Category Archives: Parents Crosslink

Desperate Times Call for Desperation Dinners

The Elminger family and a best friend pray before dinner at Army Capt. Kelly Elminger’s home in San Antonio, Texas June 10, 2015. From right clockwise are Army Capt. Kelly Elminger, mother Berti, daughter and granddaughter Jayden, 9, best friend Aaron Stewart, and father Mark. (DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)

Mom, I’m hungry!” I hear that desperate exclamation constantly. It’s often the first thing I hear in the morning. It’s almost always the first thing I hear after picking
up my boys from school. And it is certainly something I hear after a long afternoon and evening of sports practices and school events. Do these kids ever stop eating? The answer 
is . . . of course not! They may pause a bit, but then the growth spurts require more food.

But how do you make sure that they eat well after school, especially when you’re constantly shuttling them to this practice or that rehearsal or that game? How can you get food for them quickly without going through a drive-through five times a week? How can you get healthy, fast food?

Now, first of all, I’m no dietician. And I don’t consider myself a cook with any type of extraordinary talent. I also don’t think you need to be either in order to see that a tired, hungry kid equals a heap of trouble. I’m just a mom who has learned—yes, the hard way—to think ahead and prepare for the nights when things are going to be tight because the schedule is hectic.

The place to start is with your children. Teach them to recognize when they need to eat—and I’m not talking about noticing at the point of being ravenous. I’m talking about looking at the day ahead and planning for it. Younger kids will, of course, need your help with this. You can plan and pack extra food for them when you anticipate the need. But middle schoolers and teenagers can make the connection. If your fifth grader has a practice after school, have him prepare for
it. He can put together a snack of trail mix
or cheese, crackers, and beef jerky. He can spread cream cheese on a whole grain bagel and put the snack in his sports bag to save for later. Not only will you be teaching your kids healthy eating habits but also a sense of independence. Start young with eating right, and they won’t forget it when they are older.

When I was growing up, I was required to pack my own lunches for school. My mom taught me that a meal just isn’t a meal without a fruit and a vegetable. To this day I rarely prepare a meal that doesn’t contain these items. My mom taught me a valuable lesson about eating well that I’ve taken with me into adulthood and shared with my children. God has given us these bodies to live in. He wants us to take care of them. It’s never too early to teach that to your children.

Okay, so snacks are pretty easy. But when do I make dinner if I’m driving to or from practice or rehearsal? Here are some things that have worked for our family. They help us make sure we eat good, solid dinners even on nights when we’re on the run:

  • Menu planning. Get the kids involved. Sit down as a family and plan out a couple weeks’ worth of meals. Take into consideration the nights when you’ll have time to prepare meals and nights when you need what I call desperation dinners. For
 me a desperation
 dinner is some thing I can make
 quickly any night
 because I almost
 always have the 
ingredients on 
hand for it. For 
example, scrambled eggs, pizza, or tacos. Once you’ve planned your menu, hit the store and make sure you have the ingredients. It’s hard to make a meal quickly when you have to stop at the store first. Planning menus ahead has worked great for our family. If nothing else, it takes the pressure off of deciding what’s for dinner. Just look at your calendar and go to it.
  • Cook ahead. Maybe you have a free Sunday afternoon or even a free evening. (What’s that, right?) Try cooking up some lasagna or soup for eating later in the week. Reheat it when you get home from late practices and games instead of stopping by a fast-food restaurant on the way home. Dinner can be waiting for you!
  • Make extra. Do you usually grill four chicken breasts to feed your family? Make double. Maybe later in the week, you can have chicken salad. The chicken is already cooked. Choose recipes that make larger portions. Leftovers are always quick and easy.
  • Pre-pack a picnic dinner when you know you won’t get home until 7:00 or 8:00. Homework and dinner in the car help pass the time as you travel from practice to rehearsal and home again.
  • Get a slow cooker. It’s a wonderful piece of kitchen equipment that allows you to cook without even being home. Just throw in the ingredients in the morning, put the setting on low, and your meal slow cooks throughout the day. When you arrive home, your dinner smells great and is ready to eat. There are tons of slow cooker recipes on the Internet for anything from roast beef to barbecued chicken to chili.
  • Hit the drive-through. What?! Yes, an occasional stop at a fast-food restaurant is often unavoidable. Even supermom and superdad can’t make it all come together sometimes. No one’s perfect, after all. In recent years, many fast-food restaurants have tried to offer healthier options to their consumers. Just make your choices wisely. Psst! Letting your kids have fries or a shake once in a while isn’t the end of the world. Live a little! Just don’t let it become a habit. Too much sugar can produce a wicked sugar high, leading to an equally wicked crash later on— hopefully not in the middle of a basketball court. That makes for a rotten time. If you want to avoid burger joints, sub restaurants are a great choice. There you can order whole grain bread with veggies and meats.
  • Give yourself a break. A couple nights a week, take a break from all the running and enjoy a sit-down meal with your family. Family dinner is a great time to pray together, to share the events of the day, and then to spend some time in an after dinner devotion. No sports practice or music lesson is more important than time spent as a family, and better yet, time spent as a family studying God’s Word.

