Confessions of a Reformed Liar

About nine years ago, I realized that one of my kids was developing a habit of lying. I started to notice that he was lying more and more, until it seemed to be happening a few times a day. I was really concerned.

See, I had this habit when I was a kid, and it was SUPER hard to break. After years of lying, I had become so accustomed to it that whenever I was confronted with a difficult situation, my mind was conditioned to think up a lie. It was actually harder for me to think through the situation and tell what really happened than it was to lie. If I was late to a class, my lying instinct kicked in, and I began working out a story to make tardiness seem excusable. As I got older, it actually didn’t even occur to me that it would be better to just own it, apologize and try harder next time.

I didn’t overcome it until my 20’s, when I had a God encounter. I began to understand that I had to fix this, but it was such a struggle. So many times, I’d have to stop mid-sentence and say, “Actually, that’s not true.” It was painful and humiliating. In the meantime, I also had to go back to my family and begin confessing old lies. Yuck! It was rough. But at the end of the day, it was also freeing. And having known what it felt like to be in bondage to lies, I wanted to give my son the gift of a clean conscience.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Need Help Getting Your Kid to Sleep?

My oldest child is nearly 16, and the next four came relatively close after the first. So once we nailed bedtime with the biggest kid, the others just followed suit. But our baby, who is 19 months old, came five-and-a-half years after our fifth child. By then, bedtime was a mere after thought.

Bed time stories and teeth brushing songs and tubby time were a thing of the past. Even our youngest could take her own bath, put on her PJs, and climb in bed by the time the baby was born. I had gotten used to just going into the room to tuck her in, pray over her and kiss her goodnight.

So when Matty Jay came along, we were back to square one.

Being in a new season of my parenthood, where my older kids are pretty independent, I’ve been able to work more and focus more on things like the radio show, writing a book, and running a school.

Bedtime has been a breeze for years, and with so many capable hands to help with Matty Jay, I have to confess that I didn’t focus on it one bit. The older kids and I tend to stay up late together, and we didn’t mind if Matty hung around for part of it. I got lax, and my momma muscles got flabby when it came to bedtime.

But a few weeks ago I was reminded that bedtime is just a skill, and like any skill, it can be taught.

I dug back into my early years of parenting, when I had an autistic child, who seemed to need significantly less sleep than the other kids his age, and another baby right behind him. When you want to have the most comfortable beds and mattress, avail the black friday mattress deals for maximum comfort. I knew he got less sleep but I knew for sure that he was sleeping way more comfortable at night because I got him a special pad from the My Mattress Pads website. If you want something better then get a 140 x 200 euro mattress. If you sleep with someone, you should read these couple sleeping positions and what they mean.

When Griffyn was about a year old, we had had enough of the Energizer Bunny living in our house. Autism or no autism, we were determined to get this kid to go to bed at a reasonable hour and without any fuss.

I read everything I could get my hands on, talked to every successful parent I could find, picked the brains of all of my son’s therapists, and even took a workshop on it. And I came up with a plan. My husband and I agreed to do it the exact same way every night…even when we went on vacation or stayed at a relative’s house. We vowed to be totally consistent and 100% committed to making it work. And guess what? It worked.

In fact, it worked so well, that I never had to do it again. All of the other kids just seemed to be born into the process, and they all took to it like a fish to water.

Then came Matty Jay, and it was a whole different story.

So a few weeks ago, I sat my oldest daughter down (she does some of the bedtime hours if I’m out or working), and said, “As of tonight, this is the routine. We can never vary or give in. But when we’re consistent and committed, Matty Jay will soon go to bed like a champion. We’ll just say ‘bedtime’, and he’ll climb in and doze off.”

Want to know the keys to success? Okay, here we go.

#1 — Create a routine, and never, ever, ever vary from it, until your little tyke has been a champion sleeper for many months.

Here’s what our routine looks like (it’s the exact same routine we used 15 years ago).
Take a bath
Apply lotion (all my kids love this for some reason) and put on PJs
Read a story (Matty is still nursing so he had some momma milk during story time)
Climb in bed, and sing the same three goodnight songs in the same order (songs make everything difficult seem easier to little people — they’re like the spoonful of sugar to the medicine)
Pray for the baby
Kiss him goodnight
Lights out

#2 — Mommy sits nearby on the floor (or in a chair) and reads. I LOVE being able to read a book on my phone or iPad — so easy in the dark. Fifteen years ago, I had to wrestle with those stupid reading lights. Technology is nice!

#3 — Use the Super Nanny routine for redirection to bed, which goes like this: the first time the kid tries to escape, you pick him up and softly, but firmly say, “Time for bed.” Then put him back in bed. The next time he flees the scene (and every time thereafter), pick him up without a word and without eye contact and gently put him back in bed. Sit nearby, but NOT on the bed. That way he’s comforted to know you’re there, AND you can police the situation.

