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Family Time Parenting Children Session 3 Who is influencing my children? Lindsay Welcome to session 3 of Parenting Children. One thing before we begin: - next time we gather it would be fun for all of us to bring a photo of our families to show one another in our groups. Why not begin by telling your partner or neighbour one thing you’ve tried from session 2 or from the ‘Taking it further’ section on P16. Mark We all remember the day our first child was born, being so overawed by this tiny baby lying in the little cot. But within a very short time we begin to realise what a responsibility it is to be caring for this little baby. As parents we quickly become aware that children are like sponges: they absorb what they are exposed to so easily. From day one, our children are being shaped and moulded by life's events and circumstances and by the influences around them. But the shaping is not automatic. Just as important as the effect of these events and circumstances is the way our child responds to them. It is this response that will determine the effect they ultimately have upon our child. The people our children become, is a product of two things; • The first is their life experience. What is life like for this child? In what environment is he being brought up? Are both parents around and if so, do they have a harmonious relationship? Are other significant adults around? What is the atmosphere like at home? • The second comes from how they interact with that experience. Children respond to their circumstances, and our job as parents is to know where they need guidance and structure to help them to do that appropriately. 1

Lindsay In this session we are going to focus on some of the positive and negative influences which our children come under and the effect that those influences have. • • • •

First we’ll look at the make up of our family. Second we’ll look at the benefits of a strong family identity. Third we’ll look at outside influences. Fourth we’ll look at our children’s relationship with God.

But first, being a parent changes everything but it also changes with each baby. Here are some of the ways having a second and third child is different from having your first: Lindsay 1 Your clothes: With your first baby: you begin wearing maternity clothes as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. With your second baby: you wear your regular clothes for as long as possible. With your third baby: your maternity clothes are your regular clothes. 2 Preparing for the birth: With your first baby: you practise your breathing religiously. With your second baby: you don’t bother practising because you remember that last time breathing didn’t do a thing anyway. With your third baby: you ask for an epidural in your eighth month. Mark 3 The nursery: With your first you pre-wash your baby’s clothes, colour coordinate them, and fold them neatly in the chest of drawers. With your second you check to make sure the clothes are clean and discard only the ones with the darkest stains. With your third, boys can wear pink can’t they? 4 Worries: With your first at the first sign of distress – a whimper, a frown – you pick up the baby. 2

With your second you pick the baby up when her wails threaten to wake your firstborn. With your third you teach your three-year old how to re-wind the mechanical swing. Lindsay 5 The dummy: With your first child, if the dummy falls on the floor you put it away until you can go home and wash and boil it. With your second, if the dummy falls on the floor you squirt it off with some juice from the baby’s bottle. With your third, you wipe it off on your shirt and pop it back in. Mark 6 Nappies: With your first you change the baby’s nappy every hour whether they need it or not. With the second you change the nappy every two to three hours if needed. With the third you try to change their nappy before others start to complain about the smell or you see it sagging to their knees. Lindsay 7 Activities: With your first you take the baby to baby gymnastics, baby swing and baby story hour. With your second you take the baby to baby gymnastics. With your third you take them to the supermarket and the dry cleaners. Mark 8 Going out: With your first child, the first time you leave the baby with a sitter you call home five time. With your second, just before you walk out of the door you leave the number of where you can be reached. With your third, you leave instructions for the sitter to call only if she sees blood. Lindsay 9 At home: With your first child you spend a good bit of every day just gazing at your baby. With your second, you spend a bit of every day watching to be sure that your older child isn’t squeezing, poking or hitting the baby. 3

With your third, your spend a little bit of every day hiding from the children. Mark 10 Swallowing coins: When your first child swallows a coin, you rush the child to the hospital and demand x-rays. When the second child swallows a coin, you carefully watch for the coin to pass. With the third child you deduct it from their pocket money. Let’s begin, then, by thinking about the make-up of our family. 1 Our Family Make-up How our family is made up will affect who our children become. There are many aspects of this. Here are some of them. Family structure The structure of the family in a child’s particular situation is one of the most influencing factors. So they will be affected by such things as whether they live with one or both parents. Do grandparents live nearby? Is your child an only child or does he have siblings? Is there a step-parent in the home or step brothers and sisters? Does anyone in the family have a physical or mental disability? The answers to these questions will vary hugely from family to family and will have an impact on who our child becomes. Family Roles Within any family the roles played by each member will vary. Some fathers are preoccupied and unavailable, others are very much involved in every aspect of family life. In some families mum takes complete responsibility for the child care, in others it’s dad. Children, too, have differing roles. Much is expected of some children in the home and almost nothing is expected of others. Another thing that will affect the children in the family is our approach to