Happy Eating!

pcl_spring_2015 By Amanda Swiontek, from Parents Crosslink © 2011 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Amanda Swiontek and her husband, Craig, live in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, with their three boys: Evan, Orie, and Sam.

Image by DoD News Features is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

How Can We Teach Our Little Ones?

GlynLoweThe church offers very few resources or programs for children still in diapers. Parents may also be skeptical about a child’s ability to learn at that age. Most toddlers struggle to be potty trained, so how can we expect them
to grasp spiritual truths? We might be tempted to think that we should wait until little children are older before teaching them about Jesus.

Of course, if we really believed that, we wouldn’t instruct our little children about anything. But we do instruct our young ones all the time. They can learn what “No!” means. They learn when it’s time to eat, go
to bed, and get up. They’re interested in all the sights, smells, and sounds around them. They’re ready to learn. We just have to be sensitive to how they learn—what their learning strengths are and what their limitations are.

This age group learns by example and by hearing simple phrases repeated over and over again. We involve the very young in the spiritual life of the home by showing and telling.

What can we show our little children to communicate spiritual truths? First, they will follow our example. “Like father, like son”—the saying goes. If we spend time each day studying God’s Word in the presence of our children, we communicate that God’s Word is important. Saying prayers at mealtime and bedtime teaches our young children to pray regularly, even before they are able to say their own prayers. My wife and I were thrilled when our son folded his hands to pray with us at the age of 15 months.

Little children love to look at pictures. Research suggests that a high percentage of what we learn at an early age is accomplished by sight. Children’s Bible story books and animated videos draw children’s interest. Toddlers may not understand all the words of the Bible story, but they usually can identify a picture of Jesus. They are able to follow a simple story line. And they can begin to formulate simple inferences. For example, from the account of the three men in the fiery furnace, even very young children can understand that fire is hot and dangerous and that prayer is a very powerful spiritual tool.

What can we tell little children? Never underestimate the power of God’s Word. From Paul’s words to Timothy, we can conclude that very young children are among those affected: “From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

We may think that our children are too young to understand, but the Holy Spirit knows how to talk to children. Reading Bible stories in simplified versions to children, no matter how young they are, is never a fruitless effort. We may not see immediate results, but we trust God’s promise. His Word will accomplish what he desires.

Music and singing also touch the hearts of young children. Our little boy loved to listen to a Kids’ Praise cassette over and over again. A little girl who attended our church’s vacation Bible school continues to sing “Jesus Is the Way” at home to her Jewish father.

By all possible means, let us show and tell our little children about our Jesus. Let us remind them daily that he loves them. We make a lasting impression on our children by presenting God’s truth to them at every opportunity. Christ is for children.


By Joel Nitz, from Parents Crosslink © 2011 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Joel and Kathryn Nitz live with their family in Lacey, Washington.

Image by GlynLow is licensed under CC BY 2.0.



