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Create & Celebrate

TV host Donna Erickson helps you bring out your child's God-given gifts

It's 8 a.m. and Donna Erickson, star of Odyssey Network's parenting series "Donna's Day," is ironing out some business wrinkles over the phone while rousing her sore-throated son out of bed to take a math test by 9 a.m.?all before she gets two eggs in the pan. Despite her reputation as one of television's queens of homemaking, Donna Erickson is, after all, still a busy mom.

Although Donna's highly rated television show demonstrates innovative, easy-to-do activities for parents and kids, she's no Martha Stewart. Mothers breathe a sigh of relief when Donna publicly confesses that living in a family is about 90 percent chaos. Her real agenda is to strengthen relationships between adults and children and to build family traditions. So whether it's walking in the woods, sharing an old family recipe or designing a customized birthday flag, Donna emphasizes the time spent between adults and kids rather than the results of any particular project. Amid all the chaotic activity, she stands by one unshakable truth: kids are our most important responsibility.

I caught up with Donna to talk about the ways her faith affects her work and to get some advice on developing children's creativity.

How can we encourage our children's natural gifts and interests?

First, we need to take the time to discover and be aware of who our children are. This may be as simple as wandering through the house. I might see a board my daughter broke in karate class, a wheel from my son's skateboard next to the tools he's strewn all over the floor or a pile of baseball cards he's sorting through. I might think the house is a mess; yet it's through all the clutter that I see my children's interests developing.

Spending time with your children can be an invaluable way to bring out each child's natural curiosity. One of my favorite places to spend time with my children is in nature?the places God has created. Let's say you and your child go for a walk in the woods and find a beaver pond where she begins to discover how beavers live. Then you go to the library and read about beavers. From there you go to a science museum and see an exhibit on beavers. Suddenly your child has developed an interest in something she might never have thought about.

What if my children don't seem to have many specific interests?

Parents are children's best teachers. To enhance your child's creativity, share who you are with him. If you enjoy an activity like photography or gardening, share it with your child. That exposes him to new experiences and helps him identify what he might be interested in.

But you don't always have to do something special. You can help your children learn and develop new interests through the things you have to do anyway, like eating. Once a month, celebrate a different country. Maybe you choose Mexico. Teach your child some words in Spanish and plan a Mexican meal together. Prepare the grocery list together. Maybe some of the ingredients aren't available in the store where you typically shop, so you end up going to a Mexican grocery store. There you hear a new language and discover more of the world around you. Your child starts thinking and learning in new ways, and that's how creativity grows.

I can see how younger children benefit from these ideas, but what about an older child who might not be too excited about hanging around with Mom and Dad?

I really believe it's the little things that yield big results. The simplest things can become relationship builders. Include a child in your everyday routines?sorting socks, washing the car, doing the dishes. Communication often begins when you're shoulder-to-shoulder rather than eye-to-eye.

When my son came home from Bible camp last summer, I gave him a big hug and asked him what he did at camp. He dropped his duffel bag of dirty clothes on the floor and said, "Not much." But as we sorted his clothes, he took out a pair of grass-stained jeans and started telling me about a midnight football game. A hole in his T-shirt led to the story of his first day of rock climbing. A dirty sock reminded him of a night spent running around camp during a game. Every article of clothing revealed a new experience. He talked non-stop.

It's in being and doing together that we learn our children's interests, talents and anxieties. We need to be open to the fact that what we think our children should be doing?taking piano, playing tennis?isn't necessarily who they are. We have to get to know them.

What are some ways we can use our kids' creative efforts to point them to God?

We can help our children understand that when we create something, we are acknowledging God and drawing on his gifts. Each of us is like a light bulb that needs to be connected to a power source. That's one reason we plug ourselves into the power of God.

Creativity is taking what God has given us and expanding it by using our intelligence and skills. That can mean anything from turning a tin can into a drum, drawing a picture, preparing a meal, writing a letter or singing a song.

We need to pass this understanding of creativity on to our children in the everyday things we do. For example, when you're making breakfast, you can point out that God gave us eggs and we can turn them into an omelet. You're using the raw resources of God's creation to make something functional, something necessary to sustain life. It's beautiful and natural and helps us respect God's creation.

The same is true of other creative endeavors. We can help our children think of themselves as God's crayons, his paintbrushes, his camera lenses and his musical instruments?the tools he uses to make his mark on the world. Creativity is not about being good, better, best. It's about celebrating God as Creator and Giver.

You're an incredibly busy woman. How do you stay motivated to keep giving your children the time and attention they need?

I realize how much I love doing my television program. It's such a privilege to say to viewers, "You are unique. There is no other parent like you." Yes, parenting is a challenge and we have days when we wonder where we'll get our strength. But when we have faith in God, we know we can get a strength outside of ourselves. I grew up holding on to Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I recite that verse every day because it's so easy to worry and think I have to figure everything out on my own.

Right next to my piano is a framed portion of a prayer that says "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace." I also read the entire Saint Francis of Assisi prayer every day because it's hard for me to be patient and positive. It seems easier to get frustrated, but I have to remember that I have strength beyond my own measure.

When God is in our lives and we know we're on this earth for a purpose other than our own happiness, we can find the strength to keep giving to others. We are here to glorify God. If you have flowers in your garden, pick them for your neighbor or someone at a nursing home. When our children were very young, my husband would take our 4-year-old son to a soup kitchen. Our son loved to color so he'd make paper place mats for the people at the soup kitchen.

Taking time for the little moments in our children's lives teaches them more than we know. They learn from the ways we respond to the needs around us and how we handle the fast pace of life. They notice when we pause to sit down with someone in need. These are the things that show our children what it means to live our faith. It also shows them that they, too, are part of something larger than themselves. That's a pretty great motivator.

Jennifer Mangan has written about television for more than ten years. She and her family live in Illinois.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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