Farewell. . . for Now

In the next few weeks I will be transitioning this blog into more of a website format.  It will have a static landing page with links to different topics, and a list of all the blog posts.  I always knew this blog was going to be more like a book (that ends) than a magazine (that has continuing editions).  I had a finite number of things I wanted to write, topics I’d been thinking about for years, and I didn’t plan on posting forever. I have come to the end of those ideas.  I may post more in the future if I think of other topics or as my children get older and I have more knowledge about teen years, transitioning to adult children, etc.

Hopefully you will continue to use and refer to this blog even though there are not new posts.  You can use it as a reference for future problems.  When you are struggling, review the posts and try to apply the general principles to that specific problem.  There are always areas for improvement as parents, and reviewing the content can help remind you of skills to work on.  The Basic Principles page has links to the main parenting ideas.  It’s always good to go back to the basics!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or ideas. Click on the Comment button or email me at betterwayparenting@yahoo.com

If you want another blog with continual posts, check out www.ahaparenting.com/blog.  I have read some of her posts, and her philosophies and advice are right in line with mine.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Power of Family History

The idea that telling your children about their family history is important could have been included in the Family Unity post.  But I felt it was so vital I wanted it to have a post all its own.  I always believed that telling children stories about your life, as their parent, would help them see you as a real person, someone who made mistakes and learned from them, and this would in turn help you have a closer relationship now and in the future.  However, I did not realize the great significance of telling these stories and those of extended relatives and ancestors, until I read a book review of The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler.

One of Feiler’s main “secrets” is to tell your children the story of their family.  Feiler refers to research studies showing that children who know more about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives – both their ups and their downs – have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront their own challenges. Knowing more about family history turned out to be the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being!

In this New York Times article he describes why and how he started trying to find the secrets to happy families, and how he was surprised at the large and lasting effect telling children their family stories had.  He discovered research from Dr. Marshall Duke who, with his colleague, developed a scale called “Do You Know?”  It asked children if they knew where their grandparents grew up, where their parents went to high school and how they met, about an illness or other tragedy in their family, and many other such questions.  The researchers were astounded to discover “that the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

It makes sense that knowing these stories helps children feel a part of something bigger than themselves and gives them something to hold on to in times of difficulty.  Children know that people in general crossed the Atlantic and came to America for freedom (at various stages in history), but to know that your ancestor specifically was one of them – to know a detailed story about their difficulties on the trip and getting settled once they were here – can be very impactful.  It gives children a special connection with someone who has overcome great odds.  They come to believe that they have the same strength – it is in their blood.  That is just one example of a story you might tell. Every family and every person has had triumphs and difficulties.  It is so important to share these with your children.

Some parents might want to emphasize the successes, but learning about the struggles is what really sticks with children.  The “overcoming obstacles” stories from your ancestors teach them that when challenges come, if we keep on working, things do get better eventually.  It is not abstract knowledge; it is just not a lesson you sit down and present to your children about how hard work pays off. It is a first-person account, a family story of someone they are related to, and the power of that cannot be underestimated. It is huge!  Additionally, telling your children these stories will draw you closer together because they are your shared history.  They link you to each other as well as to your ancestors.

Tell your children about your life, about their birth and life, and especially about the lives of their grandparents and ancestors.  This might require some research on your part.  Reach out to relatives and ask them to tell you (or your child) about their lives. You can also ask those relatives how you can get more information about your ancestors.  Build an intergenerational story that shows your children they are part of something large and meaningful.  Be sure to include the happy moments and the difficult ones; you will give your children the skills and the confidence they need to overcome their current or future hardships.

Family Unity

Much of what is in this post will probably not be new to you.  But hopefully it will be a good reminder of how to create positive feelings and memories in your families.  Those positive experiences can strengthen you and your children as you go through the more difficult times.  Family unity is so important because everyone wants to be a part of something.  If children don’t feel their families are something special and important to be a part of, they will find other groups where they feel included and wanted.  Family unity can come from many different sources, and it’s okay if your family doesn’t do all of these things listed below.  I’m going to talk about traditions, family pride, and family culture as ways to build family unity.

