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6 things children need for true happiness

by Flint Stephens on 09/04/14

Parents consciously and indirectly devote much of their time, effort and money to trying to make their children happy. When the focus is primarily on providing a big house, elaborate vacations, toys or technological gadgets, however, those efforts often miss the mark.

Regardless of age or personality, there are some key elements for helping children find happiness. These elements can generally be divided into structure or support. Structural elements are things that help children feel secure and stable. Examples include providing consistent rules and boundaries and establishing routines. Support elements provide an emotional foundation and help children feel safe.

Here are some examples:

Eat real meals at regular times

Children like schedules. They like to be able to look at a clock and know that lunch is at 12:30 and dinner is at 6. More than that, they like to share those mealtimes with a parent. There are numerous scientific research studies about the benefits of family meals including things like lower rates of drug use and lower rates of teen pregnancy. Other studies show significant health benefits for children who eat home-cooked meals on a regular basis.

Have set bed times

Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting expert wrote: “Kids need to learn how to sleep. It's up to us to teach them. When they are completely exhausted, they are cranky. When they are well-rested and ready to embrace the day, they are happier.” Bed times must be consistent. When parents give in to begging and allow children to stay up late, the message kids get is that they can get their way if they beg or cry with sufficient determination.

Schedule spontaneous play

Again, there are many studies touting the benefits of unstructured play on the development of young children. In an overscheduled world, it can be difficult to find time for child’s play. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children without unstructured play time experienced higher levels of stress.

One solution is to schedule blocks of open time without homework, music lessons, sports practices, etc. Instead of letting children fill those blocks with television or computer games, send them outdoors to build a fort, catch bugs or just to play kids’ games. Children who have not had much experience with unstructured play might need some guidance from an older sibling, cousin, friend or even a parent.

Be together

A 2007 study by The Associated Press and MTV asked teens and young adults what made them happy. The top answer was spending time with family. Three-fourths of the respondents in the same survey said they like to spend time with their parents. Young children like family activities even more than older children do. Activities with extended family and family traditions create connections and bonds that can help children develop confidence and feel secure.

Don’t hover

Sometimes there can be a fine line between spending quality time with children and too much smothering. The term “helicopter parenting” refers to parents who become over involved in their children’s lives and activities. According to Parents.com, “helicopter parenting can be revealed through a parent ensuring a child has a certain teacher or coach, selecting the child's friends and activities, or providing disproportionate assistance for homework and school projects.” Children need to experience both success and failure for proper emotional development. They also need to know their parents trust them enough to do things on their own.

Be an example

Happy children come from families with happy parents. Parents can teach their children to be grateful and humble by exhibiting those traits themselves. Conversely, when parents are critical or depressed they often pass those attributes on to their children.

It seems most of us seek happiness in our lives. That pursuit starts in childhood and can be nurtured by providing meaningful opportunities that encourage happiness. What does it mean to be happy? That is for each of you to decide.

10 tips for a positive back-to-school experience

by Flint Stephens on 09/04/14

Even though my wife and I have no children left at home, back-to-school preparation remains a top priority every year as summer wanes. My wife is currently a second grade teacher. While she has also done stints as an assistant principal, as a reading recovery specialist, she spent most of the past 20 years hands-on in a classroom of young students.

Parents and students tend to focus their back-to-school efforts on stocking up on school supplies and buying clothes. Parents - especially those with young children - should instead focus their attention on things that will ensure the safety and security of their children at the beginning of a new school year and help them have a positive back-to-school experience.

Here are some recommendations from an experienced teacher and from other expert sources like WebMD.com:

1. Have children memorize important phone numbers and names.

In an era when data is stored on phones and tablets, even adults often don’t know basic information that might be important in an emergency.

2. Fill out those emergency contact sheets immediately.

They are usually sent out before the start of school or handed out on the first day. Give complete information including cell phone numbers and email addresses. Those first few days of class are hectic. Invariably, there is a student with a problem and no way to reach a parent because the sheet has not been turned in yet.

