Teachable Moments

New Things

What is it like to introduce two young children (who have never been swimming) to a hotel swimming pool for the first time? I got to witness the introduction of this fascinating new activity while at a retreat with some friends who had 2 small children.  At the hotel, the children, who loved their baths, were expected to make the adjustment to the pool seamlessly. After all, isn’t a swimming pool just a bigger version of a bathtub?  For one of the children, it was just like that – easy, fun and exciting. The other one – not so much. They did not see the joy of an extraordinary size bathtub as a good thing, but rather something to be feared and if possible, avoided.  I could see the terror and confusion in the eyes of this little one who was wondering why in the world their parents would want to go into such a large body of water anyway. This was obviously dangerous.

The problem was not the pool, nor the parents, nor the child.  There really wasn’t a problem, but it was a matter of perception. And this idea of perception when it comes to “new things” is not a new problem for people; rather, we can find it existing all the way back to the people of Israel. Recorded in Isaiah 43:19, God spoke to Israel through Isaiah saying:

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

In Isaiah 43, God reminds His people of who He has proved Himself to be again and again to them, and assures them that because of who He is, they can trust Him no matter their circumstances. This chapter speaks both to the past troubles of the nation in which they experienced God’s protection and His necessary future discipline of them due to their disobedience.  And yet, there will come a time when the discipline is done and God will do a “new thing” and if observant, His people with eyes of faith will see what God is doing in their midst.

As believers in Christ, we can learn from Israel’s relationship with God; we can have the same assurance as the Israelites did that God does not abandon us when something troubling or terrifying comes our way.  He does not give up on us even when we have sinned and need His discipline. We may feel confused or alone, but we can be assured that our God is at work even when we can’t easily perceive it. God may need to ask us just like He asked Israel – do you perceive it? Or rather, don’t you see it?  Don’t you sense it? I am doing a “new thing.”

New things are sometimes hard to face and we may not want to see what God is up to.  Or, we may be lost in the wilderness and we just can’t see it. I know my friend’s young daughter, as she gazed at the humongous pool of water, couldn’t possibly believe that all would be well.  It was new; it was scary, and she couldn’t see why her parents would want this for her. The good news, her parents introduced her to this new thing and she soon realized that this opened up a whole new world.  What helped her acclimate? She hung on to her Dad for dear life as he slowly entered the pool. Because she trusted in him, she buried her face in his neck and just “went with it.” As his daughter, I could see the faith she had in him to protect her.  God was Israel’s Savior (Isaiah 43:3) and He is ours (Luke 2:11). And just as this little girl had faith in her Dad, we can have faith in our Heavenly Father as His children to save and care for us as we enter into the “new things” He has made for us. We can trust Him to care for us even if we have been disobedient and needed His discipline.  Our God is faithful to us and is about doing “new things.”

As Parents or Grandparents, how do we apply Isaiah 43 to our relationships with our children?

  • Remember WHO God is when you are trying to figure out what is going on in life; you can’t comprehend what God is doing until you are sure of who He is in His being
  • Have you experienced a wilderness time in your spiritual life?  Are you perceiving God doing a “new thing” and leading you out of it?  Give testimony to His grace through your words and actions – speak of His grace and then, pass the grace on to others by serving at church, in your community or in your family.
  • Study Isaiah 43 and learn the many ways God revealed Himself to Israel.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and as such, He is the same God who is with us.  Tell your children who God is and how He revealed Himself to Israel and how you see His attributes in your life.  

May “new things” bring us closer to Him and allow us to worship Him and may we be “perceivers” vs. “unbelievers” to our God who is definitely at work in our lives even when we can’t readily see it. Like my friend’s child first afraid but then full of faith when new things arose, may we also hold on to our Father God and perceive with faith the “new things” God is doing in our lives.

Dear Friends, blessings to you!  I pray for you to have eyes to see and minds to perceive what God is about in your life this week!  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Every Example Is a Good Example

When something positive happens, I learn what to do; when something negative happens, I learn what not to do.

