Five Ways to Stay Connected with Your Kids in the Back-to-School Season by Linda Howard

It’s that time again, already! The school year is starting, and with that comes homework as well as a plethora of extracurricular activities with school and church. Busyness can create chasms of separation in families when it is unchecked. It takes intentionality and planning to keep relationships strong and growing. As your family’s schedule fills up and everyone starts going their separate ways, what can you do to stay connected? Below are five ideas to keep your family connected through the whirlwind of everyday life. Implement these suggestions or use them as a springboard to come up with your own ideas for developing stronger family ties.

  1. Read out loud together for ten minutes every night. Reading aloud creates a safe atmosphere that fosters deeper conversations, increases everyone’s knowledge, and helps bond you together as a family. Take turns choosing a book to read so that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy something they love.
  2. Eat together as a family as much as possible. You have heard this over and over, but it bears repeating. Families who eat together talk to each other more. Mealtime can be one of the most relaxing and connective parts of the evening. Use the time to find out what is really going on in your kids’ lives. Ask questions and listen, really listen, to their answers. You will grow to know your children even better than you do now.
  3. Take one or more of your kids with you when you run errands. There is always something to do—go to the grocery store or the bank, or take a meal to a sick friend. Invite your children to come along and help you. Give them a specific responsibility during the trip so they feel like they are contributing to the family. Take advantage of the time to ask them about their day and, once again, listen carefully to what they have to say.
  4. Set up game nights. Play board games, cards, hide-and-seek, or other games as a family. My grandkids love to play hide-and-seek in the house. They are still young, so the minute I say “ready or not,” they come running out of their hiding places, giggling, and jump on me. They are not playing the game “right,” and we don’t always play for a long time, but the time we do play together is precious and has already yielded huge relational dividends.
  5. Send notes in your kids’ backpacks or lunch bags. I used to put small notes for my daughter in her lunch. I would tell her I was praying for a test she had to take or that I was thinking about her and hoping she had a great day. I had no idea what those notes meant to her until many years later, when I was helping her pack for a move she was making with her husband and children. She was sorting through a box and pulled out all the notes I had written to her almost twenty years before. She kept those notes all through junior high, high school, college, and her marriage. What a blessing to me to learn that those notes were so important to her!

None of the things above are huge time investments, but they can have long-lasting positive effects on your family. Every family is different, so don’t feel constrained to the suggestions above. Think about what would work best for your family and start with one thing at a time. Your family will thank you for it, and you will love the relationships that grow out of your time together.

linda howard


Linda Howard is the Acquisitions Director for Children and Youth titles at Tyndale House Publishers. In her free time, Linda loves reading and spending time with her four grandkids.

Jaxon is 2! We’re celebrating by honoring the special ones in your life!

Not long into their pregnancy, Brandon and Brittany Buell were given the heartbreaking news that their son, whom they had already named Jaxon, had a rare condition called Microhydranencephaly (meaning that he was missing part of his skull and most of his brain), and that he would likely die in utero or shortly after birth. If he did somehow survive, they were told he would suffer from severe neurological problems, would likely be deaf, blind, and unable to sit up, crawl, or communicate. Terminating the pregnancy was suggested on numerous occasions, but the Buells refused, opting instead to “choose life.”


In Don’t Blink, Brandon and Brittany share the invaluable lessons that Jaxon—now approaching two—has taught them about the inherent value of every human life, the extraordinary power of faith, and the key to living each and every day to the fullest. Learn more about the book here – click here.


Jaxon is 2! We’re celebrating by honoring the special ones in your life.

Enter to win one of 3 great prizes:

  • Let us clean the house for you! A $100 Visa gift card toward the house cleaning service of your choice.
  • We’re honoring all the great work that the Ronald McDonald House does for so many of our precious children. We’re giving away a $100 donation to the Ronald McDonald house in your name!
  • Be one of the first to read Jaxon’s story! 30 lucky winners will receive a copy of Jaxon’s new book, Don’t Blink.



