rediscovering christianity's forgotten, organic ways amidst the modern industrial religious machine

Family Training Ideas

By Justin Wolfenberg.

Our current family consists of myself (Justin), my wife (Shelley), Henry (5), Layla (4), Aniya (2), and Adria (9 months).

Here are some learning’s/ideas that we have tried as we train our family to be an interdependent discipling family

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”   Ephesians 6:4

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

“Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.” Proverbs 19:18

Most parents would agree with the idea that training your children is a good idea.  I think it is rare to be training your children with a vision of raising a child into a multi-generational father or mother.  What is the difference?  How can you tell where you are?  

Most training often happens after a child makes a mistake or acts out.  There is no difference between training and discipline.  They are synonymous.  I think discipline is just one form of training.  Discipline should be used when a child acts out or is disobedient and should be quick and unemotional.  It should be used to reinforce the training you have already done.  Don’t reward the child with a lot attention when they are not in step with the family.

Training, however, can happen at any time and is proactive.  It can be a fun, positive, and encouraging experience.  For example, we have four children 5 and under and the whining can really get under your skin.  So during family God time, Shelley and I role play asking for things the right and wrong way and get the kids feedback.  It is fun.  So, when they whine we quickly put them in timeout and the timeout starts as soon as they are quiet.  The timeout is short.  It is quick and immediate feedback.  We don’t have to re-teach them the rule and are able to keep our attention on the kids who are engaging appropriately.  You don’t want the best and most intense one on one time the child receives to happen when they are in trouble.  When the kids respond well, we heap on the praise and that is when the training occurs.

Often when I come home from work Shelley will tell me, in front of them, all the ways the kids had success and I can celebrate them.  

When we “train” only when the child messes up, we are training from a place of self-centeredness.  Often when I find myself doing this, my motive is actually one of the following:
“I don’t want you to embarrass me”
“I want peace and you are in the way”
 “I feel like I am failing as a parent and it hits my shame button” 

I have noticed that I see training opportunities all over the place the greater my belief is in the fact that my main purpose of my life is too make disciples and that my family is my number one team to accomplish this.  For example:

We were at the pool and the kids found one noodle.  Quickly my kids were all saying, “I want it”.  Another parent saw this situation and told me she had more noodles in her car and she would go get them.  I responded that this would be a good opportunity to practice sharing.  She didn’t listen and headed to her car.  I asked the kids how they could all play with the noodle together. They figured out how they could turn it into a boat that they could all ride together.  It wasn’t long before they were all having fun.  When the other mom returned with more noodles, she was surprised to see all the kids playing together.  Even the lifeguard was smiling and watching the kids.

Even going to the grocery store can be a training opportunity.  It is tempting to think about how much faster shopping would go without the kids.  The other day we had a long list of groceries we needed.  I had the time to make an adventure out it.  I had Henry who is 5 and Aniya who is 2.5.  We rode our bikes to the store.  Aniya was in the bike trailer and Henry was on his bike. We both had backpacks.  We bought $128 worth of groceries.  We had to fill the trailer and Aniya was packed in and Henry had a full backpack of yogurt.  It was a lot of fun and it was a great training opportunity to practice teamwork while having fun.

This summer my wife was enjoying a much needed solo retreat.  I had all four kids myself.  It was naptime for all the kids and I was looking forward to some quiet time on the couch.  After I had all the kids down, I was walking by Aniya’s door and heard some unusual whimpering.  I opened the door and found out that she had stuck a bead way up her nose.  There was no way I could get it out.  We had to go to the ER.  After a few moments of panic, I had a prompting to turn this into a family training opportunity.  I got all the kids up.  I explained the situation and said I needed everybody to step up and serve the team.  I asked Henry(5) to make us all PB&J since I didn’t know how long we would be at the ER.  Layla(3.5) was in charge of watching Adria(6mos).  Aniya was resting on the couch while I got the baby packed.  It was quite a scene at the hospital and we got a few interesting looks while I was holding Aniya and the doctor was working on her.  The other two helped feed and entertain Adria.  It was a great team effort.  I was really proud of them.  Afterwards we had some ice cream and I celebrated them all and shared that this is how a family works. When one is hurting we all respond to help out.

