15 Ways to Use Conversation Starters

iMOM’s TALK Conversation Starters have hundreds of questions you can use to get to know what’s going in the heart and mind of your child. And since they’re such a great way to connect with your kids every day, here are 15 ways you can use them!
  1. Try some on the way to school! It’s a great way to wake up your sleepyheads.
  2. Slip them in your child’s lunchbox and have them write down the answer.
  3. Try them right before bedtime.
  4. Going on a long car ride? Pull these out to conquer boredom.
  5. These are great for conversations at mealtime!
  6. Ask them on the way home from school!
  7. Try some when they have friends over. You might see a different side of your children when they’re using the TALKs with friends.
  8. Send some when your children go to their grandparents so they can have fun connecting with your kids too.
  9. Put them in a jar, and have your kids draw one out every day to answer.
  10. Have your kids ask each other the questions.
  11. Hide them under your child’s pillow.
  12. Put one in a cereal box.
  13. Hide them around the house and have your children hunt for them.
  14. Put them in their socks. When they find them they have to come find you and answer the questions.
  15. Share them with your child’s school teacher.
© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Find Your Child’s “A+” Game with School Organization

My daughter has always been an A-B student, and happy with that. So when she declared at the beginning of 5th grade that this would be the year that she would finally make the All A Honor Roll, I was skeptical. In our school, 5th grade is known for being harder than other years—a moment in the curriculum when things ramp up pretty quickly. Could she really improve her grades in a year when most kids’ sink?

Then, something amazing happened: my daughter discovered school organization! Her backpack, which in 4th grade had been a dumpster bursting with old, wrinkled assignments and petrified snacks suddenly became a collection of neatly tabbed binders, cleaned out weekly. Her homework assignments, which had been written who-knows-where in the past, were consistently and neatly recorded in the same place. She brought home the right books on the right days to study. Suddenly, last year’s 85s and 88s turned into 95s and 100s.

You guessed it—a little organization was the difference between a pretty good year and a great one! (And we have the A Honor Roll certificate to prove it.) You can help your child turn the same corner with these tips and tools from iMOM.

Invest in the right supplies.

Aside from the essentials prescribed by the teacher, there may be a few extras that you know will help your child keep it together academically: tabs for binders, page protectors for handouts that need to be accessible long-term, etc. Take the time to help him set up his binders/notebooks and create a system for knowing what goes where.

• Tip: Checklist for School Must-Haves

Establish an “after-school flow.”

Routines help all of us to stay organized—moms included. We love this checklist (from Just Organize Your Stuff) of things that need to be done when the kids get home from school, including getting important papers into an “action box” for mom, and getting homework completed before video games or free play. If you get them into the groove of taking care of first things first, fewer things are forgotten or turned in late.

• Tip: After School Flow Chart

Have a weekly or monthly clean-up.

Your child’s teacher will probably guide the class through purging some things from their desks or cubbies in the classroom, but many of those things just land in those great binders you set up earlier or, better yet, loose in the backpack. Sit down with your child regularly to teach him how to discard papers no longer needed, and move “keepers” to a permanent home.

• Tip: iMOM’s Seven Minute Nightly Sprint

Teach your child to use an academic planner.

If your child routinely forgets assignments or projects, or fails to bring home the proper book to study for the quiz, an academic planner can be a big help. Have her write down tests and homework assignments in the planner and then refer to it when packing up for home at the end of the day to remember everything she needs.

• Tip: Printable Homework Planner

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Why You Need Key People to Influence Your Child

There will come a time in your child’s life—probably in the teen years—when he will reject your advice simply because it came from you. As kids move toward independence, pulling away from parents is a natural urge. But we all know that teens still need good advice from someone older and wiser. That’s why you want to make sure you have at least one other key influencer in your child’s life whom both of you trust.

In my kids’ school, I’ve noticed a handful of teachers and coaches who definitely fill this role in the lives of many kids. They’re adults who have a true gift for building authentic relationships with their students and maintain those relationships well beyond graduation. By getting to know their students in a real way, they’re able to speak truth into their lives at critical junctures.

