Monday, December 3, 2012

A little Christmas Visitor

So, I think I may be the ONLY mom in America that has not given her kids an Elf on the Shelf. After teaching Discipline Without Stress and watching kids shine while taking ownership of their own behavior, I just can't bring myself to tell my kids that they need to be good for presents. I am not judging if you if you chose to half an Elf in your house, it is just not for me. :) The idea is that the Elf will report each night to Santa on the kids behavior that day. I would much rather see my kids make the right choices because it is the right thing to do, not out of fear of disappointing Santa.

 I do however, LOVE the idea of the kids waking up each day to see their little Elfy friend. I am terrified of  the day that Ella or Olivia come home from school and ask why Santa's Elf does not visit our house. I never thought I would feel mommy guilt related to a little Elf doll, but here we have it. :) I can't deprive my kids, right?

Have no fear.... I have an idea! This one is great! Instead of a little Elf that tells Santa each night, I want my kids to focus on the meaning of Christmas and Advent. Sooooo my kids will be visited by a sweet little Angel. We could call him Gabriel. :) This little Angel will show them the new Bible story and craft that goes along with their Jesse Tree each day. (If you missed the Advent Jesse Tree craft idea click here) It will also do some Random Acts of Kindness and maybe some silly things around the house too. It will give me an opportunity to teach the kids about angels and how they are always with us protecting us. He might even leave little notes about the love of Jesus for all of us!  I am excited to make a lasting joyful memory of Christmas for my little ones.

The angel has now visited us twice. The first day I left a trail from the bedroom down the stairs with ribbon. They found their Jesse Tree lit up with a little Angel beneath it. With the angel was a note explaining who she is why she is here.  They also found their children's bible and craft.  The girls were thrilled! They talked about it all day! They could not wait to look around the house this morning for the angel again.

Today I hid her in a different location with the bible and craft again.  I also included another note today. This note explained that she enjoyed being with them. Yesterday was a tough day in our house. While I was at church volunteering my husband had all three kids. My new little baby struggles when mommy is away because he does not like bottles. I knew it had been stressful for my husband and all of the kids, so I wrote about that in our letter. The angel told them "You were so sweet to Daddy and Eli yesterday when Eli was sad. Thank you for being kind to your family. It makes God happy to see you treat your family with kindness". Now, were my kids kind the WHOLE time? Absolutely not, in fact while the baby was crying they opened the front door and let the dog run down the street. My poor husband had to chase two kids and a dog while carrying a crying baby. But, focusing on what they did well makes them want to do better in the future.  A little empowerment and encouragement can go a long way.
Remember, if you are looking for a change in your child's behavior, especially a long-lasting change, fear or bribery will not do the trick. It may change the behavior temporarily but the behavior will return with a vengeance. Trust me I have tried these tactics with classrooms full of little ones. Instead, give them something positive to focus on like love and kindness. Teach them how to love one another and live out their faith and you will change their hearts forever. I went to visit my 2nd graders from last year and one of the little girls wrote me a letter. In the letter she told me how much she learned about how to treat her family and friends in our class last year. She wrote "Mrs. Copeland you will forever be my example of how to live my life".  I nearly cried right there in the cafeteria!! It all goes back to Have you Filled a Bucket Today. (If you missed that post click here.)
If you are interested in bringing an Advent Angel to your home I have a free download of the first letter from the Angel. here You can also use the template to create personalized letters for your kids based on the positive things that you see them do each day. 
 When you give kids something positive to focus on their behavior will change automatically. PROMISE!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Parenting Without Stress

Could that really be true? Is it possible to be a stress-less parent? Probably not, but this book does help. It is written by Dr. Marvin Marshall and I used the companion book in my classroom Discipline Without Stress, Punishments, or Rewards. Dr. Marshall's philosophy is to teach children to be independent self-managers who know the difference between right and wrong. Not to simply raise children who perform well for a prize or reward. Isn't this what we all want? Children who make the right choices based on morals and "Doing the Right Thing?" I know that is what I want for my own kiddos. I have to admit that teaching kids to make the right choices by following this system is my absolute favorite subject to teach. I would teach morality all day long if I could. :) Unfortunately, I did not teach at a private school so I was not able to incorporate my faith into any of this teaching but it all coincides so nicely with the Christian faith.

