Sunday, December 26, 2010

True Grit

The old True Grit with John Wayne is my favorite movie.  It was tested last night when my family went to see the new True Grit with Jeff Bridges. I really enjoyed many parts of the new film.  But, the old one still holds my heart with memorable scenes like Glen Campbell in the boarding house and John Wayne in his final charge into the bad guys.  And, I liked the happier ending in the old movie (even though Glen Campbell died).  Both are great films.

In case you haven't seen the movies, Maddie Ross is a fourteen year old girl intent on avenging her father's murder.  She was seeking a man with "true grit" to go after her father's killer.  She chose Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne/Jeff Bridges), not because he was a "good" federal marshall, but because he got the job done, usually with little regard for those who got in his way.  He was wild and rough, but "Little Sister," Maddie, won a place in his gruff heart.
Who is the braveheart in the film?  On the surface, it was Marshall Rooster Cogburn.  Maddie was seeking a man with "true grit" who would help her find her father's killer.  And, she was confident she had found him in Rooster.  But, Maddie confessed later that maybe she had picked the wrong man for "true grit" when Rooster faltered.  She had actually found two strong men to fight, but men less than perfect and turned  at times by selfishness and money (Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger Glenn Campbell/Matt Damon).

Who is the person in the movie with real "true grit," the real braveheart?  Unfaltering, courageous, steadfast, persistent, and sacrificial? 

It is Maddie herself.

The men served a purpose, helping Maddie with her passion.  How did she get such strong men to help and to actually follow her?  Her passion.  Nothing would get in the way.  An attitude of "get on board or I will find someone else."  Her noble call to bring her father's killer to justice drew big men to her side.  But, she was the one with real true grit, the braveheart in the movie.

Passion usually trumps giftedness, money, and pain in a braveheart's life.  A commitment to a noble cause takes the braveheart outside self and often into risky and difficult situations.  While I am a big believer in knowing our strengths and using them well, passion for a cause or a person will take a braveheart outside his or her areas of strength and ease.  Weaknesses can be compensated by others with the right strengths, like Rooster did for Maddie.  But, it is the commitment to a noble cause that leads and transcends weakness and difficulty.

How do we get our children to develop passions for noble causes that will drive them out of ease and into making a difference?  Here are a  few ideas.  Maybe you can think of  others.
* Be an example:  What is important enough in our lives as parents to choose risk and difficulty?
* Show ideas and needs:  Personally, in print, at the dinner table, or in film let them see real needs.
* Applaud trying:  Encourage them when they take a risk for another person or an idea.
* Prepare them: Help your children practice tackling challenges so they know they can and have confidence.
* Hold them loosely:  Don't force your passions and life plans on them, let God lead their hearts, encouraging when you can.

Maddie was the real braveheart with "true grit."
Passion triumphs.
The big guys follow heart.  Even Rooster.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Incarnational Parenting

At parent-teacher conferences, I picked out a dozen parents I thought were doing a great job raising their children.  Their children were positive "go getters," who worked hard, treated people well, and were always willing to help.  They were bravehearts, willing to try something new.

I asked each parent, "What do you do to make this happen?"  While there were variations on how it was done , every parent said the same thing.  They all said "we stay connected with our child."  No matter what the child had done or how busy they were, these parents kept a real connection.  They were very aware that they needed to build and keep a bridge into their child's life.  They were very aware of the danger of burning that bridge.

These parents stayed connected with their children in different ways.  Some had children who had developed a habit of talking each night at bedtime.  Some had regular meal times together to visit, no electronics.  Some used travel times in the car every morning as talk time.  Some parents of teenagers took naps early in the evening so they would be awake when their child came home more ready to talk. One took his fourteen year old son to breakfast once a week.  They all found ways to be there and create possibilities of communication.

Yet, none forced the conversation.  You can't make a child relate.  But, you can establish opportunities for relationship.  You can treat them with respect and not react to their frustrations or choices so he or she wants to talk with you.  You can listen a lot more than speak. When you do speak, you should pick your battles carefully; most things aren't worth ruining communication.  There are times to demand and rebuke, but it is often when and how those are done that keeps communication open or shuts it down.  As the saying goes, "earn the right to be heard."  But, you have to do that again and again.  Maybe a better picture is to "keep the bucket full" of positive interactions so when you have to draw out, there is plenty there.

At Christmas we celebrate God becoming a man and entering our broken world to rescue us.  Jesus stepped into our world of hurt, separation, and brokenness and offered himself as a sacrifice.  His incarnation, becoming flesh and living among people, made him the perfect rescuer.  By entering our world, he not only communicated in words and feelings we understand, but demonstrated his love for each person by his actions.

The idea of incarnational parenting, of stepping into our children's world, is key to communication.  This doesn't mean being a "helicopter parent," stalking them, or intruding in their relationships .  It does mean getting on the floor to play Pretty, Pretty Princess.  Taking them on outings they enjoy--not your favorites--before it is too late.  Maybe it is skipping school and work, and taking your twelve year old son rock climbing on his birthday.  It can mean taking your daughter to the mall to shop, and hanging out at the coffee shop just to be her fashion critic...and to help pay!  It means finding things children enjoy and sharing some of it, in their way and time.  Don't wait for your children to find these times.  It is your job.  They won't probably think of it until they are closer to thirty!

When I was fifteen, my dad wanted to show me how to change the oil in the car.  I had other things on my mind. As I got older, I often turned down his offers to enter his world and connect, one of those things I wish that I could go back and change.  But, I was so much like most children.  I wasn't drawn to enter his world, I needed him to enter mine at some level.

