A Tale of Two Pink Slips

pink slip

This post is about two different pink slips.  If you are my age, you remember when that meant, you were fired, or that you owned your car.  I am not discussing those  pink slips.  Rather two completely different approaches to child development.  Pink slips coming home from school have become “a thing.”  Who knew!?   I am not sure why they chose they color pink, but it seems to be theme.  Perhaps it is because bad news delivered in pink is supposed to be less condemning.  I am thankful that God’s judgment will not be meted out on pink slips.

This tale of two pink slips will hopefully demonstrate different approaches to school-parent communication.  While it is true that life rarely fits into tidy little scales where we can weigh one concept neatly against another, there are things we can learn from differing approaches.

Pink Slip #1

Once upon a time, a pink slip was created for a school.  It’s purpose was noble.  It would convey vital information to parents about their child, in order that they may be part of the development process.  This way, the school and the home are operating in perfect harmony and the child is the beneficiary of this focused attention.  As the pink slip grew, it began to demonstrate some surprisingly dark tendencies.  When our pink slip reached maturity, it was no longer the lovely herald of tidings that it was intended to be, but rather a harbinger of doom.  How did this happen you say?  The explanation is actually very simple: There was darkness in its heart from the beginning.

Yes, I know, it is a little over dramatic, but I think you get the point that what looks like a good idea, can easily turn out to be a bad one if the execution is off.  The pink slip in our first scenario details a list of infractions that a child may have committed throughout the day.  Possible infractions include: forgetting a textbook, failure to turn in homework, a uniform infraction, etc.  The pink slip I am describing (not in the picture above) is one that is distributed at a very well known, and respected school.  So respected, it is emulated across the country in various manifestations.  I am not criticizing the school, or even the pink slip.  Rather, I am challenging the thinking behind it in the first place.

Parents I know, of children I have watched grow from infancy have been recipients of multiple pink slips a week (for one child) and most have more than one.  I understand that all people make mistakes, but you probably don’t know these kids.  They are a genuine blessing that I believe any parent would be proud of.  Here is the first execution problem: more is less.  To help understand this, consider your email.  I don’t know about you, but between my work and personal email, I am receiving close to 400 email messages a day.  That means I have to be very selective about what I pay attention to in order to get anything done.  When you communicate this level of minutia, you have to expect that much of it will be downplayed.  Why?  Because it should be.

Every time the child brings one of these pink slips home, the school is forcing the parent to make a statement to their child.  Verbally or not.  Here is the second execution problem: the school derives its authority from the parents, not the other way around.  The school is forcing the parent to either adopt its culture at home or undermine the school.  Neither choice is good.  If you ignore the pink slip, you are undermining the school’s authority.  In other words, you are telling the child you disagree with the school.  Therefore, your only option is to discuss it.  If you address it, you are acknowledging their behavior was a problem.  Given all of the important things to discuss with our children do we really want to spend time discussing why they neglected to wear their belt today?  Or why the textbook was left on the kitchen table when they went out the door rather than in their backpack.  I am not saying those things don’t matter, I am just wondering how can they possibly be important enough to receive a special note home from school.

In my opinion those execution problems really pale in comparison to the last execution problem: forcing the child to carry home their own condemnation.  Many of you may have not have issues with this because “normal” kids typically don’t show symptoms of a problem with this, until they are much older. Even then, many of them will likely just laugh it off when they are older (because they will see it as silly).  For those that have children with challenges, you will know right away what the issue is here.  Children with challenges frequently have issues understanding the degree of an offense, but they know that pink slip means there was an offense.  This means that guilt for wearing the wrong socks will feel to them the same as guilt associated with knocking down a classmate.  And, we are making them carry that home.  Regardless of whether you have children with challenges or not, this is a horrible idea.  How does this fit with the correction cycle of teach, model, and reconcile.  You may remember “wait ‘til your father gets home.”  How did the rest of the day go for you?  Is a child going to get anything out of the rest of their classes?  Not much, I would think.  So in the end, if  the pink slip was effective at anything, the children missed learning so their uniforms would be neat and orderly in the future.  That is completely counterproductive.

There has to be a better way.  In fact there is.

Pink Slip #2


The picture to the left is an actual  pink slip that PC brought home.  This pink slip is what inspired this post.  It was such a refreshing difference from our friends experience that it shocked me.  The child is able to bring good news to their parents and it is something they are proud and happy to share.  Positive mental chemistry results and learning is much more efficient and effective.  What a contrast.  Our little pink slip is an angel of good news again.  Adults are happy.  Children are happy.  What could be better?