There are three main components to the program: Positivity, Choice/Questioning and the Behavior Levels. All three of these remind children to be responsible for their behavior and reflect on what level they are performing on. The levels are A: Acting out of Control and this is anything that is dangerous or hurtful to others, B:Bullying, bossying, or bothering, C:Cooperation- this is considered a good behavioral level but not the best. On level C children do what they are asked to do by an adult, because someone is watching them or they know they will receive some type of reward. This is the height of most behavioral systems in America. Level D is the highest form or self control and moral thinking. D stands for "Doing the Right Thing". On level D children do what they are supposed to do without being asked by an adult or without anyone watching. They simply make good choices because they know it is the right thing. This may also be going out of their way to do something nice for someone else just to make them happy. We often talk about the internal rewards that they receive by operating on level D "it feels good in my heart". Children shine when they can treat each other with love and respect just because it feels good to help others.

Whew that was a long winded explanation of the program. I could talk for hours about it because I love it so much. I am now teaching this program to my 3 and 4 year old girls. Each night we discuss a different behavior level, read a book to go with it, then draw pictures of what that behavior looks like. Yes I am a total teacher so I hung the pictures on the wall in our playroom, but you don't have to do that. :) You could make a book for them to refer back to or some other fun and creative way to keep these little reminders.

The books that accompany them are Level A: Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by: Kevin Henkes

Level B: A Weekend With Wendell by: Kevin Henkes

A Bad Case of the Stripes by: David Shannon

The Recess Queen by: Alexis O'Neill


Level C: The Little Red Hen

Level D: There are oh so many and I read them often to remind them of what level D looks like
"Jamaica's Find"
"Ella the Elegant Elephant"
"Clever Jack Takes the Cake"
Or any other book where the characters show love, kindness and respect to one another. 

Here are some DWS posters that I made. They have the behavior level, examples of that behavior and an icon to remind the child. You can also sit down with your kiddos and have them come up with more behaviors that would fit in each level.  To download them for free visit my Teachers Pay Teachers site here.





Thursday, November 8, 2012

It is better to give....

Each Christmas I try my hardest to show my kids that there is more to Christmas than just presents. In fact I am not sure they even realize that they get presents until it is time to open them. :) One way to do this is to focus on giving to others this Christmas season.
I love teaching children to give. One of my favorite moments as a teacher is when I see the light switch turn on in a child. It is the moment when they realize it is more fun to give to others than to receive something. Our kids are so flooded with toys and gifts that the happiness that they receive from gifts is temporary and fleeting. When they feel the joy and love that comes from giving for the first time it is a long term sustaining happiness and they can't wait to give again. The kids would tell me "I love helping my friends. It makes me feel good in my heart!" 
I have noticed that everyone seems to be very generous this time of year especially in non-profits that provide toys to children. While I think this is a noble cause I just can't help having the same feelings each year. Here in America we spend millions of dollars on toys and fancy Christmas dinners while there are millions of Christians around the world that celebrate Christmas with nothing, not even clean running water. Couldn't our donations be better spent elsewhere? I have found several great ministries that gift to the most needy in the world and your kids can help as well.

 The first is called Operation Christmas Child. In this program we pack shoe boxes with toiletries, pictures and small toys to send to kids in 3rd world countries. I especially like this because our children can take such an active roll in deciding what to send. They can even chose to send some of their own toys, draw pictures or write the children letters. I did this last year with my 2nd grade class and we sent 13 boxes. It was great! The boxes are due the week before Thanksgiving and you can drop them off at local churches that participate in the program. To look for a church near you visit their website.
Operation Christmas Child

Another ministry that is dear to my heart is the water project in Nigeria. When Chad and I returned to the church and became active for the first time we met Father James. He was fresh from Siminary and ready to make a difference in the world. Father James is from a small town in Nigeria that is so poor  they do not have running water in their homes or anywhere in town. They would wash their clothes and drink the water from the slow moving creek. It was dirty and unsanitary. Father James started a program to raise money for his town. He has gone back three years in a row and built water systems to be used by all of the town's people. Here is a video from his visit two years ago. It is so beautiful to see the joy in the eyes of the people. They truly are thankful for everything that God has given them.
If you are interested in helping Father James with his ministry you can visit his church website.

Another program that I just love is called "Sinks for Moms" it is put on by an organization called Kid to Kid. The founders of this organization were members of my church before they became full time missionaries. Each Christmas they come back and ask for support to provide sinks to families would not otherwise have running water in South American countries.