Family Traditions

Most people have family traditions and know of their importance.  It means a lot to children to do the same thing each year at certain holidays or seasons.  Sometimes you will continue the traditions you or your spouse had growing up, and sometimes you will change them to fit your family’s needs.  It’s important to be deliberate (as opposed to sporadic) about these traditions – write them down and make a note to do them every year.  It doesn’t matter so much what you do or how many traditions you have, as long as you have something and do it consistently. Children will start to notice the traditions and look forward to them.

One yearly tradition we have enjoyed is having “special time” with each child.  Once a year we plan a one-on-one time between each parent and child (so 8 combinations in all) where the child can choose what to do. We used to do this more often, but as schedules got busier we felt like once a year was the right balance. It almost always involves a meal or a treat, and the other activities have ranged from visiting the nature center, going bowling, going for a bike ride, or going to the mall.  It is a designated time to talk individually with that child, build the relationship, show her how important she is, and give her an opportunity to talk about her life.  Hopefully we have good communication with our children throughout the year and keep up on what is going on with them, but knowing we have this once a year “check-in” is important to both us as parents and to the children.  It has been very rewarding and sometimes very meaningful.  It takes some advanced scheduling and prioritizing, but that demonstrates to the children that they are significant to us.  These same activities (going for a treat or on a bike ride) come up spontaneously throughout the year, but there is something powerful about a scheduled event for the child to look forward to.

Picking raspberries on our Special Time
Picking raspberries on our Special Time

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Another annual tradition that has been worthwhile to us is reviewing our Family Timeline.  We do this once a year at one of our weekly family meetings, around the time of our wedding anniversary.   We put a long line of masking tape across the carpet and set papers with different years at intervals.  We place pictures, scrapbook pages, and other mementos along the tape to designate the important events in our family: our wedding (the creation of our family), graduations, moves, births and baptisms of children, anything that has importance.  We talk about these events and what they meant to us.  My husband and I tell stories about how we met and about our wedding day.  It is so fun to share these things with our children and teach them about the creation and building of our wonderful family.  We usually end up looking through all the scrapbooks, talking, laughing, and reminiscing.

It is also beneficial to have a tradition of creating and reviewing family and individual goals.  This could be done at the beginning of the calendar year or the school year.  Goals help your family define where they are and where they want to go.  We all know the importance of articulating our goals and setting a vision for what we want to do and achieve in life.  Family and individual goals can be long term (all family members will go to college), and these can be reviewed every year.  Short term goals can be extrapolated from the long term goals (get 3.8 GPA, for example), and other short term goals can be identified, also (such as, learn to ski).

In addition to annual family traditions, there are also weekly and daily family traditions.  Going to church, having a family meeting, or going for a Saturday bike ride can be some of your weekly family traditions.  Daily traditions might include regular family dinner; a routine for waking up, saying goodbye, or going to bed; or family prayer.  Being purposeful about these smaller, more frequent traditions means making them a priority and making them a meaningful part of your family.  All these activities will provide positive interactions between you and your children and become the fabric of who your family is.

Family Pride

The next category of family unity is family pride or family identity.  This involves creating an individualized spirit for your family and getting your children excited to be a part of it.  One idea to build family pride is to have a family motto.  The family motto and other elements of family identity can be decided upon and reinforced in your Family Meetings.  Because we have four daughters, our family motto is, “Sisters forever, friends for life.”  It reminds us of our uniqueness in having all girls, and how we can and will be friends for our lifetime and a family forever.  I have the girls say it every morning as we have hugs and prayers before going out the door to school.  Some families also create a family flag, song, cheer, or mission statement, depending on the personalities and desires of the family members.  Corporations know the importance of mission statements and mottos to give all those involved with the company a sense of pride and togetherness, as well as a vision for where they are going and what their goals are.