Are you up for entering the broken and difficult world of childhood and teen years?  Can you give up something of yours to find a time and way to spend time with your child in a way he or she appreciates?  Even if few words are exchanged, your willingness to give of yourself and enter his or her world will communicate your love.  Incarnational parenting means being there and finding ways to keep an open bridge of communication with each child.  Incarnational parenting will help your child become a braveheart, just like the parents I surveyed.

May God bless your efforts to connect with your child, give you the wisdom to know how, and the patience to wait until your child is ready to talk.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brain Science in Developing Bravehearts

 Edward Hallowell
Telling a child to try harder doesn't help a child try, except briefly.  Getting a child to have the courage to try cannot be forced. In "What Brain Science Tells Us About How to Excel" (Harvard Business Review, December 2010), Dr. Edward M. Hallowell talks about helping a young man using the "Cycle of Excellence."  Hallowell then applies the "Cycle" to business. We will apply it to building bravehearts.

Dr. Hallowell tells about working with a boy who has lost heart.

"As a child psychiatrist, I'm asked every day to help a struggling young person do better.  For example, I recently saw a boy I'll call Tommy, who was floundering in sixth grade in spite of increasingly vehement exhortations from his teachers and parents to try harder.  I could see how down cast he was, so I immediately turned to a process I've developed for kids like him."

"It began with figuring out what he liked to do (build things and play guitar) and what he was good at (math, science, music, and hands-on projects) and urging him to do those things more often."  Hallowell arranged for the boy to switch classes and advised adults to make sure he was "imaginatively engaged" instead of just sitting.  Rather than threatening, he encouraged adults to say, "I'm asking more from you because I know you have it in you."  The boy soon wanted to go to school, worked harder, and began getting positive feedback which encouraged him to try even harder.

Hallowell has five steps he uses in the "Cycle of Excellence."
1. Select the right task.
2. Connect with colleagues.
3. Play with problems.
4. Grapple with and grow from challenges.
5. Shine in the acknowledgment of your achievements.

In future Braveheart posts, we will explore these five steps and how we can use them to build our bravehearts.  In the meantime, we can begin thinking about what our children like to do and are good at.  And, begin finding ways to allow them to spend more time on these passions and strengths.

(For more information on Dr. Hallowell, go to

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Try, and Try Again

Keep Trying!
Last evening, a friend told me about his road to pastoring a large, growing church. He has a doctorate in a Engineering, not the normal background for pastor work. He said that there were many students in the doctoral program more intelligent than him, although I am not sure I totally believe that. My friend said that 90% of his success in the program was due to endurance. He had failed some courses, but kept trying while others with more natural ability quit. We talked about how many times we have seen the power of endurance in succeeding.

I don't generally use Parade Magazine as a source, but I can't resist the quote today of actor Jack Black: "The more sleep I get, the better dad I am. Parenting is 90% energy; if you don't have it, then there tends to be some lazy TV watching days with the kids, and that ain't gettin' it done. A great day with them--my sons are 4 and 2--is an energized adventure into the world." I like different parts of this statement, but for now, did you notice the 90% that my friend and Jack mentioned? Endurance and energy.

Building Bravehearts is about children succeeding by having the courage to try. Not just trying once, but trying again and again:  persevering, enduring. Which requires energy. Success in any endeavor--school, work, relationships, or parenting--depends on trying, over and over, even when things are hard. There is certainly an element of ability and skill needed, but those are empty without endurance.

How can we help our children learn to try and try again?

Our small group at church began studying James this week. What a powerful book of faith in action. Notice the result of the trials we face from James 1:2-3: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Our children can learn endurance by trials. We can help them grow through trials instead of putting them in perfectly orchestrated situations where trials are practically absent. Or, even worse, allowing them to quit a class, a job, or a commitment before it has run its natural course (there are always exceptions, but quitting should be the rare exception, not the norm or first choice). There is value to trusting God's sovereignty in our children’s lives and helping them learn from what we may see as less than perfect situations. Be good parents, and don't put children in harm's way intentionally or in situations where they really can't succeed. But, let's be open to helping our children try, and try again in hard things, so he or she becomes a braveheart and succeeds like my friend.

Last, a side note. Endurance develops from facing trials. But Jack's point of the need for rest is well taken. We, including our children, endure and face trials better when some basics are in place. Rest is one of them, how are your children doing? How about good food, short on sweets and caffeine, and high on vegetables and good carbs? How about emotionally? Do your children have a safe place and feel loved? And the list can continue. What are other ways to make sure each child has energy and strength to endure?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Day After Thanksgiving

"Day After Thanksgiving"
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others." Cicero

Virtues in our children develop best when thankfulness is a part of everyday life. Hundreds of years ago, Cicero thought that gratitude was the greatest virtue and that other qualities, like courage, begin with gratitude. Recent work by Michael Zigarelli discovered the same thing. In his study of five thousand Christians, Zigarelli found that a mindset of gratitude is by far the top factor in developing a Christ-like character (Regent Business Review, Issue 17).

How does gratitude develop the virtue of courage? As a child thinks about his blessings and expresses gratitude, the focus goes from self to the Giver of the blessings. As he considers the Giver more and more, he learns to trust more, knowing that God is intimately involved in his life. He learns to love God and people, develops passions, and holds loosely his time and treasures since they are gifts to him, anyway. Considering the blessings gracefully poured on his life helps him give his life to something larger and to Someone who has great plans for him. Gratitude helps him know his frailties don’t matter when it is God who empowers him, guides him, and rescues him.

