How can I help my son grow into a godly man?

“What does it mean to be a man?” That question ran through my mind as I considered that this might be my last year to have much influence on my oldest son, Josiah. Living in Alaska, my wife and I planned to send Josiah to Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., for high school. And that meant that his eighth-grade year was his last year at home. So, here’s what I proposed to Josiah: “Let’s challenge each other to ‘man up’ in three areas of life. To show our thanks to Jesus, let’s grow stronger physically, mentally, and especially spiritually so that, with our strength, we can help others.”

That became the beginning of the “Man-up challenge” for Josiah and me. So, what did the “Man-up challenge” look like? We discussed it and agreed that we would take Saturdays and Sundays off (or use them to “catch up” where we fell behind), but each weekday we would do push-ups (starting with one on the first day of school, doing two on the second day, etc. until we reached 100 push-ups per day), read a few pages of a book that would help us become lifelong learners (hoping to work through one book a month for ten months), and read a chapter of our Bibles (it just so happens that there are 260 chapters in the New Testament and almost exactly the same number of weekdays in a year). We printed out monthly charts that we could “check off” when we met the challenge for the day. And we left Saturday and Sunday to make up what we missed.

At the start of the school year, we both struggled with 20 pushups. At the end of the school year, we could consistently do 100 pushups (sets of 25 four times a day), felt leaner and stronger, had some great discussions on what it means to be a godly man (looking for that theme in the books we read and especially in the New Testament), and grew in our relationship and in our faith.

I asked Josiah what he learned over the course of the year and wasn’t surprised to hear him say: “I learned it was tough to keep our commitment. And I learned it was way easier when you pushed me to do it.” That’s what I learned too.

Lesson #1: We need each other. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,10).

There were many days that I really didn’t feel like doing any more push-ups. But I knew that as soon as he got home from school, Josiah was sure to ask, “How many push-ups have you done so far today, Dad?” And I didn’t want to let him down by saying, “Zero.” So I got to it and did a set or two. Likewise, there were plenty of days that Josiah didn’t want to read a chapter of a book on church history I had chosen. But he knew I was going to nag . . . er . . . encourage him when I found out he had skipped two days in a row. We had to encourage each other along the way.

And that’s not just true of a “Man-up challenge.” It’s true in life. There are times that I need a brother in the faith to pull me aside and lovingly rebuke me and offer a word of encouragement. It is so hard to preach the law to yourself, perhaps even more difficult to preach the gospel to yourself. We need each other. We need to cultivate close friendships with other Christians who will hold us accountable, lovingly tell us when we’re doing something stupid, or encourage us to keep going when we’re ready to give up.

Lesson #2: We need more than each other. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25).

As we made our challenge known to other men in the congregation, they too would hold us accountable in their own way. They wouldn’t nag us but would occasionally ask, “How’s the challenge going?” or “How many push-ups are you up to today?” or “How far into the New Testament have you made it?” This not only encouraged us to keep going, but it also encouraged them. Some joined us in reading their Bibles. Others tried the push-ups themselves. It became a bit contagious.

But then, some of the men of the congregation got involved directly in our challenge. “Your son needs to learn how to change the oil in a car. I know you can’t do that, Pastor. So come over on Saturday. I’ll show you both how.” “I’ll teach you how to operate a chainsaw, Pastor, so you can teach your boys.” It takes a village to raise a child. And I am very thankful for the godly men in our church who taught my boys some life skills, but even more so, who modeled a humble and quiet confidence in God’s promises and a willingness to serve others in thanks.

And this is true not just in a “Man-up challenge,” but in life. God puts us together in communities, in the body of believers, where some are gifted with some skills and others have gifts in different areas. We all need each other. And what better place to find that community than in the church. Of course we need to go to church to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament. But we also need it for each other to spur one another on and to encourage each other in our faith and in our life.

Lesson #3: We need forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

We didn’t always do well. A day off of school, a busy week in Lent, or a week of tests would break the routine, and no push-ups or reading would be done. When we fell too far behind to catch up (400 push-ups is a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon!), we would declare a “Day of Jubilee” where all debts were cancelled. We’d do a “reset” and start over on Monday, forgiving all the times we missed.