At our children’s school, the teachers are in constant communication with us.  There are so many forms of communication available now, it is almost unfathomable that we would make the child carry home bad news on paper.   We know before the child gets home if they had issues.  In addition, as their parents, we can decide how to address it (or whether to address it).  This is how to empower parents to more effectively raise their children.

If a school truly understands that it derives its authority from the parents, and not the other way around, then you can simply do this.  It is a small change, but it will have profound positive fruit:  let the child bring home the praise, and communicate the correction directly to the parent.

Happily Ever After

Communication with children is a complicated subject because parents are regularly dealing with issues with children.  We all pray that it would be as simple as remembering to bring your things to school.  However, we all also know that there is a lot more at stake than that.  Real children have real life problems and our conversations with them ought to be spent helping them navigate those.  If not, the alarming rate of kids that abandon the previous generation’s values will continue.

Here is on last thought on the subject.  Something to ponder as an exercise if you will.  Schools that want to see more of their children “own” those great values that they are trying to instill should consider what values they are actually communicating. That is the only way we will all see the happily ever after for our children.


Practice makes …


There is an old adage that Practice makes perfect.  I don’t agree.  Anyone who has participated in athletics will understand my reasons.  If you practice swinging a bat incorrectly, how does that perfect your swing?  I can bang on the keys of piano for hours on end, but I won’t be playing any of Beethoven’s Sonatas any time soon.

No. I believe practice makes permanent. If you want to improve at something, you have to have a goal in mind for what you want to accomplish, and then relentlessly pursue it.  That is how you become a master at what you do.  Thunder has recently experienced this.  Last year he was fantastic hitter with an average at .425.  He has worked relentlessly and this year, in a tougher league, he hit over .700.  But this post isn’t really about baseball (although isn’t everything about baseball??).  It is about how you live your life.

I am going to use generosity as an example of what I am talking about, because I think it is an area that is often overlooked.  Most parents want their children to grow up to be generous.  How do they learn that?  It is not a difficult formula:  they see you practicing and they practice as well.  Help them to love it and help them to exercise with you and when the Lord calls on them to be generous they will be ready to step up to the plate and do what needs done.

Here is the beautiful part about practicing this kind of “exercise.  Not only does generosity become a reflex, they get really good at.  Not just being free with the resources our Lord Jesus has placed in their care, but in knowing how to really help people. Here is an example of what I mean.  How many times have you heard of a friend or family member that has had a tough time and you leave them with, “let me know if you need anything.”  That is a equivalent of a 2 strike slap foul at anything close to the plate just to avoid striking out.  If that is all you do, you will never get past that point.  Practicing generosity allows you balance all of the things that Jesus teaches on the subject.  It enables you to  anticipate those needs of someone having a hard time, it enables you balance anonymous giving, it enables you to redirect gratitude to the real provider (hint it is not you) and it enables you to know when, not to give.

Remember, you are going to make mistakes along the way.  But, you will not learn from them if you aren’t actually practicing.  A hitter doesn’t learn to hit well by watching.  They learn to hit well by swinging the bat and making the necessary adjustments when they have done it wrong.

I was blessed to grow up in a family where my parents modeled this kind of sacrifice and as one of the younger children, was able to see my older siblings take up the torch.  I pray that I am doing as well with my children.

If you want your kids to learn to be generous, remember, practice, practice, practice.  You will all get better and we all know, practice makes permanent.

Special Needs at Disney World

Bright Eyes and Curly Girly with CinderellaWe are in the middle  (literally) of a trip to Disney World.  It truly is a magical place for kids of all ages (that would most definitely include yours truly).  However, like any good thing, it can quickly become a bad thing if not handled properly.  A corollary is that too much of a good thing, is no longer a good thing.  Here is some advice on how to keep the special times special for everyone and to maximize the great things the children will enjoy.


1) Establish your home base

Beautiful excels in this department so I really do not have a lot of personal experience to add here, but I can tell you what I have observed by watching her, and what helps.

First, pick a place that will have a place for everyone.  There are too many of us for a hotel to qualify.  Consequently, we rent an apartment or, as in this last trip, a home.  Literally, our home base, is a home.  This provides a comfortable landing spot for everyone in the family.  The irony is that it was cheaper than a single hotel room ($125 a night).

Secondly, settle them in.  Show them around.  Where are they going to sleep, eat, bath, use the restroom?  Where are you going to be if they need you?  Where is the food going to be when they are hungry (you still need to make sure you control what they eat, but they need to know there is food)?

The first night in the house, Curly Girly opened the refrigerator and commented that they didn’t keep much food in the house.  You have to love that.