Training can be all of following:

  • Creating a positive family culture-giving encouragement when you see things going right
  • Creating experiences that foster teamwork and sharing
  • Responding to opportunities where resources are limited to practice team work and sharing
  • Creating family time together to teach and train while children’s hearts are soft.
  • Disciplining when children are disobedient and rebellious

Family God Time and Adventure days

Family God time – we gather 4-5 days a week for a short gathering.  We often start with some simple questions: who does our family serve?  Who is on our team?  Am I more important than the team?  I have kids answer these questions.  We have been recently singing a worship song with help from a CD. Then teaching (see below).  We finish up praying for one person each day by laying hands on that person.

Our teachings typically fits in one of two camps: 
1.) Training about the biblical story – we often just do simplified SFL topics

 2.) Basic value training of how to be a good team
-some days we practice good manners like please and thank you, how to sit in time out, how to respond if someone hurts you.

Shelley and I will act a right way and wrong way and they tell us what one is the right one.  This often brings laughter as we over exaggerate.  

Introductions:  we role-play meeting new people introducing ourselves and talking to adults.  We have seen some success on this one but are still working on it.

How to be a good follower – each family member has a turn leading the family around the room and doing certain things.  We then we would encourage the kids as stayed in order and followed well and then we thanked the leader.  

Encouraging each other: we let each team member perform a trick and then we cheer them on and congratulate them.

When we teach a value we try to reinforce throughout the day.  One day we went to the pool and this gave us a lot of chance to practice this one.  

Sharing:  we intentionally do not get one thing for each kid so they are forced to share.  When Henry and Layla were 3 and 2 they would split a granola bar for breakfast.  We would alternate days who would get to break the bar and give the other half to the other one.  As one can imagine, this didn’t go well at first.  It would have been much easier for us to just break the bar ourselves.  It took a lot of training and then a lot of encouraging when they were making progress.  Think months not days when attempting these values.  Now I can hand one of the older kids something and they can share willing without help from adults.  It is sweet to watch.  Although there are days we have to remind them, they are becoming less.

Typically, sharing is taught by some of version of “if you can’t share I will just take it away”.  This indirectly teaches them that you solve problems by taking power.  It also puts siblings against each other.  They need step-by-step instruction.  We try to have lots of little teachable moments.  For example, I like to take one towel to the pool so we have to share.  Or when we go to DQ we get one blizzard and share among our whole family.

Praying: When we teach on prayer we often encourage the kids to use their own words.  We tell them the thoughts and feelings they are having when they are focusing on something can be from the Spirit.  There are times for teaching prayer but when they are practicing we don’t correct only encourage.  We want them to have a safe playground to explore prayer without fear of doing it wrong.  This often leads to some humorous prayers.  
In order to provide a rhythm to our family prayer time, we have assigned each day a prayer focus.

For example, on

  • Mondays we pray for ourselves,
  • Tuesdays we pray for our relationship s with our siblings/spouse,
  • Wednesday we pray for our family team,
  • Thursdays we pray for friends and family, and
  • Fridays we pray for our community/neighborhood.

The kids each made a book to help them remember the prayer focus for the day.  Each day has it’s own page and contains a photograph or a picture the child colored that clearly represents the prayer focus for that day.

My workweek is Sunday – Thursday so I set Friday morning as adventure day with the kids.  This gives Shelley the morning to do whatever she wants and creates a system where I have a set times blocked off that I can train our kids.  Some days I just get in the car and drive until I have an idea.  Sometimes we just end up at a park.  Here are some of the ones that have been meaningful:

Adventure day ideas:

Blueberry picking: On the way to picking I talk about how everybody will be serving the family today so when you get tired you can’t just give up.  I talk about the more team members we have the more we can harvest.  We pick enough to give us a year supply for our cereal in the mornings.  We freeze them unwashed in three freeze zip-lock bags.  While we were picking the kids would eat one and I would comment this is what heaven is going to be like.  Henry commented.  “I can’t wait for heaven.”  The next day at family God time we talked about heaven and the trees and I read Revelation 22:1-5.  We celebrated with cider popsicles on the ride home

Downtown walk:  I took the kids on a walk in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, Over the Rhine, I told them their task was to say “hi” to people.  I wanted them not to have fear or racism in their hearts because of a lack of or limited exposure to high poverty environments.  It was a lot fun and we celebrated with a bag of popcorn from Findlay market.