#4 — Wash, rinse and repeat until the little bugger is snoring.

Here’s how it went down in the Stahlmann house when we began the process a few weeks ago. First, let me say, I was really bracing myself on this one because Matty Jay might just be my most willful child!

8:00pm We started the tub water and brushed his teeth. The boy LOVES a tubby, so this part of the process was a hit. After the tub, we followed the above routine to the letter.

8:30pm Lights out and momma sitting nearby reading the best potty training book I’ve ever laid eyes on (more about that in future post). Matty tried to escape the bed no less than 10 times, and with many tears. Momma stayed calm and stuck to the plan.

9:00pm Snoring!

Now, this is a big deal. Not only is this an UBER-willful child, but he typically drifts off at about 10:30pm, so 9:00pm is big change to make overnight. But he did it.

So where are we now, after a few weeks. Well…the second night was harder because he knew what was coming and fought back, but he was still asleep before 9pm. Every night thereafter got easier, and the fight lessened. Now, about five weeks into it, there are no tears. In fact, he’s excited for the routine. He loves picking his bedtime story, sings the good night songs with me, and then takes about 5 mins to fall asleep.

My guess (from past experience) is that in a few months, I’ll be able to kiss him goodnight after the songs and leave the room.

Any questions?

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Living in the Growth Zone

Want to help your kids reach their potential in all areas? Encourage them to live in the Growth Zone.

A couple of years ago I read a book called Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin, and it introduced me to a concept that has been fruitful in my home (and Jody’s too!).

There are three basic zones where we can choose to live: the Comfort Zone, the Growth Zone and the Incompetence Zone. Most of us choose the first for obvious reasons – it’s familiar, it’s automated, it’s habitual, it’s quick, it’s easy…it’s comfortable. The Comfort Zone is simply doing what we are good at, what we like, what we always do.

In some areas, the Comfort Zone is both appropriate and efficient. Think of morning and evening routines. We want our kids to wake up, start the day with prayer, make their beds, tidy their rooms, brush their teeth, get dressed, and get to the breakfast table on time. Routines help make this process quick, smooth, and comfortable. As it should be! The same holds true for the bedtime routine.

But when it comes to schoolwork, life skills, exercise, and specialized skills, we want our children to blossom and flourish. We want them to strive for excellence and mastery, and this process is inevitably and necessarily uncomfortable.

Think about developing muscles. It takes consistency (working out even when you don’t feel like it), discomfort and endurance.

The Music Example

My husband is a musician, and he teaches guitar part time. When a new student comes, he tells them that their success hinges not on the time they spend in the lesson but on the time they spend practicing at home. The more they practice, the better they will play. But here’s the catch – practicing guitar can be painful for a new student (the strings literally hurt their fingers), and it can be boring. Until they learn enough basics to begin playing something recognizable, chords and scales can be a drag. But unless they are willing to drill these basics over and over, pushing through the discomfort and the boredom, it never gets easier, and it’s never fun.

But the key to mastery in every area is pushing through the difficult part to reach success. My husband has been a musician for more than two decades, but he still practices an hour every day (sometimes two or three) and learns new theories, seeks out new sounds and sets new goals.

Guitar practice is a great example of how the zones work. Often my husband’s younger students have the most difficulty practicing. They don’t have the inner motivation to get through the discomfort, so it falls on their parents’ shoulders to enforce practice time. Typically, his teenage students have a clear goal, and they’re more willing to persevere.


It helps to have incentives. If our kids can’t find an intrinsic reason for growing, we can offer extrinsic rewards. Some parents shy away from rewards, thinking that it’s just bribery, but if presented well, rewards can go a long to helping kids learn to develop their own inner reasons for pushing through to success.

Just as consequences teach that bad choices equal bad results, rewards teach that good choices equal good results!


In our house, kids get points for things like housework, and at the end of the week, points can translate into cash. That’s not to say they can choose to abandon their duties if they don’t feel like working. In fact, not doing your chores with excellence can lead to discipline in our family, but if they work hard, without being told and achieve a level of excellence, our kids will be rewarded.

Leaving the Comfort Zone

With or without rewards, growth always begins by leaving the Comfort Zone. For music practice, it means setting aside time (typically an interruption in a person’s schedule is uncomfortable) and drilling the basics over and over (often painful to the fingers and usually boring). Then, at the lesson the student has to display what they have learned so the instructor can inspect how well they are doing and what needs adjusting. This can also be somewhat uncomfortable for the student.

But when a student is willing to endure these discomforts and is willing do it again and again, he will grow. Consistent practice of foundational skills over time is operating in the Growth Zone.

