5 Ideas for Helping Kids Have a Less Materialistic Holiday

Kids, children, child, girl, Christmas, Holiday, gifts, materialistic, toys, Santa

Kids, children, child, girl, Christmas, Holiday, gifts, materialistic, toys, Santa

Do you wish your kids were a little less materialistic this time of year?

It seems like every December, many children come down with a bad case of the “I wants”. They are busy thinking about what’s going to be under the tree Christmas morning and doing everything they can to get it. Parents often end up running themselves ragged trying to track down that one thing their child just HAS to have. Then, just a few weeks later, it’s tossed aside when the next new thing comes along.

The holidays are a great opportunity to nurture important character traits, while still having a good time. Helping our kids become more compassionate and giving, while bonding with family and building happy memories, is a gift they can treasure for life.

Here are five ideas for reducing materialism during the holidays.

Get Kids Excited about Giving

Don’t let their childhood pass without letting your children experience the joy of making someone else happy.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, help your child find ways to earn money, by doing chores, working for a neighbor, or babysitting. Then let them spend their own hard-earned money on someone else. Your child will have a much greater experience giving of himself than by buying something with your money.

Children can also make gifts. Teach them how to do a simple craft or make home-baked goodies. Homemade and personal gifts are always more special for the giver and the receiver.

Children can give gifts to family members, relatives, teachers, friends, neighbors, or anyone. To limit the stress, you can draw names for a gift exchange or just do something simple. One of my own daughters’ favorite traditions was getting names from an Angel Giving tree (each choosing a child near their own age) and getting things together to give them. They used their own money and more fun shopping for those gifts than anticipating their own.

Clean out!

When we buy and buy, our homes can start piling up with stuff. Things get forgotten and are barely used. Our cluttered homes become hard to clean, as well as distracting.  So use the holidays as an excuse to unload some baggage, so to speak.

You and your child can go through their toys and clothes together. Pick out items that have been outgrown or are no longer played with but are still in good shape. Clean them up and donate them to a shelter or organization that cares for needy families. You can also donate to a thrift store or pass them down to a cousin or friend.

This will clear out some space for new things your child will be given, and it also helps others who are in need. You can explain to the kids where everything will be going and who it will help, and help them understand that other children are not as fortunate as they are. You may be surprised how generous they are about giving things up.

Limit Spending

Many families will spend on credit to give their kids a nice Christmas. It’s estimated that nearly a third of American families will take 5 or more months to pay off their Christmas debt. Why put yourself through so much stress and hard work for just a few minutes’ excitement?

A better gift to give your child is a home that is financially secure and free from the burden of debt. They can learn that peace of mind when it comes to money is more valuable than any toy or gadget. They can learn to be thankful for a few meaningful gifts rather than always expecting and wanting something.

Some families do a “3-Gift Christmas”, symbolizing the three gifts from the wise men who came to visit the baby Jesus. They choose three different categories and pick just one gift for each child in each category.

Another great idea is the “Four Gift Rule”. This is a spin-off from the wedding day tradition for things a bride wears. With this plan, children receive only four gifts—Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

In our family, we each received something with spiritual/religious significance on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning, Santa would have brought just one large family gift to play with together. And then each kid had a few smaller things from Mom and Dad.

Give Experiences, Not Just Stuff

The other day, my married daughter mentioned that she barely remembers any of her Christmas or birthday gifts, but she has great memories of all our family vacations.  It’s true that shiny toys lose tend to their luster all too soon. Things get broken, go out of style, or become obsolete. But memories stay with us forever.

Instead of buying that expensive new video console and adventure games, how about taking them on a real life adventure?! Plan a surprise trip somewhere, and leave Christmas evening! I knew a family that would wrap up clues to their destination, and the last gift opened would be plane tickets, revealing the surprise. Most airlines have extremely low fares for Christmas Day, and you won’t have to fight the crowds!

