Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope {Book Review}

I just finished reading the newest book by a remarkable couple, Hal and Melanie Young of Great Waters Press. (If their names ring a bell, you likely know of them through their book Raising Real Men or from their speaking on the homeschool circuit.) Their brand new book is called No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope.

There are books a’plenty (and even a few good ones) for parenting the early years and “surviving” the “turbulent” teen years. (I use quotes because our teen years have been wonderful!) There’s little out there to cover the in-between years, however. No Longer Little fills the gap and helps parents graciously smooth the ruts and avoid the potholes on the road from little kid to young adult without destroying the relationship in the process.

Before I delve into a way-too-long chapter-by-chapter discussion of No Longer Little, I want to share my two favorite aspects of this book:

  1. Every couple of pages I found myself laughing out loud and saying, “Listen to this! This is totally he-or-she-who-shall-remain-nameless! It’s totally normal!
  2. Using intelligent humor and encouragement, the Youngs frequently say, “Don’t freak out. There is hope.”

There is hope! And the Youngs know. They have eight children and they wrote this book from a knowledgeable place. I don’t like reading parenting books by a PhD with two young kids telling you how to raise your teens. Those books are riddled with philosophical cooties. The Youngs speak from the trenches with a clear view ahead and behind them. They have watched several of their children emerge from their tween years into Godly, mature adults. They also are still guiding a couple of their children through their in-between years, so they aren’t looking back from thirty years out remembering things with rose-colored or black-colored glasses.

I was going to simply share my notes about the book, but I made so many underlines and stars that I would have been retyping the entire book and landing myself a hefty plagiarism fine. I’ll have to pick and choose, which is hard, you know, like opening a box of chocolates and seeing quite a bit of caramels in there. To keep myself out of jail, I’m sharing just a few quotes and thoughts below.

Please note: This book is for parents of boys and girls, unlike the Young’s first book Raising Real Men. Don’t let their RRM label confuse you. ‘Kay? ‘Kay. 

No Longer Little by Hal and Melanie Young

Chapter 1: Getting Bigger

Our kids are not little anymore. I’ll wait while you sob for a few minutes. It’s okay. I understand. This chapter explains the immense changes that are going on in our sweet little monsters who aren’t so little anymore (even if they look like it on the outside). They are having trouble being sweet and don’t understand why. Here are a few highlights:

As and before a boy’s outward body changes, he goes through hormonal changes that affect him similarly to how a female cycle affects girls…only it lasts a couple years. The Youngs call it the Pre-Manhood Syndrome. So if your boy gets irrationally angry or, yes, weepy, that is normal! (Are you sighing in relief? I am!) Meanwhile, their bodies are changing, sometimes in ways that they don’t appreciate.

Girls go through changes also, and even earlier than boys. To make it worse, few if any girls look like the photoshopped images society shouts are what a “worthy” woman should look like. Boo to you, image-destroying society! The Young’s emphasize the importance of celebrating how the girl’s body meets God’s standard of beauty and, despite the difficulty of her bodily changes, the incredible miracle of her body’s ability to nurture new life.

Meanwhile, this is happening:

Both sexes have hormonal surges exceeding fifty times the normal, stable levels they have in adulthood. (p. 7)

That quote alone makes me fifty times more compassionate and patient toward my tweens. I mean, I sobbed my head off during Akeelah and the Bee yesterday, just because someone asked her to spell  a word and she got it right. Really?! Fifty times worse than that?! Poor kids.

Chapter 2: The Rollercoaster

Physical changes are just one side of the story. The inner turmoil is where the real fun begins. Some highlights:

The Youngs describe dealing with the emotional insanity (they may have not said that word) of the pre-teen years as living with “a flaming porcupine” (their words exactly). I laughed my head off.

Life with your flaming porcupine is a roller coaster of emotion, and the kids “invite” you to join in. The Young’s advice: “Don’t get on this ride.”

If you want to preserve your relationship with your child, you will need to keep your own feet (and heart and mind) on solid ground, in order to give them a point of stability they can cling to. (p. 16)

How? One way is to truly listen. Even though they are illogical and irrational and often lash out inappropriately and cause real harm, it’s important to know what’s on their mind. (Personally, I’ve seen a tremendous similarity between talking with my two-year-old and my twelve-year-old at times, but I want them both to feel heard.) There are still consequences to actions, but when they know they’re heard and loved, you’ll enter the teen years with a stronger bond.

(There’s so much great stuff in this chapter, I want to sleep with it under my pillow…like with my textbooks in college. Osmosis. It’s a thing.)

Chapter 3: Brains Turn to Mush

Can I just say that the title to this chapter made me feel infinitely better about some brain mushiness around here. Thank you, Youngs! Here’s a bit more you’ll want to hear:

Neurologists say that the hormones of puberty literally “unravel” and reshape the brain. So your child really is coming unravelled! I mean, literally! I love this laugh-out-loud, relatable quote:

During puberty, the part of the brain changing the most is the area that controls executive functions. There are tasks like problem solving, priority setting, short term memory, attention, and focus. This is the center of common sense and good judgment, the part which decides, “This thing–Good idea? Bad idea?” It’s the part which is plainly dormant when your twelve-year-old shouts, “Hey, Mom! Watch this!” (p. 30-31)

Where’s my great big laughing crying emoji?!

And the advice the Youngs give? Patience.

