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Missing Manners

How can I help my son break his bad habits?

My six-year-old son's developed a few annoying habits, and I'm wondering what's the best way to cure him of them. I catch him picking his nose, and he usually talks with his mouth full at the dinner table. Yikes! I don't want to become the "manners police," but I sure would love to know an effective, loving way to break him of these habits.

Take heart—your son won't pick his nose or talk with his mouth full forever! He'll eventually outgrow this childish behavior. If you'd like to hasten this maturity, may I suggest giving him a good reason to leave behind childish things?

They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. So when I encouraged my son to stop sucking his thumb, I set up a chart with 21 squares. For each day he completed without sucking his thumb, he put a sticker in that square. If he slipped, discovered the thumb in his mouth, and removed it on his own, that was okay. But if his dad or I discovered it, the countdown began again. We also took this opportunity to teach him about the power of prayer, of asking God for strength when he felt weak. The reward at the end of 21 thumb-free days? A trip to Toys "R" Us for the Batman action figure he wanted.

Is there something your son wants badly enough he'd willingly stop picking his nose or talking with his mouth full? Then offer it to him and watch self-control develop. That way, you aren't the "manners police," and your son can discover he has the power to change his behavior. Even today, with my son almost 13 years old, we often refer to the fact he had the strength to give up thumb-sucking and learned the truth he can do all things through Christ.

She Thinks She's "Too Fat"

I've noticed my nine-year-old daughter has become concerned about her weight and appearance lately. She makes comments such as, "Do I look fat in this?" Also, she seems to play with her food a bit instead of eating it as she used to. I don't want to create a problem that doesn't exist, but should I be worried? She seems much too young for an eating disorder.

You're wise to be aware of the signs of an eating disorder. At the same time, be assured that even if signs point to an eating disorder, that doesn't mean one automatically develops. Case in point: As a child actor, I was forced to diet rigidly from the time I was 12. Throughout my entire adolescence, there was an all-consuming focus placed on my weight—yet I never developed an eating disorder. In hindsight, I wasn't even close to being fat by everyday standards, but I was overweight by television standards. Sadly, television and other media set the standard for the image of today's youth, whether it's for a child actor or not.

In dealing with my 10- and 11-year-old daughters, I've put a positive spin on the budding "fluffiness" of their developing bodies. I've pointed out that gaining weight is an absolutely normal part of becoming a young woman. Maybe you could use an illustration from your own trek through puberty and talk about how you went through cycles of growing out before growing up. Discuss the way a woman's body works: the need for a mother to be able to store fat, make milk, and have wider hips to birth and care for babies. Teach her to view her body changes as the privilege of becoming a woman.

All the while, continue to pay close attention to whether she develops abnormal eating patterns, begins exercising or counting calories excessively, or experiences a sudden drop in weight. If you suspect bulimia, check under the toilet seat; girls often forget to clean up the evidence of their purging from there. If any of these signs develop, then seek counsel from a Christian expert immediately.

Child Interested in Occult

I discovered some books on Wicca under my 14-year-old daughter's bed. When I confronted her about it, she admitted she doesn't believe what she hears in church anymore. While she made a commitment to Christ as a young child, she's not interested in attending church with us and complains that her youth group is "cliquey." We're seriously concerned about this fascination she's developed.

Wicca, the worship of the Mother Goddess, definitely is a dangerous religious practice. Although Wicca forbids spells that bring harm to others, appearing to be a form of "good magic," its source of power is evil. God is a jealous God who forbids worship of anything or anyone besides himself. Any supernatural power that originates from a source other than God is from Satan. I'm not surprised that at the same time the Enemy's luring your daughter to his side, he's mounting a campaign to keep her away from the true Light of Jesus.

You must take authoritative action. Remember, you have the right to decide what's allowed in your home. After thoroughly explaining your concerns and reasons to your daughter, make it clear any Wiccan literature or articles of worship will not be tolerated under your roof. Talk frankly with her about the dangers of dabbling with any supernatural power other than the Holy Spirit. Be careful to communicate that these strict measures are because of your deep love for her, not your desire to control her life.

Listen to your daughter's complaints about her church youth group. My husband and I decided that if our children aren't growing in our church youth group, then we'd pray about it and consider moving to another church where they could grow, if necessary. The teenage years are critical—and worth taking drastic measures to establish your teen's personal relationship with Jesus.

Above all, pray, pray, and pray some more. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 reads: "We use God's mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil's strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ" (tnlt). Go through your daughter's room when she's in school and pray. Place a boom box in her room and flood it with praise songs while she's away. Lay hands on her and pray for her when she's sleeping. Pray boldly. Wicca is nothing compared to the power of a loving, praying parent—and an all-powerful God.

Lisa Whelchel is the author of Creative Correction (Tyndale) and The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me (Multnomah). She and her husband, Steve, have three children. Check out her website at www.lisawhelchel.com. E-mail your parenting questions to TCWfeedback@christianitytoday.com

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

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