Friendship

Lessons from Teenagers on Friendship

Friendship means more than just hanging out and having a good time. It means jumping in with both feet when something goes wrong. It means wrapping your friend up in love when they need it. It means showing up and offering a hug and a shoulder to cry on.

Most of you know that earlier this month, my older daughter spent four days in the hospital with meningitis. I blogged about the change in perspective it brought here.

While we were in the hospital, though, I learned something else. I knew my daughter had some great friends. I knew that they enjoyed all the fun, silly things that teenagers do. What I didn't know was that these kids had mastered the art of friendship in the tough times.

Being a teenager is hard. Navigating through relationships of all kinds is difficult at any age but especially in the teen years where kids are just learning how to be a friend.

But while my daughter was in the hospital, we discovered that these teenagers -- these 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old kids -- had mastered friendship in ways that a lot of adults I know have not.

We weren't out of the ER before some of my daughter's closest friends had shown up with snacks and flowers. Those same friends were in her hospital room every single day we were there -- watching movies, making up silly games and just hanging out. They even threw my daughter a birthday party on the day hers was supposed to be, complete with cake, balloons and party hats. It's summer. There are an awful lot of things that teenagers can be doing, but those kids spent hours in a hospital room entertaining my daughter.

On top of the visitors, my daughter received cards, posters, texts, Snapchats, prayers and phone calls. Her friends that couldn't come to the hospital because my daughter's visitors were restricted wrapped her up in love every way they knew how without physically seeing her.

Because these teens have learned something important. They have learned that love shows up. Friendship means more than just hanging out and having a good time. It means jumping in with both feet when something goes wrong. It means wrapping your friend up in love when they need it. It means showing up and offering a hug and a shoulder to cry on.

Those teenage kids were Jesus with skin on to my daughter. They loved her through those days in ways that I could not. And I am so very grateful that God placed those kids in my daughter's life. I'm in awe of the depth of friendship that these teenagers have created. A bunch of 13-, 14- and 15-year-old kids showed they truly understand the words of John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

For nearly a week, I watched these kids lay down their lives for my daughter, and I learned a lot about what God's picture of friendship looks like. And I am inspired to make my friendships look the same.

Women Are Scary Review and Giveaway

Women are Scary I received a review copy of Women are Scary from Family Christian along with an appreciation certificate. The opinions expressed here, though, are entirely my own. This post also contains affiliate links.

Women are scary.

When I received a book with that title from Family Christian, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to find inside. Women are scary? How? Why?

What I found inside was truth I needed to hear about investing time and energy in relationships with other moms -- because women are scary.

We like to think we're friendly and welcoming -- not scary at all. But is there anything more intimidating than being faced with a roomful of women that you don't know?

We've all been in the position of being the "new girl" whether it's new to the neighborhood, new to the church, new to the school or just new to the playgroup. And when you're the new girl, it can be hard to make friends.

That's why Melanie Dale's new book Women are Scary: The totally awkward adventure of finding mom friends is such a great read. We can all relate to how difficult it can be to find friends, especially the kind of friends who are going to stick with you through the puking kids, the years of no make-up and the hair-raising teen years.

Melanie breaks down the hows and whys of mom relationships. With amusing stories from her own adventures in "mom dating," she perfectly illustrates how hard it can be to make friends and why they are worth it. Melanie outlines how to take a friendship from first base to home plate (or fourth base in her not-quite-perfect baseball metaphor), and she helps you recognize and overcome the struggles along the way.

By the time you get done reading Women are Scary, you'll feel like you've just had a cup of coffee with Melanie Dale. I read a lot of books, and this is the first book that has ever compelled me to send a message to the author. Her wit and sense of fun come through on every page. She's also a Doctor Who fan, which makes her ultra-cool in my book. (If you're a Doctor Who fan, pay close attention in Chapter 17.)

Melanie's message boils down to this: We all need friends. We need friends with whom to walk this crazy road of motherhood. We need friends who will lift us up, pray for us, laugh with us and cry with us. We need friends who love us when we haven't showered in three days. We need friends who will simply show up in the midst of a bad moment.

Melanie sums it all up like this: "We need momlationships because they help us to be brave. They give us strength to stick up for our kids when they're drowning in school, to chase the dreams that glitter like diamonds nestled in our souls, to fight for truth and justice for the kid down the street or the kid across the world. They remind us that we're not alone, and we're doing a good life's work."

Melanie walks you through the bases of a mom friendship -- from the awkward first meeting to the fourth-base friendships that create a safety net of love around us. She even covers how to deal with a mom friendship breakup. One of my favorite parts of the book, though, is when she focuses on how moms can be a force for change in the world.

If you're struggling to round the bases of a mom friendship, this book is a must read. If you already have a good group of friends, this book is still a must read because the truth that's found within its pages is so dead on that every mom can relate. While the book is clearly geared toward moms with younger children, I found a lot to appreciate and apply to my own life as the mom of a tween and a teen.

Women are scary 2

And, really, anyone who can get a Dalek from Doctor Who and the Death Star from Star Wars on the same page as some God-spoken truth deserves to have her book widely read.