If a vacation is not feasible, there are many things to do close to home. You can look online at websites like Groupon for great ideas and discount coupons. Look for activities that promote family bonding.

Another option is to sign your child up for some kind of lessons they would enjoy. Maybe your daughter wants to learn how to cook or paint. Maybe your son wants to learn karate. Giving this type of experience will give your child skills that will stay with them forever.

Do Service

During the holiday season, there is a never-ending supply of service opportunities available. Giving volunteer service helps kids learn compassion and work and is always a self-esteem booster. And there’s nothing like seeing someone worse off than you to help you feel gratitude for what you have!

You can take the family to a nursing home to sing Christmas carols to the residents. Visit a children’s hospital and play with the patients or even take them a small gift. Work in a soup kitchen serving holiday meals to the homeless. Or shovel snow for the older people in the neighborhood.

If you are unsure about service needs in your area, visit justserve.org and type in your zip code. You will find one-time and ongoing opportunities listed there, along with contact information.

This year, when planning your holidays, consider giving your child a much greater gift than a room full of toys. Give them a simple, yet meaningful Christmas. Help them become less materialistic and more charitable. It really is a “gift that keeps on giving”.


I Took a Break from Social Media

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Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, fast, break, peace, Internet, reconnect

The Challenge

Two weeks ago, I was presented with an interesting challenge. In a world-wide conference for the women in our church, we were encouraged to take a 10-day break from social media. We might also include other media that brings negative feelings or worldly perspectives. We should carefully choose what to remove from our lives during the break and record our  experience. What would we notice? Would our priorities change? Would we have a new focus?


I have to admit that I was hesitant at first to accept this invitation. I think it’s obvious to anyone who knows me that I like to spend time on Facebook. I’ve lived all over the country and have found this to be a great way to stay in touch with friends and family. It has also been an invaluable tool for conducting local business, like advertising for tutoring students and selling my unwanted items. And since I have been trying to get two blogs and an Etsy shop going, I use social media for advertising and promoting my work.

But I ultimately decided to give it a try. My husband planned to do it with me, and I was eager to see what would happen. Maybe I would notice a change in my life for the better. Or maybe I just wanted to prove to myself that social media was no big deal and wasn’t having much affect on me at all. We deleted the apps from our phones and officially started our break.

The first day, I honestly didn’t notice much difference. I was busy all day taking care of business and running errands, and I didn’t have time for much else. But by day three, I was keenly noticing that blue square with the white “F” missing from my phone screen. After the first week, I no longer missed it, and by the end of the ten days, I reflected on some pretty significant changes I’d seen in myself. Here’s what I learned:

Hello, I’m Julie, and I’m a Facebookaholic

I’ve joked for years about having a Facebook addiction, but I became very aware of its reality during this break. There were several tell-tale signs. The first was withdrawals starting on the third day. I was glad I had deleted the app from my phone. I’d catch myself flipping over to click on it after answering a text or email, only to find it not there. It was as if it was an automatic action and I hadn’t even realized I was doing it. I’d suddenly remember it was gone and feel a sense of confusion. I didn’t know what to do with myself without my Facebook.

I actually had a conversation with myself one day. I could open up my computer and log on, and no one would know the difference. My husband wasn’t home. He wouldn’t see me using it. And a good number of my friends were also doing the challenge. They wouldn’t see me on there, either. What was I doing?! This was just like an alcoholic, hiding his liquor bottles!

Fortunately, I got through a couple rough days without cheating, and by the end of the week I wasn’t missing it much anymore. In fact, I actually ended up doing a 12-day break, because I wasn’t in any hurry to download the app again!

It’s All for Show

There were several times during this break that something was going on, and I found myself composing a Facebook status in my head. Then I’d remember I wouldn’t be able to post it. It really made me think about how much focus we put on our public persona on social media. I realized I spend an awful lot of time thinking about how something will sound in a Facebook post or taking pictures of it, rather than just enjoying it. Are we ever really living anymore, or do we just go through the motions so we can have something clever to post online?