Beyond our main family motto we also have 6 family values.  We created these based on our family interests and priorities and things we hoped our family would become.  Some of them are: Hoelzers love to learn! Hoelzers are hilarious! Hoelzers are happy!  These add to our family identity and help our children feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  They have responsibilities to this family and they receive benefits from being a part of it.  I can refer to these values in various circumstances for motivation and positive reminders.  For example, if a child doesn’t want to go to school I can say, “Hoelzers love to learn! The best place to learn new things is at school.”

Family Culture

The last method for building family unity that I want to talk about is creating your family culture.  You create a family culture by doing your regular, everyday things, whether you are aware of it or not!  What types of foods you eat, what songs you sing, what topics you discuss at dinner, these all combine to make up who you are as a family.  There are many ways to build a positive family culture, if you will be aware of and take advantage of the opportunities.  You can sing songs with your children while doing dishes, doing hair, in the car, or brushing teeth.  Children love music and singing teaches them a lot about speech patterns and sentence structure, as well as creates positive feelings.  I like to sing “positive message” songs to young children, such as “When We’re Helping, We’re Happy.”  Sometimes I make up words to familiar tunes to teach or reinforce a positive behavior.

You can learn new songs or poems as a family while traveling.  You can continuously be looking for ways to teach children new things or tell them stories.  I’m not very good at making up stories, so I often resort to books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen.  It’s a fun and creative challenge to take the story down to their developmental level! It’s also important to tell them stories about yourself and other family members.  See more about this in an upcoming post titled the Power of Family History.

Part of the family culture is also the home environment.  Family pictures and other pictures or important quotes on the wall and around the house can be silent teachers.  You don’t have to say, “Our family is important” because the presence of the pictures will say it for you.  The same goes for displaying children’s artwork or family history mementos.  Walk through your house and ask yourself, What message is this room giving my children?  What can they learn from just looking around?  This is the environment your children will be in for many hours of most days of their lives.  Make sure what they see around them is giving them messages you want them to receive.

Doing all these things to create family unity shows your children they are important to you and that your family matters.  Children feel safe and secure knowing that they are a part of something important and fun and that traditions and activities will be the same week to week, year to year.

The Science of Teen Rebellion

This post is based on a chapter of the book Nurture Shock.  I summarized some of the other fascinating topics in this book here, but this chapter deserved a post of its own.  I learned so much about teenagers from this chapter and was surprised and comforted by much of the information.  The following are five confusing or stereotypical elements of the teen years that the book addressed.  Read Nurture Shock to find out more about the various studies I reference here.

  1. Maybe I shouldn’t set rules because teens are wired to defy them.

It is helpful to know that objection to parental authority peaks around age 14-15.  All that attitude you’re getting from your teen at this time is normal and temporary!  Many parents get nervous when they hit this period of heightened conflict with their teen.  It is hard to constantly get resistance and ridicule from your children, especially when they were once sweet and obedient.  Some parents think the best way to get through this time is to be more permissive and not set outright rules.  Their goal is to be a loving friend more than an authority figure.  They hope this will avoid tension in the relationship. But these teens tend to get in trouble because even though the parents are accepting and loving no matter what they do, the teens see the lack of expectations as a sign their parents don’t actually care – that their parents don’t really want the job of being in charge.

Successful parents set a few rules over certain key spheres of influence, and explain why the rules are there.  They expect the child to obey the rules, but they are flexible when circumstances come up (See Rules or Relationship?).  Over life’s other spheres, however, they allow and support autonomy, giving teens freedom to make their own decisions.  Studies show that parents who are most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have more conversations with kids.  It takes time and a lot of conversations to set and enforce rules. These parents speak and listen to their teens in a mature and respectful way, but still consistently implement limits.  Interestingly, the teens of these types of parents lie the least.

  1. Why do teens take crazy risks?

Teen brains are neurochemically different from adult brains.  They don’t get pleasure out of doing something mildly or moderately rewarding.  They seek thrills and extreme excitement because that’s what lights up their brain reward centers.  That dramatically increased pleasure response dampens their ability to assess risk and foresee consequences of their actions.  In abstract (in a discussion or on paper), teens can evaluate risks just like adults, but in the moment the rational part of the brain gets overridden by the reward center.  Also, teens try to prove they can handle things themselves, that they are grown-up and mature.  This is why they don’t seek out help from adults.  Luckily, as they become adults and their brains mature and develop, they acquire the same risk assessment abilities as anyone else.  Knowing this helps parents remember it’s not only their teen who doesn’t think things through or acts irrationally.  It’s just how teens are!  Parents still need to set limits and communicate with teens about how these actions will affect them, but they don’t need to overreact or get angry at the child for being that way.  Many times parents need to let their teens make decisions themselves and take these risks, to allow the teen to learn and grow from their mistakes.