Women are Scary goes on sale on March 24, but you can pre-order a copy here. Be sure to enter the giveaway for a $25 Family Christian appreciation certificate, which you can put toward your own copy of Women are Scary.

Don't forget to check out Family Christian on Facebook.

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The Power of Friendship

difference I wrote this post on Monday about how much our kids need friendships that are more than surface deep and focus on the important things. I had no idea that on Tuesday I was going to get to watch just how powerful those friendships can be.

I took my older daughter to the doctor yesterday morning. She hurt her knee playing soccer Saturday night, and after a couple of days of watching her try to convince me it was fine, I decided it was time to get an expert opinion.

The doctor took X-rays and moved her knee around a bit. Then he said the words every soccer player dreads hearing: "I think it might be your ACL." My daughter heard those three little letters, and for her, the world stopped spinning. An ACL tear is one of the worst injuries that can happen to a soccer player. It's surgery and months of rehab. Recovery time is nine months.

Now, we don't know for sure that my daughter's is torn. We go in on Monday for an MRI to find out, but just the possibility of an ACL tear devastated my daughter. She has worked so hard to play soccer at the level at which she plays it. She's sacrificed other activities, family time, sleepovers and junk food. She loves playing soccer more than she loves doing anything else in the world.

We made it out of the doctor's office before she burst into tears. I gave her some time to get herself back together before taking her back to school. During that time, I texted a friend of mine who is the mom of a couple of my daughter's friends. Within minutes, there were texts on my daughter's phone simply commiserating with her. They were short (both kids were in school) but they were enough that my daughter didn't feel totally alone.

When my daughter got home from school, she was still pretty upset. But then I got to watch something beautiful and amazing. My daughter has three friends (the two who texted her earlier and a girl on her soccer team) who really understand what this type of injury means for someone like her. And I watched all evening as they showered her with texts commiserating with her, encouraging her and reminding her that God is a good God, and He's got even this covered.

The maturity and wisdom these friends showed in encouraging my daughter, and the love they poured out on her were truly awesome. I watched my daughter go from ugly-cry devastated to feeling like she could handle the situation -- all because her friends had her back.

Never underestimate the power your kids have to make a difference. So often, we hear about kids bullying each other or about the mean girls who gossip about everything. What we often miss, though, is that our kids have just as much power to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. And it doesn't take a lot of money or time. It just takes caring and being willing to reach out.

My daughter is an introvert. She's pretty shy. It takes time to get to know her. These friends have invested that time. They've pushed through some of the walls she puts up to keep the world out. Yesterday, I watched her friends ask her how she felt. I watched my daughter pour out her frustration and fears, something that she won't do with just anyone. Those moments of vulnerability gave her friends the opening to remind my daughter that God is in control and that her friends are there to help.

When we teach our kids to be good friends, when we teach them to push beyond the surface, we're teaching them to love each other like God loves them. We're teaching them to let God use them to reach other people.

I doubt any of those three kids yesterday was thinking about being "God with skin on" to my daughter. They were simply loving her through a rough time. But what they did yesterday is what I think Jesus had in mind when He told us "As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34).

And I think we can all learn a lot from their example.

What I Want Most for My Kids

My older daughter got home at 11:30 last night. It was 12:15 before she got to bed. And it was a school night. It's a rare night that I let my daughter stay up past midnight on a school night. She was exhausted this morning, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

Winter Jam

This photo was taken by a friend of mine last night at Winter Jam -- a huge Christian concert. That's my daughter (the one with the long hair next to the guy in the Blackhawks cap). She's in between two really good friends, and she's got arms raised worshiping God together with them.

That picture sums up so much of what I want for my kids -- to know and worship a great God and to have great friends who also know and worship that great God.

So much of our kids' lives from middle school on is focused on goals. It's about getting good grades, playing well in whatever sport they play, deciding where to go to college and what to do with their lives. And in that mix, relationships can get lost. Our kids can form surface relationships with their peers that never really get to the heart of what's important in life.

Those three kids in that picture are busy. My daughter plays really competitive soccer. The guy on the left plays hockey at an elite level. The girl on the right is a talented ballerina. They commit hours and hours to schoolwork and activities. It would be easy for them to miss out on the gift of friendship with anyone outside their chosen sport or activity.

But these kids and the others on that row that you can't see have learned that it's important to have friends who understand not just who you are, but whose you are. They know that when the going gets tough, you need friends who have your back, who will pray for you, who will understand you.

That girl on the right doesn't know much about soccer, but she knows my daughter. She knows how to make her laugh. She knows how to just be comfortable with her. She knows about my daughter's heart.

That guy on the left may not play soccer, but he knows all about how difficult it is to play a sport at a high level. He knows how hard it is to be injured and how sometimes you just need a little bit of encouragement when you've had a bad practice. He also knows how to make my daughter laugh and sometimes roll her eyes.

There's another girl just to the right who's not in the picture that has been my daughter's friend literally since birth. Even though they've changed and grown apart a bit, she still knows more about my daughter than just about anyone else. She knows when it's OK to push and tease and when she should back off. She knows my daughters favorite things and her fears.

