Ideas for Parents: A Collection of Tips, Insights, and Activities for Real-World Parenting

Ideas for Parents: A Collection of Tips, Insights, and Activities for Real-World Parenting

by Mark Matlock, Christopher Lyon


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You know you should be more than just housemates with your kids, but as their lives become as busy as yours, that feeling of belonging together can fade.

How do you maintain close bonds with your kids? What can you do if you sense that your kids are pulling away in an unhealthy manner? And what can you, as a family, actually do together that will be more meaningful than staring at screens in the same room?

With practical advice on how to deepen and expand your most important human connections, Ideas for Parents will lead you in ways to develop and nourish the spiritual appetite of your family.

From rebuilding the heart connection with your child to giving the gift of your attention to learning the importance of saying “I’m sorry,” here is wise counsel, quick tips, and a Christian perspective on how to deal with a host of parenting concerns.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310677673
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 07/03/2012
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Mark Matlock has been working with youth pastors, students, and parents for more than two decades. He’s the Executive director of Youth Specialties and founder of Wisdom Works Ministries and Planet Wisdom. He’s the author of several books including The Wisdom On series, Living a Life That Matters, Don’t Buy the Lie, and Raising Wise Children. Mark lives in Texas with his wife, Jade, and their two teenage children.

Christopher Lyon is a writer, editor, web content manger and pastor – but rarely all at once. Mostly he looks for creative ways to teach and write about the Bible for other people like him who are trying to figure out what to do about it,. He has written lots of books, Bible studies, worship videos, movie reviews, blog posts and snarky Facebook comments. He and his wife Rebekah and their son Sam make a pretty good team most of the time. See what else he’s made at Words Clink

Read an Excerpt

Ideas for Parents

By Mark Matlock Christopher Lyon


Copyright © 2012 Mark Matlock
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-67767-3

Chapter One



This section offers Real World Parents some practical advice on how to deepen and expand family connections. You know, of course, that you should be more than just housemates with your kids; but as their lives become as busy as yours, that feeling of belonging together can fade.

How do I maintain those bonds with my kids? What can I do if I sense that my kids are pulling away in an unhealthy manner? And what can we actually do together that will be more meaningful than staring at different screens in the same room?

This section will address those questions and more.

Section Contents:

• Parenting Q&A with Bart Millard of MercyMe: Show Up and Be Real

• Parenting Q&A and Activity with Richard Ross: Rebuild the Heart Connection with Your Child

• Idea: Ask Again What You Really Know

• Idea: Give the Gift of Your Attention

• Activity: Play "Show Us Your Day"

• Activity: Toast Each Other

• Activity: Fill the Love Jar

• Wise Counsel from Steve Greenwood: Say "I'm Sorry" Together




Bart Millard, lead singer of the hugely popular Christian music group MercyMe, was at one time an unlikely candidate to become either an internationally recognized recording artist or a representative for Christ from stages around the globe. Growing up, his home life was often challenging at best, leaving him cold toward the big ideas taught at the church he was forced to attend.

But something changed during his freshman year in high school. More specifically, someone changed. Bart's dad responded to a crisis in their lives by drawing close to God in a way he'd never done before—and Bart was watching. That response not only changed Bart's relationship with God and with his dad, but it's still impacting his parenting choices today.

What was your family like growing up?

My parents divorced when I was three. My dad was verbally abusive. He never laid a finger on Mom, but he was a very big and strong guy. If there was a diamond necklace she loved, he would destroy that in front of her—that kind of guy. It was pretty rough.

We lived with her for a while, from when I was about three years old until third grade. I [spent] every other weekend with my dad.

And then my mom remarried. She had actually been married once already to [my] extremely abusive stepdad [who] had broken her arm. She got out of that marriage and remarried again to a really great guy, and he was transferred [from Dallas] to San Antonio.

My brother [Stephen], who's five years older than I am, really wanted to stay with his friends, and he had a really great relationship with my dad—we both did. So [my parents] decided they would let Stephen stay with dad and live in the Dallas area and go to school. And they didn't want to separate my brother and me.