Family Conflict If conflict is dealt with wisely and sensitively, a child will learn that problems are better talked through and resolved than ignored. In this way the influence of the home helps the children to think things through carefully and be wise in their decisions. Family Failure If parents can see failed attempts as praiseworthy efforts, seeking to encourage their children, this will be a positive shaping influence in their life. Family History Every family has a history and each one is different. There are births, deaths, marriages, divorces, house moves, job moves, financial concerns, sickness, accidents and so on. These will all affect our children in some way or other. Family Values Every family has values of some sort; attitudes, ideas and beliefs which affect the way we operate. If we’re to share our values with our children then it is good to start while they are young. As parents we want to provide a stable environment for our children. Now, some of the things I’ve just mentioned are already established (such as family history and family structure). They’re part of who our family is and can’t easily be changed. But others are very much open to change and we are all able to look at our families and ask ourselves a few helpful questions: “Is ours a family where our children are free to fail in the knowledge that they will always be loved unconditionally?” “Are we, as a family, offering our children a secure place in which to learn to discuss issues and resolve problems openly and sensibly?” “Are we happy with the example we set as parents in terms of the roles we have in the home?”


It is never an indication of failure to see a need to make changes in family life. And it is never too late. Now is the time to be proactive in our families and change things for the better if we feel the need. Exercise Take time now to fill in the “Family Patterns” exercise in your handbook on P18. When you’ve finished, either now or later, talk about what you have written with your partner or neighbour. We’ll give you 10 minutes to do this exercise. Mark (2

Family Identity)

We want to move on now to the second area for this session which is how we can help make our family a positive influence on our children. And this is all about family identity. Peer pressure is something that all of us are aware of and perhaps think that there is little that we can do to lessen its influence. We believe though that if we have a strong family identity then peer pressure can be diminished; If family identity is strong, if our children feel involved in and proud to, belong to their family, they are more likely to hold to its values and principles. Children who feel uninvolved in their family and have little sense of belonging are more likely to look outside the family for a sense of identity and a set of values. There is great security in belonging to a group. There are exceptions, but you may have noticed that young people who come from families who appear to be a strong unit often cope better in the face of temptation by friends. Where family ties are not so strong, young people often find that security with friends Example: one summer term we went to watch our daughter at school taking part in her sports day. As we sat in the sun enjoying the day we noticed how the girls ran not for themselves as much as for their parents. It was the cheering from the mums and dads that made the difference. We also noticed those girls whose parents hadn’t been able to be there and how they were looking for support from their class mates. 6

Whatever our family make-up, we can work at building this strong sense of family identity. How can we build a strong family identity?” Lindsay 1 Family Time One activity that we and many of the families we have worked with have found helpful in building strong foundations and relationships in family life is what we call Family Time. Family Time is simply time when the whole family can be together and each has a chance to share and listen to one another. If you are parenting on your own or as a couple this time can be some of the most precious you can have as a family. It doesn’t matter what you call it but to have a time set aside for the family at least once a week will help to strengthen your family and let every member know in a tangible way that family is your priority. Maybe one will have a problem and the others can all help to sort it out. Maybe one is celebrating an achievement and the others can feel glad with him. For us Family Time means something particular. It means that we all sit on our bed and we take turns to have a chance to say anything that is important to us. It may be something that has happened to us, or something we have enjoyed. It may be a difficulty we’re going through at the moment and for which we need support. What’s the value of Family Time? 1. It’s a place to bring up something that we, as parents want to talk to the children about, perhaps something related to our life as a family that we need to change. Example: recently we felt in our family that too much criticism had crept in and kind words and encouragement had not been enough of a feature. We talked a lot about it and everyone agreed that we all like and need to hear kind words and encouragement and that we would all try to make it a priority. After that, we were back on course.


