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Month: November 2016

How to Practice and Teach Gratefulness as a Parent

How to Practice and Teach Gratefulness as a Parent

We as parents strive to have grateful children. We want them to appreciate what they have and how much others do for them. But typically, this is not natural and we must take the opportunity to develop this part of the character.

Last week my son and I were getting ready to go shopping for a birthday present for one of his friends. While we were discussing what we should buy his friend, my son quickly started talking about what toy he wanted to buy for himself. I let him know that we were only shopping for his friend and that he didn’t need another toy. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Son:  “But dad, I do need another toy!”
Me:   “No, you don’t need another toy, you want another toy.”
Son:  “No dad, I really do need one.”
Me:   “You’ve got a lot of wonderful toys already, and you’ll probably get more for the holidays and your birthday that’s coming up.”
Son:  “I know that dad, but I still need another toy today!”

At this point in the conversation I was forced to get creative. So i tried to explain to him the difference between needs and wants through using an example.

Me:   “How many bass guitars does daddy have?”
Son:  “Two.”
Me:   “How many bass guitars does daddy want?”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “Twenty. Or maybe even thirty. I want all different kinds of basses. I want ones with four, five, and six strings. I want some with frets and some without frets. I want some made from ash and some out of alder woods.”
Son:  “What?”
Me:   “Yup. I want a lot of different bass guitars. So why don’t I have more?”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “Do you think I don’t have the money to go buy more bass guitars?”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “I do have more money, but there are all kinds of things that we need to buy that are more important than more bass guitars. We need the money to pay for school, our house, and the food we eat.”
Son:  “Oh.”
Me:   “So even though I do want more bass guitars, I really love the two that I have and I feel lucky to have them.”

I was finally getting somewhere. But at this point I still don’t think I got him entirely over his desire for a new toy, so I tried something else.

Me:   “Son, list for me your top 10 favorite toys.”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “Give it a try. Think about what are your favorites? Maybe train tracks?”

The specific toy quickly got his attention.

Son:  “Yeah! Train tracks, Legos, airplane…”
Me:   “Good! See you’ve got lots of wonderful toys already! Don’t those make you happy?”
Son:  “Yes, I love those toys and I really don’t need another one right now.”

Bingo. When we went to the store, he spent 10 or 15 minutes looking at different toy options for his friend and not once did he ask me to buy one for him.

We as adults are often in a similar predicament as my son. We are tempted all around us to want more. We want a new car, bigger house, and nicer vacations. We want a bigger paycheck, to eat out more, and to have nicer clothes.

Wanting nicer things in life is not bad, but when it becomes our focus and consumes us, ironically, we miss out on an opportunity for more. When we’re wanting something, that means we’re not being grateful for what we do have. You can’t be truly grateful and wanting at the same time.

“Gratefulness unlocks joy. Nothing that we take for granted gives us joy.”  – David Steindl-Rast

Most of us reading this have more than most humans have ever had in the history of the world. Let that sink in.

We have more abundance now than ever before and anywhere else. We have more opportunity, access to education, and technology. We have better medicine, better access to healthy food, and have so many ways to stay connected to our loved ones.

Yet we’re often unhappy because we’re focused on what we don’t have. Capitalism feeds on this desire and the advertising industry fuels the fire.

But gratefulness, which is appreciating what we do have, has all kinds of benefits.

Those who are more grateful are more content. There are proven health benefits to practicing gratefulness more often such as reduced stress and better sleep. Gratefulness also helps reduce our materialism which helps improve our personal finances by spending less. And finally, gratefulness is attractive by making us less self-centered.

So beyond leading by example, how do we teach our kids to be more grateful?

We make it part of our daily conversation with them. We encourage and practice generosity with them. We help them find ways to help others, whether its ‘their siblings, friends, or grandparents. We insist on thank you notes. We make them do chores and explain how much other people do for them.

And we say no. No to some of their wants and take the opportunity to help them be grateful for what they do have. And while we’re at, we can take a moment to be grateful for all the things we have as well. Which for me, usually starts with my children and family at the top of the list.

The Importance of Unity

The Importance of Unity

We live in a divisive world these days. The recent political elections here in the U.S. have highlighted this reality. We feel divided by our income, gender, race, heritage, and even who we root for in sports.

Divisiveness is not only ugly but it’s terribly destructive. It ruins countries, churches, friendships, and families. It is a poison that if left untreated will ruin everything in its wake.

We need more unity.

Unity means:

 – We don’t judge each other.
 – We act with love first.
 – We respect each other.
 – We listen to each other.
 – We are generous with each other.
 – We support each other.

 – We fight for each other.

I firmly recall the strongest sense of unity I have experienced as an American very clearly. It was our response as a nation after 9/11. We got attacked by terrorists on our own soil and lost thousands of American civilians and heroic civil service members. Afterwards, as a country, we felt vulnerable and afraid. We were angry.

And we were united. We felt and acted as one. In those moments, we deserved the name that our country bears, the United States of America.

Since that time, I’ve felt that our unity in our country has slowly eroded. You see it in our politics, on the news, in hate crimes, and the way we view income inequality. The beliefs that differ us are primarily not about who is right or wrong, yet we let those differences divide us anyway. The root of this reality is that we don’t respect how others feel and think. We are too focused on our self.