Jaxon’s Birthday Celebration

Raising Kind Children in Today’s World by Amie Carlson

The random acts of kindness movement is an attempt to show that there is still good in the world despite the sad headlines that bombard us daily. News stories about people paying it forward in drive through lines that go on for hours or someone giving a kidney to a stranger they met in a waiting room are especially popular during the holiday season. But no matter the time of year, hearing these stories warm our hearts and inspires us to be kinder humans in our everyday interactions – at the grocery store, to our servers at restaurants and to our neighbors.

Being kind is not something we are born with. It is a learned behavior just as prejudice or insensitivity is a learned behavior. Being kind to others is something we can start to teach our children when they are young. Here are some easy things you can do to instill kindness in your children, no matter their age.

Model kindness

  • Everyday situations give us opportunities to model kindness for our kids. You can show kindness in little things like smiling and thanking the checkout person at the grocery store and asking about their day or in more intentional things like mowing the neighbor’s lawn or bringing flowers to a neighbor “just because”. Remember that these little moments of interaction can make a big difference in brightening someone’s day. Use teachable moments to discuss how you are being kind or could have been more kind and be sure to praise your child when you catch them doing something kind without being asked.

Kindness Jar

  • Brainstorm a list of ways your children can show kindness to others. Write each idea on a slip of paper. Once a week as a family, pull a slip and be intentional about showing kindness. There are lots of great ideas on Pinterest or the internet that can help you if you get stuck but here are some ideas.
    • Write a letter or draw a picture for a friend or relative
    • Take out the garbage or clean something without being asked
    • Invite a friend over to play and let them choose the game/activity
    • Give a compliment
    • Give someone a surprise gift for no reason
    • Say thank you to someone who makes a difference – police officer, firefighter, doctor, nurse, teacher, soldier, etc.

Family Fun Night

  • Once a month or once a year, have a family fun night dedicated to performing random acts of kindness. This one takes some planning, but it is a fun way to share the joy of being kind and getting nothing in return as a family. There are lots of ideas on the internet but let your kids be part of the brainstorming and planning. They will learn from this just as much as doing the activities – you might be surprised at their ideas. Examples:
    • Anonymously pay for someone else’s meal (in the drive through or at a restaurant).
    • Tape a bunch of quarters to the inside of a washing machine at the laundromat with a note (this load is on me!). This also works at parking meters if you have access to those.
    • Bring sandwiches and Gatorade or coffee to a homeless person.
    • Leave money in your favorite book at a bookstore with a note, “I love this book, buy it for yourself and enjoy!”

Make a Kindness Mini-Book (starring your child)

  • Catch your child doing something kind and make a scrapbook out of it. Check out this post for detailed instructions.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started and there are a million different ways to show kindness. Start implementing intentional acts of kindness into your family’s everyday life and see what God can do to mold your child’s heart. And who knows – you might find yourself the recipient of an act of kindness yourself along the way.

The writer of this post, Amie Carlson, is the Product and Marketing Manager for Focus on the Family Kids/Media and Faith that Sticks at Tyndale House Publishers. Amie has also just written her first Lift-the-Flap Children’s book: “I Can be Kind: My First Manners Book”.

Amie Carlson 

The World as We Know It By Brittany Buell

Brittany Buell - a21

“Each moment in the life of a parent, with or without a child who has special needs, is a moment that can be used to teach, to serve, to love the lives we live, and to be thankful that we have been given the opportunity and ability to share this beautiful world with our children.”

When living in the world of parenting a child with special needs, life can become a bit stressful. Being an adult, a mother, and a wife is already difficult enough, especially in today’s society where lines are constantly blurred as to what living a Christian lifestyle means and entails.

On top of trying to live a life for God, add the pressure of sustaining a successful marriage, working a job, doing daily household chores, and keeping up with the tasks of life in general, and things can quickly get overwhelming. Additionally, toting the weight of caring for a terminally ill child, with a diagnosis so rare that the doctors and medical professionals who treat your child have not yet seen another case where a child lives long after the pregnancy, let alone to his second birthday, and that certainly equals a daunting set of circumstances to face every day. Long days in the hospital or at doctor’s appointments sometimes feel like wasted time, because no one truly knows your child the way you do.

Brittany Buell - 2

Don’t get me wrong, doctors are fantastic and should be credited for all their years spent learning their specific field of practice, and they should be appreciated for having the ability to save your child’s life in the blink of an eye. However, coming from a mother’s perspective, no doctor or nurse can ever replace the nurturing, loving, natural instincts that come from a child’s own parents.