2. It’s a place for the children to bring up things that they want to talk about or question. Example: one time our oldest daughter shared that she felt family members hadn’t been answering one another when they were called or spoken to. She had found this frustrating and others, when asked, had to agree that they had as well. As a result we all decided to make an effort to be better at communicating.

3. It’s a place to teach something new or to introduce something into family life. Example: another time Mark and I felt that as the children were getting older, we all, children and mum and dad alike, needed more privacy in our bedrooms. So we introduced the idea of knocking on bedroom doors.

4. It’s a place to talk about an important event that is coming up, a holiday for example, prepare for it together by sharing our excitements, our fears and worries, how we feel about it. 5. It’s a place to laugh together. 6. It’s a place to pray together. Friends of ours have Family Time on a Sunday lunchtime because that suits their week best. It may be that you set aside 20 minutes on a Saturday morning before the day begins for Family Time. One single mum we knew had Family Time on a Friday night before the children went to their dad for the weekend. They would talk, eat pizza, drink coke and then watch a DVD together. Her children will remember that for the rest of their lives. There’s no right or wrong time or place or way to have Family Time. What matters is that it works for your family. It might be that you do it over a meal together. Eating together builds a sense of belonging and can be a great time to talk, catch up on news and be doing an activity together. Sometimes work commitments make it impossible to have a family meal every day. If that’s the case, make one meal a week your family time. Hi-low. One way to open up conversation at the meal table is to ask each family member to give their high of the day and their low 8

of the day, or of the week. We call this Hi-Low. It’s amazing what fun this is and also what we learn about our children’s lives and they learn about ours that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about. A few points before we move on: - Family Time won’t be the only time we talk with our children! Often children talk when they want to so we can be ready to talk at other times too. But children love having this special slot for them and often respond well to it. - It won’t always go according to plan! You may end up with children not participating and have to leave it till next time. But we encourage you to keep going. It will get easier. - You might think your children are too young but even babies can join in in their own way and enjoy the atmosphere. We would say start as early as possible so that it is second nature by the time they are 6 or 7. Mark Second in building family identity is to have a 2 Family Quote Book All children, and adults too, come out with hilarious and sometimes embarrassing quotes that cause many a laugh. A quote book is a great way of recording family history and remembering your family story. So in it write down some of the funnier family quotes. And as the children get older they can write in it too. 3 Family Photos Having photos around the home is another great way of recording family history and giving the family a sense of identity and belonging.


Idea How about creating a collage at the end of the year which includes photographs of all the important events - birthdays, Christmas, weddings and so on - that have taken place during the year. You could have one for each year that your children have been alive, on the wall at home. This is great for the children. Children have such a limited concept of time and yet a few photos on the wall remind them that they were small once. It will allow them to look back at holidays and special moments. And they love to look and remind themselves of what cake they had when they were 2, 3, or 4. Of who came to their party and where they went on holiday. Don’t forget to have some photos up of Mum and Dad without the children too, before they came along or even since. Or mum or dad with special friends. It’s good for everyone to see those as well.

Next 4 Family Traditions Do you rip open your presents at 4:30 am or are you a ‘We’ll wait until after lunch’ family on Christmas day? It’s these sorts of things that build family traditions. There is no right or wrong way. There is simply a family way. Create your own traditions as a family, it’s a way of saying “this is us and this is the way we do things together.” Ideas • Start a tradition of taking your child out for a celebratory meal when they reach the age of 11 • Start a tradition of having a special family trip to a favourite burger bar or pizza restaurant at the end of the school term • Start a tradition of having a family walk in the countryside on bank holiday Monday Family traditions creep up on us but we can be intentional about them too! Exercise Write down 3 things that are a tradition in your family. You can do this on P20 of your handbook. Mark So do all you can to build a family that your children are proud to belong to and feel fully involved in. It will be an investment that we’ll all benefit from. Next and thirdly we want to look at 3