I ended up living with my dad from third grade up until I was on my own, [which happened] when he passed away when I was nineteen. So I spent most of my life with my dad. I would see my mom on holidays.

My dad was a scary guy to live with. He had a really bad temper. But I was a pretty rebellious kid at times early in life. I found myself getting in trouble a lot and kind of paying the price, too. My dad spanked me a lot.

And then in my freshman year in high school, my father was diagnosed with cancer. That was probably one of the best things that happened to me and my dad, which is kind of ironic. But that's when my dad got his life right with Christ. He started to fall intimately in love with Jesus. And by the time my freshman year in college came around, when my father passed away, he had gone from [being] this guy I was really afraid of becoming one day to a guy I wanted to be when I grew up.

Bart, you've told me your dad made you go to church every Sunday, even though he didn't go. But it wasn't until your dad started falling in love with Jesus himself that you really connected to God. What would you say to parents who take their kids to church every Sunday but don't go themselves? Talk a little about how the authenticity of your father's transformation made a real difference in your life.

First, I do give him credit for just making me go to church, because there was structure there that didn't exist in my life growing up. Dad would get me to church. He'd make the church van come and pick me up at home. He'd get me there.

There was definitely a little double standard. The guy was incredibly mean-tempered. He could lose it at any moment, but [he would say], "You're going to church." I used to resist that. But it did instill in me that there's definitely a need to be there.

And then when he was diagnosed, something changed to where all of this going-to-church business took on life. I started seeing a transformation in my dad when no one else was watching, which was very unusual for me. I saw somebody making godly decisions and apologizing and encouraging and doing these things I'd heard about in church but had never happened to me.

The Bible would be left open by his bed every night, and I saw his attitude transform in front of me. I started seeing what it meant to actually have a relationship with Christ—to intimately love Christ. That's when everything changed for me in a huge way. All of a sudden, I had a desire to be a part of the body of Christ.

It's huge for any kid to go through that when they're in the middle of high school, in the middle of knowing everything and thinking they've got it all together—to see my dad wither away but at the same time become stronger and stronger in his faith.

In addition to your dad letting you see how God was changing him, is there anything else your parents did for you in the middle of all the craziness of your growing-up years that turned out to be really positive?

There are things I'm grateful for. With all of the selfishness taking place between my mom and dad, looking back, it's beyond me that they would ever consider keeping my brother and me together. And that was really important. My relationship with my brother is pretty incredible now because we stuck through this together.

Also, as far as my singing and wanting to go into ministry, my dad was very supportive of what I did, even though he knew it would be a long road and the odds of successfully doing it are pretty slim. Maybe it's because he was diagnosed by the time we actually started talking about what I wanted to do, but he was very adamant that you need to do what you love and what you feel God is calling you to do.

And my dad was very generous. We didn't have much growing up, but in the Christmas season, even when dad seemed to be at his worst, he would go to great lengths to try to make somebody's Christmas a little better. He would always tell us that even if you don't have anything, if you have something to give to somebody else, it's going to make you feel like you have a lot.

It's just a little ironic to look at these moments of him being very noble. I've probably made him such a hero because of the last few years. Now I'm going through and trying to acknowledge some of the bad traits he passed on to me and things that have scarred me.

For a long time after someone passes away, you make him a martyr and you refuse to say anything bad about him. And sometimes it's a strain on your own marriage if you don't acknowledge that and realize there are things about [you] that are very much like [that person] and not productive at all.

So you think it helps you as a spouse and parent to be able to be honest and recognize both the positive and negative in your own parents?

Yes, absolutely. Some parents probably take it a little too far and blame their parents for everything they do wrong. When anything is out of balance, you've got to find the other side of it. I went through a long time where I was like, "He was the greatest person ever." I refused to admit that more times than not, he was a very, very bad father until the last few years of his life.

I always said, "we had issues" and my dad was a "rough father," but I never specifically addressed the issues I see my wife having a hard time with in me [now]. The worst thing a parent could ever say to himself or to his children or wife is, "That's just the way I am." [If you do that,] there's no room for change. You've already surrendered to the fact that this is what you're going to be from now on, and that's a horrible place to put the rest of your family. You're not willing to realize [that] God has called you to be who he is and anything's possible to overcome.

