Three amazing teenagers. How did that happen?!? Parenting tips from the pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas Story

Christmas has been around for a long time. There are a thousand ways of telling the Christmas story, each slightly different because it came from a slightly different time, place and culture.

The oldest stories we can find go back thousands of years, to celebrations of early Europeans who celebrated light and birth during the darkest and coldest times of the year—winter solstice, hoping to bring about the next season when light, growth and warmth would return.

This celebration changed into a time of feasting in Scandinavia when the Norse celebrated Yule starting on December 21. They would light huge logs and feast until the logs burnt out. The best logs could last up to 12 days!

Sometime later, as Christianity was spreading through the world, it brought with it new reasons to celebrate. The celebration of the birth of Jesus didn’t have a fixed day until Christian leaders decided to match dates with the ancient holiday happening during winter and call it Christmas. As this new holiday, a time of gift giving and family togetherness, spread around the world, Santa Clause was born. This jolly man, with his bag of toys, quickly became the story many people told their children about Christmas.

Today, the story and meaning of Christmas is a little different in each part of the world. Here in Australia, our story is quite unique. Christmas is during the middle of summer. We can hardly build snowmen and we try to avoid lighting fires. Families meet together for outdoor cricket, BBQ’s, beach trips, Carols by Candlelight and late night drives to look at houses covered in lights.

No matter where you are in the world, one thing remains the same on Christmas. It is a time of giving. Gifts are given by parents to children. Families pass plates of delicious food. People participate in donating gifts to their community. Churches provide free meals for struggling families and individuals. At Christmas, everyone should feel joy and love.

May you have a wonderful Christmas
   as you share your gifts with others.
May your family be blessed and joyful
   as you share conversation and food.
May you experience peace and love
   as you consider the Christmas story.
And may the Christmas story you tell
   bring new life, meaning and purpose to all.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Naughty List

I was chatting with a grade one boy in the last week before the Christmas holiday.

"How are you today?" I asked.

"Not good," he said.

"Why not?"

"I'm on the naughty list!" He crossed his arms and dropped his eyes to the floor.

"The naughty list? What does that mean?" I asked.

His little head jerked up and he looked at me like I was the most ill-informed person on the planet. "It means I don't get any presents!"

I threw my hands up in the air, “What? That’s not good!” Leaning forward I asked, "Can you change it?"

His eyes came to life, "YES! I'm being really good, NOW!"

I nodded, wisely. "What are you doing different?"

"Not hitting my brother and not yelling at Mum."

I nodded again. "That sounds like a good start. Are you doing good stuff, too?"

Now he nodded. "Yup. I help Mum with stuff and clean up my mess."

I put my hand over my heart and leaned back in my chair. "I can tell you something really exciting!"

"What?" he asked, his eyes fixed on mine.

"You're getting off the naughty list!" I smiled.

"I know." He said, resolved. “But it’s hard.”

“Doing the right thing often is,” I said, “but it’s worth it, right?”

“Yeah,” he smiled. “I can’t wait to get my presents!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Dakota
 When she wandered into town, she had no name. In fact, nobody had ever seen her before. Until that fateful day in April of 2003, she had lived in the vast untamed forests of Southern Alaska and had no need for town. She was wild and she was free.

Juliet didn’t receive her name until years later, when her story became fully known. On the day she came in to town, tied to the back of work vehicle, she  was just one of the many nameless wolves killed by humans each year.

Hit by a car on it’s way into Juneau as it came around a darkened bend on the densely forested Alaskan Highway – Juliet had yet to receive her name or have her first litter of puppies.

The driver reported the accident but by the time Juliet’s body was recovered, it was too late for the four pups that would have been born just a week or two later.

The winter following Juliet’s death, the people of Juneau began to hear mournful cries of a lone wolf. Hearing howling is a common enough thing in this part of the world, but a solitary unanswered voice – repeated night after night – caused the towns people to talk.

Was this the cry of a wolf without a pack? Was he calling his mate? Why didn't he move on and call somewhere else? Was Juneau special to him for some reason?

There are few places in the world where you can still see wolves in the wild. And even fewer where those wolves feel comfortable enough with their human neighbours to visit.

In Juneau, Alaska just months after Juliet came into town, and just weeks after the soulful searching howls, a large black male wolf, was noticed searching the outer areas of town. The intentions of this large inquisitive black wolf were making people nervous.

Humans have long been afraid of wolves, and for good reason. Wolves are hunting machines and do not see people as friends. What was unique about this large male was he did not seem to see humans as enemies either. They were just people.

The large black wolf was, instead, very interested in the dogs in Juneau. Photographer Nick Jans saw wolf prints while out skiing one day. Hoping to get a good photo, he followed the tracks.

When he found the wolf, it took an instant interest in the two dogs Nick had with him. His dogs were well trained and stayed at his side. They focused on the wolf with every fibre of their being. Nick took a few photos and then headed home. The wolf followed them.

Over the next few months, the wolf occasionally visited their lakeside house. He would walk across the frozen snow covered lake and sit a few hundred metres from the house and watch for the dogs.

It wasn’t just the Jans who were visited by the black wolf. Many other residents of town began reporting seeing him. Most of the encounters happened when people walked their dogs along the lake and outside town.

Some months after their first encounter, Nick and his wife Sherrie were out walking their dogs on the frozen lake when the black wolf stepped out of the trees along the shoreline. Dakota, the Jans’ yellow Labrador broke free from her lead and bolted toward the wolf.

Unable to stop her, Nick and Sherrie watched with fear and then wonder as Dakota slid to a halt and faced the wolf – nose to nose. The huge wolf towered over the full sized Lab. His head easily twice the size of hers. Frozen in strikingly playful poses, the two canines sized each other up.

Then, Dakota turned and bounded back to her owners.

The wolf started spending a lot of time coming over the Jans’ house and watching for Dakota. So much so that one day, looking out the kitchen window and seeing his dusky form on the ice just a few hundred metres away, Sherrie said, “There’s that Romeo wolf again!”

The name spread across town like wildfire. The wolf had been wooing numerous dogs with his prowess and charisma. Everyone thought Romeo was the perfect name.