We didn’t do the “Man-up challenge” perfectly, but when we failed, we owned it, we gave and received forgiveness, and we started all over again. And each time we reset, we did a little bit better than we did the last time. While it wasn’t a perfect run, we are both better—stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually—having made the attempt.

Of course, this too is a lesson for life. We need forgiveness. Often. We need a regular reminder of what our Savior has done to win that forgiveness. But that forgiveness isn’t a license to wallow in our sin. It frees us to get back up and try again . . . and again . . . and again. And when we mess up—and we will—we go back to the cross to find forgiveness and the strength to give forgiveness. And that forgiveness drives us to try again to live for him with all that we are—body, mind, and spirit.

Lesson #4: Celebrate the success! “The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:17).

When the challenge was over, Josiah and I hiked to the top of a mountain. At the top, even though we were already tired from the hike, we “manned up” and each did 100 more push-ups. We talked about the lessons that we learned during the “Man-up challenge,” the things we wanted to continue, the things we’d try to do better.

At the top of the mountain, I then presented him with a set of printed “dog tags” that reminded him that he would always be loved—by me, but more importantly, by God. I gave him a copy of a book that I’d been editing over the course of the year—a book written by the godly men in his life—church members, uncles and grandparents, teachers, and strangers that he’d never met but who helped me to “man up.” They all shared their thoughts on what it means to be a Christian man and gave their advice to Josiah.

We descended the mountain and continued the conversation over lunch to conclude our celebration. And with a sense of accomplishment, we gave thanks to God for helping us grow as men. We still have a lot of manning up to do—both of us. But we’re on the right track. And with God’s help, we’ll continue to grow stronger—mentally, physically, and spiritually—that we might better help others in thanks to God for all he’s done for us.

Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, are raising four boys. They recently moved from Kenai, Alaska, to New Ulm, Minnesota. To read a compilation of the advice Guenther received for his son, check out Man Up, Josiah! Advice on Being a Godly Man at amazon.com. To hear more from Rob and Josiah about the “Man-up challenge,” watch this webcast

More is caught than taught

My oldest daughter recently took her driving test for the state of Arizona. She passed the written test without breaking a sweat, but it took nearly a year of behind-the-wheel practice for her to get comfortable driving in Phoenix traffic. In that time, she observed my driving with new interest, noting my safe driving methods or vociferously pointing out my lack thereof. It seems that she picked up more from watching me than from hours of online study. More is caught than taught. What do you want your daughters to “catch” from you regarding faith?

Let them catch you studying the Word. From a young age, I remember waking up and finding my mom in her cozy robe on the loveseat. She would have a cup of coffee in her hand, a sweet smile on her face, and an open Bible on her lap. No matter what happened the night before, she would hug me and tell me she loved me. With those simple, consistent acts, my mom modeled that God’s mercies are new every morning and his Word is worthy of pursuit.

Now that we live two thousand miles apart, my mom and I stay connected through YouVersion. I no longer wake up to her hugs but to notifications that she’s commented on the Bible plan we’re doing together. She lets me see her wrestling with God and submitting to his Word as the final authority. I’ve continued this practice with my own girls. When they comment on the plans we do together, I am amazed by their spiritual insight, their humor, and the emojis my youngest has picked out to go with the day’s reading.

Let them catch you talking with God. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray continually.” However we define “continually,” it’s probably more than before we eat and go to bed. Try this: For one day, take every praise, question, or worry and say it out loud. From gratitude for finding a lost backpack to how we should spend our free time to what we saw in the news that disturbed us—let’s model that we don’t know all the answers, but we know the One who does.

Let them catch you dancing in your role as a woman. American society paints a bleak picture of womanhood: cheap, self-promoting, flesh-serving, male-bashing, and harsh. God has a better way. When our girls catch us respecting our husbands, biting our tongues rather than speaking a dishonoring word, and joyfully sacrificing our “rights” in order to serve others, something clicks in their spirits. This is how their Father designed them to be. Freed from the tyranny of serving themselves, they can dance before the King as his dearly loved daughters.