As a parents, you know exactly what time your child will wake up in the middle of the night, and you know when your child is about to have a seizure even before they do, because you have memorized that frightened look that suddenly appears on their face. With every sound your child makes, you have the ability to know if they are happy, sad, upset, in pain, or require quick dialing of 9-1-1.

As if being an adult isn’t demanding enough, parenting a child with special needs raises your stress levels even higher. How on earth is it possible to still have the inner strength to walk around with a smile, knowing that just around the corner a seizure or emergency room visit awaits?

Brittany Buell - cuties

Think about trips out in public, perhaps to the grocery store. Have you brushed shoulders with a family who has a child with a disability? Have you noticed the way that family was acting? More than likely, on the outside you will observe a mother or father who displays a smile. You will witness a family that finds a way to turn a challenging trip to the store into an obstacle course in the car buggy, turning every corner as if they are in a high speed race alongside the most famous NASCAR driver.



And what is the point?

The point is actually quite simple. The world of parenting a child with special needs introduces you to new focuses and priorities, and nothing in the world matters more than making your family happy, no matter what it takes. Not only do you learn that there is no reason to begin the day with a negative outlook or expectations, but you don’t have that choice anyway. You’ve already made the decision to love your child unconditionally, regardless of health concerns or limitations that may arise, which means you choose to celebrate and cherish life every day. Your mental state has been altered in a way that can no longer withstand the capacity to look at life’s daily tasks as an annoyance. You may be tired and overwhelmed and heartbroken that your child endures what they do every day, but overall your focus and priority is on keeping your family happy at any cost.

We once looked at the trip to the grocery store as just another errand filled with frustrations like getting stuck behind slow drivers, hitting every red light along the way, waiting behind shoppers clogging the aisles, and choosing the wrong checkout line, which ends up feeling more like you’re in the wrong lane of a barely moving traffic jam. Now, after living the life of a family who has a child with special needs, we view our trip to the grocery store as an opportunity to teach our child. We teach peace by not yelling at every car or red light along the way. We teach reading by browsing the food labels on the items we’re purchasing and will be fueling our bodies with. And we teach about using our imaginations as we transform a boring old shopping cart with a squeaky wheel into a super-fast race car on its way to the finish line.

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Each moment in the life of a parent, with or without a child who has special needs, is a moment that can be used to teach, to serve, to love the lives we live, and to be thankful that we have been given the opportunity and ability to share this beautiful world with our children. Our children already go through so much, and the last thing they need in their lives are stressed-out, overwhelmed parents. What they truly need are God-fearing mothers and fathers who use the little moments in life to show love, compassion, and most importantly, patience. This will teach our children, our future generation and our future leaders, how to live well in an often materialistic, tragic, and fast-paced world.  This will teach them to appreciate a fulfilling, happy, and peaceful life.


buellsTo read more about the invaluable lessons that Jaxon has taught Brittany and Brandon about the inherent value of every human life, the extraordinary power of faith, and the key to living each and every day to the fullest, please read Don’t Blink (Tyndale House Publishers), available online or at your local bookstore.

Brandon and Brittany Buell are the parents of Jaxon Emmett Buell and the founders of the Jaxon Strong Facebook community and the Jaxon Strong Foundation. Their story has been featured on Nightline,,, the Huffington Post, and hundreds of other media outlets around the world.

What You Say to a Hurting Person Matters by Ruth Everhart

Hurting Woman

Perhaps this has happened to you. After a worship service, someone asks to have a few words with you. When you sit down together, those “few words” turn out to be powerful and troubling. The person describes a traumatic experience she or he has endured in the past, saying that something in the worship service—Scripture or music or some emotion raised by the Spirit—gave them the courage to come forward at this time.

As a pastor, you are grateful for this moment. You recognize the gift of this person’s vulnerability and the opportunity it presents. You want to offer the healing found in the gospel, but as you listen, the content of their story leaves you feeling rattled, uncomfortable, and at a loss for words. If the trauma included sexual violence, you might even have to deal with your own response of horror. In the face of so much emotion, you feel yourself starting to flounder and clench up. This isn’t because you don’t care but because you are caught unprepared. When this happens, you may be tempted to grab for whatever soothing words came to mind, no matter how clichéd and unhelpful they might be in this circumstance.