  1. Why do teens care so much what others think?

Teens are also more highly attuned (again, neurochemically) to the opinions of their peers.  In one research study, the possibility of having their preferences displayed to an imaginary online audience vibrantly lit up the regions of the brain that signal distress and danger.  Yet when asked whether other scary situations were a “good idea” or “bad idea” the teens took longer to answer than adults and weren’t automatically stressed or scared.  Parents need to remember this when their teen is overly anxious about who they will see or what people will think.  It is not helpful for parents to say things like, “Don’t worry about that!” or “You’re being silly!”  It is a legitimate concern for the teen and parents need to empathize and listen respectfully.

  1. Teens don’t care what their parents think.

Lying to and arguing with parents are some of the most typical and most difficult teen behavior.  But, if you flip them on their side you will see that they are actually signs of respect and attempts at obedience.  Studies show that most teens lie to protect their relationship with their parents, not to avoid punishment.  They don’t want their parents disappointed in them.  This implies that they care what their parents think and want their parents to approve of them.  This is not to say parents should condone lying, but simply see it from a different angle.  Realizing that it’s normal and that teens want their approval, parents can discuss the situation with their teens calmly, saying things like, “I’m upset that you didn’t tell me the truth.”  “We need to be truthful with each other to have a respectful relationship.” And, “It’s okay for you to say you don’t want to talk about something, but it’s not okay to lie to me about it.” This last one is especially important.  Teens need a way “out” if they don’t want to talk about something.  Teenagers do not want to tell their parents everything.  That is hard for parents, but remember that it is normal (probably how you were as a teen!).  Parents have to be okay with not talking about it – even letting it go.

  1. Why does my teen argue with me so much?

Another comforting fact from recent studies: Moderate conflict with parents during adolescence is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.  Surprisingly, studies show that in families with less deception from teens there is actually more arguing and complaining!  The way to reframe arguing is to realize that arguing is honesty.  Looked at this way, you can see that teens are fighting with their parents over the rules – not over the authority of the parents to set rules.  This type of arguing is actually a sign of respect. It’s not deceptive, and the underlying premise is a belief that parents have the right to make rules.  If they didn’t believe that, teenagers could say what parents want to hear and still do what they want to do.

Because parents don’t realize this, arguing with their teens causes them great anxiety.  Parents are more likely to hold on to the frustration after a negative interaction than teens.  Teens move on and don’t read as much into the argument, but parents dwell on it in their minds, sulking and catastrophizing (He’s always like this! We’re never going to have a good relationship!).  Reframing the arguing can really help parents stay calm.

Most teens view arguing as productive, not destructive.  They view it as a way to see their parents in a new perspective, a way for them to feel heard, and a way to find some common ground or compromise.  Parents should not say, “I don’t want to hear it!” “This is the way it is.” “Don’t argue with me!” or other such statements. These statements shut the communication down rather than open it up.

I  know this is true for my children.  They really need to tell their side and feel like their experience is validated.  This takes time and sometimes patience, but after I listen to them, they are calmer, and it is easier to find a solution.    Even the tiniest concessions make teens feel satisfied with the resolution.  This is not to say parents are pushovers; they are just respectful – listening and taking into consideration the child’s argument. They are hardly children anymore!  These teenagers will be adults soon and we should treat them like their opinions matter as much as an adult’s (almost) and help them get in the habit of expressing their feelings, using their words to get what they want, and staying calm and kind in a discussion.   We teach them how to do this by explanation and by our example.

