Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Face to Face": Teaching Kids Conflict Resolution

Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

I smiled as I walked into the family room.   I heard the voice of Batman "saving the world from the evil influence of The Joker."  As my 13 and 9 year old sons enjoyed hanging out together and simultaneously keeping the universe free of corruption, I thought about how seldom I hear raised voices in my home.

When my children were very young I taught them the art of conflict resolution with a method, which I called "Face to Face."   My oldest boys were about 3 and 5 years old respectively when they had their first lesson in conflict resolution.

The Lessons Begin

I pulled two diningroom chairs out from the table, situating them about a foot apart and facing each other.  I then instructed the boys having the disagreement to sit in the chairs.  I wish I could say that their faces mirrored eager willingness to interact with one another in a positive, life-giving manner.  Nope!  There were clear signs of impending disaster marring their foreheads and igniting their eyes.

I began:  "Okay, clearly there is a disagreement.  But, in this family we will communicate with a calm spirit and a fair-minded attitude.  We are a team!  You will now learn the art of listening, compromise, and reconciliation."

Silence met my ears as they were now both staring at ME!  Well, at least they were now united ...  in thinking that I had lost my marbles!

Here is a brief description of my method and some tips for making it work in your family.  For our example we will use a scenario, which is common in all families with children.   Daniel has taken a Lego part, which Philip found necessary for his creation and the disagreement has quickly escalated to near riot-like proportions. 

Give Them Ground rules 
 I began by setting the ground rules so that they both knew what to expect.  

1.  The Youngest goes first:  The youngest gets to speak first, briefly and calmly describing the situation or problem as they see it.  I encouraged them to keep it to two or three sentences - no more than 30 seconds.  No voices were to be raised.  We are problem-solving, not viciously accusing or verbally abusing one another. 

2.  No interrupting:  Whoever is speaking has the floor and you may not interrupt.  You are not to roll your eyes, make faces, gesture wildly, shake your head "no", or sigh loudly.  You are to listen!  That is your job! 

3.  Mirror back what you have heard:  Before you respond to what your sibling has said, you must mirror back to them what you have heard.  For instance, if Philip says, "I built that big Lego airplane and then you took away the propeller piece that I needed!", before Daniel responds in any fashion he must mirror back, "What I hear you saying is...."  He then sums up to the best of his ability what he has just heard.  This teaches children to be active listeners.  If they are sitting there trying to have their next response ready or are dreaming up good "zingers" with which to sting their opponent, they will be unable to mirror back what they have heard. I deliberately built in this step to insure that each child learned empathy and compassion for others.  Then, and only then, the second child may explain the situation from his perspective. 

4.  Repeat as necessary:  This same cycle was repeated until a resolution was reached.  With each cycle, they were able to express and work out greater nuances of the difficulty.  They did not leave the chairs until a peaceful resolution had been reached.  I did need to help them occasionally move along the process.  Let me give you some examples of possible resolutions from our Lego scenario:  "We will share the Legos" or "I'm sorry I took your part.  I didn't realize you needed it.  You take it and I'll find another one to use."  Or:  "I'll take a break from Legos and color for a while so you can create without me accidentally taking parts."  Or:  "Let's both take a break and play outside."  Any of these solutions, if arrived at with each boy being satisfied and happy, is equally appropriate.  I tried really hard not to guide them to the outcome that I would prefer.  It was their fight, not mine.  Really, when I gave them the skills, they came up with solutions that I would never have considered.  Whatever you do, DON'T get in the middle of their disagreement!  They knew that if I had to intervene, then I would insure that neither one of them was happy with my solution.  The goal is to give them the skills to do this on their own. 

Give Them Direction

You'll notice that when I began teaching them how to take part in a "face to face", my youngest was three years old.  This is an age at which language and emotion are difficult anyway.  I don't know a three year old who is self-aware enough to use words to express disappointment or frustration.  That's why three year olds have temper tantrums.  So, I had to help him find his "voice" for a time until he gained the skills to use his words and not his anger in reacting to his sibling.  I did not allow one child to get stuck in repeating the same thing over and over again.  For instance, I might interject, "You've already told your brother how much it hurt your feelings that he took your Lego piece.  He has replied that he is sorry and did not realize that you were using it.  Do you have something new to add, that he does not already know?"   This insured that negotiations did not "stall out".  I sat nearby - but never between them.  When either of them got stuck I supplied some possible verbs or adjectives, which helped them continue with the process. 