As we model gratitude every day and help our children see how deeply they are blessed, courage is only one of the virtues that will grow in their lives. Considering God’s goodness and expressing thankfulness to Him brings our children to a place of joy and freedom to become who they are meant to be. Courage begins with gratitude not only on Thanksgiving, but the day after and every day following. How can we build gratitude into our lives so our children are thankful people?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Solutions for Struggling Children

When a child is struggling and stuck in school or life, a simple analysis from First Thessalonians 5:14 can solve the problem, or at least get started in the right direction. In this verse, there are three reasons a child may be stuck and not succeeding. And, there is a solution for each reason. On the surface, they sound simple. But, there is power in their use and danger if used wrongly.

Paul says in 5:14, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

The first reason for a lack of success may be that a child is “unruly.” He has the ability to succeed and knows he can, but is simply choosing to be out of step. This is willful disobedience. He should be disciplined; “admonish” is used here, but I am sure other forms of discipline are fine.

The second reason for a lack of success is that a child may be “fainthearted.” This is the child who has lost heart. He can do it, but doesn’t believe he can. He has given up. This child needs “encouragement,” which means to give him courage. He can do it and needs to believe he can so he will try. This courage to try is the heart of a braveheart.

The third reason for a lack of success is being “weak.” This is a child who cannot do it, he does not have the ability.  He needs “help,” someone or something that will support him in the effort. Admonishment will simply make him feel worse since he may be doing all he can. Trying to give him courage would be like sending a short seventh grade basketball player into an NBA game: no matter how much confidence he has, he will not succeed and will be discouraged.

This is the danger: picking the wrong reason for a lack of success results in using the wrong solution which makes things worse. If an unruly child is encouraged or helped instead of being disciplined, he learns that choosing disobedience brings good results and keeps disobeying. If a fainthearted child who needs encouragement is disciplined instead, he feel like a failure. Or, if the fainthearted child is helped when he could do it, his belief in his inability is confirmed and stuck becomes more stuck. Last, if the weak child is disciplined, he is certainly wounded and a bitterness and lack of effort can result. Or, if the weak is encouraged but not able, encouragement becomes discouraging. To avoid making things worse, it is important to select the right reason a student is stuck.

Things can become complicated, especially if a child is weak or fainthearted and masks his inability or fears by looking like he doesn't care or by acting out. On the surface this child may look unruly, and may be to some degree. Or, a child who is weak may need both help and encouragement. Pulling back the layers to understand the real reason behind the problem is important to avoid further harm. As doctors are told, at least do no harm.

In God’s wisdom, He ends the verse with “be patient with everyone.” Because the real problem isn’t always clear, parents and teachers need to be patient. That doesn’t mean allowing a child to act wrongly, but it does mean to keep digging to understand the real reasons for not succeeding. And, when it is not clear, be patient. In God’s description of “love” in 1 Corinthians 13, there is a reason patience is listed first. If we love each of our children as God loves them, patience will play actively as we work to understand how to help our children succeed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finding Narnia

I named the last part of the trail where I regularly walk, "Narnia."  The woods close there, the trail dips and twists.  I can't see around the bends so even though I have been there hundreds of times, I wonder what is ahead.  A lot of times I don't get to Narnia, it depends on how much time I have.  If I go into Narnia it takes forty-five minutes instead of thirty-five.

But, I am always glad when I go there.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy climbs into the wardrobe while she and her sister and brothers are exploring.  As she goes to the back through the hanging furs, there is no end.  She finds herself in snow and trees, in Narnia.  When she tries to convince her brothers and sister that there is a Narnia, she shows them the wardrobe.  But, that time there is a back.  There is no Narnia and they make fun of her.  Sometimes it is there and sometimes it isn't.  But, if Lucy hadn't explored and they hadn't gone back again, they never would have found the new world where they would be kings and queens.

It takes time to find your Narnia.  If I am in a hurry, I don't go there.  If Lucy hadn't had time to play and explore, she wouldn't have found the land of Narnia at the back of the wardrobe.  I wonder in our busy lives of getting things done if we have left time to be adventuresome.  I wonder if our children are too scheduled to have that extra time to explore and discover their Narnia.

A braveheart shows courage to try new things and go new places.  But, if there is no time to see what is behind doors, down trails, or in minds, when will he or she learn the thrill of adventure that draws bravehearts to new places and ideas? 

How about we set the example for our children?  Show them a life of adventure and wonder.  It takes time and effort, sometimes only ten minutes like my Narnia on the trail, but sometimes it takes our life.  Our example, even in little ways, inspires our children to understand that life is more than a schedule and is full of adventure worth pursuing.

Then, how about we make sure that we don't plan so tightly that life is only a checklist?  Let's give them places and times where they can explore new worlds, new ideas, and new directions. Maybe its as simple as taking time to make the kitchen table a tent or as complex as helping your college age student travel several weeks with a friend in Central America.  Maybe it is just asking questions with a sense of awe as we go to the dentist or on vacation.  Or, taking a wrong turn on purpose to see somewhere we haven't been before.

Visiting the zoo recently, I heard a boy of about eight or nine saying to his mom, "I just want to explore a little. Can't I explore some?"  I am not sure she should let him go at the zoo, what with lions, and tigers, and bears around.  But, his cry seemed deeper.  "Just let me go some."  We have to find places and ways to let them go so they can explore.

That way they develop a heart, a braveheart, for seeing what's around the next bend in life.  They will learn to overcome the fear of the unknown with the goosebumps of adventure.  Raised to explore, they will be brave when faced with fears and twists in life, looking for what God has ahead.

