The Right Way to Praise Children

Sol2We speak thousands of words in a day. With many of them, we try to encourage a positive self-image in our children or grandchildren:

“Good job, buddy” when he successfully builds a tower with blocks.

“You did great!” when she adds the final puzzle piece.

“You’re so strong” when he makes it across the crossing bars.

“You’re a good helper” when he hands you clean flatware from the dishwasher.

But what if our praises have an effect exactly opposite to what we want to accomplish? What if we’re not helping children feel good about themselves at all?

Researchers, parenting experts, and educators all suggest there are perils in too much praise and the wrong kind of praise.

We give children too much praise when we do it almost without thinking and when we give it whether anything praiseworthy has actually happened.

Are participation trophies given with loud cheers to every kid on the team truly deserved praise? NFL linebacker James Harrison didn’t think so, and sent his 6- and 8-year-olds’ participation trophies back.

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” Harrison said in a post on Instagram. “I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best.”

Children begin to tune out praise when it is insincere—and much frequent, offhand praise is just that. The painting really isn’t amazing and beautiful, and the child knows it. At the same time, children can become “praise junkies,” needing their parents’ constant approval rather than valuing their own accomplishments and depending on their own judgments. The result is a child who believes worth is tied to performance and who fears failure—and becomes reluctant to try new things or face challenges.

Children DO need encouragement and praise—but let’s make it the right kind. Experts say to praise the process, not the person.

Person praise focuses on the child’s traits, like intelligence or musical ability—”You’re a good boy”; “You’re so smart”; “You’re really good at this.”

Process praise focuses on the child’s effort and output and doesn’t make a judgment. It gives the child feedback with specific information—“You used a lot of colors in your drawing”; “I can see you are working hard to build your sandcastle”; “You helped your sister up when she fell. That was kind.”

Person praise reduces motivation; children begin to feel that their abilities are fixed and there is no reason to try to go beyond them. The Bible is right when it says, “A flattering mouth causes ruin” (Proverbs 2:28)!

Process praise encourages children to take on challenges, confront weaknesses, and grow. It also communicates family values.

I’ve never counted the number of times I say “Good job, buddy” when I’m with one of my grandsons, but I know it’s a lot. Changing this habit is going to take some work!

– Diane

5 Ways to Help Little Ones Learn to Talk

In the early months, your baby moves from crying as her main means of communication to vocalizing, smiling at you, and maybe even mimicking your facial expressions. It’s an exciting time!

Here are 5 ideas you can use to keep your baby moving along that exciting path to acquiring language.

1. Talk, babble, sing, and coo. From baby’s earliest days, interact with him or her. Talk about what you are doing as you go through your day. “Baby talk” is fine, but mix in real words too. You also can imitate sounds your baby makes, and wait for him to respond.

2. The more words and conversation they hear, the better. And these words need to be actually spoken to the child and to others around him; words heard from a screen don’t count—but the words you use as you talk to your child about what is happening on the screen do.

3. Speak slowly, clearly, and in complete sentences. Ask questions. Connect gestures with language. If your toddler points to the refrigerator, for example, ask, “Do you want a snack?” and wait for a response. “What do you want to eat? Yogurt? OK, let’s get some yogurt.”

4. Make music a part of your life. Learn and sing classic childhood songs as well as newer favorites. As children hear and learn the words, they learn to understand and repeat them. Songs with motions (like “The Wheels on the Bus”) make learning a whole-body experience.

5. Introduce books early. Young babies are drawn to simple, high-contrast pictures (like those in Jimmy Fallon’s Dada). And your baby will enjoy hearing your familiar voice reading books with rhyming or rhythmic text. For older babies and toddlers, choose books with board pages and right pictures. Activities like touch ‘n feel elements, lift-the-flaps, pop-ups, and sound chips are a plus.

