let the air out, making sure that you let out as much air as you can.
  3. Continue doing this until you are feeling more relaxed.

A second strategy that is often used together with deep breathing involves relaxation exercises:

  1. Lying on your back, tighten the muscles in your toes for 10 seconds and then relax them completely.
  2. Do the same for your feet, ankles, and calves, gradually working your way up your body until you reach your head and neck.

Other general strategies your child can use for relaxing include listening to classical/instrumental music, taking a warm bath, reading a book, chatting with a friend, or playing sports.

Implement simple lifestyle changes

These might include:

  • Simplifying life beyond the necessary (school, church, family)
  • Having a schedule and keeping to it
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising regularly (for example, walking, swimming)
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Taking time for enjoyable activities
  • Connecting with friends to share thoughts and feelings

Seek help

If your child continues to suffer with severe anxiety despite implementing some of these measures, you may want to seek help through a Christian counseling center. You can check with doctor offices or churches in your area for local centers.

Dixie Walker is a freelance writer of Christian family ministry resources. She and her family reside in Nashville, Tenn.

This article first appeared under the title “Put Your Child’s Anxiety to Rest!” in the April 2018 issue of ParentLife magazine.

 

Spring Family Fun Checklist

By Vanessa Dolberry

Spring is the perfect time to get outdoors and have fun with the family! Here’s a checklist of ideas for simple springtime fun!

• Smell a flower

• Play in the rain

• Find a cloud shaped like an animal

• Take a walk

• Chase a rabbit

• Go to the park

• Wear flip-flops

• Listen to a singing bird

• Ride a bike

• Play in a creek

• Spot a squirrel

• Blow bubbles

• Picnic in the backyard

• Roll down a hill

• Plant flower seeds

• Climb a tree

• Go for a hike

Open the windows for a cool breeze

• Spot a squirrel

• Read a book outdoors

• Pick wildflowers

• Pick berries

• Make mud pies

• Jump rope

• Run through the grass

• Visit your local farmers’ market

• Create sidewalk chalk masterpieces

• Fly a kite

• Make a colorful fruit salad

• Thank God for the creating spring!

How many can your family check off the list? What would you add?

Vanessa Dolberry lives outside Nashville, Tenn., with her husband and three kids.

Settling in for the Wait

By Scott James

Patience has never been my strong suit. More than just a general restlessness, I can usually trace my impatience back to a single, sinful root: frustration over a lack of control. Whatever the situation, if I’m the one calling the shots and setting the pace, then I am the epitome of long-suffering. But put me at the mercy of someone else’s timeline and you’ll see how quickly my foot starts tapping. Obviously, this trait doesn’t serve me well.

My children seem to have inherited this disposition, which is bad news for them because at their age they’re not in control of much. The funny thing is, seeing my impatience reflected in their lives has given me a perspective that I failed to grasp on my own. When my children are at their most impatient, I often see the folly of it because I know something about the situation that they don’t — some piece of information that, if they only knew it, would relieve their frustration. While they’re fretting over what’s for dinner, when they’re going to get to pick the family movie, or what’s wrapped up under the Christmas tree, all I want is for them to trust me. I have a plan, and everything’s going to be OK. When my children are bothered by not being in control, I want them to know that someone who loves them and wants what’s best for them is in control.

Yet, how often do I fail to trust God like that? I see the folly of my children’s impatience so easily, but then I turn around and act as if life would be better if I could step in and work everything out according to my timetable. But helping my children recognize and repent of impatience has helped me understand that true contentment arises out of a deep trust that God loves us, He wants what’s best for us, and — unlike me with my children — He is in perfect control. It does no good to watch for the promises of God and then fret over not being in control of their timing.

Waiting is hard, but God uses it to teach us to depend on Him. When we cry out with Habakkuk, “O Lord, how long?” (Habakkuk 1:2), God patiently reminds us that He acts according to His schedule, not ours. He will keep every one of His promises for our good and His glory. And if we’re prone to impatience along the way, He has a word for us just as He did for Habakkuk: “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3). Give up the illusion of control, trust in God’s timing, and then settle in for the wait. It’ll be worth it.

Scott James is a pediatric doctor and a member of The Church at Brook Hills. He loves helping families grow together in Christ and is the author of several family worship devotionals and children’s books. He lives in Birmingham with his wife and four children.

This article appears in the December 2018 issue of ParentLife.

Hands-On Ideas for Thankful Living

By Dixie Walker

The family feast is coming, and I’m looking forward to it as much as anyone. My normal contribution to the spread each year includes a few pies and a side dish or two. These goodies are a fun part of the annual Thanksgiving festivities, and items that we’re all grateful to have. But, other than wolfing down another slice of pumpkin pie, do you ever stop to count your other blessings, “naming them one-by-one” as the old hymn suggests?