Pray For Your Child

3985490626_3865044723_oSometimes we think of prayer as a last resort when trouble comes and we have nowhere else to turn. Yes, it is important to call upon the Lord in prayer when we face days of trouble (Psalm 50:15). But prayer is a privilege we have at all times. Our children face challenges each day, and so do we as parents. Because we are children of God through Jesus, our prayer life can be a regular part of each day, whether we face troubles, anticipate challenges, or bask in the warmth of the sun. Here are some suggestions for improving your prayer life:

Pray frequently. Remain in close touch with your heavenly Father. He is willing to listen at any time, in any place, and in any situation.

Pray in your own words. Don’t be concerned about your choice of words or grammar or format. God knows what you want to say even before you say it. He encourages and welcomes your conversations with him.

Pray in Jesus’ name. Even if you don’t express it in words, remember that Jesus’ death on the cross brought you back into a wonderful new relationship with your heavenly Father. Without Jesus, your prayers will go unheard.

Pray with a thankful heart. In spite of the circumstances, remember God’s blessings. He is the giver of every good gift, including the gift of eternal life. Give glory to his name in your prayers and with your prayers.

Pray with confidence. We most often abuse prayer when we fail to trust that God will grant our requests in ways that are best for us, our children, and all believers.

Pray to your heavenly Father, who loves you and your children more deeply than you can imagine. Sometimes he may appear to be silent and not listening, but as our heavenly Father, he will give us what we need the most. In loss, tragedy, and pain, trust his care. He promises that the hairs of our heads are all numbered. Even when he seems not to listen, his power is operating in ways we may not understand.

Pray for patience, wisdom, and strength to carry out the difficult task of parenting.

Pray for the comfort of forgiveness when you fail to be the parent you should be, and then find in that forgiveness the strength to do better.


Parents Crosslink is published by Northwestern Publishing House four times annually in partnership with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s Commissions on Youth Discipleship, Adult Discipleship, and Lutheran Schools. 

Image courtesy of Leland Francisco, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Benefits of Tutoring

popofatticus“Your daughter does not know the letters of the alphabet or their sounds very well. She also struggles with numbers. She cannot read. We think she has a learning disability and should repeat kindergarten.” Hearing these words from my daughter’s teacher, I was left speechless from shock. It was the middle of March 2001, and the same thought repeated: Why didn’t you tell me sooner so that I could have done something? When the shock left me and reality set in, I knew that I needed to give my daughter academic help. Through this, she would gain both a better experience in school and the self-confidence she would need to be a successful adult.

Since 2001 I have tutored many learners of various ages and needs, including my daughter. Each student came to me with his or her own unique challenges and needs. My job was to help those students gain the knowledge and skills that would help them succeed in school. And they did succeed. So how could tutoring benefit your child?

Parents seek out tutors because they want their children to earn better grades, improve their scores on quizzes and tests, and have a better overall experience while in school. Research shows that many students who receive tutoring show improvement
in their daily homework as well as on their quiz
and test scores. According to one study, students improved from an average of 50.31% on quizzes
and tests to an average
of 80.26% after strategic tutoring (Hock, Pulvers, Deshler, and Schumaker, 2001). Better grades on tests and quizzes will result in better scores on a child’s report card. This in turn will foster better self-esteem and confidence within the child, and he or she will enjoy the school experience more and may even gain more confidence to ask the teacher questions.

One-on-one attention provides another key benefit in that there is the opportunity for immediate feedback on homework for a struggling student. For example, a tutor can quickly analyze a child’s math error, and the child has the opportunity to correct it with guidance. After intervention that includes a quick review of the corresponding math concept, the tutor can watch and guide the student through similar problems. In addition, tutors support independent learning by teaching different learning strategies that will help students in the future. Learning how to access information sources, take notes well, and organize and plan efficiently are valuable strategies that students will take with them after their grade school years. Another important benefit of tutoring for some students is that one-on-one tutoring allows the tutor to minimize distractions and helps students focus on their work. Noise, hunger, odor, and temperature can distract students and have the potential of breaking down their concentration. Reducing distractions and keeping them focused on the school work are important tasks that help students keep up with the expectations of the teacher and the rigor of the classroom.