In some cases, a youth pastor or a small group leader may be the one your child feels a connection to and looks to for advice. It could be an aunt or uncle or a mature young adult just a few years their senior. Susan Merrill says she learned how to enlist the help of relatives and friends to create needed diversions for her children, too.

Here’s why you need key people—other than you and your husband—to influence your child.

Place your child in the right environments.

You can’t force the development of an authentic, influential relationship, but you can improve the odds by putting your child in the right place around the right people. Be proactive about getting your child plugged into a youth group or program known for strong leaders with a desire to engage teens. Is there a coach at your school who is gifted in this area? Maybe encourage your child to try that sport, for no other reason but the coach. When teens are consistently surrounded by people with strong values who care about kids, the odds of a meaningful connection increase significantly.

Connect, be observant, but don’t hover.

Once you’ve noticed another adult who has your teen’s attention, keep your eyes open, but don’t hover. If you’re not personally acquainted with the influencer, do your homework by asking other parents what they know about the leader or coach. Privately reach out to him or her to let them know that you appreciate their investment into your child, giving you a chance to get a feel for their values and motivation. In a best-case scenario, you’ll develop a good relationship and a tag-team approach that allows you to strategize with the influencer over time to get your child headed in the right direction. But keep it low key—if your teen senses that you’re meddling or pushing too hard, the relationship might lose its appeal.

Resist jealousy.

If the relationship your child has with an adult friend whom they admire makes you a little jealous at times, that’s pretty normal. It can be maddening to give your child a piece of advice repeatedly only to have it ignored, yet have them grab onto the very same wisdom willingly when it comes from Mr. Cool. But that’s the whole point here, right? We want them to hear and accept good advice, no matter who delivers it. Just be thankful that the message is getting through!

Trust your instincts if you suspect trouble.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are a few people who would use their position and influence over your child in a negative way. If your parenting radar picks up even a hint of this, don’t ignore it. Even great schools, churches, and organizations have a bad apple on staff occasionally. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to proper travel arrangements, lodging arrangements, and accountability for all. If a relationship becomes problematic or is yielding negative outcomes, shut it down.

 © 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

10 Throwback Family Movies

Here are 10 fun, vintage family movies you might have missed. To find out what newer movies are right for your family, check out our iMOM Movie Monitor.

1. The Barefoot Executive

2. Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo

3. The Reluctant Astronaut

4. The Shakiest Gun in the West

5. Gus

6. The Apple Dumpling Gang

7. How to Frame a Figg

8. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

9. Million Dollar Duck

10. Freaky Friday (1976 version)

 © 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Is Your Daughter Boy Crazy?

The romance bug has bitten my tween daughter. She’s noticing boys. She wants to read books with a hint of romance and she wants to read up on the cute guys in the latest movies and TV shows. Hmmm. This day had to come at some point! So instead of letting it take its course without me, I’m diving into her romance world. Why?  If I stay familiar with what’s going on, I can legitimately give input. Like, “So, it’s a little odd that that character would be so heartbroken because that guy didn’t talk to her when she’s only known him for a few days, isn’t it?” Or, “Now that’s the kind of guy who knows how to treat a girl…”

By being a part of the romance world (and sharing the experiences I remember from when I was her age), instead of condemning it, I can help counter the fantasy images that could put my daughter at risk for making bad relationship choices later.

So enter your daughter’s romance world and your son’s too, for that matter.

Here’s how to handle a boy crazy girl.

Observe quietly.

Before you jump in with advice or comments, watch and wait. Don’t’ jump at the first sign that your child is moving into another stage. Take things in so that you can assess what your first move should be.

Don’t embarrass her.

This is not the time to make jokes about your daughter being “in love.” Treat her and her feelings with respect. Teasing will only make her feel like she needs to pursue this new interest in secret.

Stay current.

Who is the big thing now in the movies, books, and TV shows your daughter enjoys? Find out what you can about her areas of interest. Some may be harmless, but others might require you to consider talking to your daughter about her choices.

Be casual.

Not many kids want their mom to pull them aside to have “a talk” about romance.  Instead, try to interject your opinions and comments casually.

Stay calm.