They had no idea how right they were. His Juliet was in town and he was searching for her. Normally Alaskan wolves have a territory that spans hundreds of miles. Over the years of Romeo’s visits, Nick tracked him repeatedly and deduced Romeo was limiting himself to a territory of just seven miles. He never went far from town.

Some people said this was not good for Romeo or for the people flocking to town to see the wild wolf who played with dogs. Hikers, Campers, holiday makers – they all came to see the wolf for themselves.

“He’s trying to make a pack out of our dogs,” many locals said. “He needs to be taken into the wild where he can join a wolf pack.”

“We like having him here!” Other people said. They had fallen in love with Romeo.

It was a very difficult situation for the authorities who wanted to protect the people but also didn’t want to upset Romeo. Moving him near other wolves could get him killed if they rejected him. Perhaps Romeo was demonstrating a new kind of interaction between wolf and human – a friendly coexistence between species.

Had anyone been able to ask Romeo, he would have said, “Have you seen a beautiful black female wolf? I last saw my wife just near this town. We were out hunting when I lost track of her. I returned to our den and waited. I waited for weeks. She never came back. She was almost ready to have our first family. I tracked her scent to this town. Something feels right about this town.”

Maybe that’s what Romeo was saying to all the dogs he met. Maybe they understood him. Maybe they didn’t. But one thing was clear, all the town dogs and most of the town people loved Romeo.

And Romeo loved Juliet. Enough to give up his life in the wild. Enough to search for her until his dying day. There are hundreds of photos of dozens of dogs that prove, Romeo made lots of new friends. But his heart always belonged to his Juliet.

When the towns people realised that their love story with Romeo the black wolf was over they erected two monuments. One, in the park that Romeo loved, displays an artistic sketch of a wolf above words of tribute:

Romeo's Plaque

The other monument is behind a glass display window in the park office. Beautifully stuffed and mounted, a black wolf – the pregnant female hit by the car that April 2003 day – her name underneath: Juliet.

The people of Juneau loved Romeo enough to honour his memory. Greater love was shown by Romeo who searched with life long loyalty for his Juliet.

If you were to go to Juneau and visit these two memorials, you would become part of the story of the last two wolves in the Juneau pack. And perhaps, your heart would be challenged to show such love and loyalty.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning to See

Daniel Kish has been blind for as long as he can remember. He was born able to see but developed eye cancer as a baby. The doctors took out one eye when Daniel was just seven months old. His second eye was removed a few weeks after his first birthday.  

This disease, called retinoblastoma, is a rare form of cancer. It develops in the immature cells of a retina. This means, it is almost always found in young children. 

Daniel grew up without his eyes, but he doesn't consider himself blind. "Many people regard blindness as a tragedy," Daniel says. "But it doesn't need to be." 

"Close your eyes," Daniel says. "Now, imagine that when you try to open your eyes – they don't open. They won't open. Ever again. What are you going to do?"  

Many people who go blind feel stuck. They feel like they are trapped because they can't see. 

"Eventually you'll need to get up, go somewhere, do something." Daniel says, "What if you are handed a stick? You have taken the first step toward freedom."  

Most blind people learn to use a cane to see the world around them by taping and scanning the ground in front of them as they walk. Daniel uses a long cane because it gives him a good picture of what's coming up.  

Some blind people take the arm of someone else and let them do the seeing. Daniel didn't like to do that, even as a boy. "If you grab on to someone, you might just not let go," he says. He decided to learn to find his own way through the world. 

When he was a young boy, a friend loaned Daniel a small bike. He learned to ride it in the hallway of his house. He got very good at riding the small bike. So, his parents bought him a bigger one of his own. It took time to learn to ride the bigger bike, but soon Daniel was riding up and down the street and through the park like any other boy. 

"But, how?!" I can hear you say, "He couldn't see!" 

Well, yes he could. Daniel taught himself to see with his ears. Believe it or not, that's what he learned to do.  

Those of us with two good ears can tell where sound is coming from. If someone calls your name, or even makes a noise, you can point at them with your eyes closed.  

Daniel took this hearing ability a step further. He noticed, when he made a certain noise – a clicking sound – he could hear it reflecting back to him. But the sound that returned to him sounded different than the click he had sent out. 

Some click-echoes came back fast. That object was close. 

Some click-echoes came bake slow. That object was farther away. 

Some click-echoes came back sharp and clear. That object has a solid smooth surface – maybe a door, window, wall – something you can't go through.  

Some click-echoes came back muffled and quiet. That object is absorbent or soft – maybe a tree covered in bark, a person, a bush – something else to avoid.  

And sometimes, the sound doesn't come back. That means open space – a place to ride! 

Daniel learned to see the way a bat sees in the dark, using echolocation. Every echo told him something. Every click Daniel would send out would return from a thousand directions.  Daniel calls it 'flash sonar.'  

Today, as an adult, Daniel teaches blind people how to see. He teaches them how to use a long cane. He teaches them how to click and hear the reflection of that sound so they can see a 3D soundscape of the world. 

Brain doctors have discovered something amazing about Daniel's brain. Using an MRI machine, they have recorded Daniel's brain as he uses flash sonar. Amazingly, Daniel uses the same part of his brain to 'see' with his ears as people who see with their eyes. Other people Daniel has taught to echo-locate have also been studied by these doctors. They also use their visual processing centre to 'see' the world around them. Their brains have learned to see using their ears.  

Daniel is the president of World Access for the Blind. They teach people to see life in new ways. "The brain is like a muscle," Daniel says. "Strength comes from use. We train the brain to access the visual centres through reflected sound instead of reflected light."  

While Daniel doesn't see himself as amazing, he does see the people he trains as courageous. Many of his students have been holding on to someone's arm for years. It is very hard to let go and navigate the world on your own when you have always believed you could not. 

These people are the true heroes, in Daniel's eyes. They have the courage to try. For nearly 20 years, Daniel's organisation has been helping people learn to see in new ways. Daniel doesn't limit this new sight to people who are physically blind.  

"What we hope," Daniel says, "is to help everyone see more clearly to greater freedom!" Some people are afraid to be brave and face problems in their lives. If you can see, Daniel puts a blind fold on you and teaches you to click and use flash sonar. When people realise they can learn to see without their eyes, they become more courageous in other areas of their lives and try to see those problems in new ways.   