What are some messages that are vitally important for parents—maybe especially single parents—to give to their kids?

When my oldest son was two, he was diagnosed with diabetes. I remember sitting him down a little later in life, when he could comprehend what we were talking about, and explaining to him that this was no mistake. [I told him,] "It's not like God didn't see this coming. You're not an accident. This is exactly what God had planned for you. And the best thing you can do is to hit it head on and think, God must have something amazing planned for me to shape me this way and put me through this."

I realized after telling my son this [that] that's exactly where I was when I was a kid. My parents' divorce didn't shock God. It didn't sneak up on him. Before we ever took a breath, he knew the difficult things we were going to go through.

And the crazy thing is, if that's what it takes for my life to glorify him, then I believe he will do it. If he can put his perfect Son on the cross, then I'm pretty sure he's capable of doing anything he wants to me. God knows me better than I know myself. People ask, "Would you ever change anything that's taken place?" I don't think I could do that because there's a risk [that] I wouldn't be who I am today.

For whatever reason, God saw fit that this was the journey I was supposed to take. So the best advice I can give to single parents or even terminally ill parents or parents with terminally ill kids is that even though it looks incredibly out of control right now, God is still in control. He never steps off his throne. He never blinks. He never turns his back on you. This is exactly what he had in store for you. Even though it's hard to swallow and it doesn't make it hurt any less, if we start to believe that God at some point has lost the smallest ounce of control, then we are in much bigger trouble than what we're facing right now.

You wrote the song "Bring the Rain," which has a very similar message of trusting that God's plan for us is the best plan—even when it's painful. I think a lot of Christian parents are trying to avoid adversity or suffering, but that's something that seems to come with the Christian life. Can suffering be an opportunity for parents to show their kids the power of God?

People become obsessed with trying to protect their kids, as if they could avoid tragedy by keeping them locked away. Some people just stop living because they're afraid. It's missing the joy of riding a horse or a motorcycle or doing something that brings you alive because you're afraid you might fall. Man, what a sad, sad way to live. It's heartbreaking.

When we were recording "Bring the Rain," our producer kept saying, "Are you sure that's what you want to sing?"

I told him, "You know, it's inevitable. I'm not asking for it. Lord knows, I don't want it, at all. But it's just a part of life. And I don't want to stop living. I want to embrace life as much as I possibly can."

One of the things that helped you to really connect to God in this way was seeing the transformation in your father from sinner to almost saint. But you and I already had a relationship with God when we started raising our kids. So instead of seeing this radical change from terrible to better, our kids are forced to deal with our hypocrisy, in a sense. You saw huge positive contrast in your dad's life. Our kids see us trying to live a life for God but failing to do that perfectly. What are the challenges you see in that as a parent now—that your kids really see the power of God every day?

I'm in the same boat my dad was in, but it's coming from the opposite direction. I'm a Super Christian, according to all of my kids' friends and their parents and what they see on TV or whatever. Then they turn and look at me sitting on the couch with my stomach hanging out, eating a bowl of ice cream; and they say, "That's you? When are you going to put on the cape around here?" Man, it's been tough.

I guess a great example is when I was talking about how sometimes I was glorifying my dad when I wouldn't address some of the bad things about him. Some people will do the opposite. They'll vilify their dad. There may be some decent qualities that were passed on to [them], but they won't acknowledge [those qualities].

Well, I'm kind of doing that in real time. I'll have long conversations with Sam right now about how what he sees on TV or hears people say about me—it's not humanly possible to be that way. I'm trying to be as real to my son as possible. I always tell him, "Man, if I can make a difference for the kingdom—I mean, look at me—imagine what God can do with you."

A lot of the stuff in the Bible that we're talking about with Sam right now are the shortcomings of people like Samson and Moses and Paul and David—and how there was just so much wrong about some of these guys. If we saw them today, we'd say that obviously they couldn't be used by God at all. But David was a man after God's own heart, and he murdered somebody for his wife.

For whatever reason God chooses to keep using us. Obviously, I've not murdered anyone, but I still have issues in my life. I can think of a million reasons why God would never use me, but I can think of only one reason why he would. It's because he chose to use me.