I also took time to reflect on times I have posted something that I later regretted. It’s so easy to hide behind our screens and put something out there, not thinking about who is going to read it and what it will mean to them. I’ve probably offended many people over the years by doing this. Even though I’ve made an effort to get better…to post only positive and uplifting things, sometimes as a human I still let myself down. I believe I will chose more carefully the things I post in the future.

Isolated, Yet Reconnected

As I said before, I love the connection I feel through social media to my friends and family who are far away. Some of my incredibly close friends were once only acquaintances before we found a bond on Facebook. It was sad at first that my social media break would also mean a break from some of these relationships. Living in a rural area, I found myself feeling quite isolated from the world. I began to truly miss some people, and it was a good way to discover those that were most important to me. It was also an excuse to reach out to more people locally, and I plan to put more effort into doing that.

As the week progressed, I spent more time actually talking TO people, rather than just “putting it out there”. I participated more in the group text with my kids; my daughter and I had a long phone conversation; I spent more time with my husband. And it felt so much more genuine and rewarding to deepen those relationships.

Be Still, My Soul

Probably the greatest thing I gained from this experience was peace. It was so refreshing to not have my life constantly bombarded with bad news, politics, and ads. I was blissfully ignorant of the animosity that seems to be taking over the world. I didn’t feel obligated to watch stupid videos that would waste another 30 seconds of my life. I could spend more time reading things that were meaningful and listening to things that uplifted me. I felt like I was free of distractions and could truly hear my inner voice again. I didn’t feel rushed. I didn’t feel pressured. I didn’t feel anxious.

I feel calm.

Moving Forward

Will I go back to using social media? Well, today I downloaded Facebook onto my phone and spent a little time scrolling. I did enjoy seeing what everyone was up to, but overall, it was nauseating. It seemed so frivolous and trivial. And there was, of course, all the negative stuff. I really didn’t enjoy it that much. I don’t see it being nearly as important in my life as before. I’ll definitely still use it for business and sharing my blog posts, but I suspect I’ll be spending much less time “socially” on social media. And I might make this break an annual tradition, just to make sure it doesn’t start taking over my life again.


What Ever Happened to the Golden Rule, Anyway?

Hangry, Golden Rule, rudeness, rude, offensive, treat others how you want to be treated

I Was Hangry

On a recent RV trip across a major US interstate highway, a billboard for a gas station caught our eye. It had a fast food restaurant on site that happened to be a favorite of ours, and our stomachs had just begun to rumble a few miles earlier. This stop was only about thirty miles ahead, and we would also need more fuel by then. Perfect!

We eagerly awaited the exit, counting down those miles and seeing a few more billboards along the way that made our mouths water in anticipation. We finally arrived and began our gas stop routine—I went in to pay for a fill up (paying at the pump with a 90-gallon tank just doesn’t work well!), while my husband used the restroom. Then I took the dog out while he pumped the diesel. Then we found a place to park and headed in to the store and restaurant.

As we arrived at the door, a worker was locking it. I wondered what was going on. She pointed at the tiny placard with the store hours. They closed at 8 pm. I looked down at my watch—8:02.

“What?!” I asked incredulously. “They close this early?!” Being early June, it was still bright daylight outside. She let us in and said she didn’t know if they were still serving food at the restaurant but we could give it a try. Since the nearest services were at least an hour away, it looked like we would be out of luck. And hungry.

As I walked toward the counter, I was still in disbelief. Why would they close so early on a major interstate during travel season? It didn’t make any sense. I rushed right up and told the worker there what I thought of their early hours, in not such a nice way. Not one of their advertisements had mentioned they weren’t open 24 hours, like similar gas stations. And why didn’t they at least let us know they were about to close when we paid for the fuel?! Think of all the business they were losing! As soon as it came out of my mouth, I regretted saying it. But, as my teenage daughter used to say, I guess I was “hangry”.

