How Do I Teach My Child Integrity

 Teaching integrity does not have to be difficult but it does have to be consistent.  Children develop the skills of integrity the most, when day in and day out they witness their parents living lives of integrity.  

This means that every day, we have the opportunity to show our children in small and simple ways how one chooses integrity, even when making the choice is difficult.

I  was in Hobby Lobby the other day (love that place), and I all of a sudden heard a crash.  I looked back and saw a woman with two young girls (maybe 8 and 10) picking up a reindeer that they apparently had knocked off the shelf.  I went on about my shopping.

Then, I turned back to go look at something and I saw this woman and the two girls again. This time, they were still dealing with the reindeer.  It looked like they were trying to put a broken antler back on the head of this reindeer but to me, it looked broken. I paid a little more attention because I was kind of intrigued about what they would do.  Sure enough, they managed to prop this antler up on the head of this reindeer and then they quietly walked away.

Ugh!!  How sad.  Now, I don't know their situation and I don't know why they chose to handle it the way they did.  It did make me a little sad however, because from the outside observer, it looked like a missed opportunity to teach children what integrity looks like.

I know when I look back on my days of mothering children at home, I missed some opportunities too.  Sometimes I think, "Why did I do that!!"  "That was so dumb of me."

The important thing for today, is to try to pay attention and realize that each day, we have numerous opportunities to teach our children integrity, compassion, empathy, non-judgement and many more such character traits.  I hope we pay closer attention and may we always know that each decision we make, has the potential to impact the kind of humans our children become.

Our children need to hear and see us be 100% accurate in our words, our stories, our actions, etc.  They need to watch us go out of our way to be honest, regardless whether or not that honesty brings about negative consequences.  However, even when being honest, we can strive to make sure that kindness precedes every honest remark. 

Today, show your children what integrity looks like.  Live it.  

Monica Irvine

How do We Teach our Children To Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt?

 As with any matter of the heart, it’s difficult for children to learn and practice a principle that they do not see modeled in the home.  So, our first order of business is to assess what kind of example we are to our children in helping them to see the good in others, doubt the bad, assume the best, and discard the unpleasant.  

Seeing the good in others…begins by discussing and committing to that very purpose.  One thing I think we can all agree on is that we tend to find what we’re looking for, whether that is something good or something bad.  If we have a relationship with someone that tends to “get under our skin” due to their constant talking, then I assure you, every time we are with this person, that’s all we will observe.  However, if we tell ourselves that today, when we are with this same person, we are going to figure out one thing that this person has, that we could use a little more of in our own life, then I promise you, you will find something.  It’s a matter of purpose.

We can teach our children to focus on what people have to offer, as they hear us continually pointing out the good in others.  There is no better training ground for them than listening to their parents exhibit this compassionate and empathetic skill.  

For example, perhaps our daughter might ask: 

“Mom.  Why is Grandma always complaining about everything?”

Mom—“You know honey…I think because of her age, Grandma just doesn’t feel good most of the time and I think that makes it difficult to be really positive.  But, did you know that Grandma let both her mother and her mother-n-law live with her for the last few years of their lives, so that she could take care of them.  She is such an amazing lady.”

 Perhaps, our son might say:

“Dad.  I don’t like to go outside when I see Mr. Smith outside next door, because he always has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and I can smell the smoke.”

Dad—“Well, I’m sure Mr. Smith is not aware that his smoke is bothering you but I can tell you this, that is the hardest working man I know and he’s also a war hero.  We owe him our deepest gratitude for the sacrifice he made on our behalf.”

Parents, can you see the opportunity here?  Can you hear the power that is within our lips to profoundly impact how our children learn to see others?  It’s so exciting!

What about the bad?

Sure, we want our children to be cautious and to understand risk and dangers, however for the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume those are not the situations we are speaking about.  For this discussion, we are speaking about the negative things about others such as past mistakes, personal weaknesses, character flaws and less than honorable moments.  It’s easy to talk about these things when it’s someone else we’re speaking about, but what if someone wants to talk about our past mistakes, personal weaknesses, character flaws and less than honorable moments?  Are you as interested in that conversation?

No, I didn’t think so.

You see, for us to help our children learn to refrain from focusing on such things, we must not fall into the trap of doing so ourselves.  I appreciate a few concepts I’ve learned over the years: #1, just because someone has a bad moment, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person and #2, since God loves us even though he knows our flaws perfectly, shouldn’t I do my best to love others despite what I think I know?

Here’s what I do know.  We are not a sum of our mistakes.  We do not have to be defined by our mistakes.  You and I don’t want this so shouldn’t we do our best not to label and define others by their mistakes?  Here’s an example of two conversations that teach children two different ways to view others.

First One

Child—“Mom, I really like my math teacher, Mr. Green.  He’s super fun and really laid back.”

