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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Build a Village

Children are like puzzles constructed from little pieces of each adult in their lives. Not long ago, children grew up in a village filled with adults like them and their families. The village shaped them.

Today, we don't send our children to play in the streets. Instead they sit inside looking at friends and family through pocket-sized windows. And together, we look out at the global village through giant windows in our lounge rooms, not realising the values our children are picking-up from onscreen heroes.

It still takes a village to raise a child. Children need more adults than their parents to serve as role models, friends, coaches, teachers and preachers. Our children need choices of who to look at for their values - be they physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, relational or intellectual.

Spend regular time with grand-parents and extended family. Choose other families with children the same age and create regular times of community. Interact with sport clubs, school activities, holiday clubs and church groups. Have play dates and sleep overs. Build a village for your children. They will be better for it, and so will you!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Year 8 Memories

My favourite year of school was year 8. Every day was an adventure in learning. The teacher – still the most amazing teacher I’ve ever met – was David Vixie. 30 years later, he’s still at the same school teaching the same way.

The first day of school was about setting boundaries. Mr Vixie told us this was our classroom and we will be together for a year, so we better create some rules and a plan. We then set about forming a class government and laws to govern our behaviour for the year. Mr Vixie was available to answer questions and suggest options. Occasionally he had to step in: “Your laws need to be fair and your punishments need to be legal!” We were a tough bunch and thought we needed tough consequences.

Reflecting back on that classroom, I can remember sitting on the floor – a lot. And I can remember going on adventures. And I remember Mr Vixie’s laugh. You would say something funny and his eyes would light up, his face would change slowly – in his half-smile becomes a full smile kind of way - and then a giggle would come from deep within him and he would laugh. He really liked us. And we knew it.

I learned a lot that year. I don’t remember learning about numbers and words. I remember learning about people – stories about lots of people in history and in our class. I learned a love for stories. The thing that has stuck with me most since then is the respect Mr Vixie taught us to have for ourselves and each other. I still struggle when someone is treated unfairly – because that stopped time in year 8. The law required it! The case would be heard and things would be made right – by us.

Looking back over my life, Mr Vixie’s classroom is a big reason why I am who I am today.
Spend some time reflecting on who you have become because of the influencers in your early life. What are the stories that made you who you are? Share them with your children. In doing so, your influence will be shaping them and one day they will remember you the way I remember Mr Vixie!

Here’s a video about Mr Vixie and his classroom.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Thankful Juice

Somehow, our Friday night family mealtimes had turned into whinge-sessions. The kids were complaining about school, each-other and everything else. It had to stop!

The next Friday, I made a special drink – mixed fruit juice with fizzy lemonade – in a large jug and placed it in the middle of the table. “This,” I said, “is thankful juice.” I began filling their glasses. “You cannot have your first sip until you say something from this week that made you happy – something you are thankful for.”

The kids loved the game and the next Friday they asked if we could have thankful juice again.

It became a family ritual.

One busy Friday, I left the glasses off the table and hoped it would go unnoticed.

“WHERE’S THE THANKFUL JUICE?!?!” my grade 3 daughter asked in dismay. I explained I had forgotten to buy any and was sorry. She stood and told her grade 6 brother to follow her. As they went into the kitchen, I heard her say, “You get the glasses and I’ll get the thankful juice.”

When they returned to the table, glasses were placed in front of each family member. Then a jug of water was placed in the middle of the table, “This is our thankful juice, tonight.” And it was.

Once thankfulness is part of our lives, we don’t let go of it easily.

Gratitude does great things for our self-esteem, our relationships and our general health.

Create a thankfulness tradition in your family, today!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Wizard of Wise

The young boy hurried after the old wizard, listening as they rushed up the narrow street through town. What he was listening to was the words bubbling out of the old wizard. He was asking questions. Lots of questions. Questions about everything they walked past and some, seemingly, random questions about nothing in particular.