They Fed Us Anyway

Despite my bad manners, they took our order anyway and began making our food. While we waited, my mom, who was traveling with us, asked another worker why they have such early hours. She replied that they are a family-owned business and like to give their workers time with their families. 

Now I really felt like a heel.

As I stood there waiting for my food, I began thinking back to those days in high school when I worked at a fast food place. Sometimes people would come in right at closing, as we were trying to clean up, and order a meal. It was frustrating. We just wanted to get home. But like these people, we never complained at the customer. We just served them cordially and went about our work.

And I had been rude to them.

I had been in such a hurry to get my food, I hadn’t even taken two seconds to think about what getting my needs met would mean for these workers. Given the remote location of this place, they probably still had a lengthy drive home, after cleaning up from our last-minute order. They’d be lucky to have any family time at all. 

My Heart Was Softened

I couldn’t stand it anymore. I went up to the cashier that had taken our order, and I apologized for my rude remarks. Though I did my best to be pleasant and thankful in the few minutes we had left together, the thoughts of what I had said wouldn’t leave my mind. That’s the problem with words—once they’re out there, it’s hard to get them back.

Those words stayed in my head the next few days. I felt sick in my stomach that I had spoken to someone like that—someone who was there to serve me and technically didn’t have to. Having been on the receiving end many times before, I knew exactly how that felt. I wondered, why have we become this way in our culture? Why is it that when things aren’t perfectly how we want them, our default reaction is to be inconsiderate or offensive? It’s almost as if it’s become accepted behavior. It’s so normal to us that it’s our go-to procedure, and sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it. Or if we do, we make excuses for our rudeness or blame the other person.

Let’s Make a Change

I’d like to see that change, and I’m starting with me. What if we lived in a world where, instead of automatically assuming the other guy is out to get us, we assume he is a person with feelings and needs, too? What if we were part of a culture where we take time to think before letting words spew out of our mouths? I’d like for the common practice to be the spreading of goodwill rather than indignation.

It’s a simple rule we should have learned in kindergarten: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not difficult. We just put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and determine how we would want to be treated. And then we do it. Imagine the possibilities we could reach in society if we all started following this practice. Think of the conflicts we could avoid!

I am pledging right here and now to do a better job of this with every person I meet, and I invite everyone to join me. Let’s make this a “thing”. How about, instead of always looking out for ourselves, with hashtags and walkouts, we start looking out for the other guy? Then, by everyone looking out for everyone else, the needs of all people get met, and we all win. We don’t need a movement. Let’s just do it. 

5 Reasons Not to Protect Your Child From Adversity

Sad, Adversity, Difficulty, child, children, parents, parenting

In today’s world, it seems the parenting pendulum is swinging further and further away from prudence. We have now gone beyond Helicopter Parenting, to what a recent article by We Are Teachers describes as, “Lawnmower Parenting”. These parents go to great lengths to “mow down” any difficulties around their children, so they don’t ever have to experience any discomfort. While temporarily sparing heartache, this is a practice that actually hurts children in the long run. Here are five reasons parents should not protect their children from adversities:


Kids Don’t Live in a Bubble

Parents can’t be with their children 24/7, especially as they get older. It is unrealistic to think that a parent could protect their child from every problem life throws their way. Even if major efforts are made to make things fair, like a high school in Michigan that has done away with Homecoming royalty, there will always be bullies and hurt feelings. Children who have been sheltered from such adversities will grow into adults who struggle in their interactions with others.

Instead, kids need the opportunity to experience difficulties when they can be guided by loving parents and mentors.  They will learn valuable skills and character traits that will serve them their entire life.


Adversity Develops Compassion and Coping Skills

When children have experienced something emotionally or physically painful, they can relate better to another person’s suffering. This is called empathy, and it is a critical part of emotional intelligence.