 

5 Tips for Parenting in the Electronics Age

Parenting in the age of electronic devices is new and uncharted territory for all of us.  There are many articles and posts with great suggestions and solutions, but I wanted to add my voice to that conversation and share some lessons I’ve learned in the past few years.

Our daughters (currently 16 and 14) saved their money and paid for half the cost of their iPad Minis a few years ago.  It was toward the beginning of teenagers (or anyone) having these types of devices, and I was quite naïve as to what could go wrong or what parameters I should set up.  It was very difficult to go back and take away electronic privileges that they had become accustomed to.  If I could do it again, I would set up the following standards and constraints from the very beginning.

  1. Establish dual ownership. Even though the device might be “theirs” you need to make it clear that it is also yours, in the sense that you can take it when you deem necessary, can look at it when you want, can make restrictions on its use, and can monitor the way they use it. This sounds simple, but when our girls got their devices we didn’t have such conversations or expectations. When we realized we needed access to the devices for all the above reasons, they were very resistant and protective.  Setting up this dual ownership doesn’t have to be done in a harsh or demeaning way.  It can be part of the conversation about the benefits and risks of using devices, and the need for continual parental supervision until they are adults.  If this expectation is set up from the beginning, teens might balk at first, but they will get used to it.
  2. Have “break” times. We recently started having the girls hand over their devices for a break on Sundays from 6:00-7:00. At first they weren’t crazy about it, but now they are used to it, and we can see the immense benefits.  They engage with the family more and find other ways to entertain themselves.  Sometimes they don’t even ask for them at 7:00 because they are enjoying themselves so much.  If the device is available it is almost always the easiest and most fun thing to do.  A mandatory break is necessary for them to realize the pull the device has on them.  Once we started this break time, we wished we’d done it years ago, and we wished we’d done it more often.  Maybe Sunday evenings and Wednesday afternoons?  It really helps to pull them out of the constantly-checking-updates mode and see the real world for a while.  When my children were young I knew they needed and craved boundaries, but I forgot to apply this same parenting philosophy to my teenagers.
  3. Sequester devices when guests come over. I had an epiphany about this during our family reunion this summer. The girls were excited to see their cousins and aunts and uncles, but couldn’t seem to break away from their devices.  Even when they were interested in the conversation, they had their phones right by them to check their feeds continually.  I realized I should have set up a standard long ago that when visiting with family or family friends, devices are not allowed.  This would get them in the habit of focusing on the people and forgetting about the devices and would be especially useful at holidays and family gatherings.  Again, when the devices are around they are too tempting (even for adults!).  (I wouldn’t necessarily make this rule for when their friends come over – devices are a big part of friendships these days.)
  4. Consider each app they use or buy. Two years post-devices someone pointed out to me that you can take the safari app right off an Apple device. Brilliant!  I wish I’d known that.  I also wish I’d reviewed each app they purchased and began using.  Everyone will have their own decisions and reasons for which app is appropriate for their child and which isn’t, but it’s much easier to prohibit an app before they have 50 friends or followers.
  5. Keep an eye on whom and how many they are following on social media. This one took me really by surprise. I had very strong feelings about the evils of fashion magazines (air brushing, body image distortion, adult content, etc.), especially for daughters, but one day I found out that my daughter was following Vogue on Instagram, seeing and learning some inappropriate things.  I realized that Instagram can be like an endless variety of magazines – and I needed to be aware of which ones my daughter was subscribing to.  There are multiple problems that can result from whom and how many they follow on social media.  The first is obviously the content: you want to know and approve of what your children are seeing and experiencing (Vogue was NOT on the approved content list!).  The second is the frequency some groups post.  For instance, my older daughter is interested in human rights, but some groups she followed post 3-4 times a day, overwhelming her with propaganda and sometimes disturbing images.  A third problem is the total number of posts in their feed.  The more people they follow, the longer it takes them to “keep up” with everyone.  They have to constantly check what’s new and spend a considerable amount of time reading what has been posted since they last checked.  I realized that if I put a limit on how many they can follow, I would be limiting the volume of information coming through their feed (again, easier done from the beginning than asking them to pare down).