2) Set Expectations

We have 4 firstborns in our little pack.  They all want to know the plan and become agitated when there is any kind of variance.  I am sixth born, so for me, “winging it” is second nature.  That is a conflict waiting to happen.  To avoid that, prepare your children before you leave.  It is too late once you get there because they will be seeing things to thrill them before they even get to the park.  Even the street signs on the way in are “Disney Special.”  I always tell the children  that if they have a happy heart, they will have a happy time.  If they are unthankful, they will be miserable.  They also know the parks (from experience and the promo video that Disney will send for free – HIGHLY recommended) so they can tell me ahead of time what they want to do when they get there.  That way we can prioritize those things they really want to do rather than the latest thing that catches their eye.

3) Make use of Services

Disney does a fantastic job to accommodate people of all types.  In some ways, it feels like a convention of families with special needs.  However, you need to ask in order to be receive assistance.  To start, head to Guest Services and ask about services available for children of special needs.  I recommend inquiring about the Guest Assistance Card.

4) Remember the Critical 3 needs

If I weren’t so tired, this topic would be number three.  I am sure you can cope.  Nutrition, Hydration and Exercise are things your children need in steady doses.  Make sure you are all  drinking regularly, getting some healthy snacks (trail mix, peanuts, granola bars, etc.) and getting some chance to use their big muscles (if they are mobile) will help keep their them from wild mood swings.  Disney has play areas in every park.  Use them.  Trust me, it will be worth it.

5) Remember their frames

It is easy when in a place like Disney to push on to “just one more thing.”  The problem is at some point, you will push the children beyond what they can handle.  You are asking for a meltdown if you don’t pay close attention to their conditions.  Disney provides something for your eyes to see everywhere you look.  Additionally, the volume is loud, the crowds are bustling, there are all kinds of smells, and it is probably hotter than they are used to.  All of this is pushing their senses beyond what they normally handle. It can be mentally exhausting for them just to filter out what they don’t want to pay attention to. Keep that in mind and pace yourselves.

Part of pacing yourself is resolving not to stay too late, and not to try to do everything.  Yes, tickets are expensive, but if you want this to be something your family enjoys, then be prepared to stay extra days rather than make the days too long.  Disney’s tickets after day three are about $11 a day.

6) Leave a “down day” in your schedule.

Yesterday, it was obvious that P.C. (who is a sensory avoider) was out of gas.  We were literally pulling out of the street from our rented home when we decided he needed a break.  He was beginning to deregulate and we hadn’t even gone a block.  I stayed home with him and went through a sensory diet that included a lot of big muscle exercise and he was a new little man.  He had a great day at home and was extremely happy again (his usual state).

Today was a great day for him, probably his best of the trip.  In addition to being better prepared and regulated, he also knew his own limits better and was not afraid to ask for more help than previously.  The “down day” made the rest of the trip possible for him.  He can now enjoy the next couple of days before we head back home.

Making Memories

Ultimately, a trip like this is about making memories together as a family.  The question is, what kind of memories are you going to make?  If you approach the outing with preparation, and patience, you will make some great memories that the whole family will enjoy.  If you don’t you will create memories of anger and tension.  No one chooses to make the second of memories, but if you can easily end up there if you don’t work at it.  Find what works for your family and enjoy your trip!

Children see from a Different Perspective

We have been doing some rearranging in our dinning room in order to make it more guest friendly.  When you have 10 people that regularly gather around your table you need to get creative for even a small family join you.

Last night as we sat for dinner and were preparing to thank the Lord for our food, PC blurted “How did that light move!?”  He noticed that the light was no longer over the center of the dining room table and was now over Beautiful’s chair.  He was enthralled with the idea that the light could move without him knowing it.  We all had a good time with that knowing that the light didn’t move, but the table had.

This funny little occurrence served as a good reminder for me that while our age and past experience usually gives us a more full bodied perspective, there are two important points to remember.

  1. That isn’t always true.  Sometimes our experience causes us to jump to a conclusion that isn’t correct.
  2. Just because we see something (and it might be true), it might not be true for the kids.

We all have experience with number 1.  The important consideration when helping disciple them is that we need to slow ourselves down and make sure we have all of the facts before we charge off with a “solution.”  I know I have committed this mistake more than once and I pray that I remember to take my own advice so it doesn’t happen anymore.

Number 2 is a bit more tricky.  We may be absolutely right as rain about something, but the child may not see it the same way.  This is where we need to really slow down and help bring them along.  All of the “solutions” you provide will be completely lost on the child because they are not on the same page. 