Because the lack of cognitive function takes a huge toll on their success in school, the Youngs also recommend you do what you can to “preserve their love of learning,” emphasizing what I’ve always said, that “learning is not the same as ‘school'” (p. 34). This chapter gives valuable advice for guiding your unraveled porcupine through these years without their labeling themselves a failure and giving up on their goals and education before emerging as butterfly-ish on the other side. (Particularly intriguing to me is the reason not to let your kids move too quickly through math–fascinating!) This is a valuable chapter indeed on many levels!

Chapter 4 Many a Conflict, Many a Doubt

Many of us parents have experienced that time when a child starts questioning his or her faith. Personally, I am happy to see this as I know they are making their faith their own and not just parroting my beliefs. The Youngs espouse the same view. At the same time, it’s a bit unnerving, especially if, as in the case of the Youngs, your nine-year-old decides he’s an atheist. (Spoiler alert: happy ending!) I have lots of notes in this chapter, but I’m only going to share some thoughts (jail, remember):

Doubts are normal, and they begin usually in the middle school years. If you, Mom and Dad, don’t answer those doubts without freaking out or telling them to “just trust Jesus,” they will seek their answers elsewhere. Google? The kid next door? Your weird atheist Uncle Larry living in a van down by the river (sorry to all you Larries out there, and I can talk like that, because we’re weird and live in a trailer in parking lots).

A quote to bank your parenting on:

We have a reasonable faith that can stand up to examination. We don’t need to be afraid of our chidlren’s honest questions. Instead, we should welcome them as an opportunity to help ground them in the truth. … [O]ur inability or unwillingness to deal with contrary ideas may cause more trouble than the original question. (p. 50-51)

This chapter offers encouragement, guidance, outside resources (many of which we already use and highly recommend), and ways to deal with the non-questioner as well. Valuable stuff, this! (Nasty little grammar habit I picked up in England, that.)

Chapter 5: The Awakening

If you read my review over at The Travel Bags about the Young’s 2017 release, Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality, this section will sound a bit redundant. Good. It’s important enough to be redundant! Here’s why:

Can I scare you a little? Over 90% of boys are exposed to porn by age 19. Girls? Nearly 60%. That’s a sucker-punch to the gut, isn’t it? What’s worse, a third of all children are first exposed by age ten. Ten! My world was Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch Kids at that age! The worst thing I was exposed to was watching some circus folks riding their horses standing up and trying it on my own horse when nobody was looking. The world you grew up in is not the world your kids live in. Sorry.

I know we all feel our children are too young to have their innocence “shattered” by hearing us talk about sex and the dangers of porn. Think about this:

The very good and powerful gift of sex has been stolen, abused, and sullied by sinful mankind. Our challenge is to protect our children from the misuse of sexuality and from sin, while preparing them for a healthy, joyful, marital relationship. (p. 60)

Our other challenge is to remain “the place to go” with all their awkward questions, so here again the Youngs give their valuable advice, “Don’t freak out!”

One thing that really struck me was that, while boys are drawn in by the visual sin of porn, girls are often lured into dark worlds and thought-sin (which leads down the road toward physical sin) through the written world of fan fiction. Fan fiction?! Fans often launch books based on a perfectly (or at least relatively) innocent book such as, say, Pride and Prejudice, using characters the readers already love, and add lurid scenes and inappropriately graphic details that play out in the reader’s head. I had no idea, because I’m not a fan of fan fiction simply due to the poor writing. I guess my literary snobbery saved me. No idea! What a world. Insert sad face.

This section is super important. Please don’t skip it or the advice just because you’re uncomfortable. Giving birth is uncomfortable and you didn’t skip that. Do the next right thing and prepare your kids for the attacks the world is waging against their purity.

Chapter 6: Social Struggles

My boys are outgoing and sociable, especially my first boy. That’s no small feat when you’re in a different place with different kids every few days for seven years! Yeah, he’s incredible! So when he started standing off from the other kids, I lost a little sleep. (Can you hear the Youngs: Don’t freak out!) This chapter was helpful:

First of all, social anxiety is normal! Hooray! My incredible boy is a normal mildly socially anxious flaming porcupine! (He approved this post, by the way.)

As their brains expand (unravel and reform), they start to think more abstractly, but their limited experience leaves everything looking a little Picasso-esque. Their version of reality is clouded by hormones and inexperience. To top it off, they haven’t moved past their egocentric adolescence (like many adults we know, sadly), and it’s your job to help them see reality and that others have feelings, too, all the while trying to understand them. I know–you need a raise.

The chapter addresses bullying (as the victim and the bully), the hormones running the body, the general socially uncouth nature of this age group, social media (and the importance of learning to use it–shocker, eh?), and the girl-boy friendship issue, including crushes. Good stuff in here!

Here’s some great advice that makes me chuckle and groan at the same time:

Love them even when they’re trying to be funny; relationship is important even when they’re making intestinal noises with their hands. (p. 81)

Yeah, I have to print that up and plaster it on every wall in my home. There are, after all, five teen and adult girls living with a twelve-year-old boy. (Love you, Kid!)

Oh, especially valuable in this chapter is the Young’s list for a Biblically balanced view of relationships.

Chapter 7: Media, Gaming, and Discernment

I wish the chapter on sexual immorality didn’t have to exist, and I also wish this one didn’t have to exist, despite my love of literature, black and white movies, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The entertainment industry is a huge, potentially dangerous world that we can’t completely control for our children. The Youngs, of course, have some words of wisdom:

I know many of us are tempted to remove ourselves from the modern world of technology entirely. The peace we have when dry camping out west with no electricity and watching our kids play cards and my husband read a real living book–I love it! But that’s not the real world we live in, and it’s definitely not the world your children will be entering as adults.

