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3 Must-Do Milestones for Boys Before Middle School

Bobby Cooley | September 01, 2020

I worked with middle school students for 10 years and have seen it all. Most of the time, people want to run from these kids because we just don’t know what to do with them. Middle schoolers are growing spiritually, mentally, and physically. In this growth, they learn things that will shape their identity as adults. They’re ready for childhood milestones.

They explore who they are. This is part of adolescent development and it’s normal. Parents can help shape kids by encouraging and equipping them before adolescence hits. Here are 3 must-do childhood milestones for boys to do before middle school.

1. Pressure Test

As men, we grow tremendously when we are put under pressure.

As men, we grow tremendously when we are put under pressure. We either will face it and succeed, leaving us more confident and experienced, or we will fall under pressure, leaving us with lessons learned. Boys need to feel some pressure and the weight of responsibility. A few months ago, I built a treehouse with my oldest son. In the middle of the project, I made it clear that he would drill every screw on the decking. He was nervous at first, but once he realized he could handle it and actually do a good job, his confidence grew. It was hard work with a reward at the end. He is proud of himself and tells every person who comes over that he did it. Boys need a good pressure test before middle school. It provides an example to look back on. Use it later to remind your son of how he made it through. You must find the right test for your boy, set him up for a win, and watch his chest stick out a little further.

2. Independence Try-Out

Independence is a product of trust. The more trust you have for your son, the more independence you allow him to have. And in middle school, boys want independence. They want the freedom to explore but also still want a safety net at home. One of the must-do childhood milestones is giving our boys opportunities to earn trust before middle school. This way, when they ask for independence, you’ve already established the trust you’ll need to give them some. If you wait until middle school, you will find yourselves in conflict. I let my 8-year-old ride his bike to a friend’s house by himself two blocks away. I trusted him and he did a great job. Now that trust is earned, freedom is given. You must look for small and big ways to let boys earn trust and to give them freedom before middle school.

3. Sex Talk

If you do not talk about sex with your boys, they will find out about it somehow—and what they’ll learn definitely won’t be accurate. We have the opportunity and privilege to give our sons a healthy understanding of what sex is. Sadly, I’ve met too many middle school boys whose dads never had the talk with them. One way to start the conversation is to plan a trip with your son. Plan some super fun stuff to do together but carve out time, too, to have the talk. Be honest. Don’t use cute nicknames for body parts and don’t be afraid of questions. When you get back from the trip, be sure your boy knows that the conversation hasn’t ended just because you’re home. Be sure to follow up with him periodically.

Sound off: What childhood milestones would you add to this list?

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5 Ways Giving Helps Kids Feel Less Stressed

All Pro Dad | September 01, 2020

The night before the first day of school is always filled with jitters. As a kid, I never could sleep. It’s the same for my kids, but this year was intense. Car line procedures changed, there are now temperature checkpoints, and we couldn’t walk them to class. All of this had us on edge. Add in keeping track of masks, minimizing germ exposure, and—oh, yeah—they are supposed to be learning! Our anxiety levels were palpable.

Every day in 2020 seems to present new challenges like sanitizing backpacks, logging in to another eLearning app, or reminding the kids to keep track of their masks during recess. I often look at my sons and think this is more weight than their little shoulders should have to carry. So how do we help them feel joy when there is so much stress? Here’s the answer, along with a foolproof way to make it happen.

Give in order to survive.

Research shows that humans are born not only with a survival instinct but also with an altruistic instinct that causes us to feel joy when we help others flourish. But it’s more than just, “When I give, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling.” Actually, when we help someone, we tap into the part of the brain that proves that people who collaborate are more likely to survive. If we want to help our children thrive in these “unprecedented times,” maybe it’s time to love and serve in unprecedented ways.

Here are 5 ways tapping into that altruistic instinct can help our kids thrive even while they are stressed. We love Operation Christmas Child, so I’ll use it as an example. It’s a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. They (we!) provide shoebox gifts filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies for children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease.

1. A tangible act brings tangible joy.

In school, when kids work with their hands, the lessons come to life. Serving is no different. Yes, we should pray for others, but doing something tangible like putting items in a shoebox will resonate more with your kids and they will experience greater joy knowing they touched the items that will be going to the children in need. And a little manual labor does a body, mind, and heart good!

2. They’ll know help is close by (maybe right in their closet).

A lot of people ask if a special shoebox is required for Operation Christmas Child. Nope. Your kids can grab the one that’s sitting empty or storing excess LEGOs on their closet shelf. They’ll discover that they don’t have to go far to find a tool that creates joy—it could be right in their own bedroom!