The old wizard was known as the Wizard of Wise and the young man was his new apprentice. He wanted to be a wizard one day – a good one – just like the Wizard of Wise.

It took time, but the boy slowly became accustomed to the way the wizard worked, lived and taught. At first, it was very confusing because the Wizard of Wise seemed to know nothing. He was always asking questions.

Why do you wear shoes?
Why do you eat cereal for breakfast?
Why is fire hot and ice cold?

The old wizard would mutter these questions to himself as he worked in the Wise Wizard Shoppe and wandered along through town. The young apprentice was not sure if he was meant to answer the questions or if the old man was just babbling. Some of the questions were thought provoking. Some of them were completely ridiculous.

Why do wagons have wheels?
Why do fingers have nails?
Why do you keep following me?

After the young man had lived alongside the old wizard for a few weeks, he realised that each day the Wizard of Wise was teaching a new lesson and repeating the lesson through his many questions.

On the many days about potions, he asked: Why is milk warm from the cow? Why is water cold from the well? Why is honey sticky? Why does oil burn?

On the days about powders, he asked: Why does dust settle? Why does chilli make me cry? Why are salt and sugar added to things?

Every day while running the Wise Wizard Shoppe, he asked: Why do people buy things? Why do some people look for low prices and others for high prices? Why do people smile when they make a purchase?

Years later, the young man was an old man and taking on an apprentice of his own. He had become just like his teacher. He too was a Wizard of Wise. As he walked up the street through town with the boy toward the Wise Wizard’s Shoppe, he was rattling off questions under his breath and suddenly remembered his first day. He stopped, turned and smiled at the young apprentice.

The young man had been moving so quickly to keep up, he nearly walked straight into the wizard.

The wizard, finally understanding his many years of training, realised the amazing importance of one seemingly random question that he had heard the old wizard ask many times every day of his life. Pointing his bony finger in the boy’s face, with a crooked smile the new Wizard of Wise said, “Why is why better than what or how?” Then he turned, in a flurry of wizard cloak and road dust, and continued his journey, his learning and his questions.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Can You Hear Me?

Like every relationship, great parenting is all about communication. The great communicator’s goal isn’t to get ideas out of their head, but to get their ideas into the heads of their listener.

To get my idea into your head, in a way you understand, I need you to actually hear me. And for that to happen, I need to speak in your language, your world and your way. As a parent, this is important.

Here are some practical steps:

1. Listen. What does your child love to talk about? When do they talk most? Where do they like to be? How do they communicate?
Examples: Imaginative play, drawing, TV shows, YouTube channels, gaming, storytelling.

2. Reflect. Ask them about what you’ve seen. Verify your observations.
Example: “You seem to have super-powers, what are they? What is your super-hero name?”

3. Plan. Create an activity/story-time in their world heading toward the point you want them to hear.

4. Speak. Tell a story or play along with them, integrating the learning message.
Example: A message about cleaning your room while building a house in Minecraft.
Example: A message about speaking kindly while playing super-heroes.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lily-pads & Dragonflies

Frog in a Pond
Each of our children are a lot like a frog in a pond. I don’t mean a yummy Freddo frog in a bowl of jelly! I mean real frogs in a real pond.

By the time our children are in school they have matured past a few early stages. Frogs protect their youngest offspring in all kinds of creative ways – in their mouth, under the skin on their back, behind rocks. Likewise, when our kids were little they were coddled – in a pram, playpen and baby carriers on our front, back or hip! Then they grew legs.

Now, no longer living under the water as tadpoles – they have moved to the surface, where all the other little frogs are living, breathing and growing – at school. ¬And there are all kinds of new things they encounter. In this new environment outside of home – where our children will spend 12 years of their lives – there are two important factors that we, as understanding parents, can help with. Lily-pads and dragonflies.