Let's help them find their Narnias.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Words that Build Bravhearts

Words are powerful.  To build a braveheart, a child who has courage to try, parents and teachers need to praise the right things.  Even the smallest comment can convince a child that he or she is either smart or dumb, gifted or unable.  Either way, the child is stuck.  The one convinced that he or she is smart or gifted has no need to go for it, they already have it!  The one convinced that he or she is dumb or unable has no reason to try, they think it won't make any difference.

"Words that Ignite Learning"
But, as Kevin Washburn notes below in the excerpt from "Words that Ignite Learning," the child who is praised for effort "seeks challenge."  Noticing a child's efforts builds bravehearts and is in line with God's desire that we do our work "heartily, as for the Lord." 

Here are more of Dr. Washburn's comments that explain the power of words.  You can read the entire piece at from his October 20 post in Ecology of Learning.  While Dr. Washburn's comments are about learning, the power of words affects any area of a child's life and his or her courage to try.

"Words reinforce beliefs, and beliefs, especially those about intelligence, influence learning. Students can hold or lean toward either believing intelligence is something you’re born with (or without), or intelligence is something you gain through effort. A student who believes you’re born smart—or not—is less likely to put forth effort to learn. This student seeks to convince those around him that he is one of the chosen who were given the gift of smart at birth. Either that, or the student may believe he is not among the chosen so effort is futile. The same belief interpreted differently yields the same result: a student who is unlikely to work to learn when learning does not come instantly or easily."

"This mostly erroneous belief can be slippery. A student may believe it is true in one discipline but not another. For example, the same student can believe that you are/aren’t born smart in mathematics, but that you get better at reading through effort."

"Where do these beliefs originate? Many times in the home. We’ve probably all heard a student say something like, 'My dad said that I’m probably not good at math because when he was my age, he wasn’t good at math either.' The father’s words conveyed, confirmed, and/or introduced the wrong belief. When adopted by the child, the erroneous belief becomes an obstacle to learning.

"However, communicating the wrong idea about intelligence is not usually so overt. In fact, it can show up in a statement intended to encourage learning: 'Wow, Sam, you’re really good at math.' Such a statement emphasizes a belief that intelligence is something you are/aren’t born with because it suggests innate ability rather than drawing attention to the effort-result relationship. 'Wow, Sam, you worked hard on this and look at these results!' is better because it reinforces the idea that we get smart through effort."

"Words that Ignite Learning"
You may also look at Dr. Washburn's Clerestory Learning

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Restoring a Lost Heart

A child with a lost heart needs immediate attention.  From simple unmotivated sullenness to rebellion, run-aways, drugs, and suicide, lost hearts are often dangerous, especially to themselves.  Recently, one of my middle school student ran away from home and when found talked about suicide.  This lost heart needed immediate attention, probably with a doctor or hospital until hurting himself was not an option.

A braveheart will have times and situations where he or she doesn't have courage, but those are isolated and become areas to identify and grow.  But, a lost heart has given up and, like a cancer, the condition spreads to other areas of life.  A lost heart doesn't often restore itself and the danger grows.

The condition of a lost heart is most often tied to a broken relationship, either with a parent, friend, or God.  Helping a lost heart begins with building relationship.  Parents are prime players, but can get help when needed, like our young middle school student.  When a child has lost heart, intensifying relationships is the first step.  It may not work cleanly because relationship requires two to work.  But, mom and dad need to do their part.  Lost hearts are not restored without intervention.

In Malachi 4, God talks about His plan to "restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers."  Right before this statement, Malachi talks about the need to get rid of arrogance.  Parents with lost hearted children must humble themselves before God and their children to have hope of restoring heart.  Parents must be the "parent," taking initative in a relationsip by humbling themselves, forgiving and seeking forgiveness if needed.  And, find bridges to connect with their child.

But, often parents cannot do it alone.  They must not be too proud to ask for help from others such as counselors, friends, peers, family, and pastors--no matter where they are found, lost hearts need relationships to reestablish trust and build bridges to help.  God is about restoration.  Just as parents are powerful to build or ruin bravehearts, they are powerful to be used by God to lead in restoring heart as well.

After immediate help to make sure he was safe, we suggested that the dad of our middle school boy carve out some special time with his son.  Things had been rough at home with health and job problems.  The boy needed relationship and attention.  The best one to give it was his father, since the boy was still open to time with dad.  It is as simple as throwing a ball or taking a hike, something the boy enjoys.  The key is forging a relationship where forgiveness is possible and the future is hopeful.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Courage by Remembering

When Luke was a newborn, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Dallas.  We didn't sleep well in the same room with Luke. He kept making little baby noises that woke us.  So, he got the bedroom and we got the sleeper couch in the living room.  The sleeper couch with the metal bar that ran right under the middle of my back.  For a year.  I think if you look carefully, there may still be an indention!

When we moved and got a real bed, we said we would never forget what a blessing that new mattress was to us.  But, we very quickly stopped remembering God's gift of a bed and the difference it made.  I am so thankful that God is patient with me.  There are so many great things He does for me again and again.  And, I seem to forget faster than I notice.

Remembering what God has done for each of us is vital to trust and courage.  Certainly, remembering that He sacrificed His Son, Jesus.  But, also remembering all those other things He constantly does for me.

God's advice when we need courage is to remember what He has done for us, what our eyes have seen.  Deuteronomy 7:17-19 is an example:  "If you should say in your heart, 'These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?' you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt:  the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD you God brought you out.  So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid."

What do you remember that God has done for you, especially when you needed courage?  Remembering these, telling your children the stories, and letting them see God's Hand in small and big will help them trust and have courage.  Sometimes we want to insulate our children from the hard times, but the stories of God's provision and care when we follow Him and when things are hard are the stories that they will remember when they need courage.