Other Influences 10

Life, as we know, is not just about family. There are also many other pulls on our children’s lives. Here’s a poem from Steve Turner’s book, entitled “Dad, you’re not funny!” A few of my mates come around to our place And you’re at the door with a grin on your face! And you know that I know you’re a really good bloke But I’ll curl up and die if you tell us a joke! We don’t want to hear about your days at school, We don’t want to watch you try to be cool. We don’t want to know how the world used to be. We don’t want to see those videos of me. We don’t want to laugh at your riddles and rhymes, At musty old tales we’ve heard fifty times. We don’t want a quiz where we have to compete And we don’t want to guess why the hen crossed the street. Please don’t perform that ridiculous dance Like you did on the night we went out in France. Don’t do impressions of pop stars on drugs. Whatever you do don’t swamp me with hugs. So dad, don’t come in, your jokes are so dated, 11

I often pretend that we’re not related. I’d pay you to hide if I had my own money. The simple truth is, dad you’re not funny! Lindsay As our children grow older and have freedom to be more independent, outside influences become stronger and they’re faced not only with positive ideas and activities but negative ones as well. We can be aware of these influences, and try to equip them to make wise decisions. Let’s look at some of the more obvious things that will affect our children. The television Statistics tell us a lot about the influence that tv has. Apparently • The average father spends three minutes a day in 'quality' conversation with his children. • The average mother, five and a half minutes in ‘quality’ conversation. Whereas, a recent survey (reported in national newspaper) discovered that … • One in three children under the age of six watches tv for between two and six hours a day (according to an NOP survey) • A third of children under three have a tv in their bedroom. If this is so, the chances are that many of today’s children’s values and morals will be shaped by what they see on tv. The research in this article came, and I quote, “after the Chief Inspector of Schools criticised parents for sitting their children in front of the tv rather than talking to or playing with them. He said the growing tendency of parents to treat the tv as a babysitter was damaging children’s verbal and behavioural skills.


He said ‘We should encourage parents to talk to their children and give them a whole range of stimulating things to do and not just assume that the television, or whatever, will do all that for them.’ Of course, tv is part of our culture and much about it is good. But we can be careful what our children watch and how much. Idea Use a DVD player to record programmes that you know your children would enjoy so that the programme is then available when you are ready to watch it.

Mark Computers It’s not just the tv that now consumes our children’s time but computers too. Articles have been written about computers being used as ‘virtual childminders’, and it’s good to remember that not everything about computers is educational and good. Computers are an important part of our world today and our children need to know how to use them. But children who are left to their own devices on a computer can end up playing games which are not always helpful. The internet can be a great resource for family life but it also contains lots of adverts and web sites that could rob our children of their childhood. So don’t forget to give equal time to playing with your children and encouraging them to play together. It’s play that fosters the development of social, language and thinking skills. Idea Keep home computers in the public domain not hidden away in bedrooms. Restrict the time any one child can spend on a computer and vet the games and programmes used.

Lindsay The school We are so grateful to the teachers who give their best to our children and seek to prepare them for the world of work. 13

And school life is so influential in the lives of our children that it should be a place where we become involved if we possibly can. This might be through offering class room help or by being on a parent committee or governing body. Let’s ensure that we work with the teachers who have care of our children so that we can support them as well as have them support us and our children. Friends After their family, our children's friends will have the greatest influence on them. Some of these friends will influence positively and some not so positively. We can encourage our children to choose their friends wisely. There’s a Proverb (13:20) that says “He who walks with the wise grows wise.” We can choose friends for our children when they’re young then as they get older we can gently educate them to be wise about their friendships and encourage them toward those who reinforce the values we hold. Mark Other adults As well as school teachers there are parents of friends, childminders, teachers of outside activities like ballet or football, church children's group leaders and so on. All of these will influence our children as they have contact with them. We can be aware of these relationships and encourage ones with adults whose values we respect and want to pass on to our children. Extended family and Significant Others Historically children would have lived in close proximity to their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who would have had a share in raising the children. This is often now not the case and so we can be proactive in looking for other adults who can be ‘significant others’ and mentors for our children.


We have enjoyed intentionally building relationship with one or two young adults in their twenties who value being part of our family where they know there’s an open invitation to lunch or tea any week end and perhaps the offer of coming away on holiday with us. These are people our children enjoy spending time with and who offer really positive input into their lives.