If I’d set up these parameters early on we could have avoided some frustrations and problems with my girls’ device use.  Hopefully some parents can learn from my mistakes!

Note: for a more in depth look at handling teens and their electronics use see Electronics. Also, here is an example of a electronics contract between parents and teens (on Saren Eyre Loosli’s blog), which can be used as an actual contract or to facilitate a conversation and help you remember all the important points you want to cover!

I’m Bored!

This is just a quick idea for helping children find ways to entertain themselves.  When their friends are all busy and nothing sounds fun, it’s hard to get kids engaged in an activity.   For times like these I created an “I’m Bored” list and taped it inside the cupboard door.  The list is based on my children’s current interests and toys.  I try to update it every few months to reflect their recent birthday or Christmas presents and/or the season (summer/winter).  When my children complain of being bored I refer them to the list for ideas.  I encourage them to pick one and try it for at least fifteen minutes.  Often their choice from the I’m Bored list leads them to another idea and then another, and their boredom problems are gone!  I’ve heard of other moms who cut up the ideas on the list and put them in a jar. This would be fun too, but I prefer a list that the children can look over and see which idea jumps out at them.

I will include my list, but of course yours will be tailored for your children’s needs and interests.  Take a moment to write your own I’m Bored! list, and it will save you time in the future.

  • Play Legos
  • Play Yahtzee!
  • Take pictures with your camera
  • Do make up
  • Put on a dance performance
  • Listen to music
  • Play Trivial Pursuit
  • Play Electronic Battleship
  • Play Taboo
  • Paint a picture
  • Have a tea party
  • Look at your white binders (filled with crafts they’ve completed at school and home)
  • Play American Girl (new outfits!)
  • Draw on your white board
  • Play Lite brite
  • Go on Starfall
  • Go on Tumblebooks
  • Call a friend
  • Play house
  • Color
  • Play School
  • Do crafts
  • Make a treat
  • Play dress up
  • Play in the princess tent
  • Play a card game (UNO, Old Maid, Go Fish, trash can, Mexican poker)
  • Read a book
  • Sew with your sewing kit

Family Meetings

Many parenting experts recommend having regular family meetings of some sort.  There are a variety of ways to do this – different timing, formats and structures – but the overall purpose is to gather your family at a consistent time, touch base with each other, share information, and provide a forum for communication.

Modern families have so much going on and keep such hectic schedules; it’s imperative that you have a regular time to stop all of that activity and come together for a moment to regroup.  The stated purpose of these meetings usually has to do with planning the week, but the benefits extend beyond organizing schedules. Having a consistent time set aside to gather with your family will ensure that you and your children communicate frequently about many things.  The discussion of schedules can and will lead to other topics such as what happened in school last week, how they feel about their soccer team, or what they are studying in math.  If you go about your daily lives and never stop to spend time together, these kinds of discussions don’t have a space to come out and end up getting swept aside.

In your weekly family meetings (sometimes called Family Council), you could discuss any of the following: each child’s schedule for the week, family news or business, chores, problems, family decisions, family or individual goals, school successes, or rules.  Some weeks you might simply set forth information (“Here are your chores for the week”), and some weeks you might have more of a discussion (“How do you feel about your weekly chore assignments?”).   You could have each family member share something good and bad that happened in the past week.  You could talk about your family budget, maybe in regards to school clothes or upcoming vacations.  Some families hand out allowances at this meeting.  You could give a compliment to each child or have each family member say something they like about another family member.  Tailor the content of the meetings to fit your family’s needs and desires.

Everyone in the family should be allowed and encouraged to voice their opinion or thoughts on these during the meeting. These discussions can teach children how to listen to others and have a respectful conversation.  It gives family members a time to find out what is working well and what is not working well, and what they could focus on in the week ahead.  Every family meeting might not be an amazing experience, but having this consistent time to talk will help your family grow closer and will give you an insight into your children’s lives that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You will find out valuable and helpful information from your children.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), our family calls these weekly meetings Family Home Evening.  We have them every Monday night.  We use the meeting time for many of the above purposes, but we also have a lesson each time.  Members of the family rotate giving the lesson.  The lessons are usually centered on a religious concept, such as prayer or giving service, but they can be on other nonreligious topics as well, such as healthy living or the importance of education.  We’ve had lessons on the Supreme Court Justices and the beauty of nature.  Sometimes we do lessons on family unity and just play games together.  We always have a treat at the end of Family Home Evening.  The person who did the lesson the week before gets to choose the treat, and I try to accommodate whatever they want as a reward for their efforts.