Two suggestions to help our children.  First, step out with faith and courage so your children can see your courage and so you have stories to tell them.  Your example, not just in words but actions, is powerful in creating bravehearts.  What can you trust God for right now that takes courage?

Second, remember, somehow.  We are keeping a bulletin board in our hallway where we stick pictures and notes that help us remember God's care for us.  Every time I look, I realize how easily I forget.  And, I realize how many things I have probably not noticed or told myself that I would remember and didn't.  Maybe you use a bowl of notes.  Maybe a scrapbook or a journal.  Maybe it is the side of your refrigerator.  Our children need to see and hear our stories of faith and courage to begin their own.

Then, help them to find their own way to remember.  David remembered that God had delivered him from paw of the lion and the paw of the bear.  That memory convinced him that God would deliver him from Goliath.  Noticing God's care and power, then remembering, builds bravehearts.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Goldilocks Part Two, Discovering Giftedness

There are really two parts to discovering your child’s giftedness, otherwise known as "proper porridge finding” from the Goldilocks Principle on September 16. First, we discover, celebrate, and value each child’s uniqueness. Second, we help find classes and activities that fit.

Remember that this is a lifetime process (aren’t we all still discovering these things?). Most important is helping a child understand that he or she is gifted and that there is porridge out there that will taste good to each child. Sometimes we never get the porridge just right, but getting closer and closer encourages children to keep going that way.

Let me suggest some tools that you can use to help your child discover gifts. Here are some things to do and watch to help understand each child’s uniqueness:

Try. A moving ship can be directed by a small rudder. Help your child try a wide array of classes and activities recognizing that all won’t fit—he or she may even fail! But if you don’t try, you'll never know. Your child doesn't need to wait for someone else. You can introduce him to hiking, bike repair, reading, chess, serving the hungry, and a multitude of other activities.

Tests. Take advantage of evaluative instruments like Strengthsfinder, Do What You Are, spiritual gift inventories, personality tests, school testing that has career insights like Explore by ACT—any testing that your school or church has. You can find many others in books and online.

Terrific. What does your child do well? Note not only class grades, but the specific methods and parts of a class where she does well. And consider the huge realm of activities and work outside of class in the “real” world. Volunteering and working give chances to find these things.

Terror. Of what is your child scared to death? This is probably not his or her strength.

Tantalizing. What attracts your child? What sidetracks him from getting the things done he needs to do? What passions does he have and with what can you entice him?  (Eating probably isn't a gift, though!)  These attractions may point to gifts.

Tributes. What do people notice in your child? Help her value what people say she does well and celebrate it, even if she pretends it isn’t a “big deal.”

Time. When does he lose track of time because he is so absorbed (video games, TV, and showers don’t count!). On what does your child like to spend time? This is likely a strength.

Trials. What trials has your child withstood? What has she learned about herself and the strengths God gave? Often strengths show and grow when things are hard. Instead of just seeing the cloud, look for light on what can be learned.

Most important: just help your child find something he or she loves. And, if you can’t help him or her find the right porridge, know it is out there and that he or she is unique and gifted. Life can be tough. Having the hope of something that brings joy and purpose keeps children going, being a braveheart.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Goldilocks Principle

You know the story. “At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl. ‘This porridge is too hot!’ she exclaimed. So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl. ‘This porridge is too cold,’ she said. So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge. ‘Ahhh, this porridge is just right,’ she said happily and ate it all up.”

There is an important principle for parenting here. Let’s call it, “The Goldilocks Principle.” A child who is in a class or activity that is “too hot” or “too cold,” that just doesn’t fit how God made him or her will struggle and not enjoy it.  The child will become stuck and lose heart.  (Don’t forget, that hot bowl of porridge was just right for someone else—there is a person for every bowl of porridge! In fact in my research—yes, I really did research on Goldilocks and the Three Bears—one version says the first bowl was too spicy and the second too sweet for Goldilocks, maybe a better picture of what happens to children than too hot or cold.)

But, when Goldilocks found the bowl of porridge that was just right for her, she “ate it all up.” This is so much like our children. When they find a class or activity that is “just right” they eat “it all up.” They hardly notice the time, the effort, or the pain involved. They go for it enthusiastically, gobbling up the course or the activity.  They become bravehearts, ready to use and grow their gifts with passion.

Not long ago, I watched a group of girls gather in the dark at 6:15 am for powder puff football practice. Others thought they were crazy and would have hated it. These girls ate it up, they were laughing and running and banging each other like puppies playing with each other! It was a good fit. They had found some porridge that was just right. What to others may have been drudgery, they loved.

This is the Goldilocks Principle: Find the right porridge and a child happily eats it up. It is a major task of parenting and teaching: Help a child match gifts and passions with the right courses and activities, then watch in amazement as he or she flourishes. You could call this simply, “Cooperating with the Creator” since the goal is to look for that unique blend of gifts and interests that God has placed in each child and to connect each child with life’s options that fit the way he or she was created.

Every child should have something he or she loves to do, especially if most classes or activities are hard or don't fit perfectly.  Finding the right porridge somewhere in life keeps him or her encouraged and confident to keep trying with joy and heart.

Next time:  Eight ideas to help figure out the porridge for your child.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mindset: Fixed or Growth?

"In this book, you'll learn how a simple belief about yourself--a belief we discovered in our research--guides a large part of your life.  In fact, it permeates every part of your life.  Much of what you think of as your personality actually grows out of this 'mindset.'  Much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of it."  Carol Dweck, in Mindset, says that people either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  And, this view affects all aspects of life such as business, school, relationships, parenting, and marriage.