A study at Northeastern University showed that participants who had experienced more severe adversity in their life tended to show higher levels of empathic concern. In addition, this empathic concern predicted an increase in compassionate acts. Researchers believe that showing compassion in times of adversity is a natural coping-mechanism we, as humans, have. It helps us build social connections, which help us become more resilient. By protecting children from difficulties, we take away opportunities to develop empathy and recognize the pain of others. In turn, this makes them less able to recover after their own hardships.


Adversity Builds Mental-Toughness

Often, adversity comes as a natural consequence of behavior. Sometimes that is one’s own behavior, or it can be caused by the selfishness or bad decisions of another person. When kids see and experience consequences that come from people’s actions, they learn to make wise choices and be responsible for themselves.

Sometimes, adversity comes through no one’s fault, such as with natural disasters or catastrophic illnesses. In these cases, experiencing hardships helps them see and except reality. They learn that sometimes life is just hard or people don’t get what they want. They learn that it isn’t realistic to have a Pinterest-Perfect life all the time.

Either way, adversity allows kids to become adaptable. They learn that they have choices in any situation, even if that choice is just to have a good attitude about their troubles. By learning to make changes, they can have some control in their own life, no matter what may come.


Adversity Strengthens Self-Esteem

Without knowing it, a Lawnmower parent can send the wrong message to their child. While they may think they’re keeping their child happy, what the child might subconsciously hear is, “I have to protect you, because you are not capable of handling problems.” On the other hand, it can make a big boost to their confidence when a child meets a challenge successfully. Parents can help them do this by offering advice, a positive example, and unconditional love while they are dealing with issues.


Adversity Brings Gratitude

According to the Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, which studies how people grow stronger after traumatic experiences, all survivors they studied have had one thing in common: gratitude. Having seen life at its worst helps one recognize and appreciate good things in life. Kids can learn to see the silver lining in every situation, especially if this is modeled by parents who are going through trials. And an additional bonus is that being grateful for what one has cuts down on the “I wants”!


While it’s true that a good parent protects their child from harm, there are many times that we go overboard. Think of it like caring for your body. You don’t want it to get injured, so you protect it from danger. But if you took away everything difficult, like eating healthy or physical activity, your body would be weak. We gain strength in our trials, physically and mentally. If we use good judgement, we can keep our kids from danger while still allowing them to grow by experiencing hard things.

Be the Change You Wish to See

In late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, affecting 13 million people, killing 88, and causing $125 billion in damage. My husband and I had the privilege to go with a volunteer group to help our Houston neighbors with the disaster clean up. I later wrote in a Facebook post about the incredibly moving experience. Below is an excerpt:

Day One

“We were assigned to work Saturday in one home, where we could easily see the water line had been up to the level of my waist. Our job was to pull out sheet rock, insulation, trim, flooring, etc. down to bare concrete and studs, from floor to ceiling. Furniture and other belongings had already been removed from the house, and what we were doing would facilitate the drying process so that everything could eventually be treated to kill bacteria and mold and then be remodeled.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Home with water line halfway up the first floor
Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Partially gutted home

The first thing I noticed was the smell. Even through our respirator masks, we could smell mold and mildew, and occasionally there was even a hint of sewage smell. Men were busy knocking holes in the walls and pulling down sheet rock that already had black spots of mold growing on the back. The insulation was so wet, it was heavy and would disintegrate as we pulled it out.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Volunteer worker carrying debris out

I had a large shovel and was filling up wheelbarrows with small debris from the floor while those that were tearing down the walls threw in big chunks of sheet rock. I ran wheelbarrow load after load out to a large construction debris pile in the front yard. Others were carrying trim pieces and eventually flooring out. That floor! The glue was good and strong, and pretty much every man in the house chipped away at it for most of the afternoon.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Volunteer worker prying flooring up

Strangers Working as a Team

What really impressed me was that their teenage son had several friends that had come to help. And they worked hard! I loved that everyone–volunteers, friends, neighbors, and family–all worked together cheerfully and seemed to even be having fun.

