Review: Kids Flag Page

I don’t often get asked to review something, so I was very excited when Family Matters – an American organisation that promotes the works of Dr Tim Kimmel, author of Grace Based Parenting and other books – asked me to review one of their new products: the Kids Flag Page.

Quite simply, the Kids Flag Page is for parents who have woken up one day and discovered that their kids are not robots. Do you know what I mean? If you’ve had kids, you’ll know that for about the first year or so of their life, it’s not too hard to work out what they want. They’re either hungry, they need their nappy (diaper for the Northern Hemisphere folks) changed or they want a cuddle.

Now fast-forward a couple of years and you’re having a massive fight with your 3-year-old over whether you put her pajamas on first or whether you brush her teeth first. You can’t see that it makes a difference. Your toddler is on the floor in tears. What have you done wrong?

Even assuming that you work out what’s going on with that child, then things get more complicated if you have other children. All of a sudden, all the tricks that worked for #1 don’t work for #2 and who the heck knows what’s up with #3?

Into the midst of all this chaos steps the Kids Flag Page. With the cute subtitle – The Operating Manual That SHOULD Have Come Wtih Each Of Your Kids … But Didn’t – this kit brings parents a step closer to understanding what’s ticking away in their child’s minds.

The concept is fairly simple – this kit is designed to tell you your child’s Country. Not their country of birth, but rather their personality type country. Are they from Control Country, Fun Country, Perfect Country or Peace Country? These correspond more or less to the commonly known personality types from many other books: Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy, Phlegmatic. However, I don’t know about you – but I find Control, Fun, Perfect and Peace a lot easier to remember.

The kit contains a game board and 36 motivation cards. The idea is that you sit down with your child and go through all 36 motivations, which are in the form of little statements like: “I Make People Laugh: It’s easy for you to make people laugh and everything is funny.” Or “I’m One Of A Kind: You love being different. You’re glad you’re not like anyone else.” With your child’s help, you sort the cards into three piles: Always Like Me, Sometimes Like Me, Never Like Me. Then, from there, they take the first two of those piles and work out what is their favourite motivation, and their next five favourites.

From here, parents can quickly work out a numerical score which will tell them what Country their child belongs to and their Adopted Country (which is their next most dominant personality). You can then put stickers on a “flag page” for your child, so they can see exactly which country they belong to.

There’s a 100+ page book by Tim Kimmel that comes with this, which then breaks your child’s personality down into further detail and explain more about the motivations. It also offers illuminating information on what kind of child you get when you combine two Countries (because most children will be a hybrid of their home country and their adopted country).

Most importantly, Tim provides an introduction to his concept of “grace based parenting”, which he has laid out in other books. This is so you’ll not only know what type of child you have – but also a strategy for parenting that child. I actually found this explanation of GBP to be one of the clearest he has given. While  the practicalities of it all aren’t gone into in great depth – the kit points you in the direction of Kimmel’s other books for this – the concept comes across pretty clearly: grace based parenting is a fine balance between being flexible and being firm. A parent who never budges on anything will squash their child, especially given the concept that’s now been explained that every child has a unique personality. However, a parent who is permissive and gives in on everything, will create a child with no boundaries who doesn’t know how to function properly.

So with that in mind, the book that accompanies the kit aims to explain what things to be flexible on with each personality and what boundaries need to be carefully maintained to stop the excesses of that personality type going overboard.

On the whole, I think the Kids Flag Page is a great idea. Because it’s in the form of a game that you play with your child (rather than a book that you read about your child, it shows your child that you are actively interested in understanding and appreciating them. (A great thing for any child.)  The only catch with this is that the kit is designed for children age 6 and up. If you’ve got children under the age of 6 (and my oldest daughter, who we made a flag page for, is only 4), you can still create a flag page for them, but it’s not really something you can do with them.