One of Daniel's first students was a boy born blind named Juan Ruiz. Juan had already learned to do many things – like play soccer with a ball in a bag. The ball made lots of noise because of the bag. He could find the bag and kick it. When he learned flash sonar, Juan was able to learn to ride a bike. He loved the confidence and freedom that echolocation gave him. Daniel asked Juan to come work with him teaching echolocation to people around the world.  

Juan had an idea of how to get their message out to more people. Go on Television and do something amazing. So, he decided he would break a world record. "Fastest 10 obstacle slalom on bicycle – blindfolded" was his goal. On April 8, 2011 he set the record – 48.34 seconds. Then, two years later he broke his record nearly in half – 25.43 seconds.  

Juan says the most important part of the event wasn’t the records, it was the message he gave in his speech. "This obstacle course is not just poles; it represents a goal, and the bigger our goals, the more obstacles we will face. And, if you should fail, you just pick yourself up and try again. But, at the end we will experience victory!" 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finding a High School

If you are like my wife and I were when our kids were in Primary School, you are thinking about what High School they will attend. It’s always in the back of your mind because you want the best for them. We sat down together and came up with some tips (in hindsight!) for you. Hope they help!

1. Look for a school that matches your child. If you need specialist help – look carefully. If you need advanced learning specialists – look carefully. Most schools focus on one end of the learning spectrum.

2. Start Early, if you are looking for a particular type of school. If you have certain needs, start applying in grade four or before.

3. Look for social cues. Are they big on clubs? Would your kids be into that?

4. Look for extras. What extras do they offer? Extra curricula, camps, international trips? Are these things within your budget? Are you willing to sacrifice for them?

5. Look for scholarships. Apply for any need or skill based scholarship that matches your child.

6. If you want to go to the nearest state school (as our two boys do) don’t worry too much about applying ahead of time. They are required to take nearby residents.

7. Listen to your kids. They may know what they want. Two of ours did (Maths/Music). One is an “all rounder” (as his brother calls him) and excels anywhere because he sets his own expectations – very high!

8. Finally, it’s more about who your child is than what school they attend. Show them how to be bold and stand up for others. Reward them for asking good questions. Challenge them to have a go, even if they fail. Kids like this lead the pack!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

You go, Supermum!

I am guilty of poor multi-tasking. One day some time ago, my mobile phone rang while I was driving my kids to school. I took my eyes off the road for the briefest moment—a moment that is now burned into my mind—and smashed into the back end of a BMW. I've been told many times that men can't multi-task. But that doesn't mean I can't try, right?

My wife, research has shown, is three times more likely to successfully multi-task than I am. We have three children, all of whom she has carried, birthed and nursed. Due to child in triplicate she has received three doses of various oestrogen strains to her brain that I have not received. I feel compelled to cry out with my kids, “That's not fair!”

I'll tell you how unfair it is. Just staring at the face of her own baby gives a mother a rush of endorphins. How's that for unfair? I have to climb a mountain or build a rocket-ship to get the same buzz she gets from playing goo-goo. Not fair!

Skills that were beneficial in hunt-and-gather societies of the past are still useful to mothers in the modern family. Propelling herself out of bed at the slightest whimper, exiting deep sleep and entering the darkness of night, today's mum weaves her way through unlit hallways, deftly missing couches, tables and random toys underfoot, and arrives at the source of that whimper in record time.

But, if you think that's fast—just watch a mum when their inquisitive toddler picks up a bug from the ground and prepares to eat it. Five times faster than your average virgin, mum saves the day! She vaults fences and knocks aside grown men in her single-minded goal to kill the enemy. The bug is unceremoniously squashed. The child is startled for a moment and then all returns to normal. That is until the next time the world needs Supermum.

While many mothers may feel their kids are killing them, having children has been shown to slow the ageing process. A combination of the hormones of pregnancy and the busy life of raising children floods the brain with all it needs to stay young!

Because of the hormonal gifts given to them through child birth and breast-feeding mums have better memory skills, learning abilities and longevity. So, Mums, because of your choice to have a raise great kids you will live longer, wiser and more interesting lives.

You deserve it! Thanks Mum, for all you do. Keep up the great work!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hey Dad!

It's been said that “a man's work is from sun to sun, but a mother's work is never done.”

Many fathers have stretched the time they work from before and until after the sun makes its journey through the sky.

A young boy, after watching his father leave one morning, asked his mother, “Where does Dad go when he leaves every day?” His mother explained that his father had a job where he got paid for his time. The little boy ran to his room and returned with a handful of coins. He laid them out on the table, saying, “Mum, how much of Dad's time will this buy me?”

Fathers who spend time with their children bring untold blessing into the lives of those youngsters. But, like mothers, there are benefits to the male brain that result from spending time with their kids.

One research program studied marmoset monkeys and found that the male monkeys who were fathers (marmoset fathers help raise the babies) were faster and more accurate at finding containers with food in them. In human homes, the more time a father spends in the house, the less likely he is to be told, “It's behind the milk.” I have become so suspicious of the milk in our fridge that I have been known to check behind the milk before asking if anyone has seen my socks.

In all seriousness, dads, we've got a lot to answer for. We shouldn't be grunting, “I brought you into this world and I'll take you out” unless we are willing to spend time loving and being loved by our children.

Dad, your kids need you. They need you in their lives when they are living it – at home and engaged when they are awake and active. Dads, when we spend time with our kids we give them a good start in life. Your example as a father, a husband and grown man will help them become all they can be.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Building Creative Literacy

As adults, we need not loose the wonder and awe a child enjoys each day as they experience new things. Unfortunately, it’s often seen as part of ‘growing up’ to stop exercising this ability to find novel reasons and new purposes for things around us. And yet, adults who retain an active imagination excel in business, art, teaching and more.

While literacy is the ability read, write and do arithmetic; creative literacy is a skill set that allows you to imaginatively interpret the world around you and draw conclusions about what is (or could be) going on. Creative literacy is useful for anyone creating or planning something new. Without creativity in life, every day merges into the next and becomes one long adventure in missing the point.

Be creative.

Model creativity in your life - on the table, in the kitchen, it the car, on the lawn, in the shops!