By the time the day was through, the pile of rubble was above my head and probably 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. There was another pile on the other side of the yard of furniture and other household items that were being photographed and cataloged for insurance purposes.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Debris pile in the yard

While we worked, I had a few minutes to speak with the homeowner, and she told me they had only moved to Texas about a year ago from another state. She said they had been given a place to stay by friends, family, and even one of her son’s teachers. They were so thankful for how good everyone had been to them. They couldn’t believe how wonderful Texans were to each other, she said.

Neighbors Caring for Neighbors

The neighborhood we worked in had probably half to two-thirds of the homes that had been flooded. It was amazing how those with little to no damage were taking care of the others. Many homes had signs out front with “Phone Charging Station” or “Dish Washing Station” and supplies for anyone to use free of charge. At the front of the neighborhood was a community pool, which had become a supply depot. The pavilion was full of every kind of donation they might need–from first aid supplies, masks, and gloves to bottled water, baby wipes, and car seats. Neighbors and workers were free to come and take what they needed for the day.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Supply station at neighborhood pool

As lunch time approached, word spread that there was food being served at a home up the street. We walked up there to find a huge sign spray painted on a piece of debris that said, “Everyone Harvey-Q”. They had several smokers and tables set up, and food that didn’t stop. As we sat and ate, we watched a continual line of neighbors show up with food to add to the tables. It touched me to see neighbors caring for one another like this.

A Feel-Good Moment

We left that evening to head to a local high school, where we were being housed for the night. As you can imagine, lines for the showers ran for several hours. A local volunteer group served us dinner, and we all crashed very early.

Sunday morning, we had a short worship service in the school cafeteria. Everyone was in work clothes, and we sang along to hymns played on an iPad held up to the microphone. I don’t remember much of what was said during the meeting, but I can’t deny what I felt. A spirit of charity filled the room. Several times I was brought to tears with confirmation of the good we were doing.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Volunteer workers getting ready to head out

Day Two

We headed out again with renewed strength and were assigned to a second house, which had been buried under chest-high water and still had a couple inches of it standing on the floors. We got to work tearing out wet debris, and the stench in the home was awful. It was obvious this house had a sewage back up.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Standing water still in the home
Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Volunteer workers tearing out cabinetry

I met the homeowner and said, “Ma’am, your home was beautiful. I’m so sorry.” She looked up and smiled and said, “Yes it was! I decorated it like that 40 years ago and have loved it every day. And now I’ll have fun decorating again.” I was amazed at the attitude and good spirits she was in, considering her loss. Her husband seemed more shell-shocked, walking in and out of the house, throwing away a life-time of belongings, without much comment. I couldn’t imagine what that must feel like.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
A once beautiful home, destroyed by flood

Gratitude from Strangers

Later in the morning, we needed a break. We started to walk up towards the pool restrooms. As we traveled through the neighborhood, we were wearing our yellow volunteer vests. People treated us like superheroes. I can’t count how many times people stopped us to say “Thank you” or “God bless you” and shake our hands. We didn’t really feel like superheroes but were just happy to help.

On the way, a man in a pickup stopped us. “You headed to the pool? Hop on!” We appreciated the ride on his tailgate to rest our aching legs and feet. It’s funny how this person we’d never met before wasn’t a stranger under these conditions.

While at the pool, we were again offered lunch and took a closer look at a nail puncture my husband had gotten in his hand. It had broken the skin. Having not had a tetanus shot in many years, we decided he should have one. Someone told us we could get one at the Walgreens across the street. As we walked in there, we realized both of us had left our wallets locked in the car, maybe a mile away. Well, we would ask about the shots anyway and maybe come back. The man at the pharmacy counter said no need–they would take care of him free of charge, as a thank you for our service. While waiting in line, we had another couple stop and thank us for our help. I’ve never been so humbled as by the many expressions of gratitude by total strangers.