Kids to Kids

I also love Samaritan's Purse. It is a great place to "Shop" for loved ones. The catalog is not your average Christmas catalog. Instead of being filled with toys and clothing galore, the catalog has necessities like goats, grain, pigs, etc. You can "buy" a loved on a pig in their honor for Christmas. I love the idea of giving each other "gifts" that will help others.

It does not really matter which of these great organizations you choose to help. The important thing is that you include your children in the decision and the fund raising. Invite them to give of their own money or to raise funds somehow. Kids love to put on little fundraisers like lemonade stands or bake sales. I had several kids in my class last year that had birthday parties and instead of receiving gifts themselves asked if they could donate all of their gifts. You could also host a Christmas party and ask for donations to be given to a charity. There are so many ways to involve children in giving and they love to be part of it. Encourage your children this Christmas to give to others and watch the joy that it creates in their hearts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Only 59 More Shopping Days Until Christmas

Okay so I am not trying to be like Hobby Lobby and start advertising Christmas before Halloween is over or anything, buuuuttt I felt this necessary. Advent is quickly approaching and it seems to sneak up on me every year. It starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving so we are still wrapped up in the fun of turkey, football, trying to save five bucks on a toaster and putting up Christmas decorations that we forget to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.

What is Advent? Is it a time to shower our homes with all things Christmassy? Is it a time for Christmas parties and Christmas wish lists? The way I see it Advent is similar to Lent. It is a time to prepare our hearts for one of the most amazing miracles that has ever taken place in the history of the world. God's one and only son was born in a barn to a virgin who said yes. It is truly miraculous. How do we celebrate this beautiful gift? With presents, excess, presents and more excess. We forget to step back and look at what God gave us, love in its simplest form. Through a newborn baby surrounded by animals in a manger.

Now I may not make a ton of friends with this post but I feel like I should be true to who I am. I love the Christmas season as much as the next guy, but I will NOT allow my kids to believe that Christmas is all about presents, Santa and being good because the little Elf is watching. I want my kids to love and cherish Christmas for the real reason. We don't need to candy coat it with presents and elves, Christmas is a miracle and children LOVE to hear the story of baby Jesus. Have you ever seen how enamored children  become when they see baby Jesus in the manger? They love him! When my 23 year old cousin Tabitha was 4 she told my mom "Aunt Kathy I need to borrow your Mary and your Baby Jesus I will bring them back on Tuesday". She loved to carry around those little figurines.Why did she love them so? Because God put a place in her heart that was only made for Him. It wasn't made for Santa or presents it was made to yearn for Him. In her purest little form she loved Jesus for who He was.

Does this mean I don't celebrate the secular Christmas in my house? No, I would never give up the secret to my kids, but I don't encourage it much. I figure they get enough information about Santa at school and on TV. At home we focus on the true meaning of Christmas.  If my kids are going to behave well because of someone they can't see I want that someone to be God. I want them to make choices because it is the right thing to do not because the Elf might go tell Santa. Children have a difficult time discerning what is real from imaginary. I worry that when find out the truth about Santa they might believe we have been tricking them about God all along too. Wouldn't that be sad?

So what can we do to encourage them this Christmas Season? We can take full advantage of Advent as a time to prepare our hearts and homes for the coming of Jesus.  Last year we made a Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree is a type of Advent calendar but instead of getting a candy each day the family reads a bible story together and makes an ornament for the tree. The stories begin with Adam and Eve and go through the entire bible until Jesus is born. It is a fabulous way to teach your children the stories of Salvation History. It might also be a good way to learn the stories yourself as well. :)
 Last year during Advent my two year old could tell you all about Adam and Eve and how they did not obey God, the story of Jacob and his jealous brothers, even Abraham and Isaac. The girls loved working on the Jesse Tree Ornaments each day.  You can buy Jesse Tree ornaments on Etsy and other sites that are cutesy, but I liked that it became a family craft together.   It gave us something to do together each evening. I simply printed the ornaments, one set for each child. Then we decorated them in different ways each day: coloring, painting, stickers and hung them on the tree. Here is a link to a free Jesse Tree printable, it also explains the tradition in more detail.
Jesse Tree. I pray that you and your family will enjoy growing closer to God through His beautiful word this Advent season.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Peace that Surpasses Understanding