Mom—“Well, I just found out that last semester, there was a disciplinary hearing for him because of how he spoke to a student, so let’s hope that taught him a lesson.”

Second One

Child—“Mom, I really like my math teacher, Mr. Green.  He’s super fun and really laid back, but I heard from a friend today that he got in trouble last semester for how he handled a student.”

Mom—“You know honey, it’s not polite for people to spread gossip (whether true or not), announcing mistakes that someone has made in the past.  That did not involve us and we don’t know any of the facts so it’s best to just tell your friends that you’re not interested in stories that shine a poor light on others.”

Now I realize, you may be thinking right now, “But Monica…sometimes people need to know information that could protect them or others.”  Once again, of course.  That is a different conversation and one we must have with our children, but that’s not what we’re talking about here and the truth is, that’s not the more common situation.

It’s never ok to assume the role of informing others of other people’s unflattering moments.  Truthfully, it’s a backwards way of trying to build ourselves up but in reality, it’s an ugly behavior that shines very poorly on ourselves.

At the “end of the day,” I know you want what I want for my own children.  I want them to be kind, compassionate, empathetic.  I want them to refrain from judging others and from assuming the worst in people.  I want them to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and look for the good.  Why?  Because this helps them to live happier lives.  It helps them to have healthier happier relationships.

May you and I be more careful with our own conversation.  May we continue to look for opportunities to teach our children to notice the good in others.  In doing so, we will raise better human beings.

Monica Irvine


How to Handle Unwanted Physical Affection

We teach our children to be kind, to be polite, to not hurt others feelings. Then, all of a sudden, our children become adolescents and often, someone starts attempting to give them physical attention. In the back of our child's mind they might be thinking, "I have to be kind. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings." 

This places them at risk to accept the physical affection because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or make the other person feel awkward. 

Parents, this is dangerous. We can't expect our children to know how to react in these situations if we don't have serious discussions with them and make sure they know what is appropriate. 

Of course, we teach our children to be kind but we should also be teaching young boys and girls that your body is your private personal space and no one should cross over into it without your permission.

Etiquette rule: A lady and a gentleman do not show physical affection to someone of the opposite sex in a casual relationship without the other person's permission.

I once was teaching a group of young teens and we talked about this etiquette skill in the class. Afterward I had a young lady come up and ask my advice on a situation. She told me, “Every Wednesday night I go to my church's youth group and at the end of the service the minister stands at the back door where we all leave and he gives us all a hug goodbye. I know that he's just trying to show how much he cares about us and he doesn't mean anything inappropriate by doing so. But, I don't like it and it makes me uncomfortable.” 

She truly believed he had the best intentions but she said, " I don't know how not to when everyone else is doing it."

This is such a common question I get from teenage girls, women, and even young men and husbands.

How did I answer that young girl? I told her that her minister shouldn't be doing that. It's not appropriate. I told her that next time her minister tried to hug her, all she had to do is take one step back and extend her hand for a handshake. Or, if she would rather, she could give him a "high five." There would be a chance that there would be an awkward moment and the minister might say something like, "What? You don't like hugs?" 

There is always that chance but we have to teach our children to have confidence and be brave.

What helps children have confidence is understanding that it's not impolite for them to refrain from hugs. That it's their decision what they want to do with their body and the other person should respect that.

Parents, we have got to equip our sons and daughters with the confidence and the skills to be able to know how to handle unwanted physical affection. 

For more resources and a more in depth discussion on this and more check out our Dating Guide for Ladies and Gentleman HERE.

Finding Nemo Introduction Game

Start by teaching the 4 points to a proper introduction.

These are taught in more detail through our Life Skills For You course as well as in our etiquette camps.

How to play:
One person will be secretly chosen to be “Nemo” at the beginning of each round. Explain that Nemo must introduce themselves as their actual name to 3-4 people before revealing that they are Nemo. Then everyone goes around practicing introducing themselves to each other until Nemo reveals themselves. At that point whoever was shaking hands with Nemo puts their hands on Nemos' back conga line style. Everyone else in the room must then do the same forming a line behind Nemo. Last person in the line is out so you must be quick!

Do this for a couple rounds and then you can add on to the game for older kids.

Once everyone is comfortable with the game, pick someone to be “Bruce” at the same time you pick a new “Nemo.” Remember to keep it a secret. Bruce doesn't reveal that he is Bruce until the very end, after everyone is in the line. Anyone who is behind Bruce is out.

The key is allowing children to practice and become more comfortable introducing themselves to others in a positive environment. This will bring more confidence in real life as they make new friends they will be prepared and know what to do.

Advice That Saved my Marriage

Years ago, Charles and I had not been married that long, and we were struggling. I won't go into the details of that struggle, but we were struggling. When I look back at that period of time, I'm so embarrassed because I realize now that I was so selfish. I was in a place mentally and emotionally where I didn’t even want to be married anymore. I didn't like some things that Charles did and I didn't like some things that were going on in our marriage.