3. Attend back-to-school events.

These are good times to meet teachers and other school officials. With so many new children and new faces, it is not the time to try to corner the teacher to discuss your child’s special needs or issues.

4. Establish routines.

A couple weeks before the start of school, set regular times for going to bed and for waking up and getting dressed. Establishing the schedule in advance will minimize the chance for a meltdown on the first day of class.

5. Do walk-throughs.

Make sure your child is familiar with the route to and from school. If there is a bus or car pool, go to the pick-up and drop-off points. Make a plan for what to do if something goes wrong. Siblings should know where to meet each other after school. Children dropped off before school starts need to know where they should wait and where and when they can enter the building.

6. Have an after-school schedule.

Designate a specified time for homework and/or study every day. An established routine will mean fewer battles over time. Make sure school work takes precedence over video games, television, playing with friends, etc.

7. Plan for sick days.

When both parents work, dealing with a child who is ill and can’t go to school can be a challenge. WebMD recommends: “Before school begins, line up a trusted babysitter or group of parents that can pinch hit for each other when children get sick. And make sure you know the school’s policy. You may have to sign forms ahead of time listing people who have your permission to pick up your child.”

8. Communicate with the teacher.

If your child has special needs or concerns like severe allergies, the teacher needs to know. Write a detailed note or email, or set an appointment to talk with the teacher outside of class time.

9. Work as a team.

If you feel your child needs additional help, brainstorm with the teacher about possibilities to help the child. Many teachers have great experience helping with all kinds of children. Be willing to try all ideas. Keep an open mind when working together and keep trying until the child’s needs are met.

10. Recognize your personal role as a teacher.

School-age children spend 70 percent of their time away from the classroom. Any individual teacher normally has about 180 days to interact with a child and that time is typically divided among 20 to 30 other children. The primary responsibility for educating a child resides with the parent. Teachers and schools are resources.

The beginning of each school year is important because it can set the tone for the student’s progress and enjoyment of learning throughout the year. Teachers, parents and students can accomplish great things when working together for the benefit of each child.

Understanding the divine role of mothers

by Flint Stephens on 05/08/14

A few years ago, I was assigned to speak in church on Mother’s Day. Coincidently, the previous time I spoke in church was on Father’s Day. Rather than come up with an entirely new talk, I decided I would just take that talk and substitute the word “mother” for every previous reference to father.

As I read through the talk, I realized I could not do that because most of it would not make sense. The irony is that in today’s world, many people believe that the roles of mothers and fathers are interchangeable.

 This is just another example of Satan’s lies. To suggest that a woman can fulfill the role of father or that a man can substitute for a mother is to imply that God somehow did not know what he was doing when he created specific genders.

There has never been a doubt in my mind that my mother understands her divinely appointed calling. She always loved and nurtured my siblings and me no matter the circumstance. I especially appreciated her willingness to forgive me no matter my transgressions.

As a boy I enjoyed wildlife. I enjoyed it so much that I used to like to capture various types of wildlife and bring them home to live in my house. This was against my mother’s rules and so I had to conceal what I was doing. Occasionally I would hear my mother scream when she opened a container that was under my bed, or in a closet, or in the refrigerator. After the scream, my mother usually shouted my full given name. That was a signal that I needed to come immediately and release the snake or the turtle or the frog, or whatever else it might be back into the wild.

In spite of the fact that I was warned repeatedly never to do this again, I always did and each time she quickly forgave me. She even eventually learned to call me before she opened any suspicious containers.

Many people here won’t remember, but the 1970s was also a time of economic hardship. My mother was a gifted seamstress and she went to work to make certain there was enough money for things like school fees, music lessons and missions.

As the oldest child, I was expected to do more to help because Mom was not always available. My mother taught me how to make dinner for the family. She also tried to teach me to be kind and loving toward my younger brother and sisters even when they were being annoying or were getting into things that were mine.