When we think of our blessings broken down in this way, we have so much to be thankful for! But before we become proud in thinking this has anything to do with our own goodness, we need to keep some things in mind: God is the provider of all good things in our lives. In Psalm 121:1-2 we read: “Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

As a reminder, things in life as we know them can disappear so quickly! We must change our mindset to one of thankfulness each day — not just in November. So, after we get this “attitude of gratitude” drilled down into our thinking, how can we enhance and pass on this philosophy to our kids early in their lives?

Through the Senses
Help your child with hands-on projects to show thankfulness for what she has by sharing with others. Use sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell to get a start with these outreach projects.

  • Preschoolers can create a watercolor picture as a Thanksgiving “card” for an elderly neighbor.
  • A simple fall-scented candle would make a great gift for a friend of any age.
  • Record a cheerful message from your child(ren) on your phone and then text it to relatives and friends who live too far away to visit in person.
  • Share your homemade goodies with some international students who are “stuck alone” on campus over the holiday.

Through Relationships
When you hear of friend or family member experiencing a challenging situation, take note of it. Find ways to include your kids in reaching out as a way of showing gratitude for the ability to help during this difficult time.

  • Take some food to a friend or family member who recently lost a job.
  • Buy additional baby items (diapers, bottles, formula, pacifiers) for a young family you know who may be a little tight over the holidays.
  • Provide a “free” night of childcare for someone with young kids, knowing they are typically stretched financially.
  • Invite a single adult from church or work to your home for the holiday mealtime fun if they don’t have a place to go to for the day.

Through the Community & World
Keep yourself updated on needs in your community and (for older kids) the world. When you see a way your family might help, discuss a plan for meeting some of those needs.

  • A project such as Operation Christmas Child® is a great way to enlarge your child’s focus toward people outside his immediate circle of family and friends.
  • Check community boards at local gyms and churches for tangible ways to help in surrounding neighborhoods with service projects, or provision of clothing or food items.

Always remember to verbally express your own thankfulness for God’s goodness when interacting with your family members. Your children especially will enjoy hearing your excitement as you recount God’s blessings in your life.

Dixie Walker has been in childhood ministry with families and teachers for the past 20 years. She and her family reside in the metro Atlanta area.

This article first appeared in the November 2017 issue of ParentLife.

8 Weekly Prayers To Pray for Your Kids While They’re at School

By Joshua Straub

I genuinely believe there is no greater parenting technique than to pray boldly for our kids.
For many of us, sending our children back to school can feel like an emotional roller coaster ride. Fears and questions concern us. Will they make friends? What challenges will they face? Who will influence them? Can they keep up academically?

If you homeschool, your fears about your kids may be a little different, but are no less valid or worrisome.

The reality is that God gave us our kids to steward well. God chose you to raise your kids. I think that’s incredibly generous and really cool of Him. It’s also humbling.

That’s why we need God’s help.

Whether you homeschool or send your kids off to school, here are some prayers you can regularly pray for your kids each day this coming school year.

Monday: Father, though grades matter, I pray that you instill in my children a love for learning. Give them wisdom, insight, and understanding above all else.

Tuesday: Dear God, surround my children with friends, mentors, and loved ones who champion and affirm their worth, strengths, and gifts. Place people in their lives who love them dearly for who they are.

Wednesday: Father, help my children to be honest, hard working, rested, patient, faithful, empathetic, and kind. (Insert your own values into these prayers for your kids. You can pray a different value for your kids each week as well).

Thursday: Dear Lord, instill in my children the courage to do the right thing, even in the face of being unpopular or being picked on for it. Give my children the call and resolve to be kind and strong, and to walk confidently in Your love for them.

Friday: Father, your eyes are looking throughout the earth for a heart that is completely yours. I pray for these hearts for my children. Woo them to be undeniably in love with you.

Here are a few extra I pray regularly as well:

A prayer for character: Dear God, develop my children’s inward character. Help me to show my kids, by how I live and teach, that I value it more than outward success or the accolades of others.

A prayer of lovingkindness: Father, whether it’s a word of affirmation, helping with a task, standing up for someone, or giving a gift, help my child to show someone they’re valuable today.

A prayer for good belly laughs: Dear Lord, I pray for a belly laugh today for my children. Teach them the value of having fun and laughing hard. And, Lord, do the same for me.

Tell us, what prayers do you regularly pray for your children?

Joshua Straub has two cherished roles—as husband to wife, Christi, and dad Landon and Kennedy. He serves as Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources and leads Famous at Home, a company equipping leaders, organizations, military families, and churches in emotional intelligence and family wellness.

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of ParentLife.

Making Memories

One week ago today, ParentLife writer Wynter Evans Pitts suddenly passed away. Today we wanted to share with you one of our favorite columns that Wynter wrote. This originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of ParentLife. As we remember Wynter’s legacy, we encourage you to use her words as a reminder to make memories with your children at every opportunity.