Exercise Look at the exercise on P21 and note down how many hours each week your children spend with this person or doing that activity. Then ask yourself how helpful or not that person or activity is. Try to be as specific as possible. Lindsay (4 Our children's relationship with God) So it’s good to be aware of these influences in the lives of our children. But let’s not think that parenting is just about providing the best possible influences for our children. Good shaping influences will not automatically produce good children. Children are not just passive receivers of outside influences. They are active responders. As our children interact with their childhood experience, their response will be affected by all sorts of things: • Whether they have good relationships within the family, where opinions and problems can be raised and discussed. • Whether they have good relationships with other trusted adults to whom they can go and discuss things. • Whether they have good friendships with peers who encourage them to fulfil their potential. And also, and this brings us to our fourth main area for this evening, • Our children’s response to their childhood experience will be affected, we think, by their perception of God.


Part of our role as parents can be to help our children to worship and follow God in their lives. Children have lots of questions. They want to know what God is like … this is what an eight year old said in a homework assignment to explain God (Danny Dutton from California) “One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die so that there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grown ups just babies, I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk, he can just leave that to mothers and fathers. God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on since some people like preachers and things pray at other times besides bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears unless he has thought of some way to turn it off. God sees everything and hears everything which keeps him pretty busy so you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mum and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have. Jesus is God’s son. He used to do all the hard work like walking on water, performing miracles and trying to teach people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him but he was good and kind like his father and he told his father they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them. And God said “OK”. His dad, God, appreciated everything he had done and all his hard work on earth and so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road any more. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things that are important for God to take care of and which ones he could take care of himself so he didn’t have to bother God, like a secretary only more important. You can pray any time you want and they are sure to help you because they have it all sorted out so that one of them is on duty all the time. You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy and if there’s anybody you want to make 16

happy it’s God. Don’t skip church or do something you think would be more fun like go to the beach. This is wrong and besides the sun doesn’t come out until noon at the beach anyway. If you don’t believe in God you’ll be very lonely because your parents can’t go everywhere with you like to camp but God can. It’s good to know he’s around when you’re scared in the dark or you can’t swim and you get thrown in the real deep water by big kids. But you shouldn’t just think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back any time he pleases. And that’s why I believe in God.” Mark So how can we encourage our children in their relationship with God? 1 Pray for them Praying for them does not necessarily mean that they will be accident free and live long healthy lives. But it does mean that there will always be a channel open between their lives and God. I’m sure that we are not the only parents that pray as we see our children off to school for the first time, or as they share about being alone in the play ground or on a school trip with ‘no friends’. It’s been so reassuring to be able to pray for our children. 2 Pray with them As young as one year old children can copy you praying and very quickly begin to understand the concept of prayer. As they get older and you help them to bring God into everything - anxieties, problems, joys and so on - by encouraging them to pray, they will quickly begin to do it for themselves. Keep it simple, something like “Please God, bless our family and be with us as we sleep and tomorrow at work and at school. Amen.” • • • • •

Pray with them before they go to sleep at night. Point out to them answers to prayer. Pray with them about world situations. Pray about things that trouble them or have hurt them. Pray before a meal - at home and in restaurants


3 Be open with your children about your own faith (if you’re a believer). Tell them all that you know about God so that they learn from you. 4 Come together as a family to church. If we make worship a priority in our lives then our children will do the same. 5 Encourage them to enjoy the Bible themselves. - For the older ones buy them a Bible of their own and some fun Bible teaching notes to help them understand what they are reading. Doing it with them will let them know that you think it is important. - For younger children, a toddler Bible or very simple notes are good. Read them Bible stories and talk to them about how they apply to their own lives. Idea In these early years when children love their parents to read to them each night, try reading a regular story and then a bible story. This means that they will be getting two stories and learning about God at the same time.

So to conclude, we’ve looked at some of the influences on our children’s lives. These come both from personal relationships (inside and outside the family) and from some of the activities that they are involved in such as TV, computers, school, books and so on. Also important, we believe, is our children’s relationship with God. All of these things will have an impact in determining how our children’s hearts are shaped. Dear God, we thank you for our children and we ask you to protect them from anything that will not be helpful for them as they grow up. Amen We’re going to break for coffee now and thank you to ….. for providing the refreshments this evening. After coffee we’ll go to our discussion groups as usual.