[B]y the time they are adults, they will need to be able to discern good and bad media for themselves. We’ve got to teach them how to do that. We have to teach them discernment. (p. 95)

This chapter touches on movies, art, literature, and gaming. Some interesting thoughts arise in all of these. One I hear from parents time and time again is the mentally and physically addictive nature of gaming, followed by the child’s kickback when the issue is addressed; that reinforced my commitment to keep it at a mega-low level in our home.

Oh, I totally marked up this chapter! I want to share several other interesting thoughts about teaching our children to discern by viewing these things through God’s eyes, but you just have to read the book! Read the book!

Chapter 8: Conflict at Home

This is (another) favorite chapter! I think there are a couple paragraphs I didn’t mark up. Let’s jump in:

The lack of filters in children this age reminds me of the lack of filters in the very young and very old; yet, we don’t, for some reason, offer the same grace-due-to-age to this middle group, do we? In fact, it’s difficult, when the accusations are flying and the irrationality is at a high, to maintain a loving, patient attitude, but that’s our job as the adult in the situation–to act like an adult.

I can’t share all my thoughts here, because it would be a book all its own, so let’s ultra-summarize. The Youngs share guidance for maintaining and strengthening your relationship with your young ‘uns during this time period when they seem to be intentionally trying to destroy your relationships. They also offer advice for sibling squabbles that will help strengthen sibling relationships for the long term. Some advice about making time for the family to be together, despite busy schedules with older kids, is also valuable.

I love how they differentiate between the training of the early years (obey Mom and Dad) versus the middle years (let’s talk this through with Scripture and reason). It makes sense! It acknowledges the difference in development and reason and the necessity of parents to discipline accordingly–much different than modern books are preaching!

A highly useful tool in the fight-fair arsenal is the Young’s Rules of Engagement. Especially relevant to my life is “Have one fight at a time.” I starred that section several times.

Finally, a great reminder from the Youngs who, I might add, have become great friends with their Godly, responsible, mature adult children:

This is so hard! We’ve been there. (p. 124)

Chapter 9: Transitioning

This chapter is filled with evidence of young people who have filled their lives with purpose, contrary to today’s view of teens and pre-teens as drifting purposeless shadows of potential adults. How refreshing! (Especially when we’re often being told we need to lighten up and let our kids “be kids.” Rest assured, they get plenty of time to be kids while they’re practicing being adults.)

Teenagers, and maybe even pre-teens, are capable of taking on serious roles if they’re properly trained, properly supported, and properly supervised. … [V]ery young adults need to start somewhere–and now is the time to begin. (p. 132)

Chapter 10: Celebrating Growth

As our children grow older (sniff sniff for losing those chubby little snuggly years but hooray for the joy and delight of their teen and young adult years), we celebrate certain stages with simple remembrances. At ten, each child receives a necklace to celebrate their reaching the double digits. Sometimes we choose it for them, and sometimes we take them and choose together. At thirteen, they receive a camera of their own as a symbol that they are responsible enough to take care of that camera and to use it appropriately. Some of them even contribute some of the photography for the music mission at this point. The Youngs take it several steps further.

At thirteen for their boys and twelve for their girls (ages gleaned from the Jewish traditions of acknowledging the transition to adulthood), the Youngs hold a very meaningful and memorable ceremony involving several important and respected people in their children’s lives. This chapter elaborates on ceremony as a way of welcoming the young person to the adult world and calling them to the higher standard they are capable of.

I want to leave you with this quote from this chapter, which is really sad and scary and, dare I say, pathetic:

The time of adolescence now continues in to the early thirties, and “Twenty-five is the new fifteen.” Sadly, the level of maturity we used to see in teenagers is all that is expected of twenty-somethings today. That’s not what we want for our children. (p. 134)

Yeah, same here. No thanks.

Chapter 11: Producers and Consumers 

In this spend-it-because-you’ve-got-it or spend-it-before-you’ve-got-it economy, it’s important for kids to learn to be producers, and not just consumers. Let’s start this section off with a quote that I feel is crucial to our relationship with money and consumerism:

If all the wealth in the world is God’s, then the wealth we control is not by ownership, but by stewardship. … A faithful steward might have great liberty with the things in his care … but he always knows that he’s accountable to the true owner. (p. 152-153)

There is an infinite (okay, maybe not infinite) amount of valuable information in this chapter. I totally vandalized it with all my markings! One thing I want to share with you is this statistic that blew my kids out of the water!

Although 82% of parents did chores when they were growing up, only 28% require them of their own children.

My kids were appalled that other children aren’t learning to take care of themselves and their homes on a regular basis, because when they are out on their own in the real world, they will be struggling to do what our ten-year-old does without even thinking twice. (At least, she did before her brain started unraveling (see chapter 3).) If your young teens can’t manage a home, they’ve got some learning to do.

Teaching your kids to be good stewards of their time, efforts, talents, generosity, and money can be as simple as discussing it on a daily basis and including them as valuable assets in your family’s home, business, or mission. (Take a peek at the Young’s mission or our mission and you’ll see the kids front and center, or in the background keeping things humming, as valuable team members!) What a smooth transition to adult life they’ll have because they were given supervised adult responsibilities as soon as they were capable!

This chapter is well worth the read, even just for the story of Almanzo Wilder and the lemonade, and the story of the Young’s son’s ice cream. Sorry–no spoilers here! You have to, you guessed it, read the book.