Pushing Into the Growth Zone

Now, once a student masters a set of skills, he has to begin learning new ones or else he becomes comfortable and stops growing. This seems like common sense, right? But in life, we see it happen all the time. How many times have we, as grown adults, worked hard at something only to reach a comfortable place and then stop? Think about weight loss. Anyone who has ever battled the bulge can probably relate to a time when they worked hard (leaving their Comfort Zone) for a season, only to slip back into old, more comfortable ways once they’ve achieved a small measure of success.

So continuing to push into the Growth Zone requires consistent evaluation and increasing challenge.

The Incompetent Zone

But there is also a point where we can push too far. As a teacher, my husband has, on occasion, over estimated the ability of a student and given him a task that’s too difficult. In that case, the student is pushed into the Incompetence Zone, and just as he can’t grow in the Comfort Zone, he can’t grow where he is still incompetent.

Let’s look at another area where this concept can help our kids grow and succeed. One of my main goals as a parent is to raise children who are capable of running a household with excellence by the time they leave my home.

Growing Life Skills

I want my kids to be able to budget money and save, plan and prepare healthy meals, maintain a beautiful home that offers a place of rest and rejuvenation, and be good stewards of their things (cars, tools, appliances, etc.). All of this takes training.

I will never forget the first time I went grocery shopping for my new apartment. I was out on my own, and I had to make all of my own meals. Eating out for every meal wasn’t in the budget, and I didn’t have the dining hall to fall back on, as I did in college. Nor did I have roommates who would pick up my slack, as I did when a bunch of us moved off campus.

Walking up and down the aisles on that first shopping trip, I grew more and more perplexed. Hmmm…what should I get, I thought? Milk! People buy milk at the grocery store. It’s a staple, right? Oh, and bread! That’s important.

I went on to collect a strange hodgepodge of things in my shopping cart that I thought I’d need. But after a day or two, I realized that I didn’t have much to make actual meals, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t survive forever on cereal and pasta.

It took years for me to learn how to make a menu, use recipes, and build up a stock supply of spices and other ingredients. Cooking is both a science and an art, and I had to learn the building blocks to be able to eventually do it well.  Truth be told, I don’t enjoy cooking (thank you God for giving me a husband who does!), but I can do it, and I can do well when I have to.

Still, it was an uphill battle, as was learning how to clean efficiently, budget, balance a checkbook, save money, and so on. I decided that I didn’t want my kids to struggle as young adults the way I struggled. I wanted them to leave my home as fully competent adults.

Finding the Growth Zone

When we start teaching our kids life skills, it’s easy to allow them to either live in their Comfort Zone or to push them into their Incompetence Zone. I remember trying to teach my older daughter how to sweep. She was seven at the time, and I soon realized that no matter how hard she tried, the broom was too cumbersome for her little body, and she was not going to do it with excellence until she was taller. At that point, she was an incompetent sweeper.

My fourth child is now nine, and sweeping is not on his task list, but after almost a year of consistent training, he does an excellent job of washing the dishes, wiping down the counters, folding and putting his clothes away, changing his bed sheets and keeping  the living and dining room tidy throughout the day.

When he started, it was messy and uncomfortable (both for him and for me). He would wash and rinse the dishes, and then, dripping wet from chest to waist, he would come find me and ask for an inspection. There was water all over the counter and the floor, and there was still some food and soap on the dishes, which meant I needed to do some retraining, and he needed to try again. Dishes took a LONG time to get through in the beginning, and I made sure he did it all by himself, including drying up the water mess, changing his clothes and hanging the wet ones out to dry and then being responsible for putting the clothes in the hamper when they dried.

Once a chore is mastered, it’s time to either have that child train up his replacement (a younger sibling) or add a new level of responsibility (perhaps learning how to plan and cook the meal). Otherwise, they will slip into the Comfort Zone and the growing will stop.

Growing in Academics

Perhaps your daughter has great math grades and her homework has become a breeze. She might be operating in the Comfort Zone, and that means she’s no longer growing. I’ve heard this story many times – a child gets great grades for a time, but eventually they start to slip, and parents are left baffled. What happened to my honors student, they ask?

Chances are they grew comfortable, and began to find excitement and stimulation somewhere else. But by encouraging them into the Growth Zone, we can help our kids find lasting success.

So take our math whiz who now breezes through her nightly homework. It might be time to hop online and pick up some supplemental math workbooks or find games that will challenge her skills. Help her set a goal and choose a reward for completing the goal. Maybe you can contact her teacher and see if there are any students in the class who might enjoy a peer tutor (learn more about one on one tutoring at home). If so, your child could reinforce her own skills by teaching them to someone else, plus it will build a strong work ethic and sense of civic responsibility.