Foster creativity in your children. No child is born without a sense of wonder about the world. Keep that adventurous spirit alive by having new experiences daily.

Walk a different way, go to new places, try different food. My kids used to think it was like going to Disneyland when we did a “walk-bus-train” ride from home into the city, because it was such a rare thing. New is good. Old is good. Same is… boring!

Provide open-ended play opportunities - like a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons, or a trip to the shops where you follow them around, or play dough, or letting them ‘read’ you a book. You recognise these things because they are what kids want to do naturally.

Creative adults are often seen as having a ‘gift’ in their ability to create art, music, stories or any other new thing. It’s not a gift, it’s creative literacy. You could call it childhood retained. It’s being a person who hasn’t lost their sense of wonder and has kept the ability to see things that aren’t there - yet.

Make these holidays a time of creativity and playfulness. Increase the creative literacy of your children by providing unique opportunities. Do something new. Go somewhere different. Most importantly, have fun!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mistakes Make You Great!

Mistakes make successful people in the real world. When we are in school, making mistakes often means we failed. If we want to create successful adults out of our children, we need to encourage mistakes! This is done by focusing on the journey rather than the destination.

Getting kids to process their mistakes and keep working is not easy. Yet, every mistake our kids make provides an opportunity for growth, learning and a new level of maturity.

As parents, how do we create successful people who keep trying and making mistakes boldly so they keep learning and growing?  The answer is fairly simple but applying it is hard work: We need to encourage the process rather than the result.

What does that look like?

Instead of saying, “Good Job! That’s a great drawing!” you could say, “Your drawing is really taking shape! What are you going to add next?”

Rather than saying, “Oops. You’ve dropped some egg shell in the batter!” you could say, “Wow! That batter is almost ready. What are you going to do about that eggshell?”

The goal in process parenting is to recognise we are not finished yet. We are making great people and every drawing, every project, every walk, every shopping trip, every shoe tying, everything! – is a step toward the eternally repeated goal of saying, “I’m constantly amazed by you. What are you going to do next?”

Saturday, August 27, 2016

An Imagination Rich Life

A healthy mind is an actively creative one. The ability to create something new takes a wide collection of experiences. Whether we are creating a new dish in the kitchen, writing a new story, building a tree fort, creating a presentation, or telling a joke – we are only as creative as the combined total of our previous experiences and learning.

Our brain takes everything we have done, heard, read, learned and experienced and creates new things from the montage of our past. So, the best thing to do with your holiday time, for the mental, social and spiritual development of your children, is to engage in a wide spectrum of activities. Go to new places, old favourites, visit friends, meet new people, participate in traditions, gather with family, spend time learning about new things – reading, watching, listening – and then talk about it!

Talking about our experiences locks them into our memory. Ask your kids to ‘tell the story of your day’ each night as you tuck them into bed. Ask questions to help them go into detail. As they tell the story, they reframe it in a way that gives it meaning to them. At the end of the week, ask them to tell the story of their week. You’ll be surprised at the editing that has taken place, making it more meaningful. Don’t correct their story. Just listen and ask more questions. At the end of the school holidays, ask to hear ‘the story of your holiday’. It will help them make meaning of it all by choosing favourites, exploring difficulties and making sense of the various events.

A creative person is a successful person. Creativity comes from an active imagination. Each time we tell our story, we create something new by connecting new material with old memories. The human brain remembers by reconstructing, which means that each time we ‘remember’ something we are rebuilding it from what we knew and what we know now. The creative retellings of the past that come from our children (and ourselves!) prove that the imaginative parts of our brain are working.

While it is important to tell the truth, it is also very important, for our emotional wellbeing, to be able to reframe things that happen to us. This skill, learned by ‘telling your story’ in childhood will benefit your children for a lifetime.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Learning Stories

 Today was a good day for stories.

My favourite thing about life is stories. I love to tell stories. I love to listen to stories. There is no greater teacher than stories. They get in our heads and change our hearts.

Story 1: As I returned to school today with my Monday cornucopia from Second Bite I was told the same story by at least five different kids. “We heard about what happened to you in the Staff Carpark!” I asked each one to tell me what they had heard (repeating a story is the best way to learn it!) and they told me about the toddler that had run behind my car as I was backing out after school one-day last week. They told me I was scared. I nodded agreeing with them. They told me that I slammed the brake and no one was hurt. No one except my racing heart! Then they told me during assembly the deputy principal had told the story of “normally happy Dave” and how he was “very scared” last week. Yes, I was!

Now, every student in the school knows they should walk on the footpath not in the carpark behind the cars. And every parent also knows because kids are great tellers of stories they know to be true!

Story 2: Occasionally, as a professional storyteller, I get the chance to tell stories to children in schools around Australia. This afternoon, I shared 45 minutes of stories with kids in a Kindergarten in Melbourne. When I am presenting a story set, I like to start with a dreamtime story to honour Australia’s aboriginal ancestors. The book bag that holds all my storybooks has a lovely piece of Aboriginal Art covering it which I show to the kids and ask, “Who knows what kind of art this is?” Today I got the best answer, ever. A boy no more than four years old shouted, “Australian Art!”

I stopped, humbled. I was looking for another word and yet this one was better. The boy was right. This is the way children today see Australia. “Yes!” I said, “I like that! You are right. This is Australian Art and I would like to start today with a story about the first Australians – a story from the time before time when Australia was just beginning. A story from the dreamtime!”

There’s power in stories. They show us who we are and who we are becoming.

And when kids tell them to us we know we are learning!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Creativity: Imagination and Invention

Eight-year-old me had a BMX bike named Herby. We were best friends and I talked to Herby non-stop. My family thought I was a bit strange.

Now-a-days, I love to ask P-2 kids if they have a friend only they can see. The younger the group, the more hands that go up. Kids have excellent imaginations!

I remember feeling silly for using my imagination too much. “Davy, you need to stop day dreaming and pay attention!” I never really grew out of it. On the drive home after work, in the shower, or while I’m sitting at my desk – I often ‘wake-up’ and realise I was just in some far off place or lost in conversation with someone who wasn’t there.

Brain scientists are telling us how important it is to keep our imagination alive. They say our brains grow stronger when we use them in new ways – and there is no way to use your brain in a new way without creativity.