But each kit comes with enough stickers and flag pages to make three flags, so you can easily make one now by doing your best guess on the motivation cards, and then try it again in a few years when your child is old enough to work through the cards by themselves. I’m certainly looking forward to trying it with my daughter in a couple of years’ time.

One other benefit of this kit is that the book comes with study questions, so if a bunch of parents wanted to buy a kit each, they could meet and discuss their children over the course of a few weeks, which would be a helpful thing.

My only quibble with the kit, which is an issue I took with Kimmel’s book Grace Based Parenting is that I feel the book is a bit light-on in constructing a Biblical defense of its parenting style. I have nothing against Kimmel’s concept of grace based parenting – it’s very similar to the way we parent our children, and I’m really happy with the type of kids they are becoming. But I often find that the books which are promoting a more heavy-handed, “It’s my way or the highway” type parenting, often do so with Scripture prooftexts on every paragraph. By comparison, some of the ideas in this kit sound like they were borrowed from a mixture of popular self-help books.

But this is a minor detail, and will only really cause upset to those people who like to see a large quantity of Bible references throughout their Christian books before they’ll take the advice seriously. For anyone else – especially parents who want to have a close connection with and understanding of their children in their formative years – I recommend giving it a go.

Another drawback, which I just discovered, is that I don’t think this kit is available in Australia yet. I had a check around the web and it seems to be only available in America and Canada. If you visit the Family Matters website, you can order it in one of those countries, but they don’t seem yet to ship to Australia. However, if enough of you ask your local Christian bookstore, I’m sure some will arrive soon.

UPDATE: Family Matters has informed me that they will be able to post to Australia. In their words:

Just a note about the product’s availability for Australia, if the Aussies go to the website and place an order, we will be able to ship it to them.  Our software will not properly calculate the shipping, so they will simply leave their information and we will contact them via email to coordinate shipping, but we are definitely willing and able to send resources Down Under!  In reality, Australians may pay a similar rate to ship products as Canada because tariffs and taxes are so cumbersome for Canadians.

FREE GIVEAWAY! In the meantime, Family Matters have very kindly offered to give away a complimentary kit to someone on my blog. So if you’d be interested in receiving a Kids Flag Page, leave a comment below, and I’ll get my four-year-old to draw a name out of a hat on Sunday 13 October.

For more information about the Kids Flag Page and to see a video where Tim Kimmel explains how the product works, click here.

Book Review: Grace Based Parenting (Tim Kimmel)

Final parenting review.  This book kind of got me off to a bad start, because, in true American-mainstream-Christian nonfiction book style, it jumbles up all kinds of pop psychology and vague use of the Bible.  If you remember from my previous posts, I believe that the Bible’s teaching about the main aims of parenting are that we are to raise children who love and serve Jesus.  While we certainly are told not to exasperate them and to love them, at the end of the day, the goal is not to have kids who feel loved, so much as children who love Jesus. (I have especially been noticing this since reading When People Are Big and God Is Small.)

So I have issues with Kimmel’s main point, which is that the goal of parenting is to meet the three driving needs of your children.  These are:

1. A need for security
2. A need for significance
3. A need for strengthWhile I don’t doubt that children (in fact, most people) need these three things, I don’t see that this is the be-all and end-all of the Bible’s comments on parenting.

However, I found that as the book went on, the book actually did improve.  Kimmel is arguing for a style of parenting that enforces rules and moral boundaries, but at the same time, also lets your children know that they are loved, and that they can make mistakes.

The problem for any potential readers will depend on what your starting point is, and what moral absolutes you think you should impress upon your children.  If you’re the type of parent who wants to protect your children from the world, make sure their hair is kept to a suitable length, monitor their music closely, watch what they wear, etc. then you will probably find this book far too permissive for your liking.

If, on the other hand, you think teaching your children grace means letting them get away with everything, well then, this book will challenge you as well.  On the whole, I found by the end that I understood a lot of what he was talking about.  The problem is, quite simply, that if he wants to take in strong fundamentalist parents who are very strict with their children, then Tim Kimmel needs to be much more exegetically sound.