We need to talk this stuff through.

For parents who have come from very inadequate parents themselves, how do you deal with the insecurity of thinking this could disqualify you from being a good parent, or even that it guarantees you won't do the job well?

Well, the best advice I was given before my son was ever born was, "If you're actually worried about being a good parent, you're going to be just fine."

It's almost like when you're trying to lose weight, you've got to get on the scale. The day you stop getting on the scale is the day you stop caring. Years from now, you're going to get on it and say, "How did I gain a hundred pounds? What happened?"

But every day you stand on the scale, it stays with you. It helps in the decisions you make for that day. And a lot of that applies to being a parent. As long as I keep asking the questions Am I being a decent parent? and Am I making the right decisions? it means I'm still in the game. I'm still concerned; it still matters to me that I'm a good parent.

The day you stop caring, stop asking questions—that's when it becomes extremely dangerous. It's not about being perfect parents; it's about being involved parents. Stay concerned. Keep working. Try to get better. Because I'm telling you, man, God's going to be faithful to honor that.

Find out more about Bart and MercyMe at Or follow him on Twitter @BartMillard.




Note: This activity involves the use of a product, a book developed by Richard Ross and Gus Reyes designed to help teens and parents connect on an emotional level. It's something we recommend. But even if you're not interested in the book, the information in the interview below is helpful in spelling out our need as parents to get intentional about making heart connections with our kids.

Richard Ross cares deeply about parents and their connections to their kids—especially teenage kids. As a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has observed the relationships between Christian teens and their parents for several decades. He feels like something is broken, even among churched families.

Here he describes the problem and talks about a book he developed to help bridge that gap. It's called 30 Days: Turning the Hearts of Parents and Teenagers Toward Each Other (available from


Excerpted from Ideas for Parents by Mark Matlock Christopher Lyon Copyright © 2012 by Mark Matlock. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 13

Introduction: How to Use This Book 15

Part 1 Relationships and Feelings 19

Section 1 Family Relationships 21

Parenting Q&A: Show Up and Be Real Bart Millard of Mercy Me 23

Parenting Q&A and Activity: Rebuild the Heart Connection with Your Child Richard Ross 30