As we got back to the neighborhood, we passed by a home that some from our group had just completed work on. The homeowner said she had missed the workers before they left and asked us to pass along her thanks. She said, “You don’t know the stress you guys have lifted off me today. This morning I walked in here overwhelmed at the amount of work we had to do, and now, thanks to you, all this is done. I’m just so, so thankful.”

A Worthwhile Experience

We made it back to our assigned home and spent the afternoon gutting the kitchen and shuttling salvaged nick-naps and other items outside. Again, there was an emotional farewell with the homeowners, as we had the first day. We left feeling like we had new friends and family members. And we were so much richer for the experience we had.

Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Gutting the kitchen
Neighbors, Hurricane Harvey, volunteer, Mormon Helping Hands, Natural Disaster, flood, Houston
Volunteer workers with kitchen debris


We are looking forward to the next weekend we can go and help, though I will need a rest first. I am so deep down bone tired. But it feels so amazing, too. If you ever get the chance to do something like this, don’t pass up the opportunity. It is so, so worth it.”

Let’s Be Neighbors ALL the Time

This memory popped up on my feed yesterday, on the anniversary of 9/11. My timeline was also filled with stories of people helping one another that day in New York, and I couldn’t help but remember what it was like following that horrific event. I had recently moved and couldn’t locate my US flag. I wanted to put it out but couldn’t find one in any store. They were all sold out and being displayed on almost every house and business in town.
I remember the way we all treated each other in those days, similar to my experience in Houston. We weren’t Lefts or Rights, Blacks or Whites. We were Americans. And we were neighbors. We spoke kindly to one another and offered helping hands where we could.
I had to ask myself, why is it we seem to only have compassion in times of tragedy? Why can we only act like neighbors when times are tough? Why can’t we be proud to be Americans all the time?
Right now we are a house divided. We fight against each other, when we should be standing together. If you really want to see change in our world, get out there and make it happen–not by PROTESTING what you hate, but by PROMOTING love. Reach out a hand and help someone. Give a kind word. Volunteer. Make a difference! If we all give a little of ourselves volunteering or serving others, I believe we will see a lot of problems just disappear.
Quote by Ritu Ghatourey
Everyone can do something! For a list of volunteer opportunities near you, visit www.justserve.org.

5 Ways to Support Your Child’s Teacher

Teacher Classroom students school

Teacher Classroom students school support communicate
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The hot summer days have begun to get shorter, and kids are heading back to school. It’s a hopeful time of year with new challenges and possibilities. Many parents find themselves eager, yet anxious, for this new beginning for their children. They may worry about their child’s ongoing academic problems. They might be excited for a child who is doing well to go even further. Or maybe they are just unsure about how to best support their child’s education. The key to a successful year may be as simple as building a great relationship with the teacher.

Much research has shown that the parent-teacher relationship has a major influence on a student’s success. When parents and teachers have a positive rapport with one another, students are more motivated with school work and have better behavior in the classroom. Additionally, this home-school connection gives the child a sense of belonging, which also helps them in their social interactions.

Below are five suggestions for parents to build a supportive relationship with their child’s teacher:

Communicate Often

Communication is key to any relationship, and this is no exception. Teachers are required as part of their duties to speak with parents regularly about student progress. Unfortunately, teachers have limited conference and preparation time built into their schedules. The reality is that often only the needs of the most severely struggling students get attention during this time. Many teachers wish they could initiate more conversations, but have too many demands on their time.

That isn’t to say that a teacher wouldn’t be thrilled to write a reply to a parent email asking about their student. Teachers love opportunities to brag to a parent about students’ successes. They also welcome opportunities to discuss concerns and needs for students. But often those conversations only happen if they are initiated by the parent, simply because of the demands on the teacher’s time and attention. In addition, she may be unaware of a need. Don’t be afraid to get in touch occasionally for any reason.