I’ve seen books written by Christians against rock music, daughters wearing jeans, etc. and believe me, they back up their assertions chapter and verse from the Bible, quote Scripture in every paragraph.  A bit of talk about grace is not going to convince people.

However, most people I know are not that strict.  In which case, you’ll probably agree with most things in this book.

4 out of 5.

Book Review: The No-Cry Sleep Solution (Elizabeth Pantley)

Well, here we go – second-last of my parenting books to be finished.  First off, I’ve got to hand it to Elizabeth Pantley – she is a remarkably good writer.  Everything she puts down is calm and very methodical, so even if the advice does nothing, the book calms you down while reading it.

I’ll be interested to see how this book goes while putting it into practice, which Rachel and I are going to try.  Not having tried that yet, I can only comment on the information contained in the book, not on how effective it is.  But here goes:

Currently, when it comes to books on getting your child to sleep, there are really only two different methods that are put forward.  The most common is “let them cry it out”.  This is not rocket science.  At night time, you put your baby in their cot and leave them there. They will cry.  You let them cry until they fall asleep.

Obviously, the main trick with this technique is getting the parent (especially the mother) to put up with the child’s screaming until such time as the baby gets used to it.

On the other hand, there is also a group of people who say that this is quite an inhumane thing to do and that letting the baby scream causes quite severe distress to the baby.  However, what does this mean?  That we’re supposed to just stay up all night, feeding the Baby That Never Sleeps?

In the middle of all this somewhere is Elizabeth Pantley, who suggests all manner of things that parents can try to get their baby to sleep – none of which require letting your baby get all upset and scream.

I quite like the suggestions here (such as establishing a clear night-time routine, having a regular nap each day) and think they make sense from what we’ve seen with Shelby over the last 18 months.  But, whether we can improve her sleep remains to be seen. But for now, we’ll give it a cry.

I’ll give this a 5 out of 5 if it works.

Book Review: Parenting in the Pew (Robbie Castleman)

Subtitled Guiding Your Children Into the Joy of Worship, this is quite a unique book.  First of all, it should be stated that Robbie Castleman is a mother of two boys, assistant professor of biblical studies at John Brown University (wherever that is), national director for the Religious and Theological Studies Fellowship with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, as well as husband of a minister.  So she has rather a full resume.

This book is very short and easy to read, and basically details Robbie’s suggestions on how to make church-going accessible for your children.  In Robbie’s ideal church, once a child is past the age of 4, they should be able to sit through the entire service with their parents on a regular basis.

This is quite a far cry from all the churches I’ve ever been in, where children can spend the majority of their Sundays up until they’re about age 12 in Sunday School. 

I won’t go into all Robbie’s methodologies for two reasons:  1)  You won’t have any reason to read the book.  And 2) some of her suggestions are more suited for a church with a more structured liturgy.  (As far as I can work out, she is Presbyterian, but exactly what branch of Presbyterian in America I’m not sure). 

But this is an encouraging book, if only for the huge burden of authentic worship that it lays on us as adults.  Do we get enthusiastic about the content of songs?  Do we pay close attention to what we’re learning in sermons so that we can be edified?  Do we prepare our minds to come into God’s presence?  How seriously do we take communion/baptism?

In fact, I can guarantee that if you read this book (whether you have children or not), you will be convicted of your own approach to worshipping in church.  Robbie’s enthusiasm and fervour for coming before the presence of God is infectious, and it has certainly made me want to rethink my approach to church in 2008.

4 1/2 out of 5.

Book Review: Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours (Kevin Leman)

Now, this book actually is from a Christian perspective, so there is actually references to the Bible here.  But we run into another problem with Christian parenting books – there’s not actually heaps and heaps to go on in the Bible about the ins and outs of child-rearing.