Going back to PCs shifting world for an example, if I had tried to maintain that the light didn’t move, it would have turned into a debate.  He could see plainly that the light was now over his mother and not the center of the table.  In order to help him wrap his mind around it, we needed to show him that the table moved.  At that point, the rest was taken care of automatically.  He was a little disappointed that it wasn’t quite so spectacular, but he was thrilled that his mother now had more light, like an angel.

The real lesson here is that when you disciple your children, make sure you understand their perspective before you fix the wrong problem and create frustration for both of you.  Take the time to understand what they were thinking before you model and correct their behavior.  You will find that showing them that table moved is whole lot easier than convincing them the light did not.

Being There when you are There

I am sure that almost everyone my age has heard the song The Cat’s in the Cradle.  For the iGeneration, I will summarize:  It is an artful, depressing song about a self-centered busy guy that raises an admiring son, who grows up to be a self-centered busy guy.  We all know people like that, but what is easy to forget, is that, at some point we are all that guy.

Even if we don’t have responsibilities, there are times when something other than the little ones in the room have our attention.  Our generation is so connected that we are flooded with information constantly.  It is too easy to sneak a peek at that one last email, or glance at the phone or T.V. or whatever glass information panel you have in your home.

Not counting those distractions, when you have a lot of people in your home, it is easy to notice the loud ones and ignore the one quietly talking right next to you.  I have to remind myself from time to time that I am the adult and I need to control myself, because otherwise, I am sending a really bad message to my children and my bride.  That message is putting seeds into the ground and no one wants to harvest that crop.

If I am distracted, I am telling them with body language that whatever has my attention at that moment is more important than they are.  So, fast forward 10 years with that kind of constant message and what kind of relationship do you think I would have with my family?  What kind of people would they turn out to be?

When I interact with people, especially my family, I need to make sure that I do what I teach.  Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact.  When I am spending time with them, I need to get on their level and get my head in the game and focus on them and what is important to them.  I need my mind to be present with my body in the conversation with the people that matter most.  I need to be there when I am there.

Suddenly wonderful – A change in perspective makes all the difference

Curly Girly has always loved getting dressed up for the church balls.  At six, she just hasn’t really appreciated the ball itself.  Like most of us, Curly Girly does not like doing things where she is unsure what to do and dancing is complicated. For her, this means that anything new, is usually avoided.  She is traditionally an oberserver until she gains certain amount of confidence in what is happening before she will jump in.  Even then, her participation seems a tentative for a while.

This latest ball was no exception.  She enjoyed getting dressed and spun around the living room with her frilly white dress.  When we arrived, she stayed close to my side.  She hesitantly agreed to dance with her big brother for the grand march.  Then she was back to my side.  She was, as most of the little ones, more interested in the tasty treats at the refreshment table than the actual dancing itself.

Then it happened.  A fine young man from our church came over and asked me if he could dance with Curly Girly.  Suddenly, the ball had all new interest.  Other people were noticing her and it was another opportunity to affirm that she was precious.  She was in heaven on earth!  It didn’t matter anymore if she knew what to do or not.  It didn’t matter any more if the snacks were tasty or not.  She was precious and other people were recognizing it.

This was a great reminder to me of a lot of things (not the least of which is that my girls love to know that they are precious).  One that is often overlooked is how to affect the simple perspective change that will make all the difference for a child.  Something that was only tolerated before became something positively wonderful.

As parents, that is our primary task:  Helping our children understand that they are precious to God and all the good things in this life bear testimony to His love of us.  When viewed from that perspective, God and this beautiful life He has given us becomes suddenly wonderful.

Time with a smile: Priceless

Beautiful has been away with some of the children this week.  It has been great for a number of reasons (not the lest of which is being reminded how hard her job is).

I think the best benefit came this morning.  I sat the on the couch with Bright Eyes next to me.  We were sharing a snack and doing absolutely nothing.  I was debating putting on a show for her, but decided against it.  Not 30 seconds later she gave me the look.  You know the one.  The child locks eyes with you and grins ear to ear. You have no idea what they are really thinking, but you know down to your bones that they are as happy as a child can be at the moment.

Those moments with a smile like that will make a father try to move heaven and earth for another.

There was no need for MasterCard here.  Just some dry cereal and the most precious item of all:  Time.  There is no substitute for time with your children.  Bright Eyes didn’t need to say a word.  She told me clearly enough with that look.  My time with her, was more precious than any thing I could have given.  That was a what she wanted and it was what we both needed.

Parents Rules for Rules

Parents can and should make rules for their household, but many parents I speak with find it unusual that I believe there are rules about making rules.  Everything we do is modeled after our Heavenly Father and is designed to direct our children to Him.  That being the case, we need to model His rule making when we make ours.