I started saying to myself, “Monica, you don’t deserve this, he’s not doing this or it would be so much better if he were doing that.” Of course these thoughts were coming from the adversary, but all I cared about was my happiness and what was and wasn’t being done for me and to me. 

I then got some really good advice from my grandmother. She told me to, “for a period of time, stop trying to fix Charles, stop focusing on whatever he's doing that you dislike.” She said, “I want you to just ignore that for a little while, and forget about it. For right now I want you to focus on what you need to fix. Identify some areas that you could improve on and for the next month or two, I want that to be your focus.”

I thought she was a lunatic for suggesting that to me and I thought there was no way this plan would work. However, my grandmother had been right about quite a few things in the past, so I decided to at least try. I picked up the scriptures and started reading them because I really didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know how else to start identifying my faults. I mean, I knew there were some things wrong with me, I just didn’t know how to organize those thoughts and begin this process of fixing myself. So I thought I would start by turning to the word of God. 

God’s not going to lay everything out for you and tell you all the answers right as you open the scriptures.What happens is when you expose yourself to the word of God, you expose yourself to the spirit. The spirit softens your heart and by doing so, increases our ability to listen to God.

As I started taking the time every day to spend some time in the word of God, my heart started softening. Well, the bad news about this experience is that I started seeing my own weaknesses, and my own failures in my marriage started becoming more evident to me. At some point this list got to be so big that I started feeling overwhelmed. All of a sudden I was realizing that God's world is really black and white and I had been living in mostly grey. Things are either of God or they aren’t. I realized that I had somehow been justifying a lot of behaviors in my mind because I was hard-hearted and trying to get away with doing things not of the Lord. With this new mindset of things either taking me closer to God or further away, I became overwhelmed with how far I had slipped away from God. 

Nevertheless, the Lord helped me to slowly start working on these things. What happened was exactly what my grandmother said would happen. I got so caught up in my own mess and trying to worry about all the things that I needed to improve that I completely forgot about the things that I had wanted to fix in Charles. What also happens when you spend time with the word of God daily is you start recognizing his hand in your life. You start recognizing the good in others more easily because you’re looking through more Godlike eyes. You start seeing people as God sees them. 

Just like when we become parents we love our children and want others to love them as well. We know our kids can be rotten at times, but we love them because we also know how wonderful they are and we can see their potential. That’s how God looks at you and me and our spouse and I can only imagine He wants us to look at our spouse the same way. He wants us to love them, and help them, and be forgiving and patient.

Now I am in no way talking about in any way accepting verbal abuse, physical abuse, or any type of abuse. I will never suggest that anybody should endure those things. I'm simply talking about trying to learn to see and love our spouse the way the Lord does. That's what happened for me and by following my grandmother's advice and turning to the Lord I was able to soften my heart and learn to have a greater love for my husband.

This story and many more can be found in my book, "Raising A Generation of Ladies & Gentlemen"-- a 52 week (one year) study guide for you and your spouse to read together to get on the same page and gain all the skills needed to be the best role models for your children.

Thank you for reading this blog and for being open to new thoughts and ideas. We all can learn from one another's experiences. It's the beauty of sharing ourselves with others.

4 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Teen

There's so many different things I could talk about when it comes to raising teens. When it comes to parenting, I like to focus on our relationships. I know that our happiness in this life is completely wrapped up in our relationship with God and our relationship with our family. My goal is to help you build and strengthen your relationships with your teenagers. They are growing up and forming their own thoughts and opinions. This causes some tension between children and parents as this is a big transitioning phase. These are some tips to make sure your relationship stays strong throughout these moments.

1. You are Your Child's Biggest Cheerleader

Now let's think about a Football game. What is the cheerleaders purpose? To bring motivation and strength and cheer on the players. This should be your role as your children go through the game of life. They need you because in the game of life, it gets very difficult and there's lots of challenges and  surprises and things that set you back. That's where you come in cheering “You got this!” letting your children know that you are here for them, through thick and thin, through all the setbacks and losses. You are here to support them.

A cheerleader is someone that brings joy. Is that how your children envision you, as their cheerleader? Are you the one person always pulling for them no matter what? Are you there building them back up and always ready to comfort? Are you doing this with joy and positivity? 

2. Criticizing vs Counseling 

Being critical damages relationships while counseling strengthens trust. We all know what it feels like when someone is critical of us. Being critical means to condemn, to insult, to point out someone's flaws for no other purpose, but to point out someone else's flaws. Sometimes, as parents, we mix up being critical with parenting. 

Parenting is to counsel and correct our children, but we should never correct without showing a better way. There should always be a purpose behind our correction. 

