Do Your Kids Feel Stuck?

Do Your Kids Feel Stuck?

Do Your Kids Feel Stuck?

 

Kids giving up. Kids not asking for help. They’re asking for help when they should know what to do on their own. Sound familiar? These are common frustrations.

As I write about in Screens and Teens, helplessness can be an effect of digital devices. Kids of all ages believe things should be easy, learning shouldn’t take any effort, and winning should be guaranteed. Of course, none of this is true!

Many parents and teachers tell me that kids are hurrying through their work, not concerned with excellence. They skip things they can’t easily do on their own. This is true of academic pursuits, musical practices, and handling chores around the house.

When children aren’t sure what to do, many aren’t asking for help. Perhaps they can’t admit they need it because “everything should be easy.” They might not even know what kind of help they need. When that’s the case, asking for help is nearly impossible.

Some children get easily scared of something that looks new and hard and ask for help before making honest attempts on their own.

I feel for these children and for you because this isn’t healthy, but it is stressful. The next time you see kids behaving in one of these ways, maybe you can use the example of an escalator to open up communication.

Remind your kids of escalators they’ve seen in movie theaters, shopping malls, and museums. Ask them to picture two people on an escalator when it unexpectantly stops. They realize it’s broken and they feel stuck. They wait quite a while, just looking around. Then they begin to shout,

“Somebody help us!!”

“Help us! The escalator isn’t moving!”

“We’re not moving! Somebody get help!”

Hopefully your kids will see how silly that is. Perhaps you’ll all have a good laugh. Then talk about what they could have done instead. “Walk up the stairs created by the escalator, of course.”

Exactly. Take a step. Get moving. Do for yourself what you can do.

The Time I Was “That Girl” and How It Freed Me Forever

The Time I Was “That Girl” and How It Freed Me Forever

The Time I Was “That Girl” and How It Freed Me Forever

 

As great as getting together with family can be, these gatherings can also be stressful. Based on stories I hear from especially women I minister to, there are many reasons. Often it’s because we think we need to change for others. We sometimes strive to be who we think others wish we were. We feel unacceptable and unaccepted.

To try to win approval, we can find ourselves talking about our successes more than we wish we were. We may hear ourselves make excuses for deficiencies we think are obvious and a blight on our identity. Then, or later when our head is on the pillow at the end of a long day, we may be angry with ourselves for playing this game.

My friend, Jerusha Clark, wrote an important book because she cares deeply for women. She reminds us that God does not define Himself with reference to any quality or person. “He is, and that is enough.” In contrast, we tend to describe ourselves in terms of how we relate to people (friend, coworker, wife) or in terms of our accomplishments (title, accolades). Perhaps you can relate to her conclusion: “When our identity is wrapped up in these external things, we inevitably (and exhaustingly!) strive to prove ourselves worthy of love, attention, or affirmation.”

Jerusha shares insights here for us today. Her book, Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Discovering the Real You, is full of many more. Especially if you’ve tried to hide because you’re not sure the real you is enough, I highly recommend it. If you’re raising preteen and teen daughters, consider reading it with them. Jerusha’s illustrations and insights will generate valuable discussions.

Will I Be Good Enough?

Few things make me feel “less than” quicker than walking into a wedding or event that’s clearly “out of my league.” I mean, I’m not quite riff-raff, but I’m no society queen either, so when the invitation to my girlfriend Tammy’s Malibu wedding arrived, oozing swank with every hand-embossed letter, I was faced—once again—with the haunting question: Will I be good enough?

Of course, I didn’t really ask this out loud. Like a lot of women, I just carried around the nagging sense that I wasn’t quite cutting it (and never would) as a mom, as a wife, in my work…even in my faith. I wanted to teach my own daughters how to settle the “good enough?” question. But, perhaps like many of you, I found that wasn’t so easy. Kids seem to fight the “less than feelings” earlier and earlier. I wanted my kids to be different; I wanted to be different.

Here’s how a posh wedding and a bit of red napkin changed me forever:

Tammy’s wedding started in forty-five minutes. I was speeding down Pacific Coast Highway on my way to her ritzy affair, pink sponge curlers bouncing in my hair (yes, I still use these hairstyling relics). It was 90-plus degrees this particular July afternoon, and I had opted not to unroll my hair or put my dress on until I neared the Malibu Cliffs.