As I finish writing this article, two of my little girls are snuggled beside me on the couch. They’re catching me in my pajamas as I take the time to pass on to others what God is teaching me. I am not a perfect role model. Too often I am inconsistent and unintentional. But that’s when they catch me going back to God’s grace.

Liz Schroeder and her husband, John, live in Phoenix, Arizona, with their five kids. They serve as lay leaders at CrossWalk Church.

Raising strong, godly women

Honestly, I think we do a pretty good job raising strong, godly women. When I look at the young women my kids bring home and the young women where I work, I’m impressed.

First, by their fearless faith. These young women aren’t afraid to say the name of Jesus in the grocery store. They form small-group Bible studies. They share their faith in cities around the world. They study theology in college. They tattoo Scripture on their wrists or ankles. And they look forward to singing “Jesus Loves Me” with their children someday—if God so blesses.

I’m also impressed by their stewardship. From early on, they’re serious about developing the talents God gave them. They organize community volunteer efforts, say no to the party the night before the ACT, and box out like a boss on the basketball court. They go get their PhDs so they’re even better equipped to serve. They know some women want to be CEOs and some want to stay home with eight babies, and it’s all good. Their only desire is to spend and be spent for their Lord.

I’m impressed by their character too. They know mercy trumps mascara every time, and real beauty isn’t found in having “Princess” printed on their behinds but in proudly wearing the crown of Christ. They’ve resisted bullies and survived #MeToo experiences. Their eyes pan each new room, looking for people who need a kind word, a cup of coffee, or an ear for a story others aren’t willing to hear. They’re humble. They’re gentle. They’re dedicated.

The real question is not “How can we raise strong, godly women?” We’re doing it. The real question is “What do we do with them next?”

Do we let them use the gifts they’ve so faithfully developed? Do we allow them to share their God-given wisdom? Do we let them take their various places in the body of Christ?

Or are we a little afraid of them? Does the word strong make us nervous when it comes to the female half of God’s church? Do we inadvertently send the (erroneous) message that in the body of Christ, God wants each woman to be a hand—someone who works hard and then hides herself in a pocket?

A while ago, I hired a student writer who’s smart, hard-working, and creative. As we talked, she had an interesting habit. At the end of each sentence, she raised her voice, as if to ask a question. I encouraged her not to do that. I told her God gave her that intelligence and that voice. I told her God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity but of love and power and self-discipline. I told her the world and the church don’t want her shushed. They want to hear what she has to say.

Help prove me right. Listen to your daughters. Encourage them. Acknowledge them as the Priscillas, Phoebes, and Eunices of our day. Remind them of their Savior’s love. Then stand back and watch how he blesses the service of these young women.

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.

Encouraging our daughters to be strong women of faith

When my father caught wind of my plan to “witness” to our neighbors, he sat me down for a discussion. He was happy to hear that I wanted to witness my faith, but he wanted me to examine my methods. As earnest as only an eight-year-old pastor’s daughter can be, I had launched into a listing of errors in Catholic dogma. My father gently but sternly informed me that this was not witnessing; rather, it was arguing. He in no way wished to squash my desire to share the Word, but he wanted to direct my thoughts and words toward a more loving sharing of my faith. How wise of God to put this headstrong girl into a faith-filled, Bible-based, evangelism-minded family.

My own strong-willed daughters are strong women of faith and starting to raise daughters of their own. Looking back, I have come face-to-face with an undeniable conclusion. I did little. God did much.

God gifted me with a Christian husband who entered the ministry as our children were starting school. Not all WELS churches have schools, but at each church we served, we had one. Even in our first small parish on the East Coast, our children attended a WELS one-room school. The amazing woman of faith who taught our children there has continued to be an example to our children and now our grandchildren.

Our daughters have had some incredible role models in each church we attended. They noticed some; we noticed others. We talked about them. They were living textbooks. In one large urban congregation, there were a number of single mothers. They were charged with the religious education in their homes. It was truly humbling to see the sacrificial efforts they made to ensure their children knew their Savior.