In addition to my mother going to work, my family saved money by having a large garden where we raised almost all of the vegetables we would eat during the year. Much of it had to be canned or preserved in some other fashion so I spent many hours picking, peeling, and slicing vegetables and fruits under the direct supervision of my mother. We grew and preserved almost any fruit or vegetable you can imagine. We grew more than 100 tomato plants and we even made our own ketchup and spaghetti sauce.

Most of this work took place after my mother came home from a long day of sewing. When fruit or vegetables are ripe, they won’t wait until a later time to be taken care of. So my mother would work until late at night without complaining.

Like my mother, my beautiful wife understands her divine role. In addition to loving and nurturing our own children, she has nurtured hundreds of other children in her career as an educator.

Utah's large school class sizes is a frequent topic of discussion by the state legislature. The conversation usually focuses on money and on test scores. But like most teachers, Anette is truly concerned about the temporal welfare and emotional needs of each child in her care. She has an innate love for every child. When there are 30 children in a classroom, that creates worry and stress that goes far beyond the challenge of teaching a child to read or to do math.

I love children, but I would rather gut an elk or fillet a cooler full of fish than to change a dirty diaper. And baby barf is almost as bad. But when Anette sees a child in need, she never balks at doing whatever has to be done to provide for that child’s security and welfare.

Throughout the years, many of her students have not enjoyed the blessing of a traditional family where both a mother and father provide a home environment of love and support. At times I might have grumbled when she bought shoes for a child who was lacking. I might have murmured when she made time in a busy schedule to attend a student’s baptism or a Little League game.

But her support for these young souls never wavers. And as their teacher, she often provides their most stable and consistent adult model. At the same time, she provides an example of Christ-like charity.

In the Savior’s example of love toward little children, I’m certain he was reflecting the lessons he learned from a caring Mother.

Like many of us, sometimes his mother asked him to do something he did not want to do. And yet again like us, he would go ahead and do it. I’m sure that sometime in his life his mortal or Heavenly Father explained that if his Mother asked him to do something, he should do it without question.

It is appropriate that of the many miracles Christ performed for others during his ministry, the first was for his mother.

John 2:1-3

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.”

We can only assume that this was the marriage of a relative or close friend of the family and Jesus’ mother obviously felt some concern and obligation. Whoever it was, the lack of wine would have been a serious breach of etiquette and a source of embarrassment for the family.

Notice that Mary did not ask Jesus directly to perform this miracle. She merely pointed out the obvious. It is a technique that many mothers still use:

“The garbage is overflowing.”

“Have you noticed how long the grass is?”

“I can’t see the floor in your room.”

“They have no wine.”

Although not directly stated, the message in each instance is loud and clear. Jesus obviously knew what Mary wanted. He replied:

“Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”

Mary, knowing that her son would not deny her, went to the servants and said: “Whatsover he saith unto you, do it.”

We all know how the story ends. Jesus had the servants fill the waterpots with water. But when they drew the water out of the pots, it had turned to fine wine.

And then in verses 11 and 12, John explains: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples:”

Although Jesus had said that the time had not yet come for him to begin his work, I wonder if perhaps Mary somehow knew that this miracle was needed. In the verse just mentioned perhaps the key phrase is “and his disciples believed on him.” Maybe Mary realized that the miracle of turning water to wine would solidify the disciples’ commitment as the Savior prepared to embark on his ministry.

Like most mothers, Mary saw what her son could become. She knew of his divine role and she understood it was her calling to help Jesus fulfill his. As he began his ministry, she traveled alongside him, along with his brethren and his disciples.

I know God has given all mothers the ability to see the spark of divinity that exists within each soul that they bear. I am grateful for the inspiration my mother provided to me and for the inspiration my wife has given to our children.

Understanding the divine role of mothers

by Flint Stephens on 05/08/14

A few years ago, I was assigned to speak in church on Mother’s Day. Coincidently, the previous time I spoke in church was on Father’s Day. Rather than come up with an entirely new talk, I decided I would just take that talk and substitute the word “mother” for every previous reference to father.

As I read through the talk, I realized I could not do that because most of it would not make sense. The irony is that in today’s world, many people believe that the roles of mothers and fathers are interchangeable.