I scanned the road for a nice-ish gas station where I could change. Spotting one, I pulled in, gathered my things, and stuck my foot out the door. I instantly realized (with horror) that I had forgotten my wedding shoes. I was wearing—go figure—the tackiest flip flops I owned, the kind you sport around the house long after the flap peels away and the straps thin ominously.

Eek! There was no chance these were going to fly at a Malibu wedding. I hurriedly grabbed my cell phone and tracked down a Payless not too far away.

Alright; it would have to do. Hopefully I could find something halfway decent. I ran into Shell’s bathroom, yanked the curlers out, calmed my ringlets into a respectable wave and put on my dress.

Miles out of my way, I dashed inside the shoe store, found some strappy white dress sandals, and paid (somewhat grudgingly, but also gratefully).

I Arrived

The wedding was every bit as classy as I had imagined. Still, no amount of glitz can alter the temperature, and the eager July sun beats down on the glamorous and unglamorous alike. I sat, patiently awaiting the bridal march, well aware that I do not “glisten” or “perspire” like some females. I flat-out sweat. Really I should all-caps that. Armed with a cocktail napkin, I dabbed furiously at the beads forming on my face.

After the vows and the kiss and the triumphant recessional, I chatted with some family members and friends of the couple. I didn’t know many people, so I basically talked to people around the hors d’oeuvre and beverage tables.

Before dinner began, I ducked into the ladies’ room to wash my hands. When I looked into the mirror, however, I gasped with alarm. Perhaps you recall that I had been using a cocktail napkin to hold back the tide of my sweat. Well, said napkin was red. Said napkin was also strewn around my face in splotches of damp, ruddy cotton. Apparently no one I’d been conversing with felt they knew me well enough to tell me I had patches of red napkin stuck to my face. Seriously, people?!

The ordeal was embarrassing, but not tragic. I peeled the napkin off and decided laughing would be better than adding post-crying mascara stains to my humiliation. That said, I emerged from the bathroom determined to avoid anyone I had talked to previously.

It may sound odd, but I’ve thought about that napkin a lot over the years. The whole experience helped me realize how often and how desperately I’ve tried to avoid being “that girl,” (you know, the one with sweaty napkin on her face). I don’t mean that literally, of course. What I really mean is that I don’t want to be exposed; I don’t want to feel foolish or incompetent. I want to be the perfectly-put-together guest at the Malibu wedding, not the one in half-a-size-too-small Payless shoes with red napkin splotching her features.

We’ve All Been “That Girl”

At some time and in some way or another, though, every one of us has been “that girl.” We try our best to hide our weaknesses or mistakes (my propensity to sweat, for instance), but covering up actually leaves us with figurative patches on our face and heart. The more we hide—the more our kids learn to hide—the louder the question becomes: am I good enough?

I spent years (Ugh! Let’s change that to decades) working to shut off the “not good enough” reel in my mind. Like many of you, I tried to make my kids the most well-rounded beings on the planet, tried to carefully curate the “happy Christian woman” image, tried to do something meaningful for the Kingdom. The one thing it took me far too long to do is accept the truth that it’s okay to be the girl with napkin on her face. It took me a long time to look at myself and believe, “Yep.  Good enough, just as I am.”

In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We are created in His image; if He is the Truth, we are to be truthful and live out truth as well. This involves risk and vulnerability (and, in my case, sometimes allowing people to see me a sweaty mess).

Embracing truth is the pathway to peace and to secure identity. If we want to silence the “good enough” questions that plague us or plague our kids, if we want to experience the abundant life Christ died to give us, we have to ditch the red napkins of life, the things we’ve tried using to cover up.

I invite you to join me in discovering and learning to love what’s real, including the real you. Remember, you can’t teach your kids something you haven’t learned yourself. Turns out, “finding yourself” concerns more than just you; when your identity is secure, you are free to love and serve the people around you with no “please make me feel better about myself” strings attached.

Jesus proclaimed, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Doesn’t that sound good? Freedom!  Freedom from the tyranny of “less than” fears, freedom from shame, freedom from hiding (or filtering or posturing), freedom to be not just to seem. Start leaning into truth and savoring freedom today.

—————

You can learn more about living in authentic freedom, being rather than seeming, and embracing life to the limit in Jerusha’s book, Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Discovering the Real You (Baker, 2017).

