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May 2, 2016

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 2. The Ancestor Story Book

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Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series of 10 where the Eyres are sharing the ten best parenting ideas they have come across during their three decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. The ideas are not in any particular order, but each represents a simple, practical “best practice” that can be implemented in any family. Most of them center on a “prop” or physical object that symbolizes the idea and makes it real and memorable.

As we speak to and with parents around the world, particularly in developed countries where kids are given so much, we are constantly asked what can be done to help kids develop more “grit”—to make them more motivated and determined to do their best and to fully apply themselves to the challenges and opportunities they face.

Interesting new research reveals that one of the factors that contributes most to a child’s grit and resilience is knowing the stories of his or her grandparents and great-grandparents.

One of the best things we ever did in our family was to make up a big “family tree” with pictures of our children’s parents (2), grandparents (4), great-grandparents (8), and great, great grandparents (16). Linda actually painted a big, old oak tree on a 4 x 6 framed canvas. The tree has nine branches, each with a picture of one of the children. Smaller branches go out from each of these nine, suggesting the children they will someday have. Our own two pictures (mom and dad) are on the trunk. Four roots go down from the trunk, each with a photo of a grandparent; each of these splits into two so there is a total of eight smaller roots, each with a picture of a great-grandparent. In our case we were lucky enough to find photos of the next generation—sixteen great, great-grandparents which we glued onto the next and lowest set of sixteen sub-roots.

Something about this tree painting with its quaint, old-fashioned pictures was remarkably reassuring to our children. They looked at it often, and with real interest. I’ll never forget our seven-year-old one day, idly tracing with her finger a path from her limb down through the trunk and into the roots. “I’m one-fourth like you,” she said, pointing at one of her grandmas. “And I’m one-eighth like you” as her finger went down to one of her great-grandmothers.

It was the popularity of the ancestor tree that led us to take the next step — the writing of our personal family “Ancestor Stories Book.” It consists of a big leather-bound book of blank pages on which we’ve written some simple bedtime stories based on actual experiences of people on the ancestor tree. There is “The Honesty of Grandpa Dean” (a story of how he hit a parked car one night on the way home from a date. The dent was small and no one saw, so he drove on home. But he thought about it, went back, found the owner and offered to pay). Or “Great Grandma Margret’s Trip to America” (how she immigrated from Sweden on a rat-infested ship).


As our children were growing up, these “ancestor stories” became their favorite bed time stories. Each connected in some way to a value — courage, responsibility, respect, sensitivity…and they were always told with the ancestor tree as a reference point. (I’m one-eighth that person…I must have some courage in me, too.”)

Not all the stories were about successes or with happy endings. Many were about hard times. The best stories, and the ones they remembered best, were the “osculating” stories—the ones that told of a difficult time that became a learning experience—stories that included both success and failure.

You don’t need a complete gallery of four generations to do this in your family. Just grandparents and great-grandparents will do. And the stories can be simple — just any experience you’ve heard — any incident that shows some positive things about an ancestor. Write them into simple children’s-story language, and perhaps have your children illustrate them.

The stories are only part of what you can do to acquaint your children with their forbearers. Create your own variations of “ancestor identity.” We know one family that makes videos of living grandparents telling about their childhoods. Another takes short vacations to the places where their ancestors came from. Another visits cemeteries and tells stories and memories at the grave sites of the people they are talking about. Still another celebrates birthdays of dead ancestors, complete with a birthday cake and candles, remembering and passing on all they know about them. The main thing is to create positive connections and to help your children feel a security and a heritage that they are proud of, that they are motivated by, that they can identify with.

See you back here next time when we will move to the third idea in our top ten.

April 25, 2016

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 1. The Repenting Bench


Over the next 10 weeks, we are going to share with you, our loyal ValuesParenting followers, the ten best parenting ideas we have come across during our four decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. The ideas are not in any particular order, but represent simple, practical “best practices” that can be implemented in any family.

These are ten individual ideas or methods that seem to always work for parents. They are not complicated concepts or theoretical parenting philosophies—rather, they are very basic ideas, many of them involving a “prop” or some kind of physical object. And all of them are capable of being quickly introduced and used right away within your household and with your children. Each of them addresses a particular parenting challenge—a common need or concern that we have heard parents express frequently over the years.

The first of the ten deals with a problem that every parent with two or more children has faced. It is the challenge of fighting, bickering, arguing, or as it is sometimes gently described, “sibling rivalry.”

This kind of contention can drive the peace and the spirit of love out of a home in a hurry. And it can drive a parent crazy. There is nothing worse than trying to be the judge and jury in every conflict between children. “Who started it? Well what did you do? And then what happened? You did what? Who said what to who?” It never ends! You are trying to decide who is to blame, who should be punished, and most of all you are trying to figure out how to stop it from happening!

The problem is that by intervening, parents take ownership of the argument; and we take away the benefits of kids resolving their own disagreements and learning how to apologize and “repent” to each other when they have hurt or insulted or belittled their sibling.

When these little conflicts or fights or arguments are not resolved, they tend to fester and expand and get worse. And if we are not careful, words like “hate” and name-calling creep in and our own kids develop an animosity toward each other that may undermine their future relationship and loyalty.

The best way we have found to deal with this issue and to get away from always intervening and being the judge and trying to mete out the punishment is something we call “the repenting bench.” It works like this:

  1. Get a simple bench from somewhere (we actually got ours from an old church in England while we lived there—a stiff backed, uncomfortable little pew.) It can be anything, a simple wooden garden bench or whatever you can find. It should be about the size to accommodate two children, and it should not be comfortable.
  2. In a family meeting or family home evening, explain how it works: That any two family members who are arguing or fighting are sent to the repenting bench and that the only way to get off is to figure out what you did wrong (not what the other kid did—what you did—it takes two to tangle) and apologize or repent to the other person—say “I’m sorry, will you forgive me.” Rehearse or role-play in your family meeting exactly what will happen when there is an argument. Have everyone commit to go to the bench when they are sent there, including the parents.
  3. When two kids are sent to the bench, (do it matter-of-factly—that’s just where you go when you fight—we have all agreed) a parent stands by. When a child can identify what he did wrong, his part in the argument, he simply states it, says he is sorry and will try not to do it again, asks forgiveness from the other child, gives him or her a little hug, and can then leave the bench. The other child, if he or she is ready, can do the same, or will have to sit there until he or she figures it out.

If you strongly establish the repenting bench and what it means and how it works in a family meeting, and if you are consistent with it for two or three weeks, it will become a family institution and a “good habit” that will begin to happen automatically and without argument or resistance any time there is a fight or the kind of bickering that, unchecked, can lead to real animosity.

Let us know how it works in the comment section below, and tune in next week for Best Parenting Practice #2!

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