You may want to go into rescue mode if you discover your daughter is falling for the bad boys. But before you panic, realize that many girls go through phases. Yes, let her know why you don’t think this or that guy is good boyfriend material, but be careful not to come down too hard on her.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

8 Throwback Thursday Date Night Ideas

Old school rules. Throwback is where it’s at. Okay, we’ll cut the corn, but really, isn’t it time to freshen up your date nights with some hip, old-school fun? And, hey, studies show that keeping it fresh is what gives date night its punch. [Click to Tweet] If you’re just doing the same old things every time you go out, you’re missing out on the chance to give your relationship a blast from the past—you know, to feel like you used to when you were dating. And going out on a Thursday night means it’s easier to get a babysitter too!

So try a date night at a drive-in movie, swing dancing, or any of our other 8 Throwback Thursday Date Nights.

1. Shuffle board.

It’s not just for the older set anymore. Find a shuffle board court in your town, pack a cooler full of drinks and treats, and start shuffling.

2. Bingo!

Another vestige of your grandparents’ idea of fun is wearing a new mantle of cool. Find established games in town or invite friends over and have a home bingo night of your own.

3. Bocce ball.

This Italian games staple makes for an interesting throwback Thursday option. See if you can find a bocce court or get a set for your home and have a Bocce gathering in your own back yard.

4. Drive in movie.

What could be more romantic than you, your honey, and a giant outdoor movie screen? If you don’t have a bench seat up front, park backwards, open the mini-van or SUV hatch and get cozy as the feature plays.

5. Swing.

Swing dancing will get your heart pumping for sure! Take a lesson together—they’re usually offered before swing dance events get underway.

6. Malt time.

Sure, you go get ice cream with the kids, but go throwback by sharing a shake, malt, or banana split. One dessert + two spoons = true love.

7. Make progress.

Progressive dinners were a big deal back in the 1970s. So if you’ve never taken part in one, now’s the time to try! Each couple hosts part of the evening, so no one is stuck with all of the work.

8. Recreate a date.

Relive your first date or the night your husband proposed. Still have the clothes you wore way back then tucked away?  Pull them out and put them on!

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

4 Things You Can Do When You’re Not in the Mood

So you’re not in the mood? It’s understandable. You got up in the middle of the night when one of the kids had a bad dream. Then just when your head hit the pillow, your alarm went off! The day was more of the same—rushing to get the kids to school, rushing to work, driving to sports practices, running by the store to pick up something for dinner, dashing into the kitchen to cook, cleaning up after the kids, getting everybody bathed, getting everyone to bed, whew! You’re exhausted. But you’re not finished yet. Your husband seems to have energy for one more activity…sex. So what do you do when you’re just not in the mood?

Okay, we know we’re touching on a sensitive subject here. On one extreme you’ll hear from those who say you should always have sex when your husband wants to, no matter how you feel about it. On the other side of the debate you have those who say that if you don’t want to, you shouldn’t have to. End of story. Here at iMOM, we tend to take the middle ground, so here are 4 Things You Can Do When You’re Not in the Mood.

1. Be honest.

There will be times when you really can’t have sex—you have a migraine, you got two hours of sleep the night before, you’re an emotional mess about the illness of a dear friend. At times like those, be honest with your husband about why you’re not in the mood.  Let him know that you love him, and that it’s nothing he’s done to cause your refusal. And try to let him know that you will have sex as soon as you’re able. You can even schedule a rain check so he knows you have good intentions. If there’s a bigger problem in your marriage that’s leading you to not be in the mood more often than not, talk to him about it.

2. When you can do it, say yes.

There will be times when you’re not in the mood but you actually can have sex, even if you’re not 100 percent into it.  You may be normal “mom tired” or maybe you have a lot on your mind.  In those instances, as best as you can, go ahead and have sex.

3. Do it for your marriage.

Studies show that couples who have sex regularly are happier. This is from a New York Times blog interview with researcher Denise Donnelly, “Happy couples have more sex, and the more sex a couple has, the happier they report being.”

So even if you’re not in the mood, the act of sex is good for your marriage.  And what’s good for your marriage is good for your family and your children.