 

  Jerusha Clark co-authored four books with her husband, Jeramy, including three bestsellers, prior to launching her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God, one thought at a time.  On quiet days, you can find Jerusha body-boarding, reading, or singing around a bonfire at the beach, her absolute favorite place. Jeramy and Jerusha have two amazing teenage daughters and love ministering together at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences. You can learn more at www.jandjclark.com.

8 Great Smarts Christmas Shopping

8 Great Smarts Christmas Shopping

8 Great Smarts Christmas Shopping

 

Christmas and children – they just go together, don’t they? Perhaps you’re looking forward to spending time with children and teens later this month. Maybe you’re still shopping for their gifts. You’re not alone. Stores are still full. Website traffic is high.

Games and toys are some of the best ways to awaken and even strengthen their eight great smarts. Here’s a short list of suggestions taken from the end of each chapter of 8 Great Smarts.

Shop strategically. If you don’t know how the children are smart just pick one or two that sound interesting. If you do know, think about whether they’d enjoy a game for a smart they’re already developing or whether to buy one to better awaken one they haven’t used as much. Or, buy both!

Word Smart – Let’s Play!

Play Scattergories: If you can quickly come up with a list of, say, things at the park, in a drawer, and that you wear that start with the letter t that no one else thinks of, you can win this game.

Play Apples to Apples: One player draws a card. Each player selects a word card from their hand that they think is most relevant to the word on that card. If the judge picks your card, you win that round. Unlikely connections among words make for lots of laughter!

Logic Smart – Let’s Play!

Play Blokus: Players take turns placing pieces of their chosen color on the board. It’s tricky because each new piece must touch at least one other piece of the same color, but only at the corners. You win if you place more pieces than anyone else.

Play Clue: Crack the murder that took place in the mansion by asking the right questions to win this classic game. Junior version available.

Picture Smart – Let’s Play!

Play Telestrations: Picture the “Telephone Game” using drawings instead of whispering something into your neighbor’s ear. Lots of laughter.

Play Pictionary: Make quick sketches that others will hopefully guess correctly. Junior version available

Music Smart – Let’s Play!

Play Cranium: Answer trivia questions, create art, hum, act out clues, and use your vocabulary skills to win. Relevant to many smarts.

Play Encore: Draw a card with a word on it and sing at least six words of a song with that word in it. Judges memory, not musical ability.

Body Smart – Let’s Play!

Play tag (or any outdoor game).

Play Twister: Give the spinner a whirl and follow the directions. Just try to keep from falling over!

Nature Smart – Let’s Play!

Play Qwirkle: Match colors and shapes and use wise maneuvers and a strategy to win.

Play Rock On Geology Game: Rock and mineral collection includes fifteen specimens and fifty-plus polished rocks and minerals; five levels of play.

People Smart – Let’s Play!

Play Headbanz: Everyone but you knows what role you’ve been assigned. Ask questions to try to figure it out before you run out of time. You could be a mouse, dirty sock, or cash register.

Play Guesstures: You only have a few seconds to use classic charades techniques to get your team to guess the word on your assigned card.

Self Smart – Let’s Play!

Do quiet things together that your child chooses, such as completing a puzzle, coloring, building with Legos, playing with dolls, or playing a car game like “Who Am I?”

Shop, shop, shop! Play, play, play!

The Gift That Says “I Believe In You”

The Gift That Says “I Believe In You”

The Gift That Says “I Believe In You”

 

My memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas with both my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s are only positive. I’m very grateful.

Presents are certainly among my memories. I will always remember the year I was 12. At some point, as we were opening gifts, I realized my brother, Dave, had more presents left to open than I did. I said something about this and noticed my mom immediately look at my dad. They nodded, indicating they agreed about something. Then my dad suggested I look under my bed. Even though I was surprised, he didn’t need to tell me twice!

I’m sure I ran up the stairs. In contrast, a few minutes later, I walked carefully down those same stairs holding my very own viola. If I remember correctly, I was crying by the time I got back to our family room.

I carefully removed the Christmas ribbon, opened the case, and stared at the shiniest viola I had ever seen. I lifted it from the velvet-lined case and caressed it. I gingerly placed it under my chin and imagined playing great symphonies.

The gift wasn’t special just because it was expensive. It meant a lot to me because having my own viola, rather than renting one which we had been doing, meant my parents believed in me. They believed in my growing talent. They believed I was mature enough to take good care of my own viola. Their trust inspired me.

What can you give your children this Christmas that communicates, “I believe in you”?