Lily-pads cover the surface of the pond. Each one is a small environment in which we live for a time – temporary environmental factors. Afternoon is a Lily-pad. Some people accomplish more in the afternoon. Others, during the morning. Being tired is a lily-pad. We all do our best thinking and behaving when we are rested. Then there are situational lily-pads – like having a cold, or a death in the family, or a family situation. These lily-pads come with our kids to school. These are where they are living, right now. Understanding concentration, attitude and behaviour are related to our emotional environment helps us plan accordingly – and treat ourselves kindly when we do something out of character due to one of the lily-pads we are resting on. Helping our kids understand the environmental factors in their lives will help them make sense of who they are in the big world and why they feel the way they do.

Dragonflies dive in from the sky. They cause us to react suddenly and unpredictably. Someone touching my hair might be a dragonfly. Someone picking up the toy I wanted might be one. Being told to sit down and be quiet might be one. Everyone has their own unique dragonflies based on our physical, emotional and intellectual identity. Personal dragonflies cannot be seen by others. And, most of the time, we don’t see them coming ourselves. They just strike and we react. Each time we meet one of our dragonflies, it helps to give it a name and define it. Then we know that dragonfly and may be able to prepare for it or avoid it next time.

Lily-pads and dragonflies is one way to teach emotional awareness. It is useful to develop daily habits of choosing good lily-pads – and skills in how to live through rough times. It is also a great life-skill to learn to face your dragonflies by naming them and learning how to prepare for next time.

I hope lily-pads and dragonflies is helpful for you. If it is, put a Freddo in a jelly cup and let your little tadpole eat it while you teach them all about the big frog in a pond world out there!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Good Story

The story we live in front of our children shows them the truth of our lives and theirs. If we see and say the positive stories in life, our kids will experience the world as a positive place where they make a difference.

If, on the other hand, we constantly comment on the negative state of the world, the problem with the neighbours, the unfair hand we've been dealt - our children will learn to be critical and afraid. They will see others as dangerous and suspicious rather than unique and beautiful.

Because our stories become us, great parents tell stories that empower rather than impede. There are so many positive messages that raise people up. By telling positive stories, we create happier children and thus a better world.

We are each truly special. We need to believe that of ourselves and tell that to our children. Tell good stories. Live with joy and passion. Smile.

Keep changing the world - one story at a time.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Mentoring - Investing in Children

One of my favourite tasks each week is mentoring kids. Sometimes we do classwork, sometimes we talk about life, and sometimes (their favourite) we play games.

This Tuesday, as I entered the school foyer, the boy I was to meet first was sitting in the corner. He struggles with classrooms. He likes being out of his. I talked to the teacher and then took the boy into the mentoring room.

“What’s up?” I asked.


“Why were you sitting out?”

Shrug… pause… “Because I was singing and wouldn’t stop.”

“Singing? Wow! I didn’t know you’re a singer.” I lean in and whisper, “What were you singing?”

“I’m Elmo and I know it,” he looks up to gauge my reaction. “It’s a parody of ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It.’”

“Ah… So, your teacher wasn’t happy having Elmo in her class?”

“Not really. She just wanted me to stop and I wanted to finish the song.”

“I see.” We sit quiet for a few seconds and then I ask, “Have you heard the ‘I’m Nerdy and I Know It’ parody?”

He nods, without even a hint of a smile.

“My boys love it,” I continue, “It’s all about StarCraft and they love that game.” I mimic part of the chorus, “I play Zerg!”

A tiny smile emerges. “Well, yeah. I was singing the Elmo parody to a friend and I just wanted to finish.”

“And the teacher asked you to stop?”


“And you wouldn’t?”


“So you got sent out?”


“Sounds fair.”

“Yeah. I didn’t want to be in there anyway.”

“I know you didn’t,” I say, “Now, let’s have a look at our worksheet for today.” I can’t hold back a giggle as I turn to the page we are up to in his character development worksheets. “Look at that,” I laugh, “It’s called, The Choices I Make.”

He looks at the page and then up at me trying to discover the source of my joy.

“It’s a perfect topic for today. Wouldn’t you say?”

He get’s it … and smiles. “Yeah. I guess so.”