You see, I don't really care if my daughter ever plays another soccer game. I'm not really concerned about what she's going to do with her life when she grows up. All those things will take care of themselves in time.

What I am concerned about is that my daughter grows in her relationship with God and that she is surrounded by people who love her and are pursuing that same relationship. Because those are the lessons that are going to stick with her for the rest of her life. Those relationships she forms today -- the ones that are based on a mutual love and passion for the things of God -- are teaching her how to forge those relationships with others in the future.

And if there's one thing I want for my kids, it's that they are learning now how to create meaningful relationships in the future. I want them to have friendships that go beyond the surface and dive into the things that are important. Because grades and sports and plans for the future are important, but having a relationship with God and great friends to support you in that relationship are the most important.

Winter jam2

Moms Need Friends, Too

mom friend The girls and I went to the arboretum the other day with some friends. We spent hours there walking around. The kids explored the stream bed, watched birds and climbed rocks. My friend and I had a couple of hours to catch up with each other.

This has been a whirlwind year. Between homeschooling, working and two kids in competitive sports, there's been very little time for anything else -- including friendship. As we walked through the arboretum the other day, I realized that I miss my friends. Little snippets of phone conversation or quick texts are no replacement for long talks and shared adventures.

There was so much more of that when my girls were little. We had time for play dates and afternoons spent hanging out with friends. Now, it seems there's little time for lazy afternoons filled with shared laughter and conversation.

I came to the realization this weekend, though, that just because our lives have changed, it doesn't mean our friendships have to fall by the wayside. We moms need friends. We need people we can call, text or email when the world is crashing down or the kids are driving us nuts. We need those people who can make us laugh in the middle of a crisis. We need those people who can give us perspective when all we can see is what's right in front of us.

When life gets busy and it seems like it's all we can do to keep all the balls we're juggling in the air, we have to be intentional about not dropping the friendship ball. We need to put dates on the calendar for moments with friends. We need to be diligent about not letting too much time get away from us between times spent together.

We need to foster friendships not just for us. We need to foster them so our kids can see what healthy friendships look like. They need to watch us navigate the waters of friendship so that they can learn how to navigate their own friendships.

God didn't intend for us to walk this path alone. He intended for us to be surrounded with people who can encourage us and offer words of wisdom. Those people are our friends. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up." God knows the value of friendship, and we need to know it, too.

If you've let life get so busy that your friendships have taken a back seat, make a decision to change that. Decide today to be intentional about your friendships. Set aside some time to meet with a friend. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven't talked to in a while. Put a date on the calendar to have coffee with a friend. Your life will be richer for it and your kids will learn to be better friends by watching you.

Setting Limits on Technology

Limits My older daughter had a friend over the other day. In the middle of a conversation, her friend picked up her phone and started Skyping with another girl, completely cutting my daughter out of the conversation. My daughter was upset and came to find me.

It wasn't the first time that phones had gotten in the way of a visit with a friend, so I've been thinking about the issue. Our kids are attached to technology. They are the first generation to have technology in their pockets 24 hours a day, so they are the first generation to have to learn how to use it responsibly.

I have to admit I'm not always the best about leaving my phone in my pocket when I should. My mom called me on it just yesterday. Sometimes having the ability to be connected with others all the time keeps us from focusing on the people who are right in front of us.

So, we're starting something new in our house. We have a new basket on our hall tree. When the girls have friends over, we're going to ask our girls and their friends to stick their phones in the basket so they can focus on the immediate people who are here. If the girls need their phones to call someone or to take pictures, they can come ask me for them.

And I'm going to be setting some limits on the way I use my phone, too. Unless my kids are at a place where they might need me, the phone is going to stay in my purse or pocket when I'm hanging out with other people -- because I can't ask my girls to do something I'm not willing to do. We may even use the phone basket around here some evenings so we can focus on each other instead of who's on the other end of our phones.

Face-to-face relationships are important. When we let technology rob us of our ability to communicate face-to-face, we lose an important piece of humanity. We lose an important tool in the toolbox of loving others. We are commanded to "love one another," and technology can help us do that. But technology can also keep us from loving the people right in front of us. It can distract us from our face-to-face relationships in pursuit of our online ones.

Think about how you use technology and how your kids are using it. Then set some boundaries. Your kids might not like it at first, but they will thank you for it later.

The Clutter on the Counter

hospitality

I looked around my kitchen yesterday at lunchtime. The floor was clean. The counter was not. There were some dishes in the sink. The weekly clutter had accumulated on my counter. We had friends coming over in five minutes.

I knew I didn't have time to clean the counter. I had spent the morning working and getting ready for the kids who were coming in the afternoon. I didn't even think about the kitchen counter until it was too late.

So, my girls' friends and their moms came over and saw my kitchen counter in all its everyday glory. If they had ventured downstairs, they would have found all the Matchbox cars strewn around the floor. If they had ventured into my younger daughter's room, they might have found some dirty clothes and a book or two on the floor.

Too often, I get caught up in having a perfect house before I invite people over. I work myself to the bone trying to get the place cleaned up for friends to come over. I like having a clean house when people come over, but if I waited until my house was perfect, we would never have people over. The truth is that we live here, and sometimes life is messy.