— The ParentLife Team

MAKING MEMORIES

By Wynter Pitts

I imagine the conversation will go something like this:

“Mom, remember that time you wanted us to do a craft together and you looked on Pinterest?”

Silence – immediately followed by an uproar of contagious giggles and uncontrollable laughter.

You see, I am not the craftiest of girls, but God blessed me with four sequin-wearing, glitter-paint-splattering, and sugar-loving darlings, so I try.

The reality is, I am actually the mom who …

• Has an entry-level Pinterest board named, “Projects I Think I Can Handle.”

• Buys a kit to create your own gum, only to burn it in the microwave.

• Takes three days and a dozen YouTube videos to figure out how to turn rubber bands into a beautiful work of art and a colorful accessory using a “Rainbow Loom.”

• Tries to bake an edible cookie bowl … I can’t even think of the proper words to describe how horrifically this ended. It was pure pandemonium as a party of 10 girls tried to scoop ice-cream into a pile of burnt crumbs.

• Paints nails. And cuticles.

• Always has to double the amount of suggested flour in order to stop the homemade play dough from becoming a permanent placemat.

• Forgets to turn on the oven light when making a “Shrinky Dink.” Causing us to entirely miss the point — the shrinking.

• Successfully bakes reindeer cupcakes (from Pinterest!) but then arrives too late to the class party … missing the unveiling and enjoyment of my labor.

And this is just the beginning! I am serious — this list could go on and on! Regardless of my many failed attempts, my ultimate goal is to never stop adding bullet points.

Let’s just call it a work in progress.

The specific activities may not be my proudest parenting acts, but combined they are what define the most significant contribution I give to my girls.

My time.

So, I imagine my girls will have endless stories from their childhood … and I am prepared to be the punchline for most of them! However, it’s the first few words of their stories that are the most important to me, “Mom, remember …”

Memories are not defined by perfect scenarios. It’s the present — the daily and the quality time we spend with our children that will guide and provide the substance of future conversations.

Enjoy the activities, but focus your best efforts on the memory.

Helping Your Child Respond to Tragedy

By Dixie Walker

Think of the most recent tragic event that’s made headline news. What was your initial response to it? Did it create fear in you? What about uncertainty for your future? Did it make you feel afraid to continue your normal daily routines, wondering if something bad would happen to you or your family?

Times of upheaval are difficult for everyone. We all want to think our world and the environments we live in are safe, secure, and happy. However, when unexpected disasters occur, we’re often left without understanding or reasons behind the chaos. And for children, these difficulties are especially upsetting.

Adversities come in a variety of ways. We may encounter natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, or hurricanes. We see video and photos of the ways weather can destroy individuals’ lives, homes, and belongings. Other times we may face what appears to be an untimely accident or death of a loved one. And, sadly, there are also senseless catastrophes caused by the evildoing of mean-hearted people.

It is reassuring to know that none of these situations are a surprise to God. In fact, our Heavenly Father gives us words of comfort for such times. In John 16:33 we read, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. You will have sufferings in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

As parents, you wish to protect your children from the grim circumstances that are happening in our world. However, kids often hear of these events from their friends, in classroom discussions, or through the media before you know they’re aware of the situation. Although there is the desire to explain these difficult conditions to your child, be careful to temper details according to his age and level of understanding.

Here are a few guidelines that can make these frightening situations easier to get through with your children:

  • Keep daily schedules intact. Children find security in routine. As much as possible, continue your child’s normal procedures with school, home, church, and friends. Doing this will show your child that God helps us deal with everything that comes along in our lives and that we can move forward.
  • Discuss tragedies appropriately. It’s not healthy to offer unnecessary traumatic information to children. But if your child asks you questions related to the event, answer her questions as simply as possible — giving enough information to satisfy but not so much as to bring about more distress.
  • Explain events on your child’s level of understanding. Even preschool-aged children realize the concept of good and bad choices. You can relate information, even that of evil behavior, in terms of people making bad choices. Remind your child that God loves all people, and that He wants us to make good and right choices in relationship with Him and to others in society.
  • Offer comforting words from the Bible. Place a bookmark in your child’s own Bible where he can easily read promises that bring assurance to him when he feels unsettled about the unusual events that are happening. If he is unable to read on his own, then you can be ready to read the verses to him as well as explain what they mean. A few comforting passages of Scripture include:
    • “Casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
    • “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
    • “I will not leave you as orphans, I am coming to you” (John 14:18).

The next time you encounter tragedy, trust that God will help you as you seek to bring about understanding and give comfort to your children. Most often, kids find peace in homes where parents rely on God for their strength. Pray, alongside your children, for God to take care of families who are affected by tragedy and to protect your family as well.

Dixie Walker is a freelance writer of Christian family ministry resources. She and her family reside in Nashville, Tenn.

This article appears in full on pages 8-10 of the March 2018 issue of ParentLife. To order the current issue, click here. To subscribe, click here.