Making Memories This Christmas

Making Memories This Christmas

Making Memories This Christmas

 

Making memories might be the most important thing to do next month. It’s more important than making cookies, making purchases, or making money.

When we concentrate on making memories, rather than just going through our Christmas routines, our experiences will be richer. We’ll intentionally pay more attention to the people we’re with than to the tasks at hand. Therefore, we’ll establish stronger emotional ties with the people and make memories that last.

Think about the activities you have scheduled next month and the tasks you want to accomplish. What if you think about them in the context of memory making? You might’ve already done some of the things I list at the end of this post, but maybe you can now have rich conversations to still broaden the potential for positive memories that last.

What would it take for you to create memories that are thought of fondly next year as you participate in activities and tasks next month? If you think back to past Christmases, what do you remember? Why do you remember those things and those people? Your answer to these questions may help you do things differently to create richer memories for your family this season.

Did humor make your list? I suspect it did because bonds are often deepened during times of joy and laughter. Look for opportunities to enjoy each other.

Did you think of something that involved a surprise? That’s often the case for me as I reflect on strong memories of my childhood and even adult years. For your family, add something surprising that you’ve never done before. Or you could add a twist to something you have typically done. This will make it more memorable.

Small and Insignificant Things Are Significant

Some of my best memories are those of small and seemingly insignificant things. … Seeing my sister-in-law putting newly-baked Christmas cookies into a tin that belonged to her mom and has been used for maybe 40 years or more. Hearing a song on the radio and remembering who I was with when I heard it performed at a concert. Using wrapping paper that my mom would’ve loved. A recipe that was hers that her grandchildren still love. Dessert plates hand-painted by my grandma when she was about 18 that we still use at my brother’s home.

It’s the conversation surrounding these things that make the memories – and, therefore, the people involved – come alive. Let’s purpose to talk a lot about meaningful things as we’re out-and-about and in our own homes. Let’s get pods out of ears and eyes off of devices and talk. It can be done! Expect it. Have high expectations. Listen and talk. Talk and listen.

No one in our family would know about the Christmas cookie tins if Debbie wouldn’t tell us. My nieces and nephew wouldn’t know their great-grandmother painted the dishes their cake is on if we didn’t tell them. They wouldn’t know that the food they enjoy was first served by their grandmother to her father on Christmas Eve many, many years ago if my brother and I didn’t tell them.

Make memories, not just cookies. Make memories, not just a clean house. Make memories, not just purchases. You get the idea.

How might concentrating on making memories influence the way you do tasks like these?

Choosing a tree. Decorating a tree. Shopping for a present for your child’s teacher. Choosing presents for friends and loved ones. Wrapping presents. Planning menus for times when family and friends will come over for dinner. Choosing outfits to wear here and there. Watching favorite Christmas movies together. Choosing recipes to make for different events. Making them together in the kitchen. Practicing the piano for an upcoming recital or to play for a visiting relative. Making cookies together. Eating cookies with hot chocolate in candlelight. Driving to see Christmas lights and decorations. Visiting shut-ins. Surprising neighbors with flowers, Christmas cookies, or something you know they would appreciate. Singing Christmas carols. Cleaning the house so it’s more ready for relatives to arrive. Attending church. Having meaningful conversations in the car on the way home. Practicing for and then attending church or school Christmas programs.

The Fourth, Freedom, And Family

If you’ve been following me a while, you know my whole family is quite patriotic. In my Flag Day blog last month, I wrote, “I joke with people that I bleed red, white, and blue because I love America so much. I was raised in a flag waving, politically active family.”

Check out these pictures of my brother and sister-in-law’s tablecloth and centerpiece on their kitchen table and how she decorated her kitchen windowsill. Especially my grandparents and parents would have been so pleased!

DebDave'sTableFourthOfJuly

Dave, Deb, and I inherited many small vases from my mom. She had a green thumb and was very gifted at arranging flowers in vases in just the right way.  The vase on the windowsill was originally my mom’s.

???????????????????????????????Debbie also makes her own greeting cards. Three lucky relatives or friends will receive these in the mail this week as she took time to wish them a Happy 4th of July.

I encourage you to spend some time going on a scavenger hunt at home with your children. What do you own and display that reminds you of your heritage? Do you display anything red, white, and blue year round or this week? Why or why not? (Neighbors display a flag on an in-the-ground-tall-pole every day of the year. I’m glad they do.)

Make and take time to celebrate the Fourth, freedom, and your family. If you have faith you value, as I do, talk with your kids about it, too, and American’s important and unique freedom of religion.