When we choose not to invite people into our homes because they aren't perfect, we lose the opportunity to minister to others. We lose the opportunity to create deeper friendships. We lose the opportunity to teach our kids that people are more important than things.

Our kids learn about hospitality from us. If we refuse to allow people into our homes unless they are spotless, we teach our kids that our live have to be perfect before we can let others in. We show them that appearances are everything.

There's nothing wrong with cleaning up your house before company comes, but if a little clutter on the counter or some Matchboxes on the floor are keeping us from inviting the neighbor in for a spontaneous visit or from issuing an invitation for a playdate, then we're sending the wrong message to our kids.

Our homes are gifts from God, and we are to use them to offer hospitality to others -- whether the kitchen floor has been mopped or not. Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." While I don't recommend inviting perfect strangers into your home (although there are appropriate times to do that), this verse reminds us that showing hospitality to others provides us with an opportunity to be a picture of God's love.

We want our kids to learn that hospitality isn't dependent on the state of our homes but on the state of our hearts. When we invite others into our less-than-perfect homes, we let them know that they are more important than a spotless house. We put relationships before possessions, and we teach our kids to do the same.

Look around your house this morning and think about the last time you invited someone into your home. Is the state of your house keeping you from having an open door and an open heart? Will you close the door of your home and miss the opportunity to "show hospitality to angels"? Will you let the clutter on the kitchen counter keep you from teaching your kids to offer hospitality to others?

Don't let a less-than-perfect house get in the way of creating deeper relationships with others. God didn't let our less-than-perfect selves stop Him from creating a deeper relationship with us.

Choosing Friends Wisely

FriendsMy older daughter's birthday was June 1. We were out of town on her birthday, and she and her friends had conflicting schedules for most of June. So, last night, we finally had her birthday party -- a sleepover. Since 6 last night, my house has been full of giggly 12-year-old girls.

As I watched these girls interact, I realized that for all the struggles my daughter has had with relationships this year, God has blessed her with these friends. The four girls who showed up at my house last night are girls who have my daughter's back. They're girls who appreciate her for who she is. They're girls who love to laugh and who love God. And I can't ask for more than that in friends for my daughter.

My daughter chose well when she picked these friends. God chose well when he put these girls together. You can see in their eyes that they enjoy each other's company. You can hear in their laughter that they love to have fun. And because these girls sit at my table during the middle schools service at church, I can see that their hearts are turned toward God.

When our kids are choosing friends, the qualities these girls have are the ones we want our kids to look for. Whether it's one really close friend or a small group of friends, we want our kids to choose friends wisely. We want them to look for other kids who are seeking to follow God. We want them to choose friends who will stand back-to-back against the enemy. We want them to find friends who will tell them the truth in love.

We want our kids to find friends who live out the words in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Friends who love each other, help each other and seek God together will help our kids through the tough times. They will be there for our kids. They will help keep our kids on the right path.

Start early to help your kids cultivate friendships with people who can do these things. Encourage your kids to think hard about the friends they choose.

Though I'm exhausted this morning from a 12-year-old sleepover, I'm also grateful that my daughter has been blessed with these girls in her life. I pray that your kids will be just as blessed in their own friendships.

5 Ways to Foster Sibling Love

sibling

We just spent a week on vacation. We visited with some of my husband's family, saw some friends and attended the Indy 500, then spent nearly a week with my extended family.

Since Tuesday, 17 of us, ranging in age from 2 to 65 piled into a 4-bedroom cabin at Kentucky Lake. We were cozy, but we had fun. My girls look forward to this vacation with my extended family every year. They love hanging out with my cousins and their kids. This year, they went fishing, tubing, boating, and played a family kickball game. Meals were noisy affairs, complete with spills and laughter.

This yearly family reunion is important to our family. It's important because our extended family is spread out with some in Kentucky and some in Kansas. The annual get-together reminds us of the common thread that binds us together. It reminds us of the importance of family.

As we traveled home yesterday after 10 days of very close togetherness with my girls, I listened to them in the backseat. Sometimes they conversed and enjoyed each other's company. Other times they bickered and fought. I began to think about the importance of intentionally creating family bonds -- not just with my extended family but between my girls.

We often remind our girls that when no one else in this world is pulling for them, their sister should always have their back. It doesn't always happen, but we're planting the seeds of the idea in their brains.

Siblings can be annoying. They know just which buttons to push to get your temper up. They know what you're good at and what you're not. They know you better than just about anyone in the world. That makes them your best friend and, at times, your worst enemy.

As parents, we want to intentionally foster the bonds in our family -- both with extended family and within our nuclear family units. We want our kids to fulfill the words Jesus said in John 15:12: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." We want our kids to love each other with an unconditional love, just like Jesus loves us.

To do that, we have to intentionally create opportunities for our kids to create bonds -- even if they're far apart in age. Here are some things that we do around here to create memories and bonding between our girls:

1. Create opportunities for them to work together. When you assign chores, assign some bigger ones that have to be done together. Planning and doing a job together fosters problem-solving and cooperation. It forces your kids to recognize the abilities of each other and use those abilities to get the job done.