SayPrayThumbnailBooks don’t have to be “educational” to pack lots of learning for little ones. Whatever the subject, name and point to objects and people in the illustrations. Include a good Bible storybook in your child’s library, and use it to introduce your child to Bible words and people. I wrote and designed Say and Pray Bible to encourage little ones to point and name.

You can find lots more information about how children acquire language and tips for helping them at www.kidshealth.org and clicking on the Growth and Development tab. “Choosing Baby Books and Toddler Books” on Scholastic.com has more tips for choosing books just right for your child too.

– Diane

Say & Pray Bible: First Words, Stories, and Prayers

Reed4Today I’m CELEBRATING the release of my new book, Say & Pray Bible: First Words, Stories, and Prayers!

It is JUST RIGHT, truly age appropriate, for introducing little ones to God’s Word!

There are 20 stories, 10 Old Testament and 10 New Testament. The stories are SHORT … just one sentence (or two very short sentences). Here’s one.

Baby in a Basket

Little baby Moses slept in a basket while his sister watched.

Yup, that’s it!

But there’s also a Scripture reference (Exodus 2) plus a short Bible verse and a short little prayer.

Say and Pray

He cares for you. —1 Peter 5:7

Thank You, God, for sisters and brothers! Amen.

Did I mention the stories are SHORT?!

Babies and toddlers LOVE turning pages. So that much text is about all they will absorb until they are older.

Some days you might just read the stories. Another day, just the verses. Yet another reading, just the prayers.

And some days, you might just talk about the pictures—bright, simple, whimsical illustrations by Sarah Ward. Objects in the artwork are LABELED (I am SO HAPPY about this!).

Because toddlers love to POINT and NAME pictures of objects and people they are learning to recognize and say!

Reed3It’s all wrapped up in a sturdy board book with rounded corners and a padded hard cover–practically indestructible!

The little boy in the photos is my #3 grandson. He loves his books and naming and pointing to objects in the pictures, and he was the inspiration for this book!

SayPrayThumbnail

I’m praying for SOOOO many little ones to learn of God and hear his word (in many languages, I hope!) with this book for years and years to come!

Want to know more? Check out the sampler and find links to retailers here.

– Diane

How Your Little One Learns to Talk

DadaIn Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada, determined animal dads try—but fail—to get their adorable offspring to say Dada.

It’s a quirky, funny take on the fascinating human task of learning to talk.

For quite a while, I’ve wondered how it is that babies can seem to understand so much, and even think, long before they can speak. And it turns out that no one really can explain this yet, although researchers have documented word-and-picture association in children as young as six months.

Learning to talk involves both the mental task of acquiring language and the physical task of learning to speak. This post is an overview of the stages of language learning.

Babies are born with the capacity to hear and make all the sounds in every language (English has about 44), although by the end of their first year they are losing the ability to distinguish sounds not in the language spoken around and to them.

Around six weeks of age, babies begin to make vowel sounds, especially aah, ee, and ooh. They eventually progress to consonant-vowel pairs, such as boo, da, and even mama and dada—but these “words” have no meaning to babies yet. They still have to determine “word boundaries” in the sound combinations they hear around them.

Most children begin to say single words with meaning, always nouns, at 12-18 months. This is the stage when children can point to—and eventually name—photos or illustrations of objects in their books.

One of my grandsons enjoyed his books immensely when he entered the pointing-and-naming stage.

Pointing2SayPrayThumbnailIn fact, it was interacting with him that gave me the idea for my book Say & Pray Bible. (You can learn more, see a sample here, and find links for ordering here.)

Around 24 months, children begin to say two-word, noun plus verb sentences, such as “Cat run.” In time, sentences become longer and include adjectives and adverbs, but no function words: “Big cat run fast.” Last to develop is the use of function words (such as the and an) and more complex sound combinations and sentence forms.

Human beings seem to be hardwired to acquire language and learn to speak—evidence that, as the Bible says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). But there’s a lot we can do to help little ones learn and have normal language development.