3. Their toothbrush will feel like a gift.

Gratitude is a great antidote to worry.

The gift suggestions list is broken down by gender and age, but all children need basics like a toothbrush. My 8-year-old son saw that a “Wow Item” for a boy his age is a harmonica. You know what my son’s “wow item” is? A gaming system or a cruise. As you pray over the basic items that are considered Christmas gifts for these boys and girls, your kids will notice how much they have to be thankful for. Gratitude is a great antidote to worry.

4. They’ll see that they are one cog in a big joyful wheel.

When we are stressed, it’s good to know we’re not alone. Not only will your child remember that your family is a team, but he or she will see that a project as big as Operation Christmas Child involves countless volunteers who pack and deliver the boxes. Showing your kids that the world is filled with good people who want to help others is a surefire source of feel-good goosebumps!

5. Another dose of joy is never far away.

Handing your filled shoebox gift over doesn’t have to be the end of the journey for your family. You can track the box to learn what country it winds up in and while you wait to find out, you can pray for whichever child will receive it. What a great way to make a one-day service project last for months. When another 2020 stressor pops up (Whadaya got next, 2020!?), you can talk it over, pray for peace, and track that box. Your kids will learn that even though things feel pretty out of control, their actions have the power to make a difference.

Operation Christmas Child is just one way to help out and relieve stress. What do you and your family like to do? 

The post 5 Ways Giving Helps Kids Feel Less Stressed appeared first on All Pro Dad.

10 Consistencies Your Kids Need at Home

Bobby Cooley | August 17, 2020

Consistency in parenting offers stability to your kids when they need it most. Structure is a part of everyday life. We have schedules and routines that work for our homes. Your family rhythms may look totally different than the family’s next door—and they should. Each person in your family is unique and has different needs. One cookie-cutter schedule does not fit all. 

But whatever our structure and routine, it is important for parents to maintain consistency, or else the structure will fail. Here are 10 practical ways to show consistency in parenting at home.

1. Mornings

Having a morning routine sets us up for a successful day. Our kids are allowed to leave their rooms at 7 a.m., aren’t allowed to watch TV before breakfast, and can expect a hug from my wife at the bottom of the stairs every morning. Build a morning plan that works for your family. 

2. Mealtime

Early on, we let our kids eat wherever they wanted—and then we were frustrated when we wanted them to stay at the table and they wouldn’t. But it was our fault, not theirs, because we hadn’t shown them how to sit and eat at the dinner table. We need to be reasonable and flexible along with consistent at mealtime. 

3. Bedtime

When it is time to go to bed, we say three things every night: drink, potty, brush—and then the kids can get in their beds. If you find yourself frustrated with bedtime, it might be because you lack consistency.

4. Discipline

Make sure the punishment fits the crime. If you have multiple children, you will start to hear them say, “That’s not fair.” Having consistency in how you discipline is important for maintaining stability and will eliminate some confusion for your children. 

5. Chores

What chores do you expect your kids to do? Consistency here creates kids who are disciplined and work hard. Be sure also to tell the kids what the consequences are for failing to do their chores. 

6. Snacks

My kids ask for a snack almost every five minutes. Building a snacktime structure helps our kids take ownership and responsibility for this simple request. Every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., they are allowed to have a snack—and it’s amazing how quickly they learned to tell time when we started this.

7. Technology

Setting technology limits sets expectations that your kids need. Without consistency, you will find yourself putting an iPad in their hands every time they throw a fit and this will reinforce bad behavior. When the limits are established, your kids know what to expect and a standard has been set.

8. Family Time

When is your designated family time? We try our best to do something fun on Friday nights together. The key is to make it consistent and ongoing to ensure we are making family time a priority. 

9. Respecting Your Wife or the Mother of Your Children

Consistency here includes respecting her face to face and behind her back. When I talk bad about her to my kids, I open the door for them to be disrespectful to her. This is not helpful for my kids or honoring to their mother.

You cannot control every situation or circumstance, but you can be consistently in control of your attitude.

10. Attitude 

You cannot control every situation or circumstance, but you can be consistently in control of your attitude. When you establish a consistently positive attitude, you bring a presence of stability and structure that rubs off on their attitudes.

Sound off: Where could you show more consistency in parenting?

The post 10 Consistencies Your Kids Need at Home appeared first on All Pro Dad.