2. Plan fun times just for your kids. Choose some activities that just your kids can do. Have a board game day on a rainy afternoon where your kids play games together. Have a campout night where they can sleep in a tent in the backyard or in sleeping bags in the living room together. Let your older kids go to a movie together that you pay for.

3. Make encouraging each other a natural part of the day. Get a pad of sticky notes and a pen for each child. Hang or set them by each child's door. Encourage your kids to write encouraging things to each other and stick them on the other child's door.

4. Ask your kids to help each other solve problems. When one child is struggling with something, ask another child to step in to see if he or she can help solve the problem. This gets your kids to look at their siblings as people who can help them. It sets brothers and sisters up as a viable source of help, thus creating an important bond.

5. Have meals together. As often as possible, have at least one meal a day together. Encourage your kids to talk about their days, their problems and their successes. This sharing time bonds not just siblings but your entire family. It gives everyone a time in the day that they know they will be heard and encouraged.

Family relationships are important. Too often, we think those relationships will naturally happen, but any relationship needs time and attention devoted to it. Be sure your kids are spending some time working on their relationships with their siblings -- because while brothers and sisters can, at times, be annoying, they can also be a source of strength when the rest of the world seems like it's against you.

How Do I Deal with Conflict?

Tough Question

If you have kids, it's inevitable that you will spend part of your time as a parent moderating disagreements. If you have more than one child, this starts almost as soon as the second one comes along.

Our kids will experience disagreements with siblings, friends and even us over the course of their lives, so it's important that they know how to deal with it. Too often, we don't teach our kids how to handle their own conflicts: We either step in and solve it for them or everyone just stays mad at each other for a while. Neither one of those reactions teaches our kids how to mediate their own conflicts.

My older daughter and her best friend recently had an issue that resulted in some hurt feelings. The truth was that neither of them set out to hurt the other one's feelings. It just happened that way. There was a lot of being insensitive to the other person's needs going on on the part of both girls.

I really struggled to know what to do. I wanted to let them work it out themselves, but what I saw happening was that neither of them wanted to approach the issue. I saw two young ladies who had been friends since birth starting to take that friendship for granted and hurt one another without even realizing it. I also realized that they really had no idea how to start the conversation about how to resolve the issues.

So, I stepped in. However, I didn't solve their problem. I simply started the conversation for them. We sat at the kitchen table and set some ground rules.

1. Talk about how you feel. Use "I feel" statements, not "you did" statements.

2. No attacking the other person.

3. Everyone gets a turn to talk.

Then, I let them loose. I stayed in the room and helped guide the conversation, but the girls talked it out. They both realized that they needed to do things a little bit differently to protect their friendship and parted with smiles on their faces.

Was the conversation awkward for them? Absolutely. Was it hard? You betcha. Was it necessary to the survival of their friendship? Yes.

One of the best things we can do for our kids is to teach them to deal appropriately with conflict. Carrying a grudge or hauling around a bag of built-up hurt only destroys relationships. Proverbs 29:8 says "Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger." If we're wise, we'll teach our kids how to avoid carrying a grudge or fostering anger. We'll teach them to resolve their conflicts rather than "stir up a city."

It really is OK to be angry about something that has happened in a relationship. It's not OK to carry a grudge and stew in that anger. Teaching our kids to be wise and turn away anger, teaching them to resolve conflict in appropriate ways is one of the most important tools we can put in our kids' toolboxes. It will prevent broken relationships, anxiety and unnecessary conflict in their lives. Start giving your kids conflict-solving tools today.

5 Tips for Helping Kids Resolve Conflict

We're navigating some tricky friendship waters around our house these days. My younger daughter is having trouble getting along with one of my older daughters good friends. These girls spend a lot of time together, so it's important that they get along.

We've been letting the girls try to work things out themselves, but the results have been less than desirable. I've talked to my younger daughter about it numerous times. I've given her strategies for dealing with the situation. I've encouraged my older daughter to try to help both her friend and her sister to get along. None of that seems to be working.

We finally came to the conclusion that nothing is working because our daughters don't know how to resolve conflict. They don't have the tools in their toolbox to fix the problem. While we work on problem-solving and resolving conflict, we've never taught them how to sit down and constructively talk about how to solve the problem.

Our kids aren't born with the ability to resolve conflict. They're born selfish. We all are. Our first instinct is to protect our own interests. Our fall-back position is to look out for ourselves. We have to be taught to put others first. It's a constant struggle to put aside our selfishness and view others' interests as more important than our own.  Proverbs 18:1 says, "An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels." We want our kids to be good friends and to have sound judgment, which is why teaching them to solve conflict is so important.

Sometime soon, we're going to sit my daughter and this friend down to talk together. We're going to teach them how to respectfully and calmly resolve conflict. We're going to mediate their dispute so that they can see each other's point of view. When we do that, here are the things we'll be hoping to teach them:

1. Use "I feel" statements, not "you" statements. Starting a sentence with "I feel," puts all the focus on your own feelings and not on the other person's actions. It's less accusatory and simply a statement of fact. It doesn't put the other person on the defensive right off the bat.