Imagination is, simply, the repetition of known thoughts or actions. And invention – the product of imagination – happens when old knowledge and relationships interact in new ways. Imagine me riding my bike Herby over the same muddy path each day. The first day the track is fresh, the second day I try to ride along yesterday’s track, the third day there is a deepening grove for me to follow. Until, after a few repetitions, I am almost forced to ride in the rut because riding outside of it takes effort. Then comes invention – creativity in the rut – I lift up the front wheel while my back wheel is guided by the rut, holding the wheelie, showing off for friends – real or imaginary – my creativity and riding skills on show.

Repetition provides us with skills and experience – even if that repetition was ‘just in our head.’ That’s how the brain works. Every trip down a familiar path – playing a guitar chord, swimming a lap, writing our name, opening a lock, smiling at a friend – causes us to become better at doing that thing – even when we are just imagining it! That’s what the brain doctors say.

An activity in your brain is like a crease in a piece of paper. Every time you fold it on that crease the paper folds easier and easier until just a gentle breath can cause the page to fold along the crease. Practice becomes skill. People begin to call you ‘a natural’ because your talent looks effortless.

Learning is the process of coupling imaginary play with reality – that’s what kids do all day long. A stick becomes a horse, a doll becomes a baby, a playground at recess becomes a world of adventure – pirates, jungle-explorers and superheroes abound. By trying reality on for size, we make sense of the world. And this requires imagination!

At home, children try out the things they see and hear. Their play workshop, kitchen, house or car is them becoming something new. It’s been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery but with children it’s more. Imitation is life in the making.

Encourage your children when they engage in imaginary play. Let them know you love it when they imagine, invent and create things. Set aside space and time for them to be creative. ‘Free time’ for the brain is like meal time for the body – it’s that important. Take joy (pride even!) in the things they make believe into reality. And protect their ‘free time’ like a lioness protects her cubs.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Icy Pole Parenting

Kids love icy poles. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hot or cold day, if the canteen has icy poles, kids buy them. Have you ever wondered why? I have a theory.

Yes, they are cold and get sweeter as they melt. But they are also messy.

My theory is this: Kids love icy poles because they last so long. A tiny icy pole can last most of recess, if managed correctly. Other snacks are gone in a couple of seconds.

We all get angry. When we are ignored or disobeyed by our kids, we feel under-appreciated and over-worked and it begins to wear on us. And then we get angry. We become ‘mad as a hornet’, ‘barking mad’, ‘hopping mad’, ‘boiling mad’… Nobody ever says, “I’m as mad as an icy pole.” Why? Because icy poles are cool, long-lasting and sweet.

Before it entered a child’s grasp, every icy pole spent a long time in the freezer. Likewise, if we want to be icy pole parents, we need to spend some time – before the fact – getting ready for the angry times that will inevitably come our way.

Here are some tips for being an icy pole parent.

Get off the Maddercycle – I get mad at my child. That makes me mad at myself. Now I’m madder at my child for making me mad at myself. I hate being mad. So, now I’m madder because I got mad. I don’t want to ride this beast anymore! Break the cycle by recognising it and getting off.

Embrace your Emotions – When you feel something, you can change it. Emotion creates desire. That’s its purpose. Listen to your emotions and ask yourself, “What do I want to change?” Then create a strategy to make the change.

Give ME a Break – Two meanings here: First, stop picking on yourself. We all make mistakes. Leave them in the past and move forward away from them. Second, go do something you love. Go for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, create something. Take a break just for ME.

Heal your Hurts – We all have unresolved anger from our present and past. Parenting will bring these things up and out. When they emerge, don’t push them back under. Face and fix them.

Prepare and Prevent – There are some situations that always make you boil. If you cannot send someone else, plan some strategies. Change the situation by mixing things up: What will you add or subtract? Create an exit strategy: How can you cut it short? Have a support person: Who can you ask for support? If you must go in, go in prepared.

Communicate – We are not meant to do life alone. We are born into community and we get stronger as our communities grow. Without communication there is no community. Using our words to share our emotions builds relationships and resilience. The best way to teach this to our children is to model it. Talk about everything. Talk about feelings. Talk about joys and hardships. Talking makes us human.

So, before you get angry, choose a new metaphor – “I’m as mad as an icy pole.” You might always be a bit messy, but with preparation, you’ll stay cool no matter how hot the day gets and grow sweeter with time.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Safe Environments for Success

A father was out bike riding with his son when they came to a branch blocking the path. The father said to the boy, “This looks like a job for you! Move the branch.”

The boy tried but was unable to budge the branch. He returned to his father and said, “It’s too heavy. I can’t do it.”

His father encouraged him, “Try again and this time, use all of your strength!”

The boy went back to the branch and after pushing and pulling for all he was worth, he said, “Dad, I can’t do it. I need your help.”

“Ah,” said the father, “Now you are using all of your strength!”

Every step along the parenting journey, we want to develop resilient kids who are able to see and succeed at the challenges in front of them. Sometimes the struggle is what teaches the greatest lesson. Other times, a helping hand from a nearby parent makes all the difference. So, how do we know the right time to help and the right time to stand back and give encouragement?

When our children are learning to walk and they fall, we don’t yell, “Stop falling, you quitter!” Instead, we cheer and say, “WOW! Great job! You took THREE STEPS!” At the same time, we move stuff out of their way – to open a clear path for greater achievement. Living in a safe place makes conquering life’s challenges possible. Creating safe places isn’t just about keeping plastic stoppers in power-points and gates at the top of stairs. Safe places are environments where learning is the default because challenges are available and reasonable to the level of the learner.

Now that our kids are in school, we still need to be creating safe environments for success. Some obstacles are part of the challenge, others need to be moved. Nobody knows your child and their capabilities like you do. You spend more hours with them than anyone. To build resilience, kids need to know they can face challenges and conquer the next level of difficulty. Like learning to walk; learning maths, reading, writing and any other subject requires failure and success. Resilient kids have the try-try-again mentality developed through repeated learning experiences of various kinds with one constant – your presence.

Sometimes you cheer. Sometimes you reach out your hand. Other times you do both. These interactions build resilience, stick-to-it-iveness, bravery and confidence in your child. They know you are there for them – and together, anything is possible!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


We humans care about those we love. We give our time, energy and resources to help make life better for those whom we consider family. As the social structure of the world has changed over the past, we have regularly redefined family.