Pastors, with a little forethought, we can do better.

I’m speaking as both a pastor and a survivor of sexual violence. I’ve been in both positions—receiving counsel and giving counsel—and I know that the words used in these moments matter. Words always matter, but in these moments they matter in a unique way. The word vulnerability comes from the Latin for “wound.” Words uttered in response to vulnerability have the power to bring healing, but they also have the power to cause further wounding. As followers of the one who came into the world to be the Word of God, we recognize that our words must be carefully chosen in these vulnerable moments. Consider, then, how to respond.

What Not to Say

  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” You may believe this to be true, but for a victim of trauma such as sexual violence, this is going to sound more like “God did this to you” or “You deserved this.” The victim is likely already asking why this awful thing happened, and this blanket response doesn’t help her process a question that may be unanswerable.
  2. “I understand.” Unless you’ve been her, you don’t Each person’s story is unique. You may sympathize with the victim’s pain and even feel pain on her behalf, but this isn’t the same as understanding what she has been through. A better response might be “Help me understand what you’re going through.”
  3. “Did you do anything to provoke him?” It doesn’t matter if this person wore a low-cut top or stayed out too late or was in the wrong neighborhood or left her door unlocked. No one deserves to be the victim of sexual violence. When people blame the victim, it’s often a misguided attempt to seek assurance that this will never happen to them.
  4. Time heals all wounds.” While it’s true that God can bring healing over time, this will come across as flippant and unfeeling to someone who is in extreme pain. Everyone processes in her own way and on her own timeline, so don’t feel like you have to speed along the recovery. Be willing to embrace the fact that healing is often messy and nonlinear.
  5. “I’m praying for you.” This can be an okay thing to say, but it can also sound like a hollow promise spoken in order to end the conversation. Ask for her permission to pray with her now, and if she says yes, offer a prayer that is unhurried and uses conversational language. One word of caution: Don’t take her hand or touch her. If you feel that touching her would bring comfort, ask for permission first.

What to Say

  1. “Can I pray for you right now?” She may decline, and that’s okay. It’s important to recognize that she may be struggling with her faith in the aftermath of what happened. Your job is to create a safe space for her to ask questions and find her way back to God, not to pressure her into a certain behavior, prayer, or faith statement.
  2. “This is not your fault.” It’s likely that a victim of violence is looking for someone to blame, and sometimes the easiest target is oneself. She has probably analyzed everything that happened, trying to figure what she could have done or said to prevent this trauma. She may be wondering if she’s being punished for something. Your words will be a powerful antidote to the lies swirling in her mind.
  3. “It’s okay to grieve and feel angry.” It’s often difficult to give ourselves permission to experience emotions that our culture deems unpleasant. We’d rather just get past the hurt and move on with our lives. But if we try to rush past the grief and anger, we struggle to find true healing. You can give her permission to feel whatever she needs to feel to process the trauma. Healing is a long-term strategy, not a quick fix.
  4. “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.” It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to say, especially if you’re inexperienced with the subject of sexual violence. Let the person know you’re available to listen to her story or to just be with her. People tend to move on and forget about the victim shortly after the initial crisis, but her pain won’t end so quickly. She’s going to need your ongoing support.
  5. “Can I have our care ministry bring you dinner tomorrow?” The trauma this person experienced has likely left her feeling vulnerable and ostracized. By showing concern for her physical well-being, you’re validating her as a person and bringing some semblance of normalcy to her life. Offering to bring a meal or doing a similar act of service is a tangible way to show that the faith community is willing to stick around in the hard times.

Even if you’re not sure exactly what to say to someone who has been the victim of sexual violence, say something. Remaining silent in the face of deep pain communicates a message that may be even more wounding than earnestly but accidentally saying the wrong thing. Consider your words carefully, and trust God to give you the words you need. Those words may be as simple as “You’re loved, by God and by this faith community.”


Ruth Everhart


Ruth Everhart is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor who has been serving the church for more than twenty-five years. A frequent speaker and blogger, Ruth and her husband currently live in the Washington D.C. area.