If you don’t have a Lutheran elementary school, take advantage of what your congregation does have to offer. Supplement religious education with age-appropriate materials available through Northwestern Publishing House. Take time to emphasize the many women of faith in the Bible. Point out the Marys, Marthas, and Hannahs in your own congregation.

Give your daughter the tools to lovingly defend her faith. Have conversations about controversial and uncomfortable topics and apply God’s Word to them. Help your daughter stand strong in the face of today’s moral ambiguity. Sometimes God’s Word is very clear on a topic. On others it may be a matter of opinion, taste, or even tradition. Try to discern which is which and pick your battles accordingly. When you raise strong women of faith, they may very well have strong opinions. Exercise caution when you find yourself on the other side of the fence in matters of adiaphora, that is, things not directed by Scripture.

The most important thing I can recommend is prayer. I have had many conversations with God about the trials peculiar to girls and women in our society. My prayer is that we encourage the women around us in faith so that they might lift each other up. I have seen this trait carried on with my daughters as they make applications of their faith in their daily lives. They are strong supporters of other women and their walks with God. We women need to do this for each other and our daughters.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

Back to school: Tips for a smooth transition

Are you ready for school to start? Some parents love the freedom and fun of the summer schedule. Some are like my husband and have a countdown on the calendar with a smiley face on the first day of school. No matter how you feel about it, the school year is beginning. Here are some ideas to help the transition go more smoothly.

Routine
Set clear goals right from the start regarding home and school responsibilities. What does the morning routine look like? What gets done the night before to prepare for the next day? (Hint: as much as possible!) What chores does your child have and when do they need to be done? At our house, chores like unloading the dishwasher are done in the morning. Responsibilities like practicing piano can be done after school.
Establish with your children when they are going to do homework and where. Having a specific time and a comfortable place set aside prioritizes homework and provides a structure for study. If homework has been a struggle in the past, consider hiring an after-school helper to provide a different perspective and take the tension out of the parent/child relationship.

Along with setting clearly defined routines, it’s important to practice them. Use the week before school starts to begin getting up at the right time, going through the morning routine, and sitting down to read during the scheduled study time.

Rest
Apparently fifth grade at our school is when every activity possible becomes available for students. Last year, our son decided he wanted to be in cross country, soccer, flag football, band, and chimes—all at the same time. It sounds so well-rounded, doesn’t it? It turned out to be a recipe for anxiety for our son and led to significant physical and emotional issues for the first part of the school year. Kids need down time. (So do adults!) Choose with your child one or two activities to participate in during the school year, and limit everything else.

Along with rest from activities, children need physical rest. It is recommended that children ages 6 to 13 get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Consistent lack of sleep can negatively impact learning, weaken the immune system, and result in behavioral issues. Encourage good sleep by limiting electronics before bed, keeping lighting low and the temperature cool in your child’s bedroom, and having a healthy snack before bedtime. Routines such as a warm bath or cuddling also help.

Remember what’s important
Finally, as the school year approaches, remember this important truth. Our children belong to God, and he has given us the responsibility of teaching them about his love. Maybe you set aside time for family Bible study. Maybe you sing Christian songs on your way to soccer. We have a devotion and share what we’re thankful for before bed. What your children learn about Jesus and what he’s done for them will be the most important lesson they learn all school year.

Sarah Reik and her husband have four children ages 6 to 11 heading back to school this fall.

Family summit sets the stage for a successful school year

The school year is upon us. This brings newness to the air. New teachers, new schedules, new goals, and new expectations. So how do we, as parents, help set the stage for a successful school year?