Chapter 12: The Next Big Thing

After the turbulent tween years come the triumphant teen years. These years can be wonderful if you follow this advice from Hal and Melanie:

Protect your relationship with your tweens. (p. 186)

Be the patient, loving, truthful, stable, Godly, (sometimes superhuman) voice of reason when your socially anxious flaming porcupine’s brain is unraveled and he naturally sees it as all your fault. Yeah, during the time when you want them to move into the garage for two years, protect your relationship!

Then you can serve as a trusted guide in the high school years as you work together to determine the path that God has in mind for that child’s gifts and interests.

To offer a little more hope, the Young’s previously flaming porcupines turned out wonderfully!


I like that the Youngs immediately destroy the perception that they are the perfect family that doesn’t have problems with their children. Thank you, Youngs! They approach the issue of parenting tweens with grace and hope, yes, but also with reality, humor, and sometimes harsh truth directed lovingly at either the kids or the parents.

They speak in a humble manner, but with confident wisdom. And best of all, everything is based on Scripture with no man-made laws thrown in to confuse the issue. I would feel 100% confident handing this book to any parent on any side of today’s broad parenting spectrums, because who doesn’t need truth, grace, hope, encouragement, and guidance from Godly parents who have been there!

Thank you, Hal and Melanie, for being trusted advisors on this journey.

Hey, readers, if you want to read my much, much shorter review on the the Young’s 2017 release, Love, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward Sexuality, click right here. Also, if you’d like some shorter reviews on No Longer Little, check out these reviews from other members of the Crew or click on the banner below:

Love, Honor, and Virtue AND No Longer Little {Great Waters Press Reviews}

I really enjoy following the Youngs on social media. Here are your options:

Now go read the book!


Manners Matter: Teaching Please, Thank You, and Excuse Me

Welcome to 10 Simple Manners to Teaching Your Children, Day 2!

Saying please, thank you, and excuse me is perhaps the easiest manner to teach, but similarly the easiest to gradually neglect over time. So how do we instill it and keep it there?

Let’s jump right in…please.

The best way.

The absolute best way to teach the basics of please, thank, and excuse me is to use them every day, even with a baby. It should be second nature to everyone in your family, but it has to start somewhere, and that’s usually with Mom.

Say it first.

From the time they’re little, say the words first. With a pleasant (not annoying) smile, you say, “Thank you for dinner, Mommy.” They repeat it if they’re old enough. You say, “May I please have a cookie?” They repeat and get a cookie. You say, “Excuse me, please” when someone is trying to squeeze into that infinitesimal space on the couch beside Mommy. They repeat it, and you scoot over.

I also do this with my babies, even though they can’t repeat it back to me. I also use signs for them, and will sign and say, “please,” and then give them their whatcha-ma-wannit.

Teach it.

Explain when and how to use the words, but then take it to the next step. Make it fun. Bump each other with your bums and say, “Oooo my, excuse me.” Put on fancy hats and say in elaborate accents, “Please, Dahhhhling,” and “Thank you, Sir.”

Discern between stubbornness and a need.

When my little guy is exhausted and is melting into a puddle of boyness and has morphed into a being well beyond reason (because that happens) and he cries, “I want you Mommy” with his arms up, I’m not going to demand a please. (I will usually still say, “Up please, Mommy” and pick him up, but I usually can tell when he has real needs to be met and when training will be counterproductive.)

When my little guy is rested, fed, and asking for a cookie and is stubbornly refusing his “please,” he’s not getting a cookie. (I know–big fat meanie.)

See the difference?

Correct gently and respectfully.

I’ve heard it a thousand times. Yes, rudeness is rude, but attacking it with rudeness is almost never effective. Here’s the scenario:

A child asks Grandma to read a book. Grandma says, “Please?” Nothing wrong with that. But when Grandma sounds affronted and offers a sarcastic, degrading pleeaaase instead of a gentle, pleasant reminder, the effect will be lost.

A child pushes through a crowd and an offended adult says, “Well, excuuuuuuse me!” That child is not  going to learn manners that way. Wouldn’t a simple, polite, “excuse me” with a hand on the shoulder be a kinder, more effective reminder?

Explain the importance.

If your children are old enough to understand (four and above), explain how people feel when you respect them with the words please, thank you, and excuse me. Simple.

Demonstrate the opposite.

Have a dinner or a family night where you remove manners. Instead of “Please pass the salt,” you say, “Hey! Salt over here.” Instead of “Thank you for making the popcorn,” try “It’s about time!” Instead of “Excuse me please,” it’s “Scoot, Kid, or I’ll sit on you.” It’s all in good clean fun, but if your family wouldn’t find this fun or would get carried away, take it down a notch and try the next approach.

A simpler demonstration can consist of asking which makes the child feel better and more respected: “Excuse me, please” or “Move over.”

These simple phrases are the basics of good manners, but, like common sense, darned socks, and homemade chocolate chip cookies, they seem to be growing increasingly more rare. Let’s turn it around.

How do you instill these basic manners in your kids?

This post is part of the Five Days of Homeschool Blog Hop from Homeschool Review Crew.

Teaching Manners: The Importance of Eye Contact

Welcome to lesson Number 1 in 10 Simple Manners to Teach Your Children. (This may contain affiliate links.)

In the “every child was perfect” generation (ha ha–just a little joke), children were taught to make respectful eye contact. Not the “I can do what I want” eye contact, also known as insolence. Not the “I’m looking but not listening” eye contact, which is called day dreaming. But legitimate eye contact.