– Diane

Lizzie’s Prayer—This Is Why I Write

I’ve shared this story over on the Christian Children’s Author’s blog, but I don’t want anyone to miss it so I’m posting it again here.

SarahSometimes an author gets to hear how a book she wrote impacted a child’s life. This is one of those stories!

DunnFamily2Tim and Amy Dunn serve the church I’m part of, and Tim is a varsity football coach in our community too. Tim and Amy tried for 8 years to have a baby, and then God blessed them with their amazing Lizzie, now 6 and finishing up kindergarten.

If you had asked them, Tim and Amy would have said that if God wanted them to have another baby, he would have to open up that door for it to happen.

Last fall, Tim helped me provide the marketing department at Tommy Nelson with some video about my new book Words to Dream On, and he and Amy enthusiastically agreed to be influencers for the book when it came out. When their copy arrived, they began reading it to Lizzie, one story a night.

Not long after that, Tim let me know that Lizzie was praying for God to give their family a baby like he did for Abraham and Sarah.

And not too long after that, a family friend contacted Tim and Amy about a potential opportunity to adopt. And Lizzie changed her prayer to “Please let us have a baby like Sarah did, or let us have THIS baby.”

Tim and Amy were thrilled by the possibility of adopting a baby. They prayed and then told their friend they would LOVE to be considered. And they were! They met with the young mother, and she chose them as the couple she wants to adopt her baby.

And a month or two later, Lizzie had a baby brother.

And I have a story to cherish and share about the impact of God’s Word in the life of TWO children … Lizzie and the baby she prayed for.

– Diane

Dads, You Matter!

Did you know Father’s Day spending in the US typically runs 40 percent less than Mother’s Day spending?

That could suggest that dads are less important to kids than moms. But that just isn’t true.

Young, old, or in between—dads, you matter!

Last month I flew to Seattle to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday! With family and friends, we celebrated and paid tribute to the quiet but strong man we call Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Jim or Brother.

From the backyard barbeque on Friday night to the stretch limo ride to Ray’s Boathouse on Puget Sound on Saturday, we all had a fabulous time!

FridayCakeDadEarlier, in the airport and on our flight, I noticed younger dads equipped with diaper bags, pushing strollers, keeping little ones calm and happy.

One sweet dad across the aisle from me patiently pulled toys and books out of his toddler’s backpack and later, when it was nap time, wrapped his son in a blanket, held him close, and rocked him a bit until he fell asleep.

It’s wonderful to see dads connected with their kids like that. But not surprising anymore—I see my own two sons-in-law do this superbly too.

Children with an involved, caring father are likely to be more confident, emotionally secure, and have better social connections as they grow older. They do better in school, an effect that extends even into the teen and young-adult years.

And if dad isn’t there? Strong relationships with other adult male relatives and friends greatly help to fill his important role. God’s heart for the fatherless is clear early on in the Bible, when his law for the Israelites included these words: “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:22). And the psalmist wrote, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5)

So as Father’s Day nears, here’s to dads! You matter. A lot!

DadMe
– Diane

Let’s Ease the Pain of Mother’s Day

RoseThis coming Sunday, May 10, is Mother’s Day … as all the ads and flyers and greeting card aisles have been reminding us, every day now for weeks. But the joy and gladness of the advertising and retail worlds rarely reflect reality.

Mother’s Day can bring a lot of joy . . .

To new moms, first-time moms, moms whose children are succeeding and accomplishing goals, moms with healthy babies, women whose own moms are loving, understanding, and supportive.

But Mother’s Day can bring a lot of pain . . .

To women who can’t conceive, women who’ve miscarried, women with sick babies, women who’ve lost children, women who’ve had abortions, women whose children are prodigals, women whose own moms were not shining examples of motherhood, women in grief.

Mother’s Day is a happy day for me. But along my road as mother and as daughter, I’ve experienced losses of various kinds and had to deal with grief.