I have often been quite impressed with the quality of lessons my children prepare.  The younger ones are excited to be like their older siblings and give a lesson all by themselves.  It is so rewarding to see the time and effort they will put in, even if the overall product is not as refined as an adult’s lesson.  Admittedly, this enthusiasm for lesson planning wanes in the teenage years.  I always have some easy-out lesson ideas if my older girls are busy or having a grumpy week.

Certain lessons have become yearly traditions for our family.  Every year, around the time of our anniversary someone does a lesson on our “family timeline.”  We put a long piece of masking tape on the carpet and label the years when our family started (when we got married), and all the important subsequent events.  My husband and I tell stories about how we met and our wedding day.  The kids love hearing about our lives before they came along and how our family came to be.

On Memorial Day we have a lesson on our family history.  Whoever is on lesson reads through our family history stories and creates a family tree or researches one ancestor’s life in specific.  It is very important for children to have a sense of where they came from and to whom they belong.  Hearing about ancestors and other family members overcoming hardships gives them the strength and security to get through their own struggles.

Another tradition we have started is having someone pick a quote for the week.  I’ve created a file folder full of quotes that I’ve gathered or printed out, some spiritual and some not.  The quote is read at Family Home Evening and also each night the rest of the week.

Even if you don’t have a religious component to your family meetings you could still have a rotating assignment for a lesson and have that person present information on healthy living, an educational topic, budgeting, or communication. If you are noticing a problem your family needs to work on, you can give a lesson on that (cleanliness, speaking respectfully, etc.).

Bruce Feiler is a bestselling author and public speaker.  He wrote a book called The Secrets of Happy Families, which I will discuss more in a future post.  He also has a highly entertaining and informative TED talk where he explains how having family meetings can help children grow in independence.  I hadn’t previously thought about this specific purpose of family meetings, but it makes sense and is another valuable reason for holding them.  He suggests that during family meetings parents should encourage children to plan their own goals, set their own weekly schedules, and evaluate their own work.  If you do this from the time children can understand the concept of goals and schedules, they will be in the habit of thinking about their own needs and working on improving themselves continually.

In our family we also have a daily family meeting, which we call family devotional.  We sing hymns, read from the scriptures, and have a family prayer.  It takes about 10-15 minutes, and it is definitely time well spent.  For us, family devotional extends the benefits of the weekly family meeting: we are able to check in with our children, briefly discuss any issues that might have come up, and spend a short amount of quality time with them, showing them what is important to us.  I have been so grateful for this habit because occasionally a longer discussion will result from this time together, where our children open up and talk about what is going on in their lives.  I know this would not happen if we were not in the habit of spending time together daily.

When your children are little, these family meetings will be short and sweet.  Don’t expect too much from young children, and have conversations and lessons that fit their age and stage.  Be kind and calm as you encourage them to pay attention or share their feelings.  The habit of regular family meetings will bring great rewards as your children get older.  Young children tell their parents all about their lives; sometimes parents want them to talk less!  But older children don’t share as willingly and are busier, so you spend much less time with them.  Having set family meetings that they are expected to attend provides a time to be together and a forum for them to express themselves.  I know my family wouldn’t be reaping the blessings of cooperative children and great family conversations during our family meetings if we didn’t hold them consistently, or if we’d been angry and upset about their behavior during the meetings.

The benefits of family meetings are many, whether you hold them weekly, daily, or both.  It is so important to take the time to gather members of the family and formally discuss news, problems, and successes.  Think of it as a “staff meeting” for your family.  Whatever format and content you choose for your family meetings, be consistent with them and over the years you will have a well-run family and a great relationship with your children.