Go ahead "be at peace" that is easy to do right? In our culture finding peace is not an easy thing.  It seems that anxiety and stress are at an all time high. I learned a thing or two about anxiety and peace in college.  My cousin Ericca and I grew up together as best friends. Neither of us had a sister so we clung to one another as sisters.  She nearly scared me to death when were 19. She was driving one night as we left my mother's apartment complex. She pulled to the exit and stopped in front of the busy street in front of us waiting to turn left. For a few moments she did not move and I remember looking at her and saying "hellllo Ericca are you going to go?" Just then she looked at me with a vacant, blank scare, a look I will never forget. Then she began to seize. She had a Grand Mal seizure behind the wheel. The car began to roll across the busy street. By the grace of God not a single car drove by during this whole episode. I was terrified I did not know what to do. Since the car was traveling the wrong way on the road by itself I threw the gear shift into park. The car made an awful sound and I thought for sure I ruined her engine. It turns out that was the best decision that I made because seconds later she hit the gas pedal with all of her body strength and the engine roared. I called 911 and the operator tried to help me take care of my cousin. We happen to be on the street in front of the hospital. I could not seem to understand why the paramedics took so long.  In those few moments I thought my cousin was dying. Thankfully, she regained consciousness before the paramedics arrived.  They took her to the hospital. I was so scarred by the event that the ER staff thought I was the injured person and tried to admit me. :) My sweet Ericca was completely fine after this and did not drive again for 6 months. I on the other hand was greatly effected.

I was terrified that either Ericca would have another seizure or that other drivers on the road would suddenly have a seizure. I developed an intense anxiety to driving. While driving I would picture horrific multiple car crashes taking place in front of me. The anxiety became debilitating, especially because my future husband lived three hours away and I had to drive to see him.  I tried going to a therapist but the anxiety pulled me away.  At this point in my life I did not know God, and never thought to ask Him for help.

Then a friend invited me to her bible church and I went. During the sermon the pastor spoke about how God has no place for worry in our lives. This was such a foreign concept to me. What do you mean God wants to take away my worry? I felt as though the entire sermon was directed to me and my situation. I began to pray in times of worry and stress and it helped. Then a few months later I walked into a different church and saw a bulletin board that read "Worry about nothing. Instead, tell Him everything. Pray!" I was blown away by this statement. I never thought about giving all of my worries to God. I now know that this was a translation of the scripture Philippians 4:6-7
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
This scripture changed my life. It taught me to give it all to God, literally He wants us to tell Him EVERYTHING!  After deepening my faith and reading the scripture from Philippians I noticed something. Not only does it tell us to pray in times of worry or trouble it says that we will receive Peace. This is not worldly peace. Like "Peace and Love" peace or gangsta wrapper "Peace". This is the Peace of Christ. The peace that "surpasses all understanding". It is peace that we as humans can not fathom, because it is of God. St. Augustine said "If you can understand it, then it must not be of God".  Most Americans have not experience this internal Peace that flows from the Holy Spirit. When a person grows in relationship with Christ they receive the Fruits of the Spirit through the Holy Spirit these are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Wouldn't we love to have someone describe us using these adjectives? They are not as hard to obtain as you might think, but it is not something that we can do on our own. Only through giving your heart to Christ and letting go of what we hold onto as women will we receive these beautiful fruits of the spirit. Here is the great part, YOU don't have to do anything. All you have to do is TRUST in God. My three year old told me today in the car "Mommy did you know you can trust God?". Yes in my heart I do but sometimes my head takes over and I forget to trust in Him. 
Did you know that there are 365 verses in the bible that mention worry? One for each day of the year. God has no place for worry in our lives. Instead, He yearns for our trust. He wants us to lean on Him in good times and struggles. After all, these struggles are what strengthen our relationship with Him. So open up your heart and let "the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus".

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thank Goodness for Theology of the Body

One of the biggest challenges for me as a mom is trying to protect my kids from a sex crazed culture.  It terrifies to me to think of my girls becoming teenagers. Aaah I don't want to think about that right now. I love teenagers. Teen ministry is my absolute favorite, but I am not ready to be the mom of two teenage girls. We live in a culture that basically says anything goes. It is okay to have sex anytime with anyone, to live together before marriage and a whole slew of other behaviors that break apart our relationships with God and set us up for rocky marriages.  I often hear people talk about the marriage crisis in America and how can we fix it? My answer is we have to start teaching the next generation BEFORE they make these mistakes. It is too late to talk to a couple about the dangers of living together once they are living together. This is why I love teen ministry so much.