This quality must be extremely rare in today’s youth, because when I talk to a young person (teen or child) who not only makes eye contact but holds it, I notice. Pay attention and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Now, eye contact is a tricky thing, because, of course, there is the autism spectrum, of which I will not even pretend to be an expert…not even for cookies. Then there are kids (like I was) who are simply painfully, agonizingly shy. There are also the kids who for some reason or another have no respect for authority and use a lack of eye contact to communicate that. These groups have more to overcome than the kids who simply don’t even realize eye contact is a thing, much less an important thing. I’m not tackling all those topics in a li’l ol’ blog post. Let’s just give some ideas here and you can see what works for your set of blessings.


It really matters!

Some people (adults included) are completely unaware of what eye contact says or does. I love this description I came across this morning in Come Rain or Come Shine {affiliate link} by Jan Karon, as Father Tim remembers his dog:

When he had the need to talk to someone who would actually listen, his dog had been his go-to. Had Barnabus dozed off? No. Had he gazed around the room as others sometimes did? Never. His dog had kept his gaze fixed steadily on his master, as if he were entranced by every word, even those unspoken.

Let’s learn from faithful old Barnabus.

Eye contact makes people feel that what they have to say is important. It makes them feel like you are listening, that you care, that they are worthy of your time. That’s a pretty big deal. It also makes people realize that you, eye-contact-holder, are (potentially) a good listener. (Actually listening helps, too.)

Once kids realize how important eye contact is, many of them will start working on it on their own. That’s my favorite.

What color?

When one of our children was three, she was agonizingly shy. She pretty much spent her socializing-with-adults time pretending nobody could see her, and since we are on the road full-time in a ministry life, that’s a tough place to be.

So we worked with her step by step. One of the steps we took was encouraging momentary eye contact (not holding it for long). We told her to see what color the eyes were of every person that said hello (or goodbye or how about a cookie) to her. That gave her about two or three seconds of eye contact with each person who spoke to her, which was significantly up from zero! Eventually we told her that some people have different colored eyes, which made her peek at both eyes. It didn’t help her listening skills, but she was three.


Show your child how it feels to have your eyes on something else when they’re trying to talk to you. Set up the situation by saying you’re going to try something and then asking a question and looking everywhere but at the child. Then discuss that feeling.

Most importantly of all, exemplify good eye contact when your kids talk. Kids say 5000 things just before breakfast, so this used to be really hard for me, you know, trying to feed my family and not burn the trailer down and making eye contact, until I realized that it was okay (and desirable) to say, “I’m sorry. I can’t listen to you just yet. Give me a minute and then I can pay attention better.” And then I can give them my complete attention when I say I will.

Also, put down the phone! ‘Kay? ‘Kay. Seriously. Just do it.


When my little ones (and sometimes other sized ones) are talking to me and their eyes are wandering around the room or they’re looking at the floor, I will say the phrase that I’m sure has become annoying but will stick in their heads (and probably their grandchildren’s heads), “My eyes are up here.” The reminder shifts their eyes to my face.

Sometimes I say, “My eyes are up here. Ask me again.” And on a really nice day, I will say, “My eyes are up here. Ask me again, please.”

Teach it.

When learning social skills, we set up role plays with our kids. “Hi, I am the appropriately named Mrs. Pastor’s Wife. How are you today?” And so the conversation would go as the child practiced eye contact and some other skills.


One of the most common forms of practice my kids have experienced is having to repeat a question, but with eye contact (see remind section) before I will answer. (Obviously not if a child is upset–training works best in calm situations.)

Practicing at home is ideal. You can ask the child a question he obviously knows the answer to, and tell him to practice good eye contact. Simple.

The best and most difficult practice is the real world. After observing my kids in the real world, I will mention, for example, that they need to hold eye contact longer, that their eyes wander when their mouths are moving, or that looking at a dude’s shoes is not the same as looking at his face.


Marathon practice.

I just watched a video of a father and son sitting face to face with rolled up magazines in their hands (I might opt for squirt guns or M&Ms). They had a two-minute timer set, and they were required to maintain eye contact the entire time as they asked and answered questions. If one of them broke eye contact, the other would swat him in the leg with the magazine. In my family, that would be funny, but in some families or with children with less secure backgrounds, the magazine swat is not a good idea. Adjust as you see fit.



Sometimes it’s hard to look someone directly in the eye. It’s okay (although perhaps distracting for some of the more acrobatic faces) to look at their eyebrows. Foreheads work. Make cheeks or mouths.

Advanced skills.

It’s sometimes creepy when you’re talking to someone and that person is staring intensely at your eyes without blinking or breaking contact for, like, five minutes. You kind of wonder if the mind is still there, because only zombies don’t blink. (Is this true? Do zombies blink?)

Teach your kids that it’s okay to look away while they’re thinking of an answer. It’s also perfectly normal to look up or sideways about every 10 seconds. Looking down, however, shows disinterest. I don’t know who writes these rules.

Your direct eye contact is one of the best compliments you can give another human being. You are subliminally telling them that you are listening, they matter, and that what they have to say is important.”

~Susan C. Young, The Art of Body Language: 8 Ways to Optimize Non-Verbal Communication for Positive Impact

Don’t be a zombie.

My last zombie pointer is not to ignore the world around you. I have one child who is a stickler for the rules. This child will not look away from the eyes if the building explodes and seagulls start pecking everyone’s knees and Darth Vader comes back to life. Practice natural. I know, oxymoron.

So…start small, explain the importance, practice, and don’t be a zombie. Easy, right? Ha.

What are your best pointers for improving eye contact in kids and teens?

This post is part of the Five Days of Homeschool Blog Hop from Homeschool Review Crew.

Ten Simple Manners to Teach Your Children

10 Manners to Teach Your Kids

There were eight pieces of fudge on the little plate at the end of the refreshment buffet on Sunday after the morning service at the church we visited. There were 110 people in attendance.