To suggest that a woman can fulfill the role of father or that a man can substitute for a mother is to imply that God somehow did not know what he was doing when he created specific genders.

There has never been a doubt in my mind that my mother understands her divinely appointed calling. She always loved and nurtured my siblings and me no matter the circumstance. I especially appreciated her willingness to forgive me no matter my transgressions.

As a boy I enjoyed wildlife. I enjoyed it so much that I used to like to capture various types of wildlife and bring them home to live in my house. This was against my mother’s rules and so I had to conceal what I was doing. Occasionally I would hear my mother scream when she opened a container that was under my bed, or in a closet, or in the refrigerator. After the scream, my mother usually shouted my full given name. That was a signal that I needed to come immediately and release the snake or the turtle or the frog, or whatever else it might be back into the wild.

In spite of the fact that I was warned repeatedly never to do this again, I always did and each time she quickly forgave me. She even eventually learned to call me before she opened any suspicious containers.

Most of those reading this are probably too young to remember, but the 1970s was a time of economic hardship. My mother was a gifted seamstress and she went to work to make certain there was enough money for things like school fees, music lessons and missions.

As the oldest child, I was expected to do more to help because Mom was not always available. My mother taught me how to make dinner for the family. She also tried to teach me to be kind and loving toward my younger brother and sisters even when they were being annoying or were getting into things that were mine.

In addition to my mother going to work, my family saved money by having a large garden where we raised almost all of the vegetables we would eat during the year. Much of it had to be canned or preserved in some other fashion so I spent many hours picking, peeling, and slicing vegetables and fruits under the direct supervision of my mother. We grew and preserved almost any fruit or vegetable you can imagine. We grew more than 100 tomato plants and we even made our own ketchup and spaghetti sauce.

Most of this work took place after my mother came home from a long day of sewing. When fruit or vegetables are ripe, they won’t wait until a later time to be taken care of. So my mother would work until late at night without complaining.

Like my mother, my beautiful wife understands her divine role. In addition to loving and nurturing our own children, she has nurtured hundreds of other children in her career as an educator.

For many years the large school class sizes in Utah has been a topic of legislative discussion. The conversation usually focuses on money and on test scores. But like most teachers, Anette is truly concerned about the temporal welfare and emotional needs of each child in her care. She has an innate love for every child. When there are 30 children in a classroom, that creates worry and stress that goes far beyond the challenge of teaching a child to read or to do math.

I like children, but I would rather gut an elk or fillet a cooler full of fish than to change a dirty diaper. And baby barf is almost as bad. But when Anette sees a child in need, she never balks at doing whatever has to be done to provide for that child’s security and welfare.

Throughout the years, many of her students have not enjoyed the blessing of a traditional family where both a mother and father provide a home environment of love and support. At times I might have grumbled when she bought shoes for a child who was lacking. I might have murmured when she made time in a busy schedule to attend a student’s baptism or a Little League game.

But her support for these young souls never wavers. And as their teacher, she often provides their most stable and consistent adult model. At the same time, she provides an example of Christ-like charity.

In the Savior’s example of love toward little children, I’m certain he was reflecting the lessons he learned from a caring Mother.

Like many of us, sometimes his mother asked him to do something he did not want to do. And yet again like us, he would go ahead and do it. I’m sure that sometime in his life his mortal or Heavenly Father explained that if his Mother asked him to do something, he should do it without question.

It is appropriate that of the many miracles Christ performed for others during his ministry, the first was for his mother.

John 2:1-3

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.”

We can only assume that this was the marriage of a relative or close friend of the family and Jesus’ mother obviously felt some concern and obligation. Whoever it was, the lack of wine would have been a serious breach of etiquette and a source of embarrassment for the family.

Notice that Mary did not ask Jesus directly to perform this miracle. She merely pointed out the obvious. It is a technique that many mothers still use:

“The garbage is overflowing.”

“Have you noticed how long the grass is?”

“I can’t see the floor in your room.”

“They have no wine.”