My husband, Tad, and I are a part of a parent coaching group where we learned about family summits. Basically a family summit is a family meeting. In this meeting we sit down and create space for each child to share a few basic, but important, things. Here is the agenda for our meeting:

1. Prayer—We intentionally invite the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be present and active in our summit.
2. Ground rules—We explain that this is a time to share and listen. When you aren’t sharing, you are listening without judgment and without interrupting.
3. Defining success—Give time for each child to think about and write down what a successful school year means to him or her.
4. Share time—Share with the family. It’s amazing how different this can look for each child.
5. Self expectations—Give time for each child to think about and write down his expectations for himself.
6. Share time—Share with the family. It works so much better when the expectations are theirs and not just yours.
7. Family expectations—Give time for each child to think about her expectations for your family. In our home our children didn’t always realize the kinds of expectations they have for each other.
8. Share time—Again, share with the family. This is also a time to talk about what are realistic expectations of themselves and of each other.
9. Mom and Dad time—Tad and I share our ideas of success and our expectations. These include their answers.
10. Blessing—Close with a blessing on our school year.

So often as parents we assume that our children’s ideas are the same as our own. Doing these summits has been eye opening for us. God is uniquely equipping our children to do the work he is putting in front of them. We want to cultivate a discernment that helps them see what that work is. I am humbled when their ideas come out because oftentimes they see it more clearly than I do.

Having these conversations has been invaluable in our home. It gives us insight into their hearts. It gives us direction when we are called upon to encourage and discipline our children. It keeps our desires for our children in check and helps us keep looking to our heavenly Father for guidance as we guide our children.

May God bless you and your families this year and always.

Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to 16. They are also licensed foster parents.

A successful school year starts in summer?

I personally believe setting the stage for a successful school year starts in summer.

My wife and I try to get our children on a typical, healthy routine a few weeks prior to the school year. That includes trying to get them to settle in to sleep at a reasonable time and helping them adapt to any other changes in routine (including less screen time) so they have a chance to have healthy habits entering the school year and so we do not have the added stress of those changes when school begins. Of course, we do not always accomplish this goal due to the busyness of life and the need for flexibility.

I also believe it is important to speak positively about school and encourage your children to see school as a healthy and important venture and to model that positivity to them about responsibilities in your life. Telling them that your work is important, that God gave us talents and abilities to apply in this life, and that we aim to approach work and school with a thankful attitude can go a long way.

One part I have struggled with is watching my children go through the transition to school with fear and worry. I find myself saying, “How will they do with their friends?” “Will they like their teacher?” “What about their academics?” When I catch myself falling into that line of thinking, I remind myself that it is important to trust God (He helped you through it all, didn’t he?) and to trust your children and the people God has placed around them.

When school finally begins, my wife and I typically try to keep the above routines on track in addition to establishing routines for homework and study time. I also think it is important to try to keep things simple for a few weeks. Managing the back-to-school transition is an exciting time with all kinds of adjustments. It can also be a time when soccer, cross-country, and other commitments come together, and all of that can be overwhelming depending on how your child manages stress. In our house, we try our best to keep things simple in the fall so we are not overcommitted (notice the word “try”) and to allow the children adequate time in the evening and weekends to do things that help them relax, to connect with each other and us, to get homework done, to eat, and to play.

Finally, we pray for patience and trust that over time, the routines will settle in, the children will adjust, and we will be thinking about our plans for the following summer. Moreover, we remember that this time is temporary and we may as well enjoy this time of grace.

Casey Holtz and his wife, Amanda, have three young children ages 2 to 8.

Working through our kids’ natural gifts

My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.)

So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?

Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.

Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.

Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy.

Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles.

Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.

Supporting children as they struggle

My husband and I have raised three boys who are incredibly different from one another and have very different gifts, despite their shared DNA. It has made parenting them interesting . . . and challenging. What came so easily to one was a struggle for another. One lived for the grade school science fair and eagerly cultivated bacteria in petri dishes for weeks. The other started his project the night before it was due.

Sound familiar? As parents, how do we support our kids when they don’t excel in a certain area?