Teachers usually try to communicate by way of a weekly newsletter, website, or communication folder. This is a way of reaching out to more parents. Reading this information thoroughly and responding back is a good way to keep in touch. Attending parent-teacher conferences is also a great way to communicate with the teacher and lets your student know their education is important to you. Another idea is to proactively start the conversation at the beginning of the year by sending a note with  information or concerns you may have about your child. Some teachers will ask for this, but if they don’t, this is something you can always do on your own.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

Sometimes parents have a concern about something that has happened in class or with their child’s grade. They may even be frustrated or angry. This is perfectly okay, and teachers definitely want the chance to address concerns with you. What is important in these circumstances is to keep it polite and professional. When speaking to the teacher or writing an email, try to express your concerns without making accusations or demands. Remember that you and your child and the teacher will most likely need to work together all year. Therefore, you want to keep things supportive for everyone.

A wise teacher once told the parents at back-to-school night, “I’ll believe half of what your child tells me about you, if you’ll believe half of what they tell you about me!” That was a humorous way of saying that children will often exaggerate or even lie about something to avoid doing work or getting in trouble. If you have heard something about school that doesn’t sound right, don’t make assumptions. Reach out and ask politely for a better explanation. Chances are, you will come away with more understanding and can develop a plan together for dealing with the issue.

Set an Example of Respect

It wasn’t too many generations ago that teachers were held at the pinnacle of respect in the community. Their word was absolute in the classroom, and students found guilty for breaking the rules at school found themselves punished at home as well. But that respect has taken a significant decline in recent decades, as illustrated by this 2014 survey by USA Today. I repeatedly hear from veteran teachers complaining of worsening behavior from students and parents over time, and it is also commonly the main reason given for teachers who are leaving the profession early. Many say that behavior problems in the classroom are such a hindrance, they can no longer teach effectively.

Children learn most of their behaviors from their parents, usually by example. They see the way their parents act towards others, and they think that is what’s acceptable. Try to make a habit of speaking positively about the teacher, even if you personally don’t like or agree with them. Back the teacher up, whenever possible, regarding issues of discipline or grading. Point out times when you are obeying laws or rules and encourage them to do so as well.

One of the best gifts a parent can give their child is to teach them gratitude for others. Remind your child that their teacher works very hard, even before and after school hours, to get ready for class. Encourage them to give their best work, too. They can also thank their teachers occasionally with kind words, a thank-you note, or a small gift.

Understand Class Scope and Expectations

Most schools have a “Meet the Teacher” or “Back-to-School” night at the beginning of the year, and this is a great opportunity to get to know the teacher and learn about class rules. Some schools require teachers to provide a syllabus or disclosure document with important information. Be sure to read these thoroughly, and if you don’t understand something, get in touch with the teacher. Keep track of assignments and dates and help your student stay on track. This supports the teacher by reducing the task of managing assignments.

Be a Resource

Schools are always in need of more help, and parents can be a great resource. The PTA is a great place to get involved for school improvement and fundraising. Parents may also ask the teacher if they can volunteer for something in the classroom. Teachers can usually use help for small group work, prepping lesson materials, organizing classroom supplies, or sharing their expertise on a subject. Even a small effort on your part can significantly lighten the teacher’s workload. This will give them more bandwidth to provide quality learning experiences for the students.

If you don’t have a lot of time, classes are always in need of donations of supplies. Buy a couple items from the teacher’s wish list. Pick up a few packs of pencils or paper you see on sale at the store. Donate books, games, or puzzles that are in decent shape, but your kids no longer use. In addition, if you are getting rid of any household items, contact the teacher and see if she can use them at school.


By reaching out and giving support to your child’s teacher, you can build a great working relationship. Together, you can make this the best school year ever!

Help me make a better world for our children!

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