Celebrating Flag Day, In A Whole New Light

I joke with people that I bleed red, white, and blue because I love America so much. I was raised in a flag waving, politically active family. My grandfather (my mom’s dad) was an alderman in my city for over 25 years and then elected the first full-time mayor.

I have fabulous childhood memories of not only waving flags, but pushing tiny ones into our front yard to decorate on different holidays, including the oft-ignored Flag Day. That’s today – June 14th.

When we use all 8 of our smarts when thinking and learning, we draw conclusions we wouldn’t have when thinking with just our 1-3 natural strengths. Let me try to prove it.

Think about the flag using all eight smarts. Will you draw conclusions you haven’t in the past? Discover a new curiosity? See a new picture? Remember a long-forgotten memory? Let me know.

  • Body: think with movement and touch
  • Logic: think with questions
  • Music: think with rhythms and melodies
  • Nature: think with patterns
  • People: think with other people
  • Picture: think with your eyes
  • Self: think with personal reflection
  • Word: think with words

“The flag of the United States has not been created by rhetorical sentences in declarations of independence and in bills of rights. It has been created by the experience of a great people, and nothing is written upon it that has not been written by their life. It is the embodiment, not of a sentiment, but of a history.” ~Woodrow Wilson

Honoring Dave Koch, My Brother

My brother, Dave, turns 65 today. That’s hard to believe! When speaking to children and teens, I love telling them that their siblings can be their best friends. Dave and I were. We still are.

I’m blessed with many great memories of growing up with Dave. I’ll share just one. Our Great Aunt Tressie sometimes babysat for us. We enjoyed her. A main reason for liking her as our babysitter was that our bedrooms were on the second floor and she couldn’t climb the stairs. We were on our own.

Dave invited me into his bedroom, pulled the sheets loose on his bed, chose a book to read, grabbed his flashlight, and we went into “the tent” head first so he could read to me. Yes, this is a beautiful way my brother loved me years ago.

Although there’s much more I could say about the love he’s demonstrated toward me in our adult years and how proud of him I am, I’d rather have his three adult children honor him on his birthday. They have recommendations for you, too. I pray you’re blessed as we encourage my brother.

From Betsy:

Our dad is so consistent. He was always there for us every night, we always ate dinner as a family and discussed our day, he helped us with homework, and taught us skills like our instruments, sports, and fishing. He is also a very hard worker. He worked all week at his job and all weekend at home. I cannot remember him ever not working hard all the time, and it seemed the only time he ever relaxed was on our summer vacations.

To other dads: consistency and hard work are things that my dad showed us that left a lasting impact on me.

To kids: Know that even if your dad doesn’t say “I love you” all the time, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t. Sometimes they choose to show love through their actions which are much more powerful than just words.

From Katie:

Our dad was a great leader in every way. He led spiritually by studying his Bible, praying for us, and teaching us by example. He led financially by working so hard at every job he had to provide for us. He taught us to love sports-Go Pack Go! He taught us the value of hard work by giving us chores – thanks, dad. 🙂

One of the more impressive things he did was quit his job because it was taking too much time away from the family. It was such a huge sacrifice and leap of faith, but it really taught us what is most important in life.

His favorite phrase is “I suppose.” That usually meant I don’t want to say no, but I’m not totally excited about what’s about to happen. This cracked me up every time. He loved it when we repeated him as kids. You’ll never hear him laugh harder than when you’ve been doing that for 10 minutes.

To other dads: Be the leader your children need you to be. They will become like you regardless so do what you can to transfer positive traits.

To other kids: Appreciate the effort and the sacrifices your dad makes for you. Find something you like to do together and build in regular time to do it. Those end up being such special memories.

From Andy:

Dad taught me what it meant to be a man. He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. Not only was he committed to his job, but he also constantly kept himself busy around the house – to the point where it is a bit of a family joke that he can’t sit still and watch an entire movie. 🙂

Even though he worked hard, he was still able to balance that with being incredibly present in our lives. We always ate dinner together as a family. He rarely missed sporting events or concerts, of which there were far too many.

He loved mom so well through the years. It might be a small example, but it stood out to me: mom would usually cook dinner, and he would always serve her by doing the dishes.

He led our family spiritually. He had a vision for his life and for our lives, and he made hard choices for the good of the family when needed. He taught me so much, and I am so grateful. I am the man I am today because of my dad.