Idea: Ask Again What You Really Know 34

Idea: Give the Gift of Your Attention 36

Activity: Play "Show Us Your Day" 38

Activity: Toast Each Other 40

Activity: Fill the Love Jar 42

Wise Counsel: Say "I'm Sorry" Together Steve Greenwood 45

Section 2 Adoption and Identity 47

Parenting Q&A: Growing Up Dobson Ryan Dobson 49

Talk About: Adoption 60

Talk About: Our Eager Father 63

Talk About: Becoming Who We Are 65

Section 3 Anger and Rebellion 69

Wise Counsel: How to Parent an Angry Child Terry Linhart 71

Talk About: How to Handle Anger 74

Idea: Don't Make It about the Piercings and Tats 77

Talk About: The Foolish Joy of Mocking 79

Idea: Listen to Your Gut 81

Wise Counsel: Never Give Up Parenting a Difficult Teen Mark Gregston 83

Section 4 Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Sadness 87

Idea: Counter the Culture to Protect Their Mental Health 89

Talk About: When God Waits, Part 1 91

Talk About: When God Waits, Part 2 94

Talk About: Fear Versus Trusting God 97

Activity: Play the Worst Possible Scenario Game 100

Talk About: Faith and Feelings 103

Talk About: Sadness 106

Talk About: Finding Peace 109

Section 5 Sex and Self-Control 111

Wise Counsel: The Summer of Thirteen, a Rite of Passage Terry Kelly Linhart 113

Idea: Give Them a Strong Religious Background to Delay Sex 115

Idea: Don't Wait Too Long to Talk About Sex 117

Idea: Show Them the Numbers on How Many Are Doing It 119

Idea: Point Out the New Normals for Sex in Culture 121

Talk About: Sex Questions 123

Idea: Pay Their Phone Bill to Curb Sexting 126

Idea: Emphasize Self-Control 128

Talk About: Working on Self-Control 130

Part 2 Daily Life 133

Section 6 Media Matters 135

Idea: Be Resolved That Media Choices Really Do Influence Behavior 137

Activity: Weekly Top Five 139

Idea: Ask Them to Identify Unhealthy Ingredients 142

Activity: What's the Big Idea? 144

Talk About: Loving God and Music 146

Idea: Friend Them-Don't Be Sneaky 149

Talk About: Reputation 151

Idea: Send Them to an Analog Camp 153

Section 7 Money 155

Idea: Teach Them Money Wisdom on Purpose 157

Talk About: Investing in What Matters 159

Idea: Teach Them That Money Is Influence 161

Talk About: How Money Fails 163

Section 8 Success 165

Talk About: Making Jesus the Goal 167

Talk About: Redefining Success 169

Idea: Help Them Find Their Purpose 172

Idea: Emphasize Hard Work over Giftedness 175

Idea: Teach Them Sleep Is Wise 177

Section 9 School 179

Talk About: Going Back to School, Part 1 181

Talk About: Going Back to School, Part 2 184

Wise Counsel: Tackle Bullying Head On Jonathan McKee 187

Idea: Help Them Not to Cheat 197

Idea: Help Them Not to Be Afraid of Expressing Their Faith at School 199

Section 10 Celebrations and Holidays 201

Activity: Birthdays-Crown a King or Queen for a Day 203

Activity: New Year's-Have a Family Year in Review 205

Talk About: New Year's-A New You in the New Year 207

Activity: Valentine's Day-Have a Progressive Kindness Dinner 209

Talk About: Valentine's Day-Bigger Love 211

Activity: Easter-Celebrate a Messianic Passover With Your Family 214

Talk About: Easter-Making Passion Week Personal 216

Activity: Thanksgiving-Play "Moment Soakers" 220

Talk About: Thanksgiving-Saying Thanks 222

Wise Counsel: Advent-Build an Advent Tradition Shawn Small 225

Activity: Christmas-Make a Mean Christmas 239

Talk About: Christmas-What Mary Said 242

Part 3 Spiritual Shepherding 245

Section 11 General Wisdom 247

Talk About: Now and Forever 249

Talk About: The Seasons of Life 252

Talk About: Humility 255

Talk About: Being Judgmental 258

Talk About: Out-the-Door Instructions 261

Section 12 Missions, Evangelism, and Service 263

Talk About: Evangelism and Missions 265

Idea: Talk Missionary about Tragedies in the News 268

Wise Counsel: Send Them on a Mission Project Richard Ross 270

Talk About: Evangelism 272

Talk About: Going and Doing 275

Activity: Adopt a Family 278

Section 13 Ongoing Discipleship 281

Parenting Q&A: Catching Dad's Passion for Truth Sean McDowell 283

Wise Counsel: Tell Your Kids about Your Faith Life Kara Powell 287

Talk About: Walking, Part 1 289

Talk About: Walking, Part 2 292

Talk About: Obeying God First 294

Talk About: Rules and Our Hearts 296

Wise Counsel: Think About Discipling Your Kids-and Their Friends Barry St. Clair 299

Talk About: Faith in Action 303

Talk About: Countering the Culture 305

Section 14 Praying For and With Your Kids 309

Wise Counsel: Lead Your Family in Worship Mark Matlock 311

Talk About: Praising God 317

Talk About: Praise and Worship 320

Wise Counsel: Pray Scripture for Your Kids Christopher Lyon 322

Talk About: Praying Together 326

Wise Counsel: Have a Very Loud Quiet Time Steve Greenwood 329

Activity: Start a Thanks Book 331

Section 15 The Big Truths 335

Talk About: God's Goodness 337

Talk About: The Ten Commandments 339

Talk About: God's Grace 343

Idea: Let Them Hear You Rooting for the Grace of God 346

Talk About: Who Jesus Really Is 348

Talk About: Jesus Is Above All 350

Idea: Encourage Commitment to Christ When They're Young 353

Talk About: What It Means to Be Saved 355

Talk About: Why Church Matters 358

Epilogue 361

Notes 363

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