  • First of all, remind your kids (and yourself!) not to believe everything they see on social media. A scroll through your Facebook feed will convince you that everyone else’s kids are destined to be doctors, pro athletes, rocket scientists, etc. Don’t buy into the lie! Discuss with your kids how social media can be about sharing “mountaintop” experiences—the perfect facade people present to the world. In reality, all kids fail, feel excluded, and struggle with self-doubt. They just might not show it.
  • Help your kids realize that struggles in this sinful world are inevitable. Satan has made sure of that. The important thing is what we do with those struggles. We don’t let them define us; we let them teach us. Sometimes our kids’ struggles will lead them down a path they never would have chosen for themselves. Help them identify the valuable life lessons that can be learned from struggles.
  • Remind your kids that struggles are in God’s perfect plan for their lives. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Remember that God knows what our kids need better than we do. In our time-bound, earthly thinking, we cannot comprehend how all the disparate pieces of our kids’ lives—their successes and struggles—are part of God’s divine plan for them and fulfill his purposes.
  • Gently help your kids deal with failure. Kids no longer know how to fail! This sounds odd, but think about our society. It rewards kids with medals and trophies just for participating. Our attempts not to let any child’s feelings get hurt are doing kids a disservice. When they get older, they will not always be #1 or #2 but might be #27 or #1,127. Kids need to learn how to deal with failure and how to work through the depression and anxiety they might feel when they realize they aren’t #1 at everything they do. At the same time, remind your kids that the “place” or “rank” the world has assigned to them in no way changes the way you, or their heavenly Father, love and cherish them.
  • Help your kids identify and cultivate their God-given gifts and areas where they excel. Think about what motivates them. What makes them come alive? What can they do for hours without looking at the clock? Sometimes it’s easier for us, as parents and observers, to see where our kids’ gifts lie. It is our job to help them discover and use those gifts for God’s glory. Remind them that God gives everyone different gifts (Romans 12:6-8) and that they shouldn’t compare their gifts to the gifts of others. Assure them that God’s love does not depend on their success and neither does your love for them.

Ultimately, let’s pray for God’s guidance in teaching our kids that their most important status is that of redeemed child of God, purchased with Jesus’ blood on the cross.

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.

Start by listening

“I’m no good at anything!”

“Sam is the best. Why can’t I be like him.”

“Everyone else can do it but me!”

Do these words activate your parent panic alarm? These phrases and others like them are a common and normal part of the growing process. However, as a parent I feel the need to spring into action and do something. My child feels like he/she is not good at anything. No way! This can’t happen! My natural instinct is to argue, “You are good at many things.” Enter kid response: “No, I’m not.” Followed by my educated, all-knowing parental response, “Yes, you are.”

Perhaps in my panic of seeing my child hurting in some way, this “No, you aren’t/yes you are” approach could turn into more of an argument than anything else. I have found it a little (maybe a lot) more challenging for me to take a more unnatural approach during times like this. In fact, I have had to tell myself to STOP—and just listen. An expression of feelings associated with not excelling in a certain area can first be acknowledged—then argued with (kidding about the arguing). Here’s my secret template.

“Sounds like you felt a little (insert feeling word here) when (insert event here) happened.”

It feels a bit unnatural to me, but I have found that if I do not give our kids an understanding of how they feel, nothing else I say seems to be heard. It makes me think of the accounts in Scripture when Jesus sat with the woman at the well or walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples. He seemed to join them and express his understanding before teaching them a new way.

So what’s next? I’ve joined my child and expressed an understanding of how he feels about not excelling in a certain area. Now it’s time to debate, right? Set this child straight and tell him what he is good at and he will walk away with new confidence, right?

Maybe sometimes that approach is needed. Maybe it helps at times to minimize a mistake or encourage hard work and practice. Maybe sometimes it is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and not the end result. Lots of helpful approaches can be used at different times and special situations.

As I keep my radar up for a teachable moment, one thing I tend to be on guard for in my kids is the sense that Mom and Dad will only love me if I am the best. Wrong! I think there may be a sense of that conditional acceptance in all of us at times. This becomes a great opportunity for a reminder of God’s unconditional love. He loves us all with our successes and failures. That’s how we as parents try to use that as our guide. While we were still sinners (failures, broken, not good at anything), Christ died for us. There was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. It is unconditional.

As parents, we can remain watchful for opportunities like this to express understanding when our kids experience disappointments and do not excel in a certain area. Let’s ask for the Lord’s guidance to help us use the best tool of redirection at the right time and always be aware of the moments we are given to remind them of God’s unconditional love.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.