To other dads: By God’s grace be the man you want your sons to grow up to be and the man you want your daughters to marry.

To kids: Cherish the short time you get to learn from your dad. Take time to appreciate all that he does for you.

Well said, kids. Well said. Happy birthday, Dave!

Lie #4: “I Am My Own Authority”

Last Sunday, it was my great joy to facilitate a small group in my church who has been going through my book Screens and Teens. I was asked to teach about the fourth lie I address in my book: I am my own authority. I thought I would share what we did in hopes that you might find this a valuable way to spend some time with adults or teenagers in your life.

To review and to begin thinking about this lie, I asked what evidence they saw in the past week that each of the first three lies is believed by people. I also asked how that lie is related to the lie that we think we don’t need anyone else’s authority. We had a great discussion and I think you can as well.

  • Lie #1: I am the center of my own

What’s the evidence people believe this?

How is it related to the lie that I can be my own authority?

  • Lie #2: I deserve to be happy all the time.

What’s the evidence people believe this?

How is it related to the lie that I can be my own authority?

  • Lie #3: I must have choices.

What’s the evidence people believe this?

How is it related to the lie that I can be my own authority?

Then, after reviewing information in the chapter from the book about the authority lie, I asked three questions.

  • What are the dangers of no authority?
  • What are the dangers of bad authority?
  • What are the benefits of good authority?

Discussing these questions with your teens could be profitable. Also, ask them to define “bad authority” and “good authority” and see if you agree. Share your definitions.

How would you discuss the benefits of God’s authority? Or maybe you could spend time discussing reasons God is a good authority for us to trust. That’s what I chose to do.

I listed some of the attributes of God to make the point that it’s Who He is that should allow us to trust Him as authority. And isn’t the same thing true of us? It’s who we are that is going to encourage people to view us as an authority and to trust us as authority. It is not the number of policies or rules we set. It is not how we do or do not deal with those who break them. It’s about our character, our identity, and our essence.

You could discuss this idea, too, if you believe it would be worthwhile or simply reflect on this list by yourself. In what ways do you see the quality related to God’s trusted authority?

  • Wisdom (The ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve these ends by the most perfect In other words, God makes no mistakes.)
  • Infinitude (God knows no boundaries.)
  • Sovereign (God is in control of everything that happens.)
  • Holy (God is set apart from all created beings. This refers to His majesty and His perfect moral purity.)
  • Omniscient (God is all-knowing.)
  • Faithful (Everything that God has promised will come to pass.)
  • Loving (God holds the well-being of others as His primary concern.)
  • Omnipotent (God is all-powerful.)
  • Self-sufficient (God has life in Himself. He has no needs and there is no way He can improve.)
  • Just (God does not conform to some outside criteria. Being just brings moral equity to everyone.)
  • Immutable (God never changes.)
  • Merciful (God is actively compassionate and kind toward those who don’t deserve it.)
  • Good (God is kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men.)
  • Gracious (God enjoys acting on His love and giving great gifts to those who love Him, even when they do not deserve it.)
  • Omnipresent (God is always present.)

I’ll end the blog like I ended our group discussion. Here is your homework assignment. If you claim that God is your authority, what is the evidence? In other words, if I spent 24 or 48 hours with you, how would I know that God is your authority? As I thought about this last week in preparation for Sunday’s lesson, I was both encouraged and humbled. I set goals for this week. Perhaps you’ll do the same.

I Want You to Talk to Your Kid about My Kid – Guest Blog Post by Dawn Ratzlaff

Advocate: “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc.; a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.”

I have great respect for moms and dads who are advocates for their children. It’s among their most important roles. My friend, Dawn, is that type of parent.

Dawn blogs about “a look inside life with a child on the spectrum” at “A Fly on the Wall.” I’ve known Dawn, her husband, Jon, and their son Enoch for several years. I was glad to meet their younger sons a few weeks ago.

Dawn recently blogged vulnerably about what she wishes other children knew about autism so they could better relate to their son. In honor of moms and their commitment to their children, I’m posting her blog here. I’m also posting it because I agree that we could all benefit from better understanding autism from a mom’s perspective. I hope her passion and information inspires you to sit down and talk with your children.

I Want You to Talk to Your Kid about My Kid – by Dawn Ratzlaff

A couple of months ago, a little girl at church asked me, “Is Enoch a baby?”

“No… He’s six years old!”

Then why does he wear diapers?”