Don't let the subtitle throw you:  "The New Psychology of Success."  Essentially what Dr. Dweck has researched is the simple premise of Braveheart that success depends on the courage to try.  The Braveheart idea is rooted in Colossians 3:21:  "Fathers, don’t exasperate your children that they lose heart." The opposite of a lost heart is having heart, a “braveheart" which is especially important in a world with fears at every turn where it is easy to freeze and not grow.

Dweck concurs that children are born with heart and it is something they lose:  "Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn...What could put an end to this exuberant learning?  The fixed mindset.  As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges.  They become afraid of not being smart.  I have studied thousands of people from preschoolers on, and it's breathtaking how many reject an opportunity to learn."  We can exasperate children so quickly by comparing their abilities to others or praising intelligence instead of effort, creating a lost heart with a fixed mindset instead of keeping the heart to try and discover.

Mindset is worth reading.  I flagged thirteen chunks to share, and there could be more.  The concept and Dweck's exploration of its effect in life is sound and points to the reasons a braveheart succeeds.  Dweck is not as strong on "how" you get a growth mindset, but goes there with statements like:  "The idea that they are worthy and will be loved is crucial for children, and--if a child is unsure about being valued or loved--the fixed mindset appears to offer a simple, straightforward route to this."  And, "It's not that growth-minded parents indulge and coddle their children.  Not at all.  They set high standards, but they teach the children how to reach them.  They say no, but it's a fair, thoughtful, and respectful no...What is the message I'm sending here:  I will judge and punish you?  Or I will help you think and learn?"

A major key for many of us, as Dweck says, is just understanding that there are two mindsets.  And, then considering which we are.   Then, we can keep the awareness active as we raise our children.  Knowledge that a parent can cause a child to lose heart or can help a child be a braveheart is a great beginning.  Our every word or action helps stamp one approach or the other in the mind of our children.  And, with this awareness, search Scripture for eternal truths of "how" to raise a braveheart, a child with a growth mindset and all of its benefits.

Before leaving behind my thirteen ideas I would love to quote, let me share a favorite on the value of praise in developing mindset.  From Dweck: 

"Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence--like a gift--by praising their brains and talent.  It doesn't work, and in fact it has the opposite effect.  It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong.  If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.  That way, their children don't have to be slaves of praise.  They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence."

Test Dweck's ideas (you can look at against truth of Scripture.  Be encouraged that research shows what God says works.  She has some great thoughts.  Let's build bravehearts with a growth mindset.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Child's Courage to Launch

The courage to launch depends on the security of landing.  Children who know they can come back home and land in a safe place are a lot more likely to have the courage to try a new venture (adventure?).  Whether it is the first toddle aimed at mom's arms stretched out like a basket to catch, or the trip across the country for college with a plane ticket home, knowing there is a secure landing helps the going.  The courage to go places, explore ideas, speak up, or make a difference comes more easily when a child has a safe place to land.

A first grader, Mary, didn't want to leave her mom and go to school.  One day mom drove in the parking lot and got out of her car to visit a friend while Mary was getting her things ready in the car, supposedly.  Mary hit the lock button and refused to come out.  Through heaps of cajoling, mom got the little girl to open the door and I helped her get Mary out.  Then mom left.  I was holding Mary as she kicked  my shins and yelled.

I got her to come inside, after mom's car disappeared down the drive.  We sat down, and with the help of a soft drink at nine in the morning, Mary and I talked calmly.  She really didn't want to leave her mom. 

We made a deal, with mom's permission.  Mary would come to school, but once a week she could go back home if she wanted.  At any time, we would call mom to pick her up and go home.

Mary went home once, the next week.  And, never again.  In fact, never again did she fight coming to school.  The comfort of knowing that she could return home safely gave Mary the courage to face all those things that we do in school.  It may not work this way for every child, but knowing she had a safe landing helped Mary face the larger world.

Building a safe place to return gives bravehearts confidence to go new places and try new things.  Is home safer than the world?  Or, just as jarring?  Is it a secure place from the hurts and pressures of school and the world? Or, just another battleground?  Home may be where the heart it is.  Home certainly is the launching pad for bravehearts who try, knowing there is a safe landing waiting for them.

Ultimately, the real safe landing is with Jesus.  The better a child knows Jesus, the more likely he or she will know that as He leads, He will also catch.  A trustworthy and awesome basket with arms outstretched, always there for those who know Him.  And freeing to boldly go on His adventure.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Courage to Let Go

"The Writer" by Richard Wilbur made me think of my three daughters and son.  I bet you can see yours in the poem below as well.

"The Writer"

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Starling in Flight
Fraser's Birding Blog
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

Do we open windows for our children, windows to the world so they can find their way out of us and to their call? While we hope for ease, can we watch and pray while they go through the hard work, knowing that a rescue weakens them and the battle gives strength and courage?

And, another reason to stay out of the way sometimes.  "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).

Richard Wilbur

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Building Courage by Investing in Children

Building bravehearts with the courage to try depends on parents intentionally investing themselves in their children.  We make decisions every day about spending our limited energy and time.  Let me share three insights into the importance of investing energy and time in your children from an eclectic group of sources  I ran across this week, all saying the same thing: a country song, Harvard Business Review article, and a Bible verse.

I can't resist an occasional country song.  "Everything That Glitters Is Not Gold" by Dan Seals has become a new favorite, even though the song is old.  It talks about a rodeo star leaving behind her guy and their little girl, Casey:

"Everybody said you'd make it big someday,
And I guess that we were only in your way
But someday, I'm sure, you're gonna know the cost;
Cause for everything you win, there's something lost."