There is certainly the injunction for parents to train up their children in the ways of the Lord.  There is the double command in Ephesians 6:1-4 for children to obey their parents and parents not to exasperate their children.  But what exactly does this mean?  I’ve heard children obeying their parents defined to an extent where if you’re in a church and the youth group leader comes up and asks your child whether they would like to come to youth group that they’re undercutting the parents’ authority by not asking them. 

So how do you work out to what extent the parents’ control extends?  This, I think, is the issue.  As far as children are concerned, I think the Bible is pretty clear – they’re to obey their parents in all things, as long as it’s not displeasing to God.  So, whether the parents are being completely controlling or not, the child is to obey.

So how do we avoid domineering parenting?  The onus is on the parent to make sure they discipline and lead in a fair way.  But, the Bible doesn’t seem to have an awful lot to say about exactly what that covers.  Parents are to lead their children into obedience to God, but whether that means that you make every decision for them is not something I’m completely sure about.

All of which brings us to Kevin Leman. Kevin is a Christian and a psychologist (apparently you can be both) and, like Williams Sears, has made quite a name for himself.  So, in tone and style, this book is fairly mainstream and popular.

For that reason, one of the glaring weaknesses of the book is that there’s not an awful lot about spiritual leadership of your children.  (For instance, it would be great to hear more about how to lead devotions with your children, approach to getting them interested in church and Christian things, etc.)  He also seems to be more concerned with raising children who are good people, balanced, etc. rather than disciples of Jesus.

However, given that it’s difficult (as I said above) to draw hard and fast principles for all aspects of parenting (other than that we’re to lead our children into loving and obeying Christ), this book is actually worth a read.  Kevin’s main thesis is what he calls reality discipline.  Quite simply, this means letting your children understand reality as a disciplinary measure.

So, if your child doesn’t want to eat food, rather than a, “You eat that food because I told you to”, Kevin simply suggests that you throw the child’s food away and let them go hungry.  The idea is that the child can understand the reality that it’s better to eat the food you’re given, rather than have no food at all.  After all, when they’re grown up, they’re going to have to eat what they’re given or go hungry.

If your teenager spends all their pocket money on candy and wants more, rather than give them a lecture on why they’re wasting their money, just tell them that there’s no more money until the next allowance day, and let them work out themselves the reality that if I spend all my money, I can’t buy other things.

Obviously, the worry with all of this is that, is this really teaching children to obey their parents?  Or is this just playing strange mindgames with them?  I don’t think this is what Kevin is saying, and certainly, there are issues where he believes the parents’ word goes, no arguments.

But sometimes, he suggests, it is better to let the child have a dose of reality rather than just a dose of parents’ wrath.  So they learn that their actions have consequences – not just an angry parent, but consequences in real life.

It sounds like a pretty good way of building wisdom in your children, but the only problem is it’s a bit hard to know exactly how to apply it in all areas of child-rearing.  This book isn’t as comprehensive as the Sears book and may leave you with questions.  However, it does have some sound ideas, and there’s also some very helpful information on divorce, stepfamilies and other such modern-day realities.

4 out of 5.

Book Review: The Discipline Book (William Sears)

The Discipline BookIf you haven’t heard of William Sears, we can safely assume that a) you don’t have any children and b) you don’t read any books on children.  For everyone else, his name is practically set in concrete in the child-rearing world.  Bill is a pediatrician and his wife, Martha, is a nurse, and together they’ve both parented eight (I think?) of their own children. 

This always makes them fascinating reading, because they’re able to approach issues from a medical/developmental point of view and a hands-on “we’ve-tried-it-too” point of view as parents themselves.  They’re also Christians, but the majority of their books (including this one) are written for a secular audience and by secular publishers, so they don’t refer very much to their faith in this book.

For that reason, you will find that this book doesn’t help with the spiritual side of raising children, and the type of goals that the Sears are aiming you towards are the more vague goals of raising “responsible adults” and having kids “that feel right”, etc.