2. Everyone gets a chance to talk uninterrupted. The only way to get all the cards on the table is for everyone to get a chance to explain their position, their feelings and their ideas.

3. The other person is going to have some valid points. It's a rare conflict where only one person is in the wrong. Usually, especially when it comes to kids, both have contributed to the problem.

4. The solution isn't going to be perfect. The key to conflict resolution is compromise. Kids need to understand that compromise means that everyone has to give up something. No compromise is going to result in them getting everything they want.

5. Prayer is powerful. Whenever conflict arises, one good way to get it to end is to stop what you're doing and pray. God wants to give you the answers. Even if it's a conflict on the playground, taking just a second to pray before you open your mouth can make all the difference in the world.

The world is full of conflict so our kids need to learn to solve it. If we help them by showing them appropriate ways to deal with conflict now, we're helping them live more peaceful lives as an adult.

A Message to Sons

I don't have boys. We're a house of pony tails and sparkly clothes. While I have athletic girls, we don't have the rough and tumble of boys around here. Most everything I write, though, I try to make applicable to both genders.

Yesterday, I wrote "A Message to My Daughters," and I learned something important from you moms of boys. I learned that the issues my daughter was facing with other people trying to steal her self-worth applies to boys, too. I received a couple of requests from moms of boys to make a printable version for boys.

So, even though I don't have boys, I love their energy and their rough and tumble nature. I admire you moms of boys as you try to harness that God-given energy. As much energy as my younger daughter has, she doesn't come close to matching the constant motion of her friends that are boys.

I love that God made boys and girls so different. No matter how much the world tries to tell us that there's no difference between men and women, God just keeps proving that there is. So, moms of boys, cultivate their God-given nature. Give them plenty of opportunity to be themselves and encourage them just as us moms of girls encourage our girls.

So, here it is: A Message to My Sons for all you moms of boys who need some encouragement. I've tweaked a couple of places to better fit boys, but it's essentially the same message I want my girls to have because as different as boys and girls are, the need to be reminded of our worth is the same. Click here or on the photo above for a printable copy.

A Message to Sons

You are a masterpiece. God says so. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

You are loved. I love you. Your dad loves you. Your grandparents love you. Your siblings love you (even though sometimes they don’t act like it). Your friends love you. Most importantly, God loves you.

Be yourself. There’s no one else in this world like you. No one who has exactly the same talents, likes and dislikes, or personality as you. No one can be you as well as you can. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Don’t let others define you. People will say and do mean things. They will want you to be like them. They will try to take away your self-confidence. Don’t let them. Be who God created you to be, not who someone else tells you to be.

Stand up for what’s right, even when it’s hard. Most of the time the easy road is the one that follows the crowd, even if it’s wrong. Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid to choose the right thing, even when your friends are choosing the wrong one.

Look out for the weak. God made you strong for a reason. Never let that strength hurt someone else. Be a protector of those weaker than you.

Know how to recognize the truth. The world is going to feed you all sorts of lies about strength, money, self-worth and relationships. Don’t believe them. Seek God, who is the source of truth.

You will make mistakes, and it’s OK. No one is perfect. When you mess up, pick yourself up and get back in the game. Learn from your mistakes and move forward.

We have your back. No matter how bad the day, how mean other people are to you, or how hard the choice you have to make, we’re behind you. We are always praying for you. Home will always be a safe place where you can heal your wounds and be encouraged.

You are a gift. Our lives would not be complete without you. We thank God every day that He gave us you.

Do you like what you read here? Check out my book Everyday Truth: Teaching your kids about God in life's everyday moments. You'll find practical ways to grab those everyday moments and turn them into teachable ones.

With Whom Should I Be Friends?

Welcome to Tough Question Monday, where we tackle some of the difficult questions that our kids ask. If you have a question you’d like to see answered in this space, leave a comment or post on the Facebook page.

As my younger daughter was getting ready for bed last night, she asked me, "Is it OK to be friends with Jewish people?"

"Whoa, where did that come from," I thought. I was pretty sure we've always taught our daughters to be friends to everyone, regardless of race, color or creed.

"Of course it is. Why?" I asked.

"One of my friends is Jewish," she said.

As we dove into the heart of the issue, I finally realized that my daughter was confused about the admonition in 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"

God wants us to be friends with anyone, regardless of their beliefs. Jesus hung out with lots of people who didn't believe what He had to say. He spent time with people who were actively looking for reasons to kill Him. He didn't just spend time with them. He loved them and shared His teaching with them. He ate with tax collectors. He talked to prostitutes. He walked among the lepers. Jesus didn't discriminate about who He spent time with because Jesus came for everyone.

My daughter and I talked about what being "unequally yoked" really means. We most often hear about it in terms of marriage -- not marrying someone who doesn't share your beliefs. And that's an important point. When both people in a marriage aren't following Christ, it's hard to move in the same direction as a couple. It's hard to share about your faith if your spouse doesn't believe.