"But then sometimes I think about you, and the way you used to ride out
In your rhinestones and your sequins, with the sunlight on your hair;
And, oh, the crowd will always love you, but as for me I've come to know
Everything that glitters.... is not gold."

Next, Clayton Christensen, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School writes in the July-August 2010 edition of Harvard Business Review:

"When people who have a high need for achievement...have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they'll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments.  And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we're moving forward.  You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted.  In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn't offer the same immediate sense of achievement...People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers--even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness."

Christensen says that instead of creating a family culture of successfully working together, parents often use "power tools" when children are young, forcing cooperation through power because it is easier.  But, he says, "there comes a point during the teen years when power tools no longer work.   At that point parents start wishing that they had begun working with their children at a very young age to build a culture of home in which children instinctively behave respectfully toward one another, obey their parents, and choose the right thing to do.  Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently."

Christensen continues:  "If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won't magically materialize in high school.  You have to design them into your family's culture--and you have to think about this very early on.  Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works."

Last, Paul's blunt comment in Galatians 6:  "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap."

Let's have no regrets about where we spend our energy and time.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thawing Cold Hearts

Dana and I climbed to Agnes Vaille Falls three weeks ago, in the mountains outside of Buena Vista, Colorado.  Agnes Vaille isn't a hard climb, lots of dogs and children.  But, it is always a great introduction to the thin air of the mountains before harder trails.  You climb along a rushing stream to the falls and look up to see it cascading over the rim, probably sixty or seventy feet above, bouncing off boulders to where you stand.

Agnes, like most of the water in the Arkansas River Valley, is fed by snow melt.  Because of unusual heat a few days before our trip, the snow melted so fast that the Arkansas River was flowing over forty-five hundred cubic feet per second creating dangerous white water.  When we arrived, it had settled to a more normal, but still stout, twenty-five hundred. As temperatures warm in the summer, snow packs melt, then icy water flows down Agnes Vaille and countless other streams to the Arkansas River providing wonderful hiking, sightseeing, and rafting. Without the snow melt from the mountains, Agnes Vaille Falls and the entire whitewater industry on the Arkansas river wouldn't be

When our children have lost heart, they can be like the snow pack that sits on top of the mountain, not making a difference.  Stuck.  Not fulfilling their purpose.  Until someone comes along who warms them, who touches them so that they melt and join the race down the mountain with others fulfilling the best God has for them.

How do you warm a cold, lost heart, a child who has given up and does not have the courage to try? How do we keep a child's warm heart flowing?

Unconditional love can penetrate and warm any heart.  When we love a child as God loves us, freely and without regard to what we do or don't do, the child has no reason to stay cold.  Love, God's way, is patient since some hearts need time to melt life's snow pack.  Does your child know you love him or her like this? Freely and patiently, not only when she is "good" or he makes you happy but when there is no response.  Being accepted and cherished, without condition, lets the warmth of love thaw a lost heart, freeing the child to take the next step toward joining others pursuing God's call on his or her life.  The mighty Arkansas River is nothing without warmth starting the flow, just like our children.

Photo from a great site at

Monday, July 5, 2010

Strength and Courage in Business

Most of our children aren't called to conquer lands through combat like Joshua did when he claimed the promised land.  While victory was assured if Joshua would believe God and go, casualties and blood were likely.  God's direction in Joshua 1 to have strength and courage made sense when fighting armies.

But, our children are more likely to face business decisions, angry people, and nagging questions of insecurity.  The same types of problems that Solomon met when he tried to build the temple.  His battles and fears were like those our children will meet.

The solution is the same.  To fulfill God's purposes and to have success, strength and courage are needed in business as well as battle. David tells Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22:13:  "Then you will prosper, if you are careful to observe the statues and the ordinances which the LORD commanded Moses concerning Israel.  Be strong and courageous, do not fear nor be dismayed."

Even though Solomon had 100,000 talents of gold, 1,000,000 talents of silver, and practically every other resource imaginable, David knew that his son would need to follow God and have strength and courage.  David knew that being king and having wealth weren't enough, fears and lost hearts are inherent in any endeavor worth pursuing.  Solomon, like our children, was in danger.  Solomon needed to be a braveheart to build God's house, just as our children need to be bravehearts to build their lives.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Missing the Best Because of Fear

God offered his best to Israel, a land of promise flowing with milk and honey. Maybe not a big deal to us today when you can pick up a gallon of skim at Walgreen's, but in a dry and tough land, a glass of milk and something sweet was about like Thanksgiving dinner every day. Israel was to have the best, the land designed for them, freely offered, abundant, and ready to take.

But, what kept them from the best God offered? They lost heart, they became afraid and gave up. Their spies came back and said, “Yes, it is just as God promised, look at the fruit we brought back. But, there are some big people there.”  The fear spread, they lost heart, and they gave up. The courage to take the next step evaporated.

God gave the best he had to someone else, a generation later. What did that next generation need to have God’s best, to fulfill their calling and have success? Their leader, Joshua, was told what they needed. More than once. Catch what God tells him three times:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6-7, 9).

Getting the best God has for you, fulfilling your calling and dreams, depends on courage, on being strong. When our children lose heart and give up, they linger and languish in the deserts of life, like Israel. They don’t get the best God offers. What a terrible place to be, what a shame to sit and watch others live out the adventure of life that God intended for them. All, because of lost heart, the lack of courage to go for it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mojo or Nojo

Mojo is that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside.” Marshall Goldsmith in Mojo, 2009. Goldsmith's list comparing “MOJO” and “NOJO” (no joy) looks a lot like the differences between a Braveheart and a child who has lost heart:

Take responsibility—Play the victim.
Move forward—Marching back.
Run the extra mile—Satisfied with the bare minimum.
Love doing it—Feel obligated to do it.
Appreciate opportunities—Tolerate requirements.
Make best of it—Endure it.
Inspirational—Painful to be around.
Zest for life—Zombie-like.