Give Them Positive Reinforcement

After the "face to face" as complete, I told them how proud I was of their problem-solving skills.  I used specific examples when I had heard them display empathy,  kindness, and consideration

Give Them Space

Sometimes, while they were playing  I would hear raised voices.  I would call out, "Do we need a face to face"?  At times, they would answer, "Nope!  The problem is already solved."  Other times, I would hear the diningroom chairs being pulled away from the table a few minutes later as negotiations began.  Honestly, after a few sessions of me offering guidance and support, they preferred to have me leave the room.  I was told, "Mom, we got this.  If we get stuck, we'll call for you."  I had to give them space.  Regardless, I didn't allow a contracted time of irritation and an argumentative spirit to reside in my home.   By the time they were 5 and 7 years of age, every once a while I would walk into my diningroom to see two chairs pulled out from the table - facing each other.  I would shake my head and smile.  I hadn't even realized that they had been having a disagreement.  And that, is as it should be.  

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Do all to the glory of God, 


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Do You Bring up the Topic of Money on a First Date?

I recently fielded a question on a forum from a young lady who is living life with financial goals.  

 She asked, "Should I bring up the topic of money on the first date?  When should I pop the question:  How much debt do you have?"  

As someone who has been married 30 years and the mother of four children, I'll give you some thoughts which I have shared with them.  I will use the terms him and his for simplicity.  But, these questions and observations are meant to be applied to both genders. 

 What are your deal-breakers?  

Think about this question long before you go on that first date.  You should have a mental or written list.  "Deal breakers" are attitudes or actions that you really believe that you could not live with in a mate.  As far as finances are concerned, I would suggest that although it is important to know whether the person in whom you are romantically interested is in debt, it is his response to that debt, which should garner a greater amount of consideration. 
  •  Does he have a plan to pay off his debt? 
  • Does he find debt acceptable and expected?  
  • Does he desire to live debt-free? 
  • Is he considering taking on additional debt? 
  • Has he ever declared bankruptcy?  
  •  Is he already supporting an ex-wife or children? 
  • Does he plan to financially help his parents after they reach retirement age?
  •  Does he live on a written budget and have specific short, medium, and long-term goals? 

Allow the Topic to Come up Naturally  

As you talk about your own life, job, and goals, the topic of money will come up naturally.  Mention Dave Ramsey and explain who Dave is if your date has never heard of him.  You'll get an initial response of some sort. But, don't stop there!  It is equally important to get to know your date's life goals. For instance, if he's debt-free, but you desperately want to live in rural America and he loves the middle-of-the-city night life, then his financial condition may be a moot point.

If you've been on a few dates and he seems antsy or defensive when you ask a question about money, then it may or may not be a "red flag".  

1)  He may have as much money as Rockefeller and wants to ascertain that you love him for his sterling personality and not for his money. 
2)  It may be that he is poor as a church mouse and is afraid you'll "cut and run".  
3) He may have never been taught positive, life-giving communication skills.  

This third possibility would be a far greater concern to me than either of the first two scenarios.  

In any event, you may need to ask some open-ended questions, which gently invite him into the conversation.  Some people are simply more reserved than others and need time to open up about topics like money.  

Look at his family dynamics

 Now this is not so easy if your date is working in a career, living independently, and his parents live half way across the country or state.  But, you can certainly anecdotally get a sense of how money was spent and managed in his family of origin.  
  • Do his parents expect him to attend pricey family vacations or functions - regardless of his financial state?  
  • Are his parents still married?  And, if so, are they working toward common life goals - including those regarding retirement?
  • Does he remember money being an "issue" while growing up - too little?  more than enough?  
  • Does he remember a lot of stress or fights regarding money?  
  • Did his parents work together and function as a team?
  •  Was he expected to get a job and pay for his own expenses at a certain age?  
  • Was he expected to pay part or all of his own way through college?  
  • Was generosity of spirit and giving to others encouraged in his home while growing up?  
  • Did his mother work outside the home?  If so, was she expected to do so or did she desire to do so? 
  • Did his parents tithe?
  • Was money a "taboo" topic or was he free to ask his parents questions openly?  
  • Did his parents teach him how to handle money, budget, or save for goals?  
  • Would he raise his own children the same way or differently?  
  • What is his favorite memory and did money play a part in that memory? 