Finally, we remember that what we do in our everyday lives reflects our Christian faith. The Bible tells us in
1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Doing their best is one way our children show their gratitude to God for his promise of forgiveness. Getting good grades is wonderful, but doing one’s best reflects one’s Christian faith. If your child struggles in school, consider getting extra help so he or she can enhance and develop the talents God has given. The talents children develop when they are young will help inspire them as adults to serve their Lord in extraordinary ways!

pcl_spring_2015Georgene Hughes, a 1983 graduate of DMLC, lives in Watertown, Wisconsin, with her husband, Dan, and their three children. She is currently an adult basic education instructor for Madison Area Technical College.

Image by popofatticus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Preparing Our Kids for Christmas

Mike KlineThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is a popular children’s book about children performing in a Christmas pageant. The “bad” children in the story turn out to be the stars of the show, but is that how things are in real life?

Many children in our churches prepare for an annual “Children’s Christmas Service.” Since Lutherans like to focus on the true meaning of Christmas—that Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world—we naturally think that these services would be rather formal events.

For anyone who has attended these once a year services—or planned and rehearsed them—the service is often anything but formal. Consider the children who participate. In many of our churches, some of the children may be new to the Lutheran faith or even new to Christianity. Teachers and leaders should never assume that all of the children are acquainted with the basic facts of Jesus’ birth. A student once asked her teacher, “Is this real?” What a wonderful opportunity we have to lead children to see the Son of God who was willing to be born into this world.

Parents of children may also have limited knowledge of Christmas and the Bible. They may also have experienced their own version of a secular Christmas pageant and assume that the Lutheran congregation puts on the same “show.” How often don’t you hear that the children “performed well,” “we’re cute and adorable,” or “looked so nice”? Have you been to one of these “shows” where the parents (or grand- parents) struggle to get a really good picture of their “star” in the front of church? Or maybe they wave and smile at their precious little ones to let them know they are watching them perform. Perhaps you’ve seen relatives presenting bouquets of flowers after the event for a “job well done.”

If we remember that a Christmas service tells the wonderful news of how Jesus was born to save us, we can do some things to keep the focus on Christ. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • As you enter the Advent season of the church year, start talking about how it is a time of preparation for Christmas.
  • Discuss with your children in language they can understand the reason why Jesus was born.
  • Talk about the way Jesus became human like us—a baby who grew up.
  • When the school or Sunday school sends notes home about the children’s Christmas service, discuss with your children their role in telling others about Jesus.
  • If homework is assigned with readings and songs to be learned, help your children understand what they mean.
  • Play music of the season, including traditional hymns and carols that tell about Jesus.
  • If special practices for the service are held, be sure to have your children there on time and not distracted by the busy-ness of the season.
  • Be sure that your children are rested, well-fed, and dressed in comfortable clothing for the actual service.
  • After the service, remind your children how wonderful it was that they could tell others about our Savior and share the good news.

During this coming Christmas season, may the wonderful news of Jesus’ birth into this world lead you to enjoy all of the special traditions and events that take place. May you also lead your children to see Christ as the center of Christmas.

pcl_spring_2015Carl and Beth Nolte are members at St. Andrew in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Image by Mike Kline is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Just This Once?

2573262564_d85b6970f6_bI recently read an article written by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen. Entitled “The Bottom Line on Happiness,” it is based on a lecture he gives his students on their last day in his class. Christensen’s point is that the business principles students learn must also be applied to their personal lives. One of the subheads is “Avoid ‘Just This Once’.”

As parents, we’ve heard this phrase uttered by our children. “Can’t I stay over at my friend’s house, just this once?” Or “I promise I won’t ruin it. Let me use it . . . just this once!” Do you remember using the same phrase? I do.

I wasn’t very girly for being a girl. I didn’t like to wear dresses, cringed at the sight of pink, played baseball in an all- boy league, and prided myself in the fact that I could hold my own in that league. There was one problem. We played games on Wednesday nights. That might not seem like such a big deal, but for a pastor’s kid during Lent . . . it was huge. Lenten services began at the same time my games did. To a middle schooler full of drama, the answer was “My team needs me!” Week after week, I begged, pleaded, rolled my eyes, slammed doors, and cast wrath on any sibling in my path. Just this once couldn’t I play and skip church?