If I had made that fudge, I would have eaten all eight pieces myself rather than subject 102 people to fudgeless disappointment. I’m considerate that way. But that’s not the point. The point is that a girl of around 10 came up to the table and took four pieces. Four! Do the math.

Another time we were invited to a scanty church potluck where fried chicken was the main course, with a few meager sides to beef it up a tad. Having let an unrelated teen go ahead of him, my husband (the guest of honor) stood at the end of the line. When he and the teen arrived at the buffet table, there were two large pieces of chicken left in the bucket, and two people left in line. The teen took both pieces.

At that same church potluck, a late arrival showed up with a couple pizzas. No sooner had the pizzas been set down, then one of the leaders of the church said to his own kids (who had been near the front of the line and still had chicken on their plates), “Hurry and get some pizza before everyone else takes it!” What does that say to our kids? I’ll tell you what it says–me first

And try talking to most people with kids for more than 30 seconds without interruption after interruption. It’s exasperating! (Especially when it’s my kids!)

These are just a few of the many instances that set my children off on a tirade about manners, and how rare common courtesy is in their generation. It was the fudge incident that made one of my daughters demand that children everywhere learn manners…and she wasn’t planning to have any fudge.

Manners matter.

I don’t expect that my children place their knives at the proper angle to indicate they are finished eating and I don’t harp too terribly much about elbows on the table, even though they cause spills and bumps and limited room. (Okay, maybe I do harp about the elbows on the table.) I do, however, expect my family to master common courtesy, because that’s what manners are, respect and courtesy for the comfort of those around you.

Ten basic manners to instill in your children:

  1. Let others go first.
  2. Give up your seat.
  3. Chew with your mouth shut…and eat quietly.
  4. Don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  5. Say please, thank you, and excuse me.
  6. Take one…or none.
  7. Share.
  8. Make eye contact.
  9. Shake hands.
  10. Don’t interrupt.

These can all be summed up in the Biblical concept of putting others ahead of yourself. All of them!

Please don’t think my family has these manners mastered–everybody in life needs training or tweaking, because that’s part of the journey. But we’re always working on them. Train, tweak, train, tweak…see? Let’s work on them together! I’ll be addressing some of these manners this week right here and then once a month, and also focusing on them monthly with my own family in our real world.

Please subscribe to my weekly newsletter and follow on Facebook and Instagram to join in the fun.

Please take the time to make the world a better place beginning with your child…please!

Thank you!

What manners do you like to see in children?

This post is part of a week of blog hopping hosted by The Schoolhouse Review Crew: 5 Days of Homeschool Blog Hop.

Don’t Just Block Internet Access–Hold Yourself (And Them) Accountable

Note: Accountable2You gave us a free year of their Family Plan in exchange for this review…which got a little longer than I had anticipated. Sorry ’bout that. If you want to read reviews from other members of the Homeschool Review Crew, which perhaps might be a little shorter and with fewer tears and less puppy talk, click on the banner below:

Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}

First, a little background…which most of you already know…and which is entirely relevant to this review, even though it doesn’t feel like it:

We have eight children. We also live in a travel trailer and tour the country full-time for our Christian music mission. (Learn more about that here and follow our travels here.)

I am a book NUT! Seriously, a NUT! And I used to be fairly anti-screen for my young crowd. That olde school combo meant books, books, and more books, and no unsupervised internet activity. That was back when we had a big house with closets and rooms bursting with books, and no teens yet, which made the “all books, limited screens” concept doable.

Life is a little different now. Exit house; enter 29-foot travel trailer. Towing a travel trailer around these United States means we only have so much room and so much weight allotment for books. And when I say “so much,” I really mean a ridiculously small amount. I’ll show you a picture of that someday, but first I have to cry.

I am getting to the point. Stick with me.

As my crowd grows older (and larger), and our ridiculously small amount of book space shrinks (or at least seems to shrink), we have had to rely on modern technology for our schooling needs far more often than I would like. That inevitably means computers, kindles, and smartphones, and that inevitably means more internet access and that inevitably results in less supervised internet access, because I’m only human. (My husband has a song about that–being “only human,” not unsupervised internet access.)

One of our new favorite homeschool writing programs and a free language guide just for you!

We have discussed internet safety with our kids, and the little ones have limited access. We use some blocking tools to keep the kids safe from those nasty images that pop up on the screen or from accidental search results. So the kids are relatively safe and the kids are relatively trained. We want them to be more than relatively safe and relatively trained.

Enter Accountable2You…stage left. (There really is no stage, so don’t get confused. I’m just waxing nostalgic about my old acting days.)

Accountable2You is an accountability service that holds you accountable. (Can you say, “Duh!”) What I like about accountability software is that, rather than making it impossible for, say, your 16-year-old to spend her math time hunting PetFinder for a golden retriever puppy up for adoption, it causes her to determine whether or not that is the best way to use her time. In other words, it teaches responsibility with accountability. I’m all about accountability…and responsibility.

How does it do this?

Accountable2You teaches responsibility by making my aforementioned 16-year-old daughter, for example, accountable for her actions. Everything she does online is reported to the accountability partner we set up who, in this case, is Steve (my man) and me. You can choose your own accountability partner because, no offense, I’m a little busy with my own accountability-ing.


Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}
You know the why of this sort of accountability software. Now the what:

Accountable2You offers four different plans:

Individual Plan:  Do you want to monitor only one person? Perhaps you spend too much time looking at cookie recipes or hunting for puppies when you should be writing reviews of accountability software. You need to be monitored. This plans for you. You can attach up to six devices.