One of the worst kinds of grief is disenfranchised grief, when people grieve “without the benefit of social support or others’ recognition of their struggle.” **

The Bible tells us to honor our parents. The honor is due them for their position even if, for some reason, not their behavior.

But the Bible doesn’t mandate a special day for churches to make a big deal about the happy moms and new babies in their midst. And definitely not at the expense of those who already woke up on Mother’s Day with heavy hearts.

Churches have often recognized moms or dedicate babies on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure why. Yes, we are to honor one another (Romans 13:7), and moms deserve honor and encouragement, and those babies can make for an entertaining morning.

But if the observance doesn’t also acknowledge the real hurt of women who grieve and women who long to be moms but are not … then those who struggle find their grief disenfranchised by those who should be the first to love.

So this is a plea for all of us to be aware.

If your church celebrates Mother’s Day in any way that disenfranchises grief this year … maybe you can help turn things around for next year.

And maybe you know a woman for whom coming to church on Mother’s Day will be a struggle. Maybe you can speak a simple word of acknowledgement, or write a note, or give a hug.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

POM** The quote is from my co-author, counselor Cheryl Savageau, in the chapter on grief in Parents of Missionaries (IVP).

This updated post was first published at ChristianChildrensAuthors.com in 2013.

– Diane

Start Here: Why Reading Aloud to Children Matters & Tips to Make It Fun

If you want your children or grandchildren to be readers, you have a powerful tool to use to influence them in that direction.

When artist and journalist Jim Trelease began turning his career toward education in 1979, he had been reading aloud to his two children each night, as his own father had once read to him. And he had been visiting classrooms as a volunteer, to talk about careers in art and journalism.

He began to notice that not many of the children he met read very much for pleasure, but the ones who did nearly always came from classrooms where the teachers read aloud daily and incorporated silent reading time into the daily routine.

He began to investigate the connection and discovered plenty of research written up in academic language in educational journals, but nothing for parents.

So he wrote and self-published The Read-Aloud Handbook. Then in 1982, Penguin USA picked up and published the book, and Dear Abby helped make it known to parents everywhere. It’s now in its seventh edition.

“Every time you read to a child, you’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain.” —Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook

At Jim’s information-packed website, Trelease-on-Reading.com, you can read excerpts from the current edition of The Read Aloud Handbook, find downloadable parent brochures, and learn hundreds of fascinating facts about the power of reading aloud.

But why am I writing about this subject here?

It’s because I wonder if children who are read to regularly and who learn to enjoy reading are more apt to view the Bible as a readable book as they grow up.

And oh, how I want them to read it!

So here are some tips to help you develop the wonderful habit of reading aloud to a child.

• Try varying your voice or adding sound effects as you read. No need to be shy!

• If you’re reading an illustrated book, take time to talk about the pictures. Invite your
child to tell you what’s happening in a picture, how a character in an illustration is
feeling, or what might happen next.

Let your child interrupt the story to ask questions.

• Encourage younger children to hold the book and turn the pages as you read.

• Try to relate a story to your child’s real-world experiences, for example, “Do you
remember when our family took a trip?” or “That donkey looks like the one you rode at
the petting zoo.”

• If your child likes to read aloud, take turns. Let him read to you.

• Remember that good books are made to be read more than once.

Happy reading!

– Diane

3 Simple Ways to Bless Your Grandchildren

10359384_10153086418649161_659668480264878230_nThis post first ran on the Christian Children’s Authors blog. 

My own two children both were girls, so having all grandsons required learning new things. Like, little boys are often loud, messy, and ACTIVE (as well as tenderhearted and sweet).

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of a grandchild in my arms for the first time. Such a beautiful blessing from the Lord! Even before our first grandson was born, I knew I wanted to be an involved grandparent. It would take some thought and planning, since he and his parents would be living on another continent, but I would be connected to this child and be an influence in his life.