Also, as per the previous post, you will respond more or less favourably to this book based on your own attitudes towards children and discipline. The Sears are strong proponents of “attachment parenting” which, to sum it up very briefly, involves making sure that you spend lots and lots of time with your children during the first two years of life.  This includes wearing them in slings, letting them sleep in your bed, cuddling them whenever they want a cuddle, breastfeeding them whenever they’re hungry, etc.

It is the Sears’ belief that if you do this, you will have developed such a strong attachment (thus the name) between parent and child that you will be on a much stronger footing when it comes to enforcing discipline.

Now some people take this to mean that the Sears are promoting letting their children run your life and making the world revolve around them.  To a degree this is true (certainly, relative to putting your child in a corner and only feeding them at set times during the day, etc., attachment parenting is quite child-centric).  So if that rings alarm bells with you, you’re probably not going to like it.

However, it seems to me that no marriage would survive if you only showed love to your spouse on a scheduled, mechanical basis.  If your spouse needs you, you respond to her/him.  So why would you treat your children any differently?  You do have to take into account their immaturity, and the Searses certainly do, but their is no good reason to treat a child any less than you would your spouse.

All that out of the way, if you can buy into the attachment parenting approach, this book is amazingly comprehensive.  Covering everything from toilet training to tantrum throwing to helping them share their toys, this book has it all.  Also, none of it is written in an abstract theoretical style.  Bill and Martha have seen most situations with their own kids, so they’re writing about things that they have seen work for them.  (Which is where the age thing comes in.  Being only young, with one toddler daughter, I haven’t seen all this for myself and have to take the Searses word for it.)

Given the proviso about the lack of a spiritual dimension, and whatever qualms you may have about attachment parenting (I don’t have that many myself), I quite like this book.  The Searses approach is calm, and everything they say about the development of a child seems quite sound to me.

I  don’t know that I’d push this book on everyone, because it is quite distinctly in a certain camp about child-rearing, but it’s certainly worth considering.

Should also mention (because let’s face it, for most of us discipline = spanking) that the Searses are anti-spanking, and I’m still not sure what I make of that myself.  I’d like to be able to say more about it, but I’m still thinking that one through.

So for now, I’ll give this book a 4 1/2 out of 5 for what it is, but recommend that you supplement this book with others from a Christian perspective.

Further Thoughts on Parenting Books

Well, I am almost finished the five books I was talking about, but before I post individual reviews, I thought it would be sensible to mention some thoughts about parenting books in general that should be kept in mind while reading these books (or any other parenting books for that matter).

It seems to me that how you respond to a particular book or methodology of parenting is going to be determined by several factors. Perhaps it would be most helpful to refer to them as presuppositions.  Whatever you call them, it is my theory that we all view parenting books or methods through a variety of lenses.

The reason I say this is because if you only have to talk with a few different people (especially in Christian circles) and the fervour with which people hold to methods of parenting is quite astonishing.  Even more astonishing is that these styles of parenting can be poles apart, too.

Here’s what seems to be the things you need to notice:

 1. Your Age.  Perhaps I shouldn’t call this age so much as just how much life experience you have with children.  If you’re like me, you’ve had about a year and a half with one child.  Other people have had 25 years of experience and five children.  Why does this make a difference?  The reason it makes a difference is that when you’re in my position, you have no practical hands-on experience of testing these ideas.  It’s even worse before you have any kids.  So you can’t say, “Yes, if I follow that, my child will turn out like that.”  You can decide whether you trust the author or not of a particular book, but you don’t know what will happen.  However, if you have age on your side, you can say, “Ah yes, that’s what worked for me.” Or “I can see now that if I’d only done that with my second son, I wouldn’t have had so much grief.” Etc.

2. Perception of Children.  Everybody has varying views on children.  On one extreme is people whose lives revolve around their children – on the other extreme are people who hate children and never want to have any.  But you will fall somewhere on this spectrum.  If you’re really enthusiastic about children, I believe you will gravitate more towards styles of parenting (such as attachment parenting) that really encourage you to have a close bond with your children.  If, however, you perceive children as somewhat of an added burden to your life, then my guess is that you will gravitate more towards strong disciplinary methods that promise to keep your children in order so that they won’t interfere too much with your life.