Goldsmith says that there are four building blocks for “mojo.”

1. Identity: Who do you think you are?
2. Achievement: What have you done lately?
3. Reputation: Who do people think you are?
4. Acceptance: What can you change and what is beyond your control.

These four “building blocks” are useful for helping build your own Bravehearts:

1. Identity: Know who they are in Christ, really.  ("The God whose I am and whom I serve.")
2. Achievement: Know their gifts, develop skills, and experience success (“Don’t do anything for a child he can do for himself.")
3. Reputation: Know that someone believes in them and that proven character brings opportunity.
4. Acceptance: Know God is in control and their part in His plan.

Click here for Goldsmith's blog at HBR

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"But You've Lived"

Madeleine L’engle asks if holding back our children, to keep them safe, is what we really want: “But do we want unmarked children? Are they to go out into the adult world all bland and similar and unscarred? Is wrapping in cotton wool, literary or otherwise, the kind of guidance we owe them?” Do we really want children who are safe but heartless, protected with padding we provide and shaded by the umbrella we carry over them, so they can watch the world happen?

L’Engle goes on to tell about what a different, and delicious, life her mother had:

"My mother lived a wild kind of life in her day. She may be a grande dame now, but in her youth she rode camels across the desert, watched ancient religious rituals from a Moslem harem, was chased by bandits down the Yangtze River. During one time of crisis, her best friend, who grew up as unscarred as it is possible to grow, came to offer help and sympathy, and instead burst into tears, crying, “I envy you! I envy you! You’ve had a terrible life, but you’ve lived!”

Don’t we want our children to have courage to live the abundant life God has for them?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Motivating Courage

"We have a biological drive.  We eat when we're hungry, drink when we're thirsty, have sex to satisfy our carnal urges.  We also have a second drive--we respond to rewards and punishments in our environment.  But what we've forgotten--and what science shows--is that we also have a third drive.  We do things because they're interesting, because they're engaging, because they're the right things to do, because they contribute to the world.  The problem is that, especially in our organizations, we stop at that second drive.  We think the only reason people do productive things is to snag a carrot or avoid a stick.  But that's just not true.  Our third drive--our intrinsic motivation--can be even more powerful."

"I think that our nature is to be active and engaged.  I've never seen a 2-year-old or a 4-year-old who's not active and engaged.  That's how we are out of the box.  And if you begin with this presumption, you create more open, flexible arrangements that almost inevitably lead to greater satisfaction for individuals and great innovation for organizations."  Daniel Pink in "The Great Cognitive Surplus," Wired, June, 2010.

Two Braveheart concepts in the article.  First, "Father's don't exasperate your children that they lose heart," Paul in Colossians Three.  Children only lose what they have; heart is hereditary, "how we are out of the box."  But we help them lose it, a loss so important that Paul warns us. 

Second, passion trumps.  While strength, skill, giftedness, and past experiences help to be a braveheart, the passion to do right things and change the world wins when facing fears.  Passion--for a purpose and from a conviction--is the why.  Feed and water passion.

Oh, one more.  What does "open, flexible arrangements" imply for boxes we build around our children?  Human growth and development says bigger boxes over time.  Room to grow.  Keep the box big enough to create mighty oaks, not trimmed Bonsais in cute containers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Never the Same

Young David’s comment to King Saul about Goliath is a bold one, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” While we all appreciate David and his confidence in God, a courage that is exemplary, think for a moment about the other guys. They were looking for blankets to cover their heads.

“When all the men of Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid.” How many saw and fled? “All the men of Israel.” They all had the same opportunity as David, a chance to trust God, to show courage and be a braveheart. The opportunity to be rich, to marry the king’s daughter, and to be free was theirs. But they did not take it, they lost heart. Their courage crashed.

Why did they not try? They said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up?” Goliath didn’t change from XXL to Medium for David. He was still the same brute who taunted God’s men. But, David had courage. It could be that David was less afraid than others: he was young, and youth sometimes hasn’t lost as much heart as older folk. It could be he had more courage because he had beaten some wild animals and Goliath didn’t seem any worse. It certainly was that in his soul he believed God would deliver him. David had courage to seize the opportunity when others ran. And, his life was never the same. As our children become bravehearts and face fears, their lives will never be the same either.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Footsteps on the Stairs

At twelve, footsteps on the stairs kept me under my blankets. My room was tucked in the attic, alone, with only a small window to the roof and no escape from the intruder. I was trapped. No one would hear me if I called out. My fear drove me deeper under the covers, the steps grew louder. My courage failed. I was sure my life was over, that I would never see my teenage years. Until I realized that the footsteps were my heartbeats, pulsing against the pillow.

How often I have buried my head, making things worse with my imaginings, demanding greater courage than I can gather for dangers that aren’t even real. Sometimes the dangers are real, but hiding only makes the fears in my head grow. Fears, real and imagined, freeze each of us at times, keeping us from good things. If only we could throw back the covers and crash down the stairs with strength and courage to conquer whatever stands on the steps.

Isn’t this what we want for our children? Bravehearts who throw back the covers and face fears. Courage to use the gifts and abilities that God has given. Courage to take advantage of opportunities, often when no one else will or when others say, “you can’t.” A boldness that speaks up for the bullied, runs for a student council office, speaks truth, and is singled out for right rather than wrong. A braveheart who will take risks for good reasons and make a difference.