Grandchildren give us tremendous joy. We get to experience the world again as a new and fascinating place, full of surprises. We receive unconditional love (especially if we’re willing to bestow it first). In a mysterious way, some pieces of who we are will live on in our grandchildren after we are gone. But the most important part of being a grandparent isn’t about us—it’s about how we influence and bless them.

Here are three simple ways to do that.

1. Love and serve God. Know him through his Word. Seek his wisdom. Experience his power. Become someone your grandchildren will immediately think of when they think about what it means to know and love the Lord.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5)

2. Love your grandchildren’s parents–your own children and their spouses. Pray for them, often and specifically. Encourage them with affirmation. And if these relationships are not what you desire, do everything you can do to repair and renew them. Be parents your children can be proud of.

“As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).

“Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” (Prov. 17:6)

3. Love your grandchildren. Children spell love T-I-M-E. Find ways to be there for them, even if you’re miles apart. Discover what’s important to them and make those things important to you. Enjoy them when you are together. Children who feel loved, respected, and accepted (while also knowing that the adults in their lives are in control) will be sure to listen when you have something important to say.

 “O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18)

– Diane

5 Takeaways from a Book Launch

Reading 3

Yesterday I celebrated the launch of my new book, Words to Dream On, with a party and book signing. Despite my years in the publishing world and my other published books, this is the first time I’ve been very involved in helping a new book get out there and fly.

As I’ve been reflecting on yesterday’s event and the book launch overall, here are five things I’ve learned.

1. Encouragement matters! Receive it gratefully.

I loved seeing so many familiar faces at yesterday’s event! From our church’s senior minister and his wife, to my sister-in-law, to my friend who’s fatigued from chemotherapy but still came (and bought five books!) to another author friend and everyone in between, too many to mention–their support of what I’m doing encouraged me so much!

2. Meeting new readers matters! Don’t be afraid.

As we drove to the event, I told my husband and a friend, “I wish I were a really outgoing person who can’t wait to interact with lots of people!” But I learned in two short hours that even less-than-outgoing personalities can enjoy meeting readers and introducing new ones to my books!

I held the event in the children’s department of the Barnes and Noble store at The Streets of West Chester, just a few miles from my home. Turns out Sunday afternoons find quite a few families in the store … who heard the music and wandered in to see what was going on.

Which leads to …

3. Family and friends matter! Ask them to help.

I asked a friend from Bible study, a former teacher, to manage the craft table, and she did a superb job!

Linda2I asked my daughter Bethany and her singing partner, Jake, to come and entertain with children’s songs, and they were fabulous!

Song time2And writing friend Jillian Kent, who has signed at this bookstore before, knew the person I needed to contact there to ask about holding the event.

Planning matters. Start early.

Gail Allinsmith, community business development manager, and Lisa Oravec, children’s department manager, contributed so much to making the event successful. Gail was gracious and helpful from the very first phone call. I met with her and Lisa a few weeks ago to check over plans, and I could have done it even earlier to get more specifics about the event into the store’s own publicity.

The marketing team at Tommy Nelson helped from the start of my marketing efforts, with coloring pages, bookmarks, and postcards–and the advice to hold the launch at a bookstore with a good children’s space and a solid sales record.

Promoting an event was new to me, and I tried to find a balance between the “multiple impressions” needed to get attention and not wearing people out. I think I did OK on that.

I also wanted to balance inviting people to help me celebrate with the reason we could celebrate at all—a beautiful book intended to introduce children and families to God’s Word and deepen their relationship with Him. Finding this balance is more difficult, but I think I learned the importance of crafting the message purposefully and carefully … and next time I won’t be so shy about it.

Next time I’ll also let someone with better design skills than mine create a poster to help get the word out!

And last, but maybe most important …

5. God’s leading matters. Thank Him, and follow.

From doing live radio interviews to speaking at a women’s event at church to holding the party and signing yesterday, this launch has been an all-new experience. But all the aspects of my in-house and freelance publishing work have led me here, even when the path seemed murky. It’s oh-so important to pray and trust.

– Diane