A few thousand years ago, my family was my blood. I cared about you if I had the same parents as you. From this time in history we get the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.”

A few thousand months ago, my family was my people. We believed the same thing. We lived the same way. We were a tribe. We looked, acted and thought in similar ways.

A few thousand weeks ago, my family was my country. We had national pride. We ate the same food. We spoke the same language. We shaped our family borders through war and law.

A few thousand days from now – sooner, I hope – we will realise we all come from the same planet. Killing them is killing us. Hating you is hating me. We need each other because we are each other.

We are family.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Teaching Self-Control

If you are anything like me, you’ve had moments with your kids when frustration turns anger and words fly out of your mouth that you never meant to say. I’ve spent a bit of time (they are teenagers now) observing myself and researching what causes such outbursts.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about being a good parent. Let me warn you, it isn’t comfortable to hear. But, knowing these things and taking them seriously has helped me heaps!

In order to raise great kids, they need a solid foundation of self-control. Here are four facts to help build a self-control centre in ourselves and our children:

1. Parents, we are in charge.
2. When we ‘loose it,’ the thing we have lost is self-control.
3. Like us, our kids shine when they take charge of themselves.
4. Ultimately, the mature person has consistent self-control.

When we get angry with the kids, it is because we feel we have lost control of them. Little Lady throws a tantrum in the shops. Sir Serious asks “Why?” for the 150th time in three minutes. Mr Muscles tries to rip his sister’s hair out, again. The three angels leave a trail of madness and mayhem through the house. Before flipping your lid, pause and review the ‘self-control’ centre. When the kids are out of control, they are not out of OUR control, they are out of THEIR OWN control. Getting that clear in your mind releases you from taking offence.

They are acting ‘against’ who they are; not who you are!

As a parent, whether you realise it or not, you are on a different level to the kids. Not only are you bigger and older, you are the boss. The kids are the followers. They know you are in charge of what happens at home. Until they understand the boundaries, they will test them. We teach our kids (and learn along the way, ourselves) that “The only person who can control you is YOU!”

The best way to teach this is to model it. By taking ownership of our emotions we can realise, “Wow, I’m really upset about this!” Then we can choose to direct the fight/flight reaction caused by the stress into positive action – doing dishes, mowing the lawn, going for a walk. As we get better at moving from reaction into action, our kids will too. They learn from watching us.

Then we can talk about it; teaching our kids to ask, “What name does this feeling have?” “Why am I feeling it?” “What can I do instead?” “What can I do to make things right?” and finally, “What can I do next time this feeling comes?”

We learn the most difficult skills in life by watching others and then practicing it on our own. Self-control is one of these skills. To master it, it helps to see it mastered by someone around us. As adults, we need to model it. Stop blaming others for our loss of self-control and start taking charge of ourselves. The better we get at self-control, the better start in life we give our kids!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Resilient Questions

Long-term learning happens in positive situations. Success is sticky and draws us back for more. Failure scares us away. We shrink from failure and we grow from success.

Growing up is all about making mistakes and learning from them for next time. But, to help our kids learn quickly and effectively, we need to change those negatives into positives as quickly as possible. Using questions is a great way.

With toddlers and early primary school students, mistakes often come in two areas: Time and Place. Helping them realise this is the wrong time or place for a particular activity gives them the understanding to choose when and where to do it next time. Using positive questions to deal with wrong actions allows children to understand what it is they are doing wrong and why.

Positive question sets (three examples):

“Is this the right place to be drawing with crayons?”
“Where is the right place?”
“Before we go to that place, how will you clean this?”

“Is this the right time to be eating cake?”
“When is the right time?”
“If you are hungry, what is ok to eat right now?”

“Is this the right time or place to be tackling people?”
“When and where is rough play ok?”
“What could you do with your energy now?”

Each one of these examples takes the child from the negative behaviour to positive behaviour while also giving them questions to think through their actions. Next time, they will have some tools to use in considering whether they should draw on the walls, eat cake for breakfast or tackle their sibling on the way into the school grounds.

We create resilient kids by teaching them positive questions to use in reviewing mistakes and planning for success next time.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Mud Puddle

Life is like a “choose your own adventure” book. At the end of each event you get to choose where the story goes next.

Elly and Jane got to school early and were the only two kids on the playground. Elly slipped and fell in a mud puddle. Jane ran over, jumped in the puddle, laughed and said, “You look better now than before!” Then she ran away laughing.

Option 1: As Elly was brushing herself off, the bus arrived. Rose, May and Sarah asked Elly what had happened. Elly told them about Jane. If you want to see what happens next, turn to page 12.

Option 2: Elly stood up and brushed herself off. She saw the bus pulling in and went to meet her friends. Rose, May and Sarah said, “Elly, you’re covered in mud! What happened?” Elly said she fell in a puddle and needed to go to the bathroom to clean up. Her friends said they would come with her. If you want to see what happens next, turn to page 26.


Page 12 – Rose, May and Sarah were angry. They told Elly some things that Jane had done to them in the past. They all decided that it was time for Jane to pay for her bullying. They came up with a plan to embarrass Jane…


Page 26 – At recess, Elly found Jane in a corner of the playground. Elly explained how sad it made her that Jane didn’t help her up when she fell down. Elly said, “Jane, the things you said and did made me sad. I want you to be my friend.” Jane looked at the ground and said, “Yeah. I’m sorry, Elly. I did the wrong thing.” The two returned to the playground together…


We all can write the next part of both stories because we’ve seen them. One leads to healthy friendships, the other leads to more hateful words and actions that go on and on. The best option is to talk to the person who hurt us, tell them what hurt and that we want to be their friend. It’s not always the easiest way, but it is the best way.

As kids, you also have teachers, parents and chaplains to help. You can ask a grown up what you should do and they will help you turn to page 26!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Little Things

When Sully left home the morning of January 15, 2009 he had no idea he would be a hero by the end of the day. To him, as a pilot flying from one US city to another, he was just going to another day at work.