We need to be careful to limit our consumption of information that fosters divisiveness. Most media news organization’s fosters divisiveness. Media companies primary objective is to make money, and they succeed when there is controversy. Controversy is often the seed that grows into divisiveness and the news channels use this to generate interest. Interest equates in revenue. To put it frankly, controversy sells. The news often takes a subject that typically unifies the majority and finds a way to throw in some controversy to generate more interest. So instead of fostering unity, new channels primarily foster divisiveness.

Unity needs to be a focus in our lives. To achieve unity, we must start with those closest to you.  It starts in our home, in our marriage and with our children. We need to be united within our homes so that it is a place of comfort and trust. Of peace and love. If we can’t have unity there, then we’ll struggle to find unity and trust in other places.

As a father, I feel responsible for setting the tone for that unity primarily by leading by example. My mood and disposition affects the entire household and that is a responsibility we shouldn’t take lightly.

Beyond our immediate family unity needs to extend to the rest of our family and friends. Then our neighbors and community.

Unity needs to extend in our places of worship and between our places of worships. We need to not let minor philosophical differences dilute our united value of love.

We need unity in our schools. They need to be places of acceptance with no bullying or shaming.

We need to have a sense of unity within our companies and with our coworkers.

We need our cities, counties, states, and country to be unified.

We also need unity as civilization. We all have more in common than we recognize. We do come from different backgrounds, have different beliefs and values, but we’re all human. We all deserve love and respect and opportunity to find happiness in this world. We all should stand united to help each other pursue that happiness, regardless of our differences and views.

What to do When There Isn’t a Easy Answer

What to do When There Isn’t a Easy Answer

Recently I was eating breakfast with my four-year-old son. The house was relatively quiet while everyone else was still sleeping. I was just starting to consume my first mug of liquid gold, also known as coffee, when my son looks over at me and says, “Dad, can I ask you a question?”

My response was, “Of course you can,” not knowing what was coming next.

“Is infinity a number?”

What?  My un-caffeinated brain slowly tried to register the fact that my four-year-old son just asked a relatively deep question about complex math concepts.

There’s not an easy answer to this question. For the math geeks in the audience, technically the answer is no, it is more of a mathematical concept, but it’s not easy to explain. Infinity expresses a concept of quantity although not a concrete quantity as most number represent. So, it’s a bit tough to answer to a four-year-old, especially at 7 a.m. with barely any caffeine consumed.

So how do I proceed answering this when there isn’t a straight answer? I know that as my children grow older, I’m going to be faced with many questions much tougher than this one.

Some of the tough questions that are probably going to come up as a parent:
– What is sex?
– Am I safe at school?
– Why do some people want to hurt us?
– Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

We as parents strive to provide our children with all the answers to how to navigate the world. But we personally have not seen of faced every kind of adversity or problem. Our children are growing up in a world that will pose them different challenges than we ever faced. Kids also have access to more news, info, than ever before. They literally have the potential to be exposed to anything when they have mobile devices with the internet at their disposal.

The way we answer these hard questions and the conversations they evoke are some of the best opportunities we must prepare our kids for the real world. We often are forced to navigate the gray area in life since not everything is black and white.

Sometimes as parents we’re tempted to answer our children’s questions quickly and move on. Our children ask questions in all different places and times. They’ll ask while we’re making dinner, getting ready for bed, or changing a sibling’s diaper.

Our children can incessantly ask questions that become extremely annoying. But asking good questions, especially hard ones to answer often being one of the most important skills we can develop in life. The best solutions, inventions, and answers always start with a great question that may not at first have a clear answer. Personal growth comes through asking good questions about yourself and your own potential ability.

To deal with these parenting moments right, we need to slow down and make sure we acknowledge each question the right way.

Find out why they asked the question

It’s important to understand why your child is asking the question. Sometimes they’re curious and other times they may just be repeating they heard someone else ask. Understanding the why will help you know how to answer the question or at least how much detail to go into.

Be a good listener

Make sure you listen to your child and pay attention to their body language and mood when they’re asking the question. Often what they say or ask as you discuss the subject may tell you more about their understanding of the topic that you were initially aware.

Make time for the conversation

Sometimes the questions warrant us to stop what we’re doing and answer the question right away. Other times we may be too busy or distracted to give the conversation the appropriate attention. So, don’t forget about but come back to it later when you have the time available.

Don’t lie.

Lying sets a bad example, could confuse the child when they discover the truth, and could break their trust of you. Any temptation to avoid an uncomfortable situation or show your lack of knowledge is not an excuse to lie.

Be willing to say I don’t know.

We never expect our children to know everything in their lives so why should we pretend that we do?

Keep the conversation going

Sometimes we don’t have the time to answer the question or even think about the best way to reply. So be willing to start the conversation now but come back to it again later. You may want to talk with your spouse, think about how to answer, or even do some research before answering the question completely. You could also take the opportunity to do some research with your child to explore the topic and discuss it together.

Be confident and comfortable

Be confident and comfortable, especially in not knowing. Show your kids that’s OK to not know and you’re comfortable with that. Youngsters often build anxiety around what they don’t know or haven’t experienced and we need to lead by example by showing them that it’s OK to not know everything or experience everything.

So, as parents, we need to encourage them to ask questions, and we need to be willing to honestly explore the answers with them.