 Watch what he does as well as what he says
  • You want someone who loves his family (but doesn't allow his parents to run his finances or give him money every month to supplement his standard of living). 
  • You want someone with goals (but isn't so tied to them that he hasn't allowed himself any "breathing room.")  
  • You want someone who is generous (but not if they can't afford it).   
Take your time! Like many things in life, finance has many layers. It will take time to see the role that money plays in his life. 

Your turn!  What questions do you think should be asked about finances before marriage?  Comment below. 


Do all to the glory of God, 


Monday, February 12, 2018

I Want to Give, But I Have No Money!

Before I had children I worked full-time as the production manager for a local Christian radio station.  When I was eight months pregnant I was recording a radio program for our local mission.  The man in the adjacent studio began reciting a list of items that the mission needed that week.  Shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other everyday common items populated the list.  I began to cry.  I was getting ready to quit work and cut our meager income virtually in half.  I was absolutely convinced that I would not ever have any extra funds to provide even items like these for someone in need.

I prayed, "Lord, I don't know what the future will bring.  But, I will ask you just this one thing.  Never put me in a position when I can't give when You tell me to give."

God has answered that prayer!

We lived through a lot of lean years - years in which I learned that God did not expect us to give money at the expense of providing for our family.  What He did ask for was obedience to His will, His word, and his Voice!   The encouraging news is that in the last 21 years we have been able to save more money and give more money than I ever imagined.

There were many years in which the money budgeted for giving outside of our monthly tithe was very, very small.    This was incredibly frustrating to us.  We wanted to give!  Here are some things we did to give when we had no money. 

1.  Give a hand up. 

Although we did not have much money, we did have knowledge and talents, which allowed us to help others.  It seems that one of the main talents that I possessed was living a long time on a little money.  After a few years of employing our budget-stretching ways, we began to have other couples come to us and ask how to live debt-free.  We had them over for cookies and coffee and offered them our counsel for free.  We showed them how to create a budget, set goals, and pay off debt in record time.

On the receiving end of this equation, when my oldest was in high school a dear friend had just retired from teaching.  She offered to tutor James in French, for free!  What an amazing offer!  Not only did she do it, she did so for two years!  We could never have paid for one-on-one tutoring sessions!

If you have no money, consider giving of your talents to bless others and meet their needs. 

2.  Give food.

For over two decades I have made all of our family's food from scratch.  When my boys were young, we baked a week's worth of bread, muffins, and buns every Tuesday.  We finished up the baking session about noon.  Carefully, we placed an assortment of the warm baked goods on a small plate.  The boys then delivered it to our neighbor, an older single lady.  Her sister told me much later that Ginny refused to eat lunch until her weekly bread arrived.  That homemade bread meant the world to this lovely lady!  

Here is another example.  I made three kinds of homemade soup every single week.  I still do.  I began to notice that on certain weeks that the Lord would prompt me to make a little extra bread or soup.  On these weeks, a friend or neighbor, whether sick or just discouraged, would need a special meal.  My boys saw this happen again and again. We would wrap up the homemade goodness, add a handwritten card, and pray over it.  We thanked the Lord for allowing us to care for others.  We thanked Him for the chance to minister to them.  We asked that He bless it and give them peace, comfort, and assurance.  


3.  Give Time. 

 Our church started a food pantry about seven years ago.  At the time our oldest son was in high school.  He leaned over to me during service and whispered, "Mom!  I want to be involved in that ministry!"  As a result our entire family began helping stock the shelves with food once a month.  Finding a way to help others who are in need is a fantastic way to build the faith and maturity of your children.  There are a multitude of ministries and community organizations who would love to have your family gift them with your time.  Don't know any?  Call around, ask around, and look around.  I guarantee you will find some opportunities to volunteer. 