3 Differences Between Boys and Girls (and Why It Matters)

Bobby Cooley | August 03, 2020

Raising boys and girls together is like playing two different sports, with different equipment and different rules, at the same time. Their bodies are different, how they think is different, and how they respond to situations is different. And since boys and girls are different, how we parent them should be different.

We all should have a standard of rules and structure in our homes, but we also should respect the differences between boys and girls. There are always exceptions and some things are rooted more in personality than in gender, but generally speaking, here are 3 major differences between boys and girls and why it matters.

1. Discipline

Boys: For many boys, discipline may mean you need to be direct with your words. You must watch what you say so as not to demean or belittle. And you must be clear and make sure they fully understand what you are saying. If you find yourself getting frustrated with them for not listening, have them repeat back what you said.

Girls: For girls, discipline is more about how you say something than what you say. The emotions you present with your words are sometimes all they feel. For dads, you must balance your emotions within the truth to discipline in a healthy way.

Why it matters: Understanding the subtle differences lets you know it’s OK to discipline differently. Give yourself grace. Stop worrying about being “fair” and be more concerned with actually training and teaching through discipline instead of punishing and shaming.

2. Encouragement

Boys: When it comes to encouragement for boys, they are longing to hear that Dad approves. When you see it, say it. Do not hesitate to let him know you are proud of him, not just because he did something great but because he is your son.

Girls: Trust is a big deal for most girls. When you encourage them, you can’t just say it once; you must say it again and again until they know it’s true. Don’t just blow smoke. Be genuine with your encouragement.

Why it matters: One of the easiest ways to build character in your child is through encouragement. Encouragement from Dad is very important. When you understand the type of encouragement they need, you can inspire and equip them.

3. Motivation

Boys: Boys are motivated by testing the world around them. They want to test their strength by fighting, test their courage by climbing higher on the tree, and test boundaries by seeing what they can get away with. They are driven by competition and achievement.

Girls: Girls are motivated by relationships. They want to be seen and wanted, they want to do things with others, and they want to draw out the beauty around them. They are trying to figure out who and what they can and can’t trust.

Why it matters: Understanding that boys are motivated by achievement and girls are motivated by relationships can help you understand why they act a certain way in different situations. For boys, try to inspire them by pushing them in new ways. For girls, try to spend quality time with them and encourage them to pursue healthy relationships.

Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share these iMOM articles with your wife: How Being a “Boy Mom” is Harder and How Being a “Girl Mom” is Harder.

Sound off: What other differences have you found and why do they matter?

The post 3 Differences Between Boys and Girls (and Why It Matters) appeared first on All Pro Dad.

7 Easy Things to Build with Your Kids

Mike Landry | August 03, 2020

My house usually has a flurry of activity. This includes coming from and going to school, the library, the pool, and the various sports my kids love to play. COVID-19 brought much of this to a standstill and my kids have spent more time at home than ever before, changing our battle against busyness to a war on boredom.

With kids aged 4 to 14 at my house, we’ve had to get creative to help pass the time. Some of the best creations we’ve come up with have been a team effort: making something out of the ordinary alongside our kids. If you’re seeing that same sense of boredom at your house, combat it with this list of 7 easy things to build for kids.

1. Driveway Board Game

A little sidewalk chalk and your imagination can go a long way. An easy thing to build with your kids is an extra-large version of their favorite board game. Use something simple like Snakes & Ladders or Candyland (or something as complicated as Monopoly) and draw it out on your driveway. Bonus points if you leave instructions out so your neighbors can play, too.

2. Obstacle Course

Another easy thing to build with kids? An indoor obstacle course. Wander through the house with your kids and look for items you could use to test their mettle. Tables, chairs, hockey sticks, pool noodles, string, and cushions all can be set up to go over, under, or through in a creative way. Time trials and minor changes to the obstacle course will help make it more exciting, more challenging, and a great way to pass the time with your kids.

3. Cardboard Houses

While many businesses have suffered tremendously during the pandemic, online shopping experienced a major surge in sales. The surge in deliveries brings with it an increase in cardboard boxes coming through our homes, which brings to light one of the easiest things to build with your kids: a cardboard house. Cut a door into a big box and let your kids’ imaginations (and crayons) take care of the rest. But if you’re more innovative, you can try what one dad did—he cut his cardboard into 50 triangles, making the coolest looking cardboard house I’ve ever seen.

4. Marshmallow Catapults

If you want to create a memory your kids aren’t soon to forget, it might be time to build some marshmallow catapults. Find simple designs involving skewers and elastics all the way up to more intricate designs that’ll give you a reason to use power tools together. Just make sure you build (at least) two catapults, as the next thing you’ll want to do is put them to good use in an epic showdown: Dad versus the kids.