Although not directly stated, the message in each instance is loud and clear. Jesus obviously knew what Mary wanted. He replied:

“Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”

Mary, knowing that her son would not deny her, went to the servants and said: “Whatsover he saith unto you, do it.”

We all know how the story ends. Jesus had the servants fill the waterpots with water. But when they drew the water out of the pots, it had turned to fine wine.

And then in verses 11 and 12, John explains: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples:”

Although Jesus had said that the time had not yet come for him to begin his work, I wonder if perhaps Mary somehow knew that this miracle was needed. In the verse just mentioned perhaps the key phrase is “and his disciples believed on him.” Maybe Mary realized that the miracle of turning water to wine would solidify the disciples’ commitment as the Savior prepared to embark on his ministry.

Like most mothers, Mary saw what her son could become. She knew of his divine role and she understood it was her calling to help Jesus fulfill his. As he began his ministry, she traveled alongside him, along with his brethren and his disciples.

I know that God has given all mothers the ability to see the spark of divinity that exists within each soul that they bear. I am grateful for the inspiration my mother provided to me and for the inspiration my wife has given to our children.

Help children learn leadership by teaching them to clean a bathroom

by Flint Stephens on 09/19/13

Scrubbing toilets is not a task usually associated with leadership. But for parents who hope to raise responsible children, proper bathroom training can help them develop numerous positive character traits.

Many older people grew up in households with a single bathroom. When every prince and princess shared a single porcelain throne, establishing rigid guidelines about cleanliness and maintenance were essential.

Today many children enjoy the fortunate circumstance of having their own bathroom or of sharing it with only one or two siblings. Yet these same children are often not required to clean these bathrooms. That creates false expectations about life and robs them of valuable opportunities to learn life skills.

In referencing bathroom cleaning, the web site www.choresandchecklists.com explains: “Enlisting the troops is essential. But you already know that you want to get your kids cleaning—that's why you're here. You know that involving kids in chores not only saves time (eventually) but they learn skills that are essential in their adult lives.”

Here are some of the beneficial lessons children can learn from scrubbing toilets:

Deal with problems when they occur. Boys and young men are notorious for shooting wide of the target. Wiping up errant sprays immediately prevents accumulated stains and odor. As in many other life situations, delaying and ignoring issues makes them more difficult to clean up later.

Don’t expect others to clean up your crap. Not asking children to clean bathrooms does them a disservice by giving them false expectations. Every person makes messes and the world functions better when people clean up after themselves.

Don’t whine, just do it. Invariably there are selfish people who refuse to accept responsibility for problems they create. Teach children that instead of arguing and accusing, it is usually easier to fix the immediate problem before worrying about assigning blame.

No task is beneath anyone. In Boy Scouts young men learn that a leader must be willing to complete any task that he asks of others. It is easier to convince a child to clean a toilet if she has seen her dad, mom, and siblings perform the task.

There is value in any job done well. When children do well in sports, school, music or other activities, awards and applause often follow. There are no cheerleaders in a bathroom, so children might wonder about the point of doing something thankless and unremarkable. Having the privilege of using a clean and sanitary bathroom can help teach them that in many instances, proper completion of the task is its own reward.

Parenting expert and author Nicholeen Peck and her husband appeared on the BBC television show “World’s Strictest Parents.” As part of the program, they hosted a young man from England at their Tooele, Utah, home. Because all of their children help with chores, their English visitor, James, was assigned to clean the bathroom, something the 17-year-old had never before done.

Peck wrote, “I will never forget the look on James' face … when I showed him how to clean a bathroom. He was so proud of himself. He said, ‘When I get back home I am going to surprise my mom by cleaning our bathroom. She will be so surprised that I know how.’”

Peck noted that like most people, James craved learning to work and was proud that he learned a new skill. Most children don’t ask for new assignments, but after the fact, they are happy they are a bit more self sufficient.

Cleaning a toilet is not glamorous or exciting, but by learning to do it well children demonstrate that they are ready to ready to take on assignments that carry more responsibility.