“Well, Enoch hasn’t learned how to use the potty yet.”

“Why?”

“Enoch has something called autism. Because of that, his brain works a little different from yours. So, he hasn’t learned how to use the potty yet. Or talk. But hopefully he will someday.”

“Ok!”

The interaction was short, and my answer seemed to be all she needed in the moment. But, I thought to myself, “They’re starting to notice that he’s different.” 

I wondered if when she went home if she would ask her parents about Enoch. What would they say? Do they know Enoch has autism? Do they understand what autism is? How can they explain my child’s differences to their typically developing child?

Yesterday, we went to the museum. While we were there, a little boy asked Enoch to play with him in the sandbox.

He said, “Do you want to play with me?”

Enoch said, “Yes!”

“Great! Start getting sand.”

Blank stare. “Otay!” (Okay)

“Okay, now you need to do this….” “Why aren’t you talking?” “Why are you talking like that?” “No, use your REAL voice.” “I don’t understand you….”

Enoch just smiled and continued trying to play with the little boy, and the little boy kind of played with Enoch, but he seemed to lose some interest when he realized Enoch was different.

I wanted to step in. I wanted to talk for him. I wanted to tell the little boy that Enoch didn’t have many words, but that he understood everything. Instead, I decided to sit back and observe. We weren’t going to see this little boy again.

The little boy was with a sister, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. What would they say when we left? What did the grandparents think? What do they know about autism? Can they tell he has autism? How will they explain my child to their grandchild?

You may be reading this, and you don’t know my child. But, the chances are you know a child (or an adult) with autism.

The current statistics state that 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. For boys, the prevalence is higher with 1 in 42 boys on the autism spectrum.

That many.

That is a LOT of children.

Unfortunately, the statistics on adults on the spectrum are not as clear because many went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as children.

Yet, despite the prevalence, people who don’t live with it don’t understand it.

Even 2 years after Enoch was diagnosed, a close family member asked me, “But, isn’t autism a psychological problem?”

NO… 

Autism is a NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER.

NOT A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM. 

(For the record, I was hurt that after 2 years, this family member had not done any research to educate themselves about my child. Why didn’t they ask questions before? It wasn’t that the question was wrong, it was the perceived notion that they did not care enough to learn.) 

It makes me think: “if a family member of a child with autism cannot learn about the disorder, why would anyone else?”

So, here’s a little bit about autism:

Autism is a neurological disorder. Enoch’s brain works differently. He perceives things differently. Because of this, some situations are overwhelming for him and he may react in a way that does not seem typical.

Autism is a spectrum. I once read, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” That statement is very true. Over the past several years, I have been able to build relationships with many families who have kiddos on the spectrum, and they are ALL DIFFERENT. While some children are able to talk well, others like Enoch, have very few words. While some may be perceived as anti-social, Enoch is very friendly. He desires so much to have friends.

However, there are things that pretty much everyone on the spectrum has in common (there do have to be guidelines to diagnose it after all).

If a child has not met developmental milestones at the usual time, this is a big red flag. Typically all skills will be delayed including fine motor, gross motor and oral motor. Enoch did not walk until he was 22 months old. At 6.5, he is starting to approximate words. He struggles greatly with fine motor skills. He is still no where close to being potty trained. (I have been changing diapers/ pull ups for 6.5 years straight with no end in sight.) He did not learn to jump until he was 5.5.

These delays are NOT caused by bad parenting. Please do not think poorly of a parent if their child is on the spectrum. They have been through a lot. They have had feelings of guilt. They have questioned if it is their fault. It isn’t. They love their child and they work SO hard to help their child on a daily basis. They take their children to therapy. They take their children to doctor’s appointments. They do not have much time alone because they are constantly alert in watching after their child. At this point, we don’t know WHAT causes autism. Science points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In Enoch’s case, I truly believe autism is something he was born with. 

Communication struggles are highly prevalent in autism. While some can talk, they struggle with connecting with others. They may not speak unless prompted to do so. Enoch’s main method of communication is American Sign Language (ASL). He is also learning to use an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device in the form of an iPad app. You may see a child on an iPad and think poorly of the parents. But, that may be that child’s means of communicating. And both sign language and AAC do not hinder communication. They enhance it! Enoch is now starting to approximate words, and I attribute much of that to our work with ASL and AAC.