About 18 years ago, our little family of 5 went out to eat at our favorite family-friendly BBQ restaurant.  The ribs were divine and the kids’ meal prices inexpensive; in other words, perfect for my husband, myself and our 3 children ages 5, 4 and 2.  As we finished ordering and were eating our way through baskets of honey-buttered cornbread, a family of 4 sat behind us. All seemed well until the waitress brought the children chocolate milk; and then, it sounded like a pack of wounded dogs.  Howling, crying and children intentionally throwing chocolate milk everywhere. What in the world? Everyone in the restaurant froze, waiting for the explanation to be made evident. And then – the unimaginable offense became clear to all. The waitress had brought the child’s chocolate milk in a….wait for it!….child-size cup that had a lid.  How offensive could she be! (tongue in cheek here)

But more shocking than this perceived problem was that neither parent corrected the children’s behavior; the tiny tyrants at the ripe old ages of 2 and 4 wanted a BIG glass of chocolate milk.  Their sensibilities had been gravely offended because they didn’t want a “baby” cup with a lid – they wanted MORE and they wanted it NOW. And as such, they believed they had every right to throw a public tantrum.

We stopped and we stared.  And a million questions came to mind: the crisis that interrupted and stopped everyone from being able to enjoy their meal was because of the size of a cup?  And even if that was the sin that topped all sins, instead of requesting a different cup, the children had to scream and yell and actually spill it everywhere?  And the parents were offended as well and gave no correction either in how the children handled their disappointment nor their rude treatment of their waitress who was serving them?  Seriously?

Our children turned to Brian and myself and we could tell they were waiting.  They assumed we would gain control of this situation and tell these itty-bitty dictators who were ruining the evening for everyone to knock it off.  We didn’t. Not because we couldn’t, but we were too shocked to figure out what or if anything could be done. What would be the best intervention and Christian witness as believing parents?  What example would best be lived out in front of our kids? We were saved from trying to figure this out as the manager saved the day with 2 adult size glasses of chocolate milk, one of which the 2-year old promptly dropped on the floor because it was too big for him to handle (sigh).  I fondly remember this evening as “Chocolate Milk Bandits Hold-up Restaurant And Get-Away With Murder.”

More than a ruined meal, this show of poor behavior with lack of parenting guidance was a valuable Teachable Moment for our children.  They had the same questions we had plus one more:  what would we have done had they acted like that?  Brian and I just smiled at our inquisitive kids.  We didn’t need to answer, because they already knew that none of them would have ever acted that way in the first place.  And if they did, well – they knew that no self-control and unkind, rude behavior toward anyone would ever be tolerated. This horrendous example of emotions with no boundaries and the allowance of such unkind, selfish treatment toward anyone, let alone someone who was serving them, was appalling but valuable.  How so?

  • It reaffirmed our values as a family (Gal. 5:22,23).  The fruit of the Spirit list self-control and kindness as products of a relationship with Christ.  Believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and He makes a difference in the character and behavior of those who walk with Him.  We are a Christ-honoring family and will strive to exemplify lives of worship to our deserving King.
  • It showed what life looks like when we are not walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).  Not knowing where this family stood spiritually certainly did not excuse such poor behavior on their part.  And even if they were Christ-followers, when we do not walk in the Spirit and strive to “love one another” (John 13:34,35) as Christ has commanded us, then this is what humans act like when they love themselves more than God.
  • It allowed us to explore the emotions of disappointment and anger (Gal. 5:19-21).  None of us get what we want all the time and thus, life is disappointing and we get angry.  These emotions are not sinful unless they come from sinful motives or we express them in sinful ways.  We were able to identify, define, and explain these emotions’ impact on our behaviors if we are not careful with them.  We discussed choice and the reliance we can have on God to help us deal with whatever situation we are in. He provides the power to overcome our fleshly instincts.

All examples are good examples for they either reflect a Christ-focused life, dependent on the Spirit to enable us to live out our love for Christ, or they illustrate what life looks like when we displace God from His throne and live for our own pleasure and desires.  Identifying these examples as they pop up in our lives are key Teachable Moments, both for parents and children.

Dear Reader, may you and I be alert and ready to be shaped by today’s examples so that we are conformed more clearly to the image of God.  May we do this first for ourselves, and then for our children. May we be able to show them how to embrace these divine opportunities for learning so they also can recognize the Teachable Moments God provides for them.