In the summer and on long breaks, you can help your kids get ahead in math or master those times tables. You can assign them to a read a great novel or pick up a book of fun science experiments and challenge them to finish all the experiments before the end of the break. You can download a song of the 50 States and offer a date with mom when they can recite all the states and capitals, or pick up a field guide of trees and challenge them to identify every species they can find on your block.

Growing Kids Means Growing Parents

Most kids won’t push themselves into a Growth Zone; they have to be coached. Let’s face it, human nature does not gravitate toward discomfort. We, the parents, have to also remember this means growing for us as well. It’s not comfortable to consistently remind (and sometimes demand) our kids to practice an instrument or sport or do extra academic work. It’s often inconvenient to stop what we’re doing to inspect a child’s work and re-teach a skill and then inspect it again. But we can not expect what we’re not willing to inspect. And without allowing our kids to work at something again and again, we won’t help them master a task.

However, if we can work diligently with our kids to examine their school work, special skills, life skills and health and wellness, we can help them set big (but attainable) goals and then hold them accountable to consistently working. In the end, they will achieve well-rounded success.


Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Without Anger or Excuse

Handling your child’s public misbehavior is where the rubber meets the road in parenting — isn’t it?

So here’s what happened – a big group of us took our kids to Busch Gardens for the day. My almost-9-year-old is right on the borderline for the height requirement of some of the really cool roller coasters.   We have an annual pass, so we go fairly often, and he has been able to ride a few of them in the past, but the threat of being flagged is always looming.

Well, this week one of the dads (who had taken the day off work to enjoy the park with his family) agreed to take 11 kids on coasters while the moms took the little ones to a play area.

On this day, my boy was pulled from the line while the other kids got to ride, and he was devastated.  Not only had he been looking forward to riding the coasters all day, but he was the only one who couldn’t ride, and it was embarrassing to be singled out.

Although he didn’t realize it, he was being set up for a great opportunity.
Our attitude is always a choice, and we have the power to choose a deliberately positive response.

But this was not the choice my son made.  Instead, he allowed each passing moment to intensify his disappointment.  Soon the sadness turned sour, and bitterness took root in his little heart.  Out of that dark place, he became belligerent and defiant, disobeying his friend’s dad and showing disrespect for the dad’s authority.

When I got the report (you know, the one every parent dreads), my heart sank. My first thought was to freak out and beat some sense into the kid (just kidding…well…sort of), but I also felt deeply sorry for him. I knew how badly he wanted to go on those rides, and I understood how deeply disappointing and even humiliating it was for him.

I also knew that this dad was very upset because of the way my son treated him.  This was a matter of justice, and it was a heart issue in my child that had to be dealt with in the best possible way.

Let’s face it, our kids are sinners in need of a savior. They make bad choices sometimes, and they need firm correction that demonstrates a deep love and concern for their character.

Of course I was horrified…even mortified, but I knew my boy’s heart was on the line, and this was one of those moments when I had to remember that I’m training up a leader who will one day impact his generation.

I called him away from the crowd, sat down next to him, took off my sunglasses and looked soberly into his eyes, which were beginning to fill with tears. I reminded him that disobedience and disrespect are not tolerated, and that he made some terrible choices.

We’ve taught our children that good choices bring good results, and bad choices bring bad results, so he knew that there was a serious consequence awaiting this serious offense.

“For the rest of the day,” I explained with deep sadness, “you will have to stay with me and not go on the rides or play games.”  He nodded his head.

He apologized to the dad (and I did too), and he accepted his fate with courage and without complaint, but my heart was heavy all day. As a parent we want desperately to bless our kids, just as our heavenly Father wants to bless us.  But sometimes their behavior forces us to stay the hand of blessing, and it’s painful for us.

We talked about it openly that night, and I was grateful to see the process of repentance happen in my boy.  I told him that I was sad because his choices that day robbed me of the opportunity to pour out blessing on him.

There are few things that we as parents love to reward more than a child who chooses to be cheerful in the face of opposition. Had my son chosen to face his disappointment and embarrassment with a positive response, I would have joyfully showered him with all kinds of rewards.

On the ride home, we talked about the Israelites and how they forfeited the Promised Land because they chose the wrong attitude.  God was able to reward only Joshua and Caleb because they were they only ones who had a right heart in the face of potentially bad news.

I can imagine what God must have felt when He issued that consequence. Parenting can be painful, but the stakes are high, and we have to respond carefully (not react impulsively). We’re raising laborers for the harvest, for heaven’s sake! (pun totally intended)

I was reminded of a few things this week: 1) our kids are sinners in need of a savior, and they will make wrong choices; 2) the right response is not anger, nor excuse; 3) we can always choose our attitude, and a positive attitude attracts blessing.

Please share your thoughts…

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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