5. Glow in the Dark Bowling

Under normal circumstances, I’d take my kids out bowling at least a couple of times a year. But here’s a simple way to bring the fun of the bowling alley home to your garage, driveway, or basement. All you need is water bottles, glowsticks, and a ball heavy enough to knock over the water bottles. Pour out a bit of water, crack the glowsticks, and drop them in. Once you’ve got your pins set up in an appropriate “lane,” flip off the lights and get set to knock them down!

6. Water Rocket

Another easy thing to build with your kids that’s sure to make a memory is a water rocket. Recent Space-X launches have many of our kids looking to the skies again, so the ability to send their own rocket soaring into the sky is sure to capture their imaginations. Part of the beauty of this project will be the excitement that goes into every launch, and the trial and error that comes with it.

7. Blanket Forts

Blanket forts are classic for temporarily transforming your home into a wonderland. You can use string, clothespins, cushions, furniture—anything you can suspend, hook, or tie a blanket with to transform any room in your house into another place. A blanket fort can be a new playspace or a way to bring new life to family movie night. You also can make a pair of forts to serve as bases for an epic Nerf war.

Sound off: What have you built or done with your kids to make days at home more exciting?

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5 Common Ways Dads Make Kids Feel Unsafe

All Pro Dad | August 03, 2020

No one is perfect—especially parents. But you can improve once you learn the ways you make your kid feel unsafe. We all make mistakes and I’ve made plenty over my eight years as a dad. I know my own dad and mom loved me, but I had a difficult childhood. My parents divorced when I was one and due to the tension in their relationship, I had no contact with my mom for 15 years. My dad remarried a lot. Inconsistency and unpredictability caused discomfort and anxiety in me.

Football gave me the firm footing I didn’t know I desperately needed. While I strive to give my four children a different childhood than the one I had, I have found myself doing things that make them feel some of the same lack of security I had growing up. In talking to other dads, it seems like I am not the only one. Here are 5 common ways dads make kids feel unsafe.

1. Overreacting

Children are unpredictable and their actions have consequences not only for themselves, but for us as well. That can make life stressful. All of that tension builds, leading us to overreact and sometimes explode. But volatility makes children feel unsafe. So in order to feel safe, they try to hide things that have the potential to upset you. This impacts whether they freely can be themselves around you. Ask yourself why you are upset. Is the reason you are upset about them or is it about your issues?

Bottom line: Control your emotions instead of letting your emotions control you. Before reacting, take a breath and think through your response.

2. Being Inconsistent

Being consistent makes you more reliable and trustworthy. When a dad displays inconsistency, the child has nothing to depend on. Dads need to show consistency in their relationships, their boundaries, and their discipline. Most importantly, dads need to be consistent with their word. If we say we are going to do something, we need to follow through.

Bottom line: What you say you’ll do may seem small or insignificant, but when it comes to following through on your word, nothing is small.

3. Having a Turbulent Relationship with Their Mom

In certain circumstances, divorce may be unavoidable. However, we need to recognize that your relationship with your child’s mother has a profound effect. While there are two parties involved, we need to do everything in our power to have a good relationship. If you are married to her, love her and work on your marriage daily. Be intentional about your kids seeing you love and care for their mom. Tell them why you love her. If you are not together, work with her as best you can to make your child’s world as stable as possible.

Bottom line: A good relationship with your kids’ mom makes your kids feel secure.

4. Encouraging Performance Based Value

We want our kids to know that their value is not based on their performance.

We want our kids to know that their value is not based on their performance. But sometimes we say or do subtle things that make them think the opposite. This might be one of the ways you make your kid feel unsafe. Some of these include complimenting their achievements more than who they are as a person, getting mad when they fail, or upholding role models based on winning and worldly success.

Bottom line: If they believe they need to perform to have value, they will live with underlying anxiety, constantly trying to prove themselves.

5. Over-Criticizing, Under-Affirming

All kids want their dad’s approval. However, many dads only comment when their kids need to learn and improve. We see a teachable moment or an opportunity to help our kids get better, but often all they hear is criticism. Ultimately, it makes them feel like they are never good enough and potentially unloved if they buy into the last point.

Bottom line: Look for the things they do well and point them out, but also consistently affirm them as people.

Sound off: What can you do to provide a sense of security after you learn the ways you make your kid feel unsafe?

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