Rules need to be:

  1. Knowable – You cannot create rules and not reveal them to your children.  If you are going to chastise them for some behavior or attitude, then you need to make sure you teach to that BEFORE the offense is given.
  2. Predictable – The rules should build in a particular direction that should be built on and consistent with guiding principles (hard work, good stewardship, etc.). Rules that are not consistent with one another or not consistent with the principles are doing a disservice to your children, your household, and your Lord.
  3. Consistent – A rule should be consistently applied, and consistently enforced.  I am guilty of creatively applying exceptions for all of my children.  My older children can do the math to keep up with my thinking here, but the younger ones cannot.  Keep the rules constant for them.  The children will appreciate knowing what to expect, and your wife will appreciate with not having one more thing on her plate (keeping up with a moving target).
  4. Achievable – I know this should go without saying, but sometimes I find, those are the very things that need to be said.  You cannot make rules that your children cannot live up to.  That is simply asking for frustration on everyone’s part and it will ultimately drive them away from you and most likely their Heavenly Father.
  5. Frame Appropriate – The rules you are making should factor in the child’s age / frame.  I do not have rules for Coco (he follows house rules that even guests would follow, but that is it).  Princess is just about completely out of rules as well.  The younger we slide down the family, the less freedom they have.
  6. Minimal – Even for the little ones, the rules you create should be broad and few.  If they are toddling through their day trying to remember the household code of conduct, you are overdoing it by a long shot.  You  are raising unhappy children and are creating unnecessary confrontation with your children.  That is bad from the get-go.  Here is an example of keeping rules broad and few, P.C. loves tools.  He loves my gadgets.  He is four.  He can do a lot of expensive damage to a lot of things (most of all himself).  Rather than a special rule, one broad one that all can enjoy fits the bill: “If it is not yours, don’t touch it without asking.”  Bright-Eyes at two can handle that one and so can everyone else.  No extra rules are necessary to cover P.C.’s particular penchant.

The bottom line is this.   Your children are required to respect and obey you.  Don’t make that harder on them than it has to be.  Our Lord makes respect and obedience a joy.  You need to as well.

Chores in the Home

Children need to learn early on that they are part of the family.  We teach them that in a variety of ways.  One way that many parents exclude their children is exempting them from chores or any kind of responsibility.  When you are making decisions about chores, keep in mind the message you are sending to your children.  How you handle these questions will shape them in many ways.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you try to navigate this.

  1. For instance, if the children are not doing chores at all, what are you saying to them?  You are essentially telling them that life revolves around them.  It does not, so don’t set them up for failure in this way.
  2. Are the chores age appropriate?  If they are too simple or too easy you are telling them that they are not capable of more and you are holding them back.  If they are beyond them, you are setting them up to fail in a different way.  They will not be able to do a good job, or possibly not even be able to complete the job.  You are forcing a situation where both the parent and the child loose.
  3. How do you handle a lackluster job? Remember that parenting is economics.  If you ignore the poor job, you are teaching your children that a lackluster effort is acceptable.  Likewise, you can easily over penalize the effort and create a situation where they dislike the work entirely.
  4. How do you handle a job well done or even a good effort? Positive reinforcement is imperative if we are help the children develop an understanding that good work and good effort are valued.

However you answer these questions keep in mind that chores are valuable on a number of levels.  They are another way in which we teach the children that they belong, and that they have a purpose.  Even when they are very young, they can contribute to their world.  Chores also teach the children valuable skills and chores enable them to see beyond themselves.  We were not put on this planet to be consumers.  We were put here to mimic our Creator.  Help them start early creating by helping them do chores.

Working together as parents

My children have figured out that if they ask me for permission while I am working odds are, it will be granted.  That is something I need to work on.  I hadn’t realized how extreme that phenomenon had become until yesterday when I told P.C. he could not do something he was asking for.

His prompt and cheerful reply came back, “No Daddy, you say, ‘Yes.’  Mommy says, ‘No.'”  In his mind, I had clearly forgotten my role.

What this funny little anecdote illustrates is what can happen if you are not diligent.  Children, at a very early age (P.C. is 3) will figure out how to present their petitions with the optimal chance for success.  That skill is a gift (as long as it is not done deceptively or manipulatively).  However, it is also requires that you and your bride have frequent conversations about what will be the rules in the  home.

Children change.  They are supposed to.  That is sort of the point of having them in your home.  You and your bride need to change the rules regarding what the child is allowed to do and not allowed to do as they change.  If you are not communicating together as a couple, then you will end up with a situation where the children will work one parent against the other and you will end up with two different standards.