With my baseball career seemingly hanging in the balance, the decision took my dad zero seconds. Church first. Then the game. So each week I went to church, wearing my little league uniform under a brown and white dress that snapped down the front. I didn’t care that every- one could see my green uniform with BARNETT BANK clearly visible through the dress. I wanted everyone to know the sacrifice I was making. Apparently I had forgotten the purpose of Lent: to focus on the ultimate sacrifice Christ made. As soon as church ended, I would rip off my dress, Superman-style, as I ran to the car, and my mom would drive me to the ball field, where I would assume my position at first base . . . in the middle of the fourth inning.

Christensen says, “The lesson I learned is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. If you give in to ‘just this once,’ . . . you’ll regret where you end up.” Just ask Adam and Eve.

What significance do the words just this once have in our lives? Maybe we need to ask the teenage mom or the alcoholic or the drug addict. What would their lives be like if not for the words just this once? Thinking in Bible terms: What if Noah had said, “Just this once I won’t build the ark,” when God issued his command? What if, just once, Jesus had given in to Satan’s temptations? What if, just once, Jesus had decided that suffering and dying for the sins of all people was crazy? What if…?

I am thankful today for my mom and dad who stood their ground, who listened to my screams of “Just this once!” and then proceeded to teach me a life lesson about the importance of God’s Word in our lives. Their grandchildren are now learning the same one. I am also thankful to our Savior, who suffered and died for that selfish middle-school sinner: me. How amazing that Jesus can take some little words that cause us such grief, just this once, and turn them into something incredible: Just this once I died for you! There is our bottom line on happiness.


By Heather Bode, from Parents Crosslink © 2011 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Heather Bode lives with her husband and children
 in Helena, Montana.

Image by Shona1968 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Words of Discipling

7043389215_2c2e0969e9_bWe parents don’t enjoy being called into school for a meeting about our child’s behavior. Our first reaction may be “Why? —Why my child?” We may fret over what to
 say to the child. The impending ordeal can seem frustrating and exasperating, and it may be. It is also an opportunity—an opportunity to “disciple.”

The apostle Peter once asked Jesus if forgiving a person’s sins seven times was enough. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus is not condoning our continuous sinning, but rather he is fostering our ability to forgive. Jesus’ love covers our sins—every time. As we “disciple” (instruct, correct, discipline) 
our children, we hold out that same supreme love—we forgive. Whether or not this is the first
 time your child’s behavior has been an issue, we do well to
 begin with forgiveness. Here the double-edged efficacy of God’s
 Word shows our sins and then
 offers the gospel’s sweet balm of forgiveness. Your child has felt
 the first edge—he is aware he has sinned. The second edge,
 that of Jesus’ forgiveness, is
 yours to hold out to your child.
 God’s Word never returns
 empty, so even angry and seemingly unreceptive children benefit from hearing of their Savior’s boundless love.

Next begins a parent’s opportunity to listen. Some children are naturally more communicative, while others need more coaxing. It may be helpful to ask, “What were you trying to accomplish (or change or fix)?” This question leads a child to explain what seemed wrong that he or she may have been trying to right or change.

If a child can verbalize, “Well, Owen wasn’t supposed to be in the art center because it wasn’t his turn,” then you can give options for solving this issue differently. A child’s action of lashing out verbally or physically can then be exchanged for a better option of talking to a teacher or a friend, or changing location, as determined by the issue. A child will often know the situation needs to be fixed, and possibly even that the initial response wasn’t appropriate, but may not be able to see other ways to fix the situation or to express the strong feelings that are churning within. If parents can offer different options and actually talk a child through scenarios, the same conflict might be avoided next time. What we are really teaching our children is problem solving skills.