I look forward to hearing from you and any Teachable Moments God appoints for your benefit this week.  And…Beware of the Chocolate Milk Bandits! 🙂

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Danger: Cumulative Screen Time for Little Ones

I tried to avoid it; I really did.  I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to deal with it.  Yet, I knew that if I didn’t deal with it now I’d regret it for years to come. So I faced it. I engaged. I chose to enter into conflict….with my preschooler.

I remember the years in which trying to set rules and boundaries with my little ones was more challenging than any other challenge I ever tackled.  I really didn’t look forward to saying things like, “Bedtime is in 5 minutes”, or “No, you may not eat that bag of cookies”, let alone – “Stop painting the dog white with the house paint!” and my favorite, “You will not spoon feed your little brother a bag of powdered sugar and spill it all over the carpet!

While I was wrestling over house paint and powdered sugar (which, by the way, is impossible to get out of carpet after children and a 100-pound Golden Retriever walked all over it), today’s parent wrangles over a less-messy yet more potent problem. Cumulative screen time for children in early childhood (children under the age of 5) has potential harmful effects which negatively affect a child’s development.

In a recent study of 2,441 children*, too much screen time before the age of 2 affects the results of developmental testing in these same children when they are 3-years-old. Consistent with these findings, 3-year-olds who have experienced excessive screen time show decreased developmental outcomes at the age of 5.  Bottom line, research shows that young children should not engage in more than 1 hour of cumulative screen time in a day. So practically, the cartoon before the play date, the iPad in the grocery store, and the computer game after dinner all add up to cumulative screen time. When you add all the screen time together, you don’t want to exceed 60 minutes (1 hour) a day.

How difficult is it for parents to abide by these wise guidelines?  Extremely. Often when children are engaging with a device it provides them an instant gratification, and as such they are likely to have a strong pull toward playing or watching it again and again. Like us, children can easily get hooked on screen time.

How do parents deal with the inevitable conflict that will result if they set and enforce limits on their child’s screen time?

  • Conflict should not be avoided and should be handled with gentleness and patience.  Limiting screen time will be disappointing for the child and may result in conflict, but it is also an opportunity to engage in discussion, spend time together, and teach the qualities of patience and delayed gratification. Help the child identify their disappointment and give them the emotional and verbal skills needed to express their feelings constructively to find alternative activities.
  • Children learn best through movement; they are kinesthetic learners as much as visual ones. Playing with hands-on games, puzzles, and blocks engages their brain in ways a screen never could.  Parents and caregivers alike can work toward understanding the stages of cognitive development of a child and what it takes to maximize a child’s potential for cognitive functions (critical thinking, decision making, creative solutions, etc.) by playing with their children and providing toys that require small and large motor movement.
  • Effective social learning, which takes place when eye contact is made in person, cannot be replaced with screen time.  Parents are encouraged not to “underestimate the value of face-to-face time” in which children learn how to empathize, express emotion, read facial and other nonverbal clues, and learn vocal as well as verbal communication.  Quality time is any time that parents and children are paying attention, listening, talking, and engaging with one another. Every day moments matter!
  • Setting boundaries on screen time is best done early in the child’s development.  A habit of non-screen time is a habit best started when the child is young and kept consistently as they grow.  Not only will the child’s potential for development be maximized, a child is never too young to start a life-long pattern of self-discipline in regard to technology use.
  • Encourage children to explore and be curious. Screen time often makes problem-solving and entertainment too easily accessible. Challenging children to work to overcome boredom or solve their problems engages the child in critical thinking, delayed gratification, and innovative creativity.

Dear Reader, I have a hunch that research will continue to show us the dangers of cumulative screen time. How can we help parents realize the dangers of setting their child in front of the screen too often? Consider passing on this blog post to the parents of preschoolers you know; join them in thinking through what and when screen time could be used in their home. At the same time, this is a great opportunity for each of us to take a serious look at how much time we spend in front of a screen. We can’t influence the Next Generation if we are not self-aware of how we ourselves are using screens. We can also thoughtfully consider how much face-to-face time we may be inadvertently giving up by picking up our screens without thinking through what we are giving up by picking them up. How precious is the time we get to spend in each other’s company without the distraction of a screen!

Many blessings as you seek to uses screen time wisely for you and your children.  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

**The research study referred to in this article is taken from Madigan, Sheri, et. al. “Associates between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test.” JAMA Pediatrics. Published online 28 Jan 19. JAMA Network, URL: jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2722666 **