Family Plan: This plan allows up to 20 devices, which is a lot of devices, even for my family! You can monitor several people, including those who may be boarding elsewhere. This plan also enables you to set hours for your kids, so you’re alerted if they’re doing a little after-hours puppy hunting.

Group Plan:  A group is…well…a group. You’re welcome for that explanation. Each person in the group can attach up to six devices. I did not review this plan, but from my understanding, the administrator does not receive user reports, so each family maintains its privacy. The reports are sent to the accountability partner the family chooses rather than the group administrator.

Small Business Plan:  Unlike the Group Plan, administrators of the small business plan receive reports on what their employees are up to during work hours. No puppy hunting on the clock, folks!

Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}
What exactly does accountability mean in this case:

I (because so far this hasn’t been beyond even my technical expertise) install the software on all devices I want monitored. It hasn’t been any more difficult than installing an app, so far. (Ignorance disclosure: I don’t know how to install apps on the KindleFire–I’m going to need help with that one, so I put it off.) If you can install, say, PacMan on your device, you can install Accountable2You…and then monitor how much you’ve been playing PacMan.

You select your accountability person. I selected myself, because I was a willing and enthusiastic volunteer. (I may have bribed myself with cookies a little…and the promise of a puppy.) You can select more than one person.

Then, customize your list of objectionable words. My husband would add “puppies” to my list, because he is under the delusion that we’re not getting one and thinks I’m wasting my time by looking for one–silly guy. Perhaps you want to add Minecraft, a teen idol, or diseases to your list if you have a hypochondriac in the house.

Set time limits for each device if you so choose. This is a great way for me personally to be more aware of how much time I spend online.

As the accountability masters, I or my husband receives  hourly reports as soon as something objectionable happens on a device. So within an hour of looking at that darling little golden retriever up up for adoption in Arizona, my husband was giving me the look.

I half-joke about puppies and cookies, but as you must be aware, pornography is a rampant problem that ensnares men and women at young ages. It is huge in the church also. If you know you are accountable to your mother and then your wife or husband for your behavior, won’t that affect what you look at? Won’t that remind you to mind your own behavior, because aren’t we ultimately accountable not only to ourselves and others, but to God? Yes. Yes, we are.

I don’t believe in raising our children (or ourselves) in a bubble, but I firmly believe in protecting them and teaching them to hold themselves accountable. Accountability doesn’t end in childhood. Personal accountability should be a way of life for adults as well–it isn’t, sadly, but it should be. Accountable2You is one tool in the arsenal of staying on the narrow road.

Check it out. I’m off to look at puppies. Don’t tell my husband…although he’ll know within an hour.


Crew Disclaimer

The Serve One Another in Love Cafe

When my children are at each other, I sometimes require them to do something nice for one other: make a bed, fold laundry, share something, do each other’s chores, scratch each other’s backs…gently.

My seeester-in-law-and-in-love, Karen Baye, has taken this to a whole new level. When her four blessings were not treating each other like blessings, she invited them all to lunch at the Serve One Another in Love Café.

The Serve One Another in Love Cafe |

When they arrived at the café (also known as the kitchen), there was no lunch prepared. Instead they were greeted by a patient mama with these instructions:

Welcome to the Serve One Another in Love Café!

  • Each child must prepare lunch for the child immediately younger than him or her…and the youngest child must feed the dog. (Mama will feed the oldest.)
  • Each chef must prepare something their café patron would truly enjoy. In other words, no anchovies for a fish-hater and no salad for a dedicated carnivore.

The result? A happy family of well-fed children enjoying their time serving one another in love. Sure, one of them had a marshmallow sandwich for lunch, but it was served with a side of love and a big ol’ helping of brotherly affection.

Well played, Sis! Well played, indeed.

How do you encourage your children to serve one another in love?

Photo Credit: Karen and Scott Baye


Is Homeschooling Your Preschooler or Kindergartner Stressing You Out?

Caution: This post contains my rather strong opinion. Proceed with caution.

It happens every fall. Homeschooling mamas and papas second-guess their decision to keep their preschoolers and kindergartners home. Concerned parents lament that their three-year-old preschoolers are not thriving with the expensive curriculum they bought to “do preschool.” Some are certain their four-year-olds are educationally doomed, while others wonder if they should try other curricula or enroll their five-year-olds in a “real” school with “real” teachers and a “real” chalkboard that mama didn’t make with old plywood and chalkboard paint during nap time. Parents groan that if preschool or kindergarten requires this much work, they will never make it through grade school, much less—GASP!—high school!

I don’t like to give advice (bold-faced lie), but I’m going to anyway. Mama…Papa…


Is Homeschooling Your Preschooler or Kindergartner Stressing You Out?

Please, sweet Mamas and manly, but caring Papas, breathe! Now breathe again. Now go eat chocolate and come back.

Feel better? Good. Now here’s the scoop, and I’m saying it like it is with no apologies. You have been twice warned.

First of all, preschool? What’s that?

Technically, it’s supposed to be getting a child ready for school, thus the prefix “pre-” meaning “before.” Somehow it has morphed into sending a child to school so she can get ready to go to school. It’s like pre-birth. Hey, unborn baby, let’s be born early so you can practice breathing oxygen. Maybe that will make you more ready to breathe when you’re really supposed to be born and start breathing. Prepping for school is what kindergarten used to be for. When I say kindergarten, I mean for six-year-olds, maybe five-year-olds, not three- and four-year-olds. That’s still preschool playing pretend with a more grown-up name. Am I opposed to preschool? No. But where do you draw the line, people?