But that verse does also apply to friendships. While God doesn't want us to be unfriendly to anyone, He does want us to choose our closest friends wisely. As our kids are getting older, we want them to choose their inner circle of friends well. Not being unequally yoked in friendship means that the people we choose to ask for advice, the people we choose to  let have heavy influence in our lives should be followers of Jesus because it's important that we get wise counsel from people who have the same source of wisdom that we do. Otherwise, we might get counsel that seems wise by the standards of the world but contradicts God's wisdom.

While Jesus spent time with people who didn't believe what He had to say, His closest friends were all followers of Him. They believed in Him. They gave up everything to follow Him. His disciples were His closest friends, and even though they sometimes offered bad advice, they're hearts were always seeking after Jesus.

So, as your kids choose their friends, be sure to have a conversation about friendships and how they affect us. Be sure your kids know it's OK to be friends with people who believe and think differently than they do, but be sure they know they want their closest friends, the ones they seek advice from, to also be following Jesus.

Friday Introduction: Encouraging Positive Friendships

I'm honored to have my blogging friend, Rosann, from ChristianSuperMom guest posting about friendships today. It's a timely reminder as our kids head back to school. And congratulations to Cindy Bischoff, who is the winner of our 31 Gifts Utility Tote giveaway.

It’s almost that time of year again.  Soon my daughter will be meeting her 2nd grade teacher and reuniting with friends from last year.  I’m grateful she has a natural love for school and learning.

I’m cautiously watchful when it comes to her friendships, though.

Since she was old enough to play with other kids, I’ve been teaching her the importance of being the salt and the light, a friend to all.

What I never prepared her for is how to determine when a friendship is not worth pursuing.  I guess the thought never crossed my mind that she’d be in a position of having to unfriend someone.

But toward the end of last school year, there was this bully...

...my daughter was emotionally damaged.  An attack on her faith, spun into a vicious lie where others were also deeply hurt.

I didn’t want to be that mom who sticks her nose in her children’s friendships.  But I had to do something to protect her from any future recurrences.

So I stepped in and forced an end (the best I could) to an unhealthy friendship.

As school resumes, I pray old pains and rumors will be forgotten.  Additionally, I have a plan.

A Plan for Encouraging Positive Friendships

 1.  Keep An Open Line Of Communication

Children need to trust they won’t be in trouble or looked down on if they share details of their world with one or both of their parents.  Ask questions and be sure to listen attentively to how their day went.  Choose words carefully keeping your child’s feelings in mind.  Remember to respond with grace.

2.  Embrace Teachable Moments

Look for teachable moments in the every day.  When watching a TV show together.  When reading books together.  When observing others interacting with one another.  Read and discuss with your child what the Bible teaches about friendship.  Continually reinforce the characteristics of a healthy relationship.

3.  Encourage Positive Friendships

Make it a point to invite your child’s friends over for fun activities or play dates.  Get to know the family of their friends.  Host game night or dinner at your home and invite the family over.  Become friends with their friends.  Say a friendly “hello!” whenever you see your child’s friends at school or extra-curricular functions.

4.  Set A Good Example

Children learn by watching how their own family members behave in different situations.  Set a good example.  Nurture your own relationships.  Be a good friend.  Adults can be bullies too.  Don’t be a victim.

What steps do you take to help nurture your child’s friendships?

 

Rosann Cunningham is a Christian Author, wife to the man of her dreams, and stay-at-home mom to two delightful little girls. When she’s not out for a jog or having energy burning dance parties with her daughters, she can be found writing for her blog ChristianSuperMom, and ministering to women whose husbands are in a season of unemployment, at her other website UnEMPLOYED Faith.  Her writing inspiration for both projects comes from a strong desire to glorify God while sharing the heart of her journey through a life of faith.

Making New Friends

My girls spent most of their free time this week and weekend playing with the neighbors. It was a beautiful weekend here. They rode bikes, made a movie and played street hockey. While they had fun, there was some inevitable drama -- disagreements and poorly chosen words.

I think there's very little that causes drama in a child's life like their friendships. And the start of the school year seems to exacerbate that. When the kids head back to school, there's nearly always some kind of drama revolving around their friends. Whether it's a friend who doesn't want to hang out with them as much as they did last year or one of the girls is entering a new situation where she doesn't know anyone, friendships can be difficult.

And making new friends is the hardest thing of all. My girls are really different when it comes to this. My oldest started a new school and joined a new soccer team this year, and it's been tough. She doesn't know everyone. Last night we were talking about how much she misses that. She's also my kid who doesn't make new friends easily. She's quiet and a bit shy until you get to know her. She has a tendency to drop her eyes and mumble in new situations.

My younger daughter, however, has never met a stranger. Making new friends isn't that hard for her. She's gregarious and a natural-born leader. But even so, new situations can be tough. And meeting new people takes courage.

We want our kids to be able to walk into any situation and make a new friend. We want them to reach out to kids who also need a friend. We want them to be the kind of kids who make good friends. We want them to be the kind of friend found in Proverbs 17:17 who "loves at all times." But how do we encourage that behavior? How do we help even our shy kids learn to make new friends?