But when a flock of geese flew into the engines – both engines – of his Airbus A320, there was no choice but to crash land. He could choose where, but the plane was coming down – and quickly. Would he choose an airport a few miles away? No, too far. Would he choose the freeway and hope not to hit too many cars? No, too dangerous.

Sully steered the giant plane toward the Hudson River and planned his descent. The damaged engines would need to get the plane to the right speed and then be turned off. Then he would need to glide it in, powerless, and hit the water just right so the plane didn’t flip end over end or tear apart wing from wing. He needed to skim the plane across the river’s surface like a boy skipping a rock on a pond.

But before that, he had to bank into a long left turn lining up the river in the direction it was flowing, the auto pilot had to be turned off, the plane had to be levelled perfectly, the nose lifted just right, the vents and valves had to be sealed to stop water coming in – all with only emergency generator power and battery operated systems.

As a pilot and gliding instructor, Sully flew planes and taught others to do so every day. But today, there was no room for even the slightest mistake.

A few tense minutes later, Sully slid down the emergency slide to join the crew and passengers in one of the life rafts. The landing went perfectly, everyone survived –with an amazing story to tell.

Could you have done that? Yes, if you had the thousands and thousands of hours of training, practice and experience – and the calm confidence those hours brought Sully.

The greatest things in life are accomplished through the virtue and character developed by little things done over and over when they don’t seem to matter. One day, piled on top of each other, those little things create a mountain of potential that can do the impossible!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saying Sorry

I can’t remember the conversation beforehand but I do remember that I was in trouble—lots of trouble. I had said something insensitive and was not doing well formulating an apology.

My wife and I laid side by side, sharing the same darkness and the same doona, in silence. I knew it was my turn to say something. Something helpful.

What should I say?

Thoughts were racing through my mind. I remember feeling very disappointed in myself for mistreating my wife. I felt like a bad person.

My words so far had been very hurtful. As had my attempt at an apology thus far. I hadn’t meant to say what I had said and I was sorry. But I couldn’t figure out the best way to say that.

Finally I decided to simply say, “I’m sorry.” But as I spoke, I thought, sometimes I am such a useless person. So, my planned words and my unplanned thought combined to fill the dark void with, “I’m a sorry person.”

Great, I thought, I’ve done it again. That didn’t help at all.

Then I heard something unexpected from the other side of the bed. It started as a sniffle, turned into a giggle and then became convulsions of laughter. When my wife was finally able to catch her breath, she said, “Truer words have never been spoken.” Then she went back into hysterics and I joined her in tears of laughter and relief.

There is something very healing about a good laugh. It has the power to turn bitter tears into sweet ones. The tissue box was still being used but for a very different reason.

My wife and I now have a new technique for disarming potential setbacks in our relationship that involve me blurting and her hurting. Upon hearing me say something bordering on insensitive she says, “You know, you’re a sorry person.” And I gingerly step across my freshly dropped eggshells, wrap my arms around her and say, “Yes. More sorry than I can say. I love you.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chaplains Change the World One Child at a Time!

Dear One and All,

I am a School Chaplain in two primary schools in Melbourne, Australia. I love being involved in making a difference in the lives of students, staff and families! Much of what happens through chaplaincy is funded through people like you who want to see schools have the influence, mentoring and care of chaplains. I am employed by ACCESS Ministries and would love for you to help keep myself and other chaplains like me doing what we love!

Please click on the Pic or the Link below to make a difference.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Little Happy

When I was a boy, I had a little dog named Happy. She was so little, I had to sit down to pat her.

Happy loved to play games – hopping, jumping, running, licking your face kind of games. Happy waited for me at the front window every day when I came home from school. And every night, Happy slept on a pillow above my pillow. I loved Happy.

But, while I was at school Happy had a bad habit. Happy liked chasing the neighbours chickens. And sometimes, she would catch a chicken. And when that happened, the neighbour became very upset because little Happy could cause a fair bit of damage to a little chicken. And she did, too often.

So, my mum helped me put an advertisement in the local paper telling everyone that Happy needed a home with someone who had lots of love to give to a little dog and who didn’t have chickens. A few days later a big motorhome drove into our driveway and an elderly couple came to the door and asked if they could meet Happy. Of course, they loved her. And Happy loved them, too. They told me they were traveling around America and would give Happy lots of love and many wonderful experiences.

I cried as I watched little Happy leave in that big motorhome. I loved her and didn’t want to lose her. But, I knew things would be better for her if she wasn’t near chickens and was with people who could spend all day with her.

A few weeks later, I got a postcard from Happy! On the front of the card was a picture of Happy somewhere in America and on the back was a letter all about what Happy had been doing and seeing. Every few weeks, I got another postcard and another story about Happy. She was having fun, getting lots of love and not killing chickens. Which, I knew was for the best. And I was happy for Happy.

Learning to see the positive in a negative situation is called being resilient. And I ‘m grateful to my Mum and Dad for helping me find a good solution for me and my little dog Happy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ben’s Strength

Eight-year-old Benjamin loved spending time in his treehouse. He and his Dad had built it together during the last school holidays. Ben had been using Mum’s kitchen three-step footstool to get from the ground to the lowest tree branch but Mum wanted the footstool back inside the house.

Just a few metres away from the treehouse, was a large round piece of tree trunk left from a tree Dad cut down last year. It was the perfect size to use as a step into the treehouse. Ben tried to move the stump-round, but it was too heavy. He spent the rest of the morning looking for something else to use as a step. But there was nothing as perfect as the stump-round.

During lunch, Ben told Dad about the stump-round and Dad said, “Great idea! You will be able to move it. You just need to use all of your strength!”

Ben got the hint. His Dad want to help. Or maybe he just wanted Ben to do it on his own. Whatever the reason, he would need to find a way to move the stump. After lunch, Ben tried to lift the stump onto its edge to roll it to the tree. It wouldn’t budge.

He headed into the shed and got Dad’s crowbar. If he could lever it onto its edge, he could roll the stump-round to the treehouse. Back at the stump he wedged the crowbar underneath and lifted. The tip of the crowbar sunk into the ground. Ben looked up at the kitchen window and saw Dad watching. Dad smiled, made a fist and flexed his arm muscle. Then he pointed at his head and tapped it a couple times.

“Yeah, I know use all my strength… Oh, use all of my smarts!” Ben looked at the stump and scratched his head.