Second, what’s your rush?

Why does your child have to be reading before anybody else’s child? Why does he have to be doing the big math and reciting what a noun is before, say, my kids? What is the rush? Do you enjoy adding additional stress and frustration to a potentially beautiful life of learning? Will pushing your son beyond his readiness result in an enthusiastic, lifelong learner, or will it frustrate you and your children and create yet another student who is burned out by fourth grade and never cracks another book once he has his diploma stuffed into his back pocket? Ask yourself if you’re doing this for your babies or for yourself and your personal homeschool critics. (Yeah, we all have a peanut gallery of critics.)


Third, you’ve got it all backwards!

Have you noticed the trend in the “better” schools to try and emulate the home environment? That is because the experts are finally realizing that children learn best in a natural setting. Come here, experts, so I can smack you in the forehead. Children learn on Papa’s knee and walking hand in hand with Mama. That’s how they learn to walk, to talk, to eat, to breathe (oh, wait, nobody has to teach them that in pre-birth). That’s how they learn their colors and counting. That’s how they can learn reading and grammar usage and even foreign languages. That is not how they learn calculus. Parents that take the natural learning environment and turn it upside down are recreating the school in the home…the school that is now trying to recreate the home in the school. It’s like if you draw a picture of yourself drawing a picture of yourself drawing a pic—you get it. Yeah, my head is spinning.

Mama, Papa, please, please, please relax.

Please give your child plenty of time to sit on your lap and follow you and learn from you. Please let your little ones play with rocks and colors and follow ants and build forts. Please don’t prioritize your daughter’s workbook-learning over precious life-learning by your side. Please don’t force your active little boy to sit with a pencil in hand in a chair for two hours a day while you pull your hair out because he can’t write his name. Who cares?! When he’s older, he’ll write his name! Simple as that!  Please enjoy these precious early years without squeezing your family into an educational box that someone only recently created and announced as good. It’s not good. It’s just a box. Outside of the box is life!


Some of you are saying, “But my daughter loves workbooks!”

So give her workbooks! Do what works. But if your four-year-old could be in the kitchen cooking with you or planting her own garden, and you’re forcing her to sit at a table writing “Aa” 25 times instead, in my opinion, something’s wrong. If your six-year-old son wants to replicate the four-mile Astoria Bridge out of Legos or “help” Papa change a tire and you’re making him do three pages of addition first, in my opinion, something’s amiss. In my opinion, it’s complicating life to force a small child to do “table work” for 45 minutes, when you could instead wait until he is developmentally ready, teach the same information in five easy minutes, save frustration and tears, and not rob the child of the joy of learning. Not to mention, you can redirect those hours of lesson-planning for your children into time spent with your children. That right there is why I had children, to spend time with them, not plot out a life for them.

Now you say, “But kids need to learn to do hard things they might not want to do, like writing and adding.”

True. But there are other hard things they need to learn that they may be more prepared to tackle at this point in their development, things like saying please and thank you and brushing their teeth and picking up toys and not throwing balls in the house and not cutting their own hair and not tattooing Mama’s legs with permanent marker if she falls asleep during reading time. Things like obedience and patience and sharing and helping siblings and not bullying. Things like chivalry and sitting quietly in church and the lesson 85% of adults still need to learn–the world is round, but you’re not the center. Why make it harder?


Of course, this in no way means that you can leave your child to his or her own pursuits, assuming learning will come naturally.  It will come naturally, but it may not be the learning you seek for your little ones. It’s up to you to create a rich learning environment and an atmosphere that makes learning happen naturally.

How do you do that? Good question!

Click here to read 18 of my simple curriculum-free, stress-free, guilt-free, fun-full, family-full, life-full approaches to the preschool and kindergarten years. Buckle your seatbelts, cuz you’ll be the fun parent climbing on the roof dropping eggs on the sidewalk instead of the parent reading about gravity in a book. Yup…that parent!

Oh, I know you all have one last question; “Did your kids ever learn to read with a Mama with this mentality?” Excellent question, Watson. Indeed, they did. One of my children could identify letters before turning two. Two sounded out short words at three. They all start reading aloud in family Bible time around six or seven…but it wasn’t always pretty. Are they naturals? Some, but not all. My son could sound out basic words, but really struggled with phonics and sight words at age five, so we shelved the phonics book. Every few months I would work with him again to test his readiness. Finally at six-and-some-months, BANG! He got it like he gets everything–a semi without brakes crashing into a mega-mall. Now we can’t keep him supplied with books, and at seven he volunteers to read aloud from Scripture at men’s Bible studies he attends with Daddy.


But who cares when they learned to read! What I should care about is if they are using that skill now. One of my girls struggled with her reading. She could read at five and the schools would have called her a success, but she didn’t read smoothly and with comprehension until she was around seven, and didn’t read comfortably with full understanding and enjoyment until around nine. Now she is my most voracious reader who is currently reading classics for fun and The Declaration of Independence for her personal enrichment and to be fully informed about the laws of our nation—I can think of a few (hundred) politicians and a few (million) voters who should do the same.

So yes, Watson, I taught my children to read without tears. And they didn’t cry either. I’ll let you in on another little secret. We don’t even own a chalkboard. Help yourself to some more chocolate.

This is where you get to tell your opinion.

While this is not a homeschooling blog per se, we are a homeshooling (or roadschooling) family, and I do discuss simplifying that aspect of life as well. If you’re interested in more homeschool posts, subscribe to my email updates and contact me with your questions or ideas for future posts.