Another popular tag word for dealing with such reactions to life is coping, which could refer to helping our children not act out when they don’t get their way. Helping them identify what situations trigger anger and supplying options for avoiding, diffusing, or releasing anger in positive ways teaches them how to cope. For Christians, the coping strategy starts at the cross. It acknowledges that our sinful reactions are not just mistakes in judgment, but they are violations of God’s holy will. We need the forgiveness Christ paid for on the cross. Armed with that forgiveness, we are strengthened so that we can react differently the next time. And we want to. As parents, we are charged with helping our children apply this to their lives. We are honing skills that will be the groundwork for how a child will cope with similar issues, albeit on different levels, all through life.

Some children will willingly acknowledge their wrongdoing. The one instance of trying to be the class clown, following peer pressure, or attempting to act out will be thwarted simply because the offender was caught and/or called out for the misbehavior. Here again, forgiveness will soothe this child. For children who seem lured into behavior issues like a bee to honey, we also hold out forgiveness and the assurance that they aren’t “bad” children without hope. We all struggle against our sinful natures—we all sin. God didn’t make any “throwaway” people. His perfect life and death on the cross cover us all. But some children seem to need more “discipling” than others. These children may require more endurance and also the responsibility of enforcing consequences. Past transgressions are always forgiven, but the child is still accountable for his or her actions. These actions may show a pattern for needing a firmer hand of love applied. A child often won’t see being grounded or having electronics impounded as signs of love. Explaining calmly to a child that “I love you enough to enforce consequences” may be necessary. The Bible shows many examples of discipline as love. Hebrews 12:11 explains, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” King David is considered a man after God’s heart. That may seem incredulous as one reads of David’s many sins. However, when God, his heavenly Father, chastened him, he repented. The consequences for David’s sins, including the death of his child, were very real. Yet we see how they brought a forgiven David closer to his Lord.

Consequences may come from the school, the parents, or both. Some parents deliver a stream of consequences in the heat of the moment, which will never be carried out. Consequences should be a result of the child’s actions, not the parent’s anger. Any consequence that is not carried out may portray a parent as being inconsistent. For a child, there 
is security in knowing that Mom and Dad keep their word (as much as humanly possible) in all situations.
 A child may feel that if parents are inconsistent in this, they may be unreliable or inconsistent in other areas as well. A child may grow to question a parent’s love and conviction. Children often push limits just to make sure their parents still love them enough to set boundaries. Children feel safe when there are boundaries. Children, even the most mature, cannot sufficiently see and enforce their own boundaries. Enforcing boundaries is a parent’s job. Even in rebellion against a boundary, it is still comforting for children to have the parent be the parent.

Consequences that a child can manipulate are also threatening to a child’s wellbeing. Many children can convince a parent to change a consequence. A parent may then unwittingly foster a manipulator. This may immediately seem convenient for a child, but eventually he or she may cease to respect this parent. Parents set the standards and need to stand firmly and lovingly for what they believe.

While there are no absolute, “magic” words for these situations, there are steps to guide parents and children through these issues. Restore your child with God’s full forgiveness and love (and yours!). Listen calmly. Guide him or her with tools to problem solve different situations, to cope with feelings, and to reach out for help when needed. Teach accountability for actions by holding fast with safe boundaries, and eventually your child will be able to self-check these issues. And, when necessary, lovingly apply appropriate consequences. This process reminds us of the proverbial parent saying, “This hurts me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Thankfully, it also fulfills the biblical “harvest of righteousness and peace” of a lovingly discipled child.


By Amy Vannieuwenhoven, from Parents Crosslink © 2013 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Amy  works part-time at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and full-time with her husband, Pastor Charlie Vannieuwenhoven, raising their four children.

Image by Rachel Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Give Your Child an Advantage

Having an advantage can make all the difference in life. Just ask the job applicant who knows someone on the inside or the athletic team playing on its home field. We parents also understand the importance of having an advantage. From providing our children with a wide variety of extracurricular activities to enrolling them in the best schools, we go to great lengths to ensure that they have every advantage in life. But what is the most important way to offer our children every advantage academically? Many researchers agree that the best way to give a child an educational edge doesn’t cost a penny and can be achieved in just minutes each day. Reading aloud to your child every day has been shown to deliver more benefits for a child’s cognitive development and future academic success than any other activity. Continue reading