He went back to the shed and got two blocks of wood. He stacked them on top of each other next to the stump and wedged the crowbar between the blocks and the stump. Then he pulled down with all his might and the stump lifted off the ground! He stood on the end of the crowbar and with a long stick pushed the stump-round the rest of the way up onto its edge.

“Yeah! I did it!” he said, looking over at the kitchen. His Dad, still standing at the window, gave him a big thumbs-up.

Ben got behind the stump and pushed. It didn’t move. Ben leaned his back against the stump and pushed. Nothing. It was too heavy.

He looked over at the kitchen again. Dad was standing in the doorway now, leaning against the open door.

“Dad, it’s too heavy,” Ben said. “I’ve used every bit of my strength and my smarts!”

“You haven’t used all of your strength,” Dad said.

Ben sat on the upturned edge of the stump and crossed his arms. “YES I HAVE! IT’S TOO HEAVY!” Frustrated, Ben threw his hands in the air, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST HELP ME?”

“Ah,” Dad said as he walked out of the house and over to Ben, “Now you’re using all of your strength!”

Dad and Ben stood together and pushed the stump all the way to the tree.

“Thanks Dad,” Ben said.

“You are very welcome, young man!” Dad wiped the dirt off his hands. “You know, Ben,” Dad said, “we have only used all of our strength when we have asked the right person for help! We are not meant to do life alone. We all need each other.”

Ben stepped up onto the stump-round and said, “I see what you mean.” Lifting himself onto the lowest branch, he climbed into the treehouse and looked out through the window. “Next time I need to do something difficult,” Ben said, “I will use all of my strength by asking for help!”

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Words We Use

My first dog wagged her tail a lot, ran in a bouncing sideways sort of way and loved to lick my little face. So I named her Happy.

My second dog was born with no bones in one of his legs. As a puppy, he did some pretty funny somersaults learning to run. I named him Hop-a-long.

My children’s first cat was an orange mutt of a cat who never quite learned how to use a litterbox. We named him Nugget.

The names we give our pets tell people what we think of them.
And so do the names we give each other.

And they tell us something about ourselves.

How do you tell someone that you love them? With words.
How do you tell someone that you hate them? With words.

So, how important are the words we choose?

I am the words I believe about myself.
And I believe what I hear the most.
First from others, then from myself.

Even the subtlest of words shape us.

“Why did you do that? Sometimes you are so stupid!”
“That was stupid thing to do. That’s not like you!”

“That dress makes you look gorgeous!”
“What a dress! You are so gorgeous!”

It may not seem like much of a difference but every word leads somewhere.

What do you want your children to believe about themselves?
Then tell them with your words.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Little Turtle Tells a Story

Every day at school, Little Turtle watched his friends zoom past. He would try to say “Good morning” to his friends, but they moved so fast he never finished the word “Good” before they were gone and he was left to finish the “morning” all by himself.

Little Rabbit would thump thump thump toward Little Turtle, causing a dust storm to billow behind him. Little Turtle would get ready, open his mouth and slowly say, “Good” just as one fast foot slapped the ground in front of him.

Little Bird would flit flit flit her wings as she dipped and dove through the air. Little Turtle would look up and open his mouth and start to slowly say, “Good” just in time to get a blast of air up his nose from Little Bird’s wings.

Little Fox would swish swish swish his tail as he dodged left and right. When Little Turtle saw the swishing tail in the distance, he would step into Fox’s path and slowly say, “Good” just in time to see Little Fox swish and dodge right around him.

The teacher saw this happen every day and encouraged the other students to play with Little Turtle.

“He’s too quiet,” Little Rabbit said.

“He’s too small,” Little Bird said.

“He’s too slow,” Little Fox said.

Day after day, the teacher would ask them to play with Little Turtle and they would say the same things about him. One day it was Little Turtle’s turn for show-and-tell. The other students hated it when Little Turtle had show-and-tell because he was so quiet, small and slow. It took forever for him to show his special item and tell the story to the class.

But today was different.

Little Turtle brought out a pot of tea and some small tea cups. He slowly set the tea cups on the desks of Little Rabbit, Little Bird and Little Fox. Then he poured steaming hot tea into the tea cups from a beautiful old porcelain tea pot. Once he had finished pouring, he returned to the front of the classroom, poured himself a cup, and slowly said, “Please enjoy your tea.”

The students quickly grabbed their tea cups.

“It’s too hot!” They all said as they set their cups back down.

Little Turtle smiled a slow happy kind of smile and said, “I’d like to tell you a story.”

Little Rabbit blew on his tea.

“When your tea is finished,” Little Turtle said, “the story will be finished.”

Little Bird fluttered her wings above her tea cup.

 “Once, there was a little turtle,” Little Turtle said.

Little Fox swished his tail over his tea.

 “And he had the very best of friends,” Little Turtle said.

Little Rabbit sipped his tea, “Yum!” He whispered.

“His friends were a rabbit, a bird and a fox,” Little Turtle said.

“Just like us!” Little bird said as she pecked at her tea.

“Every day the turtle loved to watch his friends play,” Little Turtle said.

Little Fox was holding his tea cup in his hands and resting it on his tummy as he listened to Little Turtle. He took a small sip. “Delicious!” he whispered.

“But he didn’t play with them,” Little Turtle said, “or even get to say ‘Good morning,’ to them.”

“Because he’s too quiet?” Little Rabbit asked, whispering into his tea.

“Because he’s too small?” Little Bird tweeted, sitting on the edge of her tea cup.

“Because he’s too slow?” Little Fox questioned, still holding his full tea cup.

“Because,” Little Turtle said, “his friends were too fast.”

Then Little Turtle lifted his own tea cup and took a long slow sip.

Nobody seemed to mind.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” Little Turtle asked in a quiet small slow voice that everyone heard perfectly, “if we all just slowed down, once in a while?”

His friends all smiled and nodded as they took quiet small slow sips from their tea cups.

Finally, the teacher spoke. “Perhaps, Little Turtle could bring a pot of tea again tomorrow?”

“Yes!” all the students said.

“And,” Fox added, “tell us another story!”

Everyone sipped their tea.

“I would love that,” Little Turtle said. “You’re the best friends, ever!”