Practice making friends. Role play with your kids before they go into a new situation. Ask them to show you what they would do to make a new friend. Talk about their reactions to new situations and people. Point out places where they can improve their approach to other people. Suggest ways that they can include others like inviting them to join a game or partnering with a new person for an activity. Give them questions to ask someone else in a new situation. This will help them to be ready when they meet someone knew.

Talk about the importance of body language. Crossed arms and downcast eyes aren't inviting. They turn people off. Explain to your kids how their body language tells others whether they want to be friends or not.

Encourage your kids to seek out new people. Ask your kids to find one new person to talk with each day. Have a list of questions they can ask to get the conversation started. These could include: How old are you? Do you play any sports? What school do you go to?

Pray. New situations are intimidating, even for adults. Pray with and for your kids any time they are entering a new situation. Specifically pray that they would seek out new friends.

Making new friends isn't easy. It's hard to make yourself vulnerable and open to rejection. But we want our kids to learn to be comfortable in any situation, even ones where they don't know anyone. To do that, we have to encourage them to be the ones to reach out to others and recognize the gift found in making new friends.

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.

Friday Introductions: The Young Peacemakers

I love the sound of little girl giggles. They permeate my house for most of the summer. Including my girls, we have six girls who live in the neighborhood, and we have an open-door policy at our house. My girls' friends are welcome almost any time. During the summer that means that there are kids in and out of my house almost constantly, which means there are plenty of little girl giggles all summer long.

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of little girl fights, as well. With six girls, several with strong personalities, disagreements are inevitable. Someone often feels left out or put upon by the others. A lot of times, it's five against one or four against two. These disagreements can often end with one child in tears or another stomping off to go home, neither of which are healthy responses to conflict.

God doesn't want us or our kids to live in a state of constant conflict. He wants us to live at peace with others. Romans 12:18 says "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Conflict is inevitable in life. It's up to us to teach our kids healthy ways to deal with conflict.

This summer, I'm taking the six girls in my neighborhood throught The Young Peacemaker series. This collection of 12 pamphlet-style books walks kids through the steps for resolving conflict. It looks at wrong responses to conflict and points kids in the right direction. It talks about the motives behind conflict and good ways to resolve it. And it does all this in a comic-book style format that is engaging, fun and biblically based.

I've read a lot of books on parenting and spent a lot of time looking at resources to use with your kids. This is the best resource I've found for teaching kids to deal with conflict. If you're looking for a curriculum to use with your own kids or with a group of kids, check out The Young Peacemaker.

We're about halfway through the 12 books, and I've already seen results. Instead of stomping off or getting mad, the girls in my neighborhood are learning to work through their conflicts. They're much more likely to create a compromise or get help solving an issue now than they were six weeks ago. Just the other day, I saw them respectfully work out a disagreement that just weeks before would have resulted in tears and drama.

We still have some of the drama (it's nearly impossible to avoid with that many girls around), but The Young Peacemaker is teaching these girls powerful tools that make conflict something to be dealt with, not something that will drive a wedge and break up friendships.

Memory Monday: How Do You View Your Kids' Friends? (1 Peter 4:8)

 

"I don't know what to do," sobbed my 11-year-old for at least the tenth time.

This is what soccer tryouts had reduced her to at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Tired and overwrought, she was being asked to make one of the biggest decisions of her short life. And the options were all good.

She had been offered a position on two teams. The first team was with a coach she loves and friends she's played with for a few years, but it was playing a division or two below where she played last year. The second was on a team that won the division she played in last year with a coach and a program we had a heard good things about. There was no wrong choice to make -- just a tough decision.

The decision wouldn't have been difficult at all if it weren't for a guy who puts his heart and soul into coaching these girls. He's created an atmosphere where the girls know he cares about them as people first and soccer players second. He clearly views his interactions with these kids, not just as a job, but as a ministry. He's the kind of guy I want as a role model in my daughter's life and an example of the way I want to view my interactions with my kids and their friends.

We all have kids that cross our paths that are not our own. Our house is often filled with friends of my daughters. Some days, I'll admit, they are just one more person for me to have to clean up after. I don't view them as a ministry. I view them as more work and breathe a sigh of relief when they go home.

Yet, our kids and their friends are a huge mission field. We can create an atmosphere in our homes that welcomes them in and lets them see Christ at work. We never know when something we say or do in our homes will set an example for a child who doesn't see or hear about Jesus at home. Those kids who come into our lives, whether they're friends of our kids, members of a team we coach or part of a scout troop we lead, need to know we care. We have no idea what kind of home life many of these kids have. We may be the only people who show them any love.

God doesn't put people in our path without a reason. And He tells us how to treat them. 1 Peter 4:8 says "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." When we love those kids in our lives, we won't grumble as much about the mess they make or the amount of food they consume. We will view our interactions with them as an opportunity to share God's love -- to be a light to them.

After two hours of alternating between sobs and discussion, my daughter chose to play on the new team. We will miss her old coach, but we are forever grateful to him for not only teaching her soccer skills but for taking an interest in who she is as as a person, too. Lucky for us, we don't just call him coach; we get to call him friend, too, which means my daughter will still have an opportunity to be a part of his mission field.

Who are the kids in your life that are part of your mission field?

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.