When I think of counseling, I think of someone who gently makes suggestions to me and helps me talk through the decisions I make. That's our role in our child's life, to be good listeners and then ask really good questions to help them sift through their different thoughts. That is so important because, especially with teens, it’s important for them to become independent thinkers. That’s divine design. God created us all to be independent thinkers and to have free agency. 

3. Help Teens Plan Fun Activities

Teenagers enjoy spending time with their friends and I don’t blame them. That's exactly what I wanted to do when I was their age. The problem lies in periods of time where there are too many unplanned activities. Meaning, we want our kids to be actively engaged in any activity. 

For example this was a conversation my son and I would have often.

This happened a lot. I would make little suggestions and then my son would go and have fun with the idea.

Why is this important? Planning fun, safe activities help our kids learn to be responsible and how to follow through with things. For instance, going along with the bonfire example, my son now feels in charge of and responsible for the activity. Then, next thing you know he’s got to collect firewood and make sure the outside chairs are clean and possibly setting up a screen for a movie. 

It would always end up being a much better experience when everything was planned out. The more planned an activity, the safer it tended to be. My son and his friends never had much money so they had to get a bit creative with what they planned. A lot of their ideas I have incorporated into my book Dating Guide for Ladies & Gentlemen. 

4. Get To Know Their Friends

Now parents, we can't do this unless we spend time with them. That's where we have to make a commitment to create a home where our children and their friends feel welcome. That may look like having a shelf in the kitchen designated only for cheap snacks so when friends come over, there's planned snacks. (Trust me your pocketbook will thank you.) 

Beyond that, we need to talk to them, really talk to them. When is the last time you sat with your child's friend and asked them what's making them happy in life? What is stressing them out?  What are their goals? Really knowing his friends well, made it easier to sit down and talk with my son about his life and the people in it. We would talk about what his friends were up to, what they were going through and ponder how we could help them. 

Sit down and discuss with your spouse how you can make your home feel welcoming and make sure your kids friends don't feel like a burden when they visit but rather cherished and loved. It will make all the difference and greatly affect how much time your children spend in your home.

For more suggestions listen to my podcast HERE I give even more examples and stories to help you be the best parent you can be.

Bearing One Another's Burdens by Overcoming Fear

One time when my son was young, he had a good friend whose father passed away. I wasn't super good friends with the wife of this man. It was one of those relationships where your kids are really good friends and so you interact because of our children, but don’t really hang out outside of that. I really loved this mother of my son's friend, but I still didn't know her that well.
I was brokenhearted when I heard this news and didn’t know what to say or do. I remember wanting to call her, but I did not know what to say. I was scared I would say the wrong thing. So I knelt down to pray and I asked the Lord to help me know what to say and to give me the courage to make this phone call. As I got up, I felt the push, “just do it, Monica, just call.” So I did, I picked up the phone and I called and was honestly relieved when it went to voicemail, but I went ahead and left a message. 
I didn't have a chance to talk to the wife at the funeral but it was a couple months later when I ran into this mother at the grocery store. While talking, she told me, “Monica, I'm sorry that I never returned your phone call.” And of course, I never expected a return phone call, but she went on to say, “I want you to know that I did hear the message when you called me that day and I just want you to know how much it meant to me. You know, you were the only person that called me besides my parents the day that he died.” 
I was frozen, I didn't know what to think. I was just so shocked that she said I was the only person that called. Please don't think that I’m trying to pat myself on the back. There's been so many times that I didn't have the courage to call people when I should have called them. This is one time that I did call and I was so close to not calling her that day. 
It was over the next several weeks, as I ran across a couple of people that knew her, that it dawned on me why no one called her. They didn't call her for the same reason I didn't want to call her, because we were scared. Scared to say the wrong thing and didn't know what to say.
That experience taught me such a valuable lesson. Now I had this motto that says, just do it. I had it before Nike had it and should have trademarked it. Just call, just say it, just apologize, just don't wait.
Just do it.
So often we hesitate when we're feeling like we should do something, we let fear get the best of us. If I didn't call her that day, it wouldn't be because I was afraid of anything that she would do. I was afraid for myself. I was afraid that it would be hard or that I would say the wrong thing. So often our fear comes from trying to protect ourselves, but the Lord wants us to be vulnerable, have faith, and to trust in him so that when we are on his errand, we have his support.
It takes faith that when we do what we know is right or when we go forward when we know something is good, even though it's difficult, then that is when we're on the Lord's errand.
I just want to leave you with an invitation to consider the different ways that we can bear one another's burdens. How we can help one another to ease the things that we're all carrying. 

I think one of the best things we can do is, in our morning prayers, ask the Lord to help us know today who needs our help. What burdens do we need to help carry today? I know that when we do that, more often than not, throughout the day we will get a thought of somebody that we need to reach out to. Maybe someone that we need to call or maybe someone in the grocery store that we need to give an extra big smile. Those ways are ways that we can carry one another's burdens.