As you help others, your own faith will be built.  You'll have fun, bless others, and be blessed at the same time! 

Do you have any other suggestions or have stories of how God has given you the chance to bless others even though you did not have any money?  

I'd love to have you share them in the comments!


Do all to the glory of God!


Monday, February 5, 2018

Cheap Eats: Grain Loaf

Last week I really wanted to serve something which resembled traditional meatloaf.  Daniel and I were working hard to use only ingredients that I had in the house.  This was a direct result of my huge grocery store blunder.  See this post for all the details on my mistake and what I learned. 

When we saw that we had 4 cups of leftover cooked steel cut oats, we got creative and invented:
Grain Loaf

Begin by mixing the first eight ingredients in a large bowl - 4 cups leftover steel cut oats, 3 cups cooked rice, 1 cup cooked millet, 3 Tblsp, Bragg's aminos, 1 Tblsp, garlic powder, 1 Tblsp. onion powder, 2 Tblsp. chili seasoning, 1 Tblsp. of your favorite no-salt spice mix.

I know it seems like a large amount of seasoning.  But, remember that your base is just rice, millet, and oats.  So, you need to add some flavor. Steel cut oats will give you the best texture for this dish.  But, if you have leftover cooked old fashioned rolled oats, then go for it!  Don't use the finely cut instant oats though.  It won't give you the "meaty" texture that this dish needs. 

 Place 2 Tblsp. of egg replacer in a small bowl.  Add 8 Tblsp. of hot water.  Let is sit for 5 minutes.  It should thicken to resemble the consistency of eggs.  If it is too thick, add more hot water, 1 tblsp. at a time, until you achieve the correct consistency.  

Add the egg replacer, 3 Tblsp. tomato paste, and  3/4 cup of barbeque sauce.  Mix well. 

Add enough flour to get the mixture to stick together like meatloaf. 1/2 cup was plenty for me. 

Place in a large loaf pan that has been sprayed with PAM.  Push on it with the back of a spoon to compress.  

Bake at 370 degrees for 40 minutes.  Top with the final 1/4 cup of barbeque sauce.  Replace in oven for another 20 minutes.  Remove and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing. 

Grain Loaf with Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato
 It sliced easily, looked like meat, and (most importantly) tasted fantastic!


Serves 8

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

4 cups leftover steel cut oats
3 cups cooked brown rice  
1 cup cooked millet
Note:  (I cooked the rice and millet together in the rice cooker using 3 cups raw rice, 1 cup raw millet, and 8 cups of water- freeze the leftovers for another day) 
3 Tblsp. Bragg's aminos
1 Tblsp. onion powder
1 Tblsp. garlic powder
2 Tblsp.chilli seasoning
1 Tblsp. no salt spice mix
1/2+ cup egg replacer mixture (2 Tblsp. egg replacer with 8 Tblsp. warm water.) 
3 Tblsp. tomato paste
1 cup barbeque sauce – divided use.  (Make your own to control the salt, oil, and sugar content.  It's easy to whip up in a high speed blender). 
1/2-1 cup gluten free flour (I used almond flour)

Mix first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. 

Place the egg replacer in a small bowl.  Whisk in 8 Tblsp. of hot water.  Let it sit for 5 minutes.  It will thicken.  It should resemble the consistency of eggs.  If it is too thick, add more hot water – 1 Tblsp. At a time until you get the desired consistency. 

 Add egg replacer to the oatmeal and rice mixture.  Add tomato paste and  3/4 cup barbeque sauce (reserving ¼ cup for later). 

Add enough flour to get the mixture to stick together.  Mix thoroughly. The finished product should look and feel a little like uncooked meatloaf. 

Place the finished mixture in a large loaf pan that has been sprayed with PAM or other non-stick spray or line the pan with parchment paper.  The finished mixture will perfectly fill a large loaf pan to the very top.  Press down firmly with the back of a spoon or your hand. 

Place the loaf pan in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Remove and add the remaining ¼ cup of barbeque sauce to the top.  Return to oven for another 20 minutes.  Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into slices.   

(You can download the recipe at this link)  

Happy eating!

Do all to the glory of God,