3. Goal of child-rearing.  This is especially important to think through as a Christian.  What is the goal of rearing your child?  It’s important to think this through, because it will impact the decisions you make.  For some people, the goal is have “happy” children.  For others, the goal is to raise “responsible members of society”.  For others, the goal is simply to have children who are seen and not heard and don’t impinge on their life too much.  For others, their is no goal, and whatever happens, happens.

4. Clones or Flowers.  It’s a bit unfair labelling this point as “clones or flowers” because nobody ever falls into exactly either extreme, but for some parents the goal is to raise children who are exactly similar to them (at least in the good points) – to create “clones”, in other words.  For other parents, they believe that their children are like flower seeds without the labels.  You nurture them and look after them, but you don’t really know what type of “flower” they’re going to become.  The goal is to raise the child to be the individual that he or she is destined to become.

This distinction is important because if you’re more of a cloning type parent, you will probably not only be wanting your child to adopt your moral and religious beliefs, you may well be pushing in other areas as well.  (“I’m good at football, so therefore I want my child to be good at football.”)  I believe that these type of parents will want a more strong-handed approach to parenting, because they will be controlling not just their children’s behaviour, but also their interests, hobbies, education, etc.

For those parents who are trying to grow flowers, while they will still have a concern with passing on morals and religion, things such as hobbies, preferences, personality style, etc. they’ll probably leave up to the child.  They’ll tend to go for more laid-back parenting styles that vary themselves according to the child’s temperament.

So, the question is, which are you?  Seeing as it’s a bit unfair of me to dish out all these descriptions without playing my own hand, here are my own thoughts:

1.  My Age.  Obviously, being 29, with only one toddler daughter, I must say that with the following three points, this is my thinking at the moment.  I’m quite aware that things I try may not be appropriate and turn out to be wrong.  But if you don’t try things, you’ll never know.  I’m praying that God will grant me the grace to try things and get them wrong without too much disaster in the family.  So perhaps it would be worth asking me about parenting in 10 years’ time.

2.  Perception of children.  The Bible says, and I agree completely, that children are a blessing to their parents.  While I’m not prepared to jump on the bandwagon of “Well, let’s just have heaps and heaps of them because they’re blessings and it’s evil not to”, I don’t really believe there’s any Biblical basis for putting career and comfort concerns ahead of having children. 

When it comes to my own daughter, I love her dearly, and I don’t wish to use a parenting style that makes her into a robot slave of mine.  She is a distinct person (albeit one that is immature and needs a lot of guidance) and she is under my authority (parenting is the managing training school for all of us), but that doesn’t mean that I treat her as second class.  No employer in today’s day and age could hold onto staff very long if he used a “my way or the highway” attitude, and I don’t believe parents should either. 

3. Goal of child-rearing.  My goal, ultimately, is to raise my children to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. While I’d also love to turn them into raving classical music fans, extremely well-read theologians, and fellow movie buffs, this is not what it’s all about.  At the end of the day, I believe my responsibility to God is to raise up servants for the Kingdom and teach them obedience to God.  As to exactly where and how they serve in that Kingdom, that I’ll have to wait and find out.  (But I’m also aware that I will provide a lot of guidance to them as my children work that out.)

4.  Flower-grower.  I’m also a flower-grower.  Granted, that is less of a Biblical thing and more because it seems that’s how the Western world is structured.  If it was 300 years ago, and I was a miller, I would have just raised my sons to be millers and my daughters to be millers’ wives.  But today, in our rapidly expanding society, there are all manner of areas that my children will be able to get involved in God’s work in society, and I would be foolish to try to herd them into just the narrow corner of my own interests.  So, who knows what they will become?

Anyway, with all that out of the way, I will post the book reviews soon.