I honestly believe the cause for the breakdown of so many marriages is pre-marital or extra-marital sex.  We have lost the true meaning of a Christian relationship. In fact most of us have never heard God's vision for marriage explained.  I was not exposed to this until long after I was married.  Can you imagine starting your marriage with this in mind? How different would our lives be? The Catholic church has an AMAZING program called Theology of the Body. It was originally written by Pope John Paul the II in a series of encyclicals and then translated by Christopher West.  TOB explains the true plan for marriage that God intended. It teaches women and men to treat each other with love and respect and to treat sex as a gift for marriage. It empowers young girls to look for the man that God has intended for them, not simply someone who will give them attention. It also shows them that they are wonderfully and beautifully made regardless of what our culture tells them. It is truly empowering to both sexes and creates stronger marriages.  There are also TOB programs for teenagers and I recently heard about a program for middle schoolers starting in 5th grade. Yes this sounds incredibly young, but let's face it our kids are exposed to sex whether we like it or not. At least this way they are hearing the truth about God's plan for our sexuality from the get go, instead of trying to unlearn what society has instilled in them. The program is called "Purely You: Growing God's Way". It also includes a parent Q & A section that gives pointers on how to explain these concepts to your kids when they start asking questions.

I pray that I can teach my daughters to understand who they are as Christian women and how to uphold their values.  I highly recommend taking a TOB course or reading Christopher West's book. The courses are offered several times a year in our area and if you don't live in Austin I am sure you can find one near you.

Monday, October 1, 2012

See it Pray it!

Praying out loud  always seems to be hard for kiddos. Heck praying out loud for adults is hard too! In our house it usually ends up that I do a lot of the praying, which is good because I am modeling for them how to pray. My goal though is not to only model but also for them to take ownership in their own little prayer lives. I want them to know that prayer is the answer to all of life's problems. It is also the cause of all of life's joys.  I want them to know that they can talk to God about anything at anytime. So where do we begin? Right now my three year old has started praying her own little independent prayers. It is usually some variation of "Thank you God, I love you God Amen!" It is her own and it is original which I love but now I think she is ready to put some real substance into her prayer. When it is time to sit down and pray together I think they forget what they wanted to pray about. I heard an interview with a member from the band Philips, Craig and Dean and he was talking about how he uses pictures to keep him focused in prayer. It got me thinking about children and how they are extremely concrete thinkers! From that was born the See it Pray it board!

To make the board the girls and I sat down together and discussed the reasons why we pray
  • To thank God for our blessings
  •  To tell Him how much we love Him
  • To pray for others in need
  • And most importantly to ask God to help us transform our hearts for Him. This last one I believe is so important because it reminds us that we don't have to take on the troubles of the world on our own. If we have a problem take it to the "Divine Physician". He wants to help us overcome life's struggles. 

Then we came up with several things that we should pray for together each night. We are tremendously blessed right now with a new born baby. I also have 5 amazing friends who also have newborn babies. Livi wanted to draw a picture of each baby and write all 5 of their adorable little names on the board. Instead she just drew one picture and I wrote the word "Babies". :) We also included pictures of each member of our little family to remember to be thankful for each other.

Then we added names of people that need prayers right now. I have two sweet friends who are currently in Hospice care. One is a little girl and the other an amazing Mom. We put both of their names on the board. I don't intend to explain to my girls in detail why we are praying for them, but I will explain their love for God and how they really need God right now.We are also expecting a new baby cousin and are so thrilled so they want to pray for their Aunt Lindsey or Zee Zee as they call her.

After that we talked about the things in our lives that we need God's help with.  Since the baby was born the behavior in our house has been more challenging. I think this is just a new baby phase and it will end soon. Hopefully! :) My four year old said that we need to work on "showing each other love more". So she made a heart and wrote the word "Love" inside.  We also decided that we need to work on being better "Listeners" so we wrote that in stickers as well. Praying for these challenges each night will do several things for our family. First, it will allow us to give our problems over to God and let Him heal us. Next, it will open up the lines of communication each night for us to discuss why we are struggling in a positive and loving manner. The best time to teach kids about behavior is not in the heat of the moment. Rather it is in a time where they feel connected and loved. I feel a whole slew of "teachable moments" coming on!

The best part about the See it Pray it board is that I used a magnet board so we can change it anytime as needs arise. I am also going to encourage them each night to think of new people or problems to pray for. Don't forget though... We can pray anytime throughout the day. Teach kids to stop right then in the moment and pray for a struggle. Teach them to pray for a loved one who asks for prayers right there with them. Also teach them to notice when God answers their prayers. Point out how the situation has changed as a result of their prayer and remind them that it is because of God's love. Have fun encouraging your children to know and love God!