This does not mean that a child on the spectrum is not smart. Enoch is VERY smart. Despite not being able to talk, he is word smart. He can spell. He can read. He enjoys math and science. He is on a typical Kindergarten level in a majority of his subject areas. His biggest delay academically is in writing (because of poor fine motor skills).

Many people on the spectrum struggle with gastrointestinal issues. When Enoch was an infant, he would have a bowel movement once a week. I remember thinking that was so strange. I asked our pediatrician about it, and he said, “It must be Enoch’s normal.” For the past several years now, we have visited a gastroenterologist for both chronic diarrhea and chronic constipation. There aren’t really many answers for this link, but there is a lot of research in the past few years about the connection between the gut and the brain.

Many children on the spectrum are picky eaters. Enoch is one of them. I can quickly make a list of the limited foods he will eat, and it is getting worse. When we visited with a nutritionist about a year a half ago, and I listed what he will eat she said, “Yep! That sounds about like what all the kiddos on the spectrum that see me will eat.” She was however surprised by his love of hummus and bananas.

Social situations and highly stimulating situations can be overwhelming. Again, those on the autism spectrum perceive their surroundings differently from those who are neurotypical. Enoch tends to have what you might consider a meltdown in some of these situations. For him, haircuts are the absolute worst. Because of that, his hair was very long for a long time. This was much more involved than a child who did not want a haircut. As parents, we would tire of the constant comments. “He needs a haircut.” “He looks like a girl.” “Why don’t you cut his hair?”

Many on the spectrum are drawn to water. (And do not understand the danger associated with it.) This includes Enoch. He is extremely drawn to water. Extremely. I will turn down invitations to anything with a pool or close to a body of water or any kind because the thought of it brings me close to a panic attack (this is NOT an exaggeration). We cannot visit certain family members houses because they have a pool. Even if he had swim lessons (which we will do at some point), because of his poor motor skills, he would not be able to swim at this time. He just learned how to blow. Sort of.

Drowning is among the leading cause of death of individuals with autism.” For more information on safety concerns associated with autism please visit: http://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/

Children on the spectrum often experience sleep disturbances. Enoch has been an early riser as long as I can remember. He seems to be able to function on much less sleep than I have ever been able to. Most mornings, he is awake between 4:00 and 5:00. Sometimes, I hear him before that and need to go in his room to turn out his light, tell him to stop playing and try to get more sleep. At the recommendation of our pediatrician, we lock his door from the outside to avoid potential safety issues. However, we can hear him playing in his room, LOUDLY, so the rest of us don’t get much sleep either. Lately, he is reading to himself, which I love. Who would have thought he would become such a bookworm? Not me. 

All this said, maybe your child knows another child on the spectrum. They know this other child is different. They don’t understand why this child is different. YOU may even look at this child and think they are “weird”. You may be concerned by their behavior because you don’t understand it yourself. I think it is important that children understand now, so that when they are older they learn to be compassionate and not mean when they encounter someone who is different from them.

(And I think this point goes along with ALL differences, but that’s a whole different blog post, and something I know less about.)

A few suggestions:

  1. Talk to the parent. Talk to me. Ask questions. There are not wrong questions. Most parents of children on the spectrum are open books. We want to share with you about our children. We want you to understand.
  2. Schedule a playdate. Let your kid spend some time with the child in a different setting. Perhaps they have only seen how they act at school or church. Sometimes those settings can be overwhelming. Be aware that the child’s parents may rather you come to their home (because their child is more comfortable there). Do it. Don’t take offense, it isn’t because we aren’t interested in coming to your home.
  3. Ask your kid questions. They may have more answers than they know. Ask them: “Why do you think _________ is different?” “Is there anything that ___________ likes to do that you like to do?” ” How does it make you feel when _______________ does that?”
  4. Remind your child that we are ALL different. The one thing we all have in common is that we were all made by a loving God IN HIS IMAGE. God made Enoch. When God made Enoch, He did not make a mistake.

I want you to talk to your kid about my kid.

This is written by Dawn Ratzlaff. She and her husband, Jon, live in Dallas, TX, with their 3 sons. Jon is a minister of music at a local church, and Dawn stays home with the kids. Enoch, their oldest, is 6.5, and has moderate- severe autism. Their twins, Malachi and Titus are (almost) 2. The 3 of them are a handful, and Dawn can’t imagine her life any other way. She enjoys cooking, baking, singing, playing the piano, writing, and drinking (lots of) coffee. If you want to follow her blog, you’ll find it here.