Hike in the woods: I love spending time with our kids in the woods.  It is easy to engage when the distractions of home are gone.  The kids are encouraged to take risk and challenge themselves climbing rocks and other obstacles.  I recently hiked a trial out about 25 minutes and then let Henry and Layla get a 5-minute head start on the way back with the instructions that they had to stay together.  It is amazing how it bonds them together when they face these challenges.

Teamwork: I love giving the kids a challenge and then say use teamwork to solve the problem.  Once when we went swimming I gave the three oldest kids the bag with the suits and said no one comes out of the locker room till everybody is dressed.  It took 20 minutes but they did it with no fighting.  It was cool to see Henry helping Aniya get dressed.  

Housework: The three oldest kids all have jobs around the house.  Henry’s job is to get all the inside trash into the can in the kitchen.  Layla recently started collecting the laundry from all the rooms.  Aniya has been helping her.  They typically do it twice a week.  They get one dollar at the end of each month.  They often help with cleaning or moving stuff.  Henry spent 1.5 hours carrying pieces of drywall from the third floor to the front porch.  The three oldest kids have helped carry boxes up and down the stairs.

We are moving towards thinking the Acts 2:42-47 model is family based not organization based.  We want all these things happening in our home.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Walking children through their fears

It is a privilege and an honor to walk our kids through their fears.  It develops an intimacy between parents and children and a level of trust as they experience freedom.  Every kid typically has something that brings him or her to a place of fear.  Depending on your family dynamic, you may lean towards placating their fears (always protecting) or shaming their fears (belittling them).  Each extreme is not helpful.  When one of our kids has a fear, we acknowledge and share that we have things we are scared of too and that we may have had that fear ourselves in the past.  This helps prevent shame: the feeling that they are somehow bad because their fear.  We then tell them that is our job as their father and mother to teach them to walk through this fear.  We talk about how the Holy Spirit will give them the power and that fear is not from God.  Here are some examples:

Our daughter was terrified of thunder.  The first time it happened in the middle of the night she came screaming from her room into our room.  We let her get in bed with us and sleep until the storm was over.  This happened again with the same result.  We realized this pattern was neither sustainable nor helpful for her.  We talked to her about walking through the fear.  The next time thunder occurred it was right after we put her to bed.  She started screaming.  I went in the room and told her she was going to practice walking through her fear.  I told her she had to stay in bed but we would leave the door open.  I went in twice more to encourage her.  She stayed in her bed.  The next morning we celebrated her at breakfast for having courage.  She does much better now.  Once and awhile she will have a relapse.  The last time my wife took her back to bed prayed with her and told her she had to stay in bed.  She did and again we celebrated her progress.

Henry, our 5 year old, would occasionally fall off his bike.  He would cry intensely and then refuse to get back on his bike.  At first we let mom nurture him with hugs and band-aids.  This was good for him.  Then it happened once and I felt it was time for him to practice walking through this fear.  I told him he had to get back on his bike and we would take as long as it needed.  After a lot tears he got back on his bike and rode home.  I was unsure how he would respond when we got home.  He went to his mom and told her how proud he was of himself for getting back on his bike after a fall.  Again, we celebrated him for his courage.

You can set a foundation as a family that we work through things together and it is a safe place to come for help.  A typical answer to helping kids walk through fears is to get a lesson or sign up for a program.  And sometimes that can be helpful.  We are trying to train ourselves to seek family solutions first and then outsource second.  Leading your kids through their fears should be lead by the Spirit.  It is important that the timing is right and only the Spirit can tell you when.