4. Act as if.

A wise woman here at iMOM says she tries to have sex when her husband wants to because she knows it’s good for her marriage, because she loves her husband, and because she understands that his physical needs are greater than hers.  So what does she do when she’s not in the mood?  She pours herself a glass of wine and acts as if she is in the mood.  Often, she says, by the end of their time together she’s actually enjoyed it.

And if you think that acting as if is somehow insincere or unauthentic, think about what we do for our children, even though we don’t feel like it.  We do it out of love.

Need more help to get in the mood? Check out my ideas on What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Having Sex.

We here at iMOM also want to recognize that there are some women whose husbands are not interested in sex. We will be addressing this issue soon in an upcoming article.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Why It’s Not Selfish to Take Care of Yourself

My epiphany came during the pre-flight safety ritual on a recent trip. You know the routine: exits are here, here, and here; your seat cushion is a flotation device (great!); stay seated until the captain turns off the seatbelt sign, etc. The thing that got my attention in a new way was the set of instructions regarding the drop-down emergency oxygen masks. Our flight attendant reminded us that if others around you (children, for instance) need help with their masks, put on your mask FIRST, then help them. Why? Because if you can’t breathe, you may fall out before you’ve adequately helped them, or even helped yourself.

It’s a perfect illustration of the life of a mom. Everyone around us—our kids, our husbands, our older parents—depend on us for a thousand things each day. In order to be able to meet those needs, we need healthy bodies, clear minds, and nourished souls. Many moms don’t take the time each day to exercise, to have a time of spiritual renewal, or to invest in friendships which “fill their cup.” They feel guilty focusing on themselves, even for a brief interlude. But is it really selfish if it makes you a better, more balanced mom?

We say taking care of yourself makes good sense for you and your family. Here are four reasons you need to take care of yourself.

You will hit the wall one day.

Putting others first is noble and acceptable much of the time, but it can’t be all the time. If you constantly prioritize caring for others over your own health and wellness, you will eventually hit the wall. For some women, it’s in a matter of months after bringing the first baby home. For others, it’s a slow build-up that finally erupts in a midlife crisis of discontentment. Moms are rarely at their physical, emotional, or spiritual best when this happens and no one benefits. Try these two steps to sanity to avoid the collision in your life.

It’s not just self-preservation, it’s teaching.

Do you want your children to know how to lead balanced lives and take care of themselves? Do you want them to take time to invest in their own spiritual growth, to cultivate meaningful relationships, and to take care of their bodies? Then you must model it for them. Children learn far more about how to “do life”from watching us do it ourselves than from anything we say.

Moderation is the key.

Can a mom go too far in the “taking care of myself because it’s important”mindset? Absolutely. I’ve watched moms keep their children in childcare almost full-time while they worked out with the personal trainer, got the massage, had their hair cut and highlighted, lunched with girlfriends, and shopped until time for their husbands to get home. Self-care can creep into self-centeredness and indulgence. But some quiet time to pray and an hour in there somewhere to exercise and de-stress are not too much to ask. Neither is an occasional coffee or lunch date with a friend. All things in moderation.

Balanced moms are nicer people.

Moms who are physically and emotionally healthy are more positive, more patient, and more kind. Aren’t those personality traits you’d like to exhibit with your family? Trust us, when your husband and kids find out which activity—whether it’s your bible study group or a 5 mile run—turns you into “nice mommy,”they’ll push you out the door to do it! If you’re not sure where you’ll fit it into your day, try one of these 7 strategies for finding some downtime.

 © 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

5 Things to Help You Understand Your Mother-in-Law Problems

Do you have mother-in-law problems? I love my mother-in-law.  She’s kind, funny, and she’s a wonderful grandmother to my kids. But even in the best daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relationships, there can be friction—a mother-in-law who comments on her grandchildren’s sleep schedule or a daughter-in-law who gets defensive when her mother-in-law offers to teach her how to make biscuits her way. So if and when friction arises between you and your mother-in-law, remember that her intentions are probably good, and that she wants to have a strong relationship with you.

Look over these 5 things to help you understand your mother-in-law problems.

1. Once a mom, always a mom.

Do you think you’ll ever stop loving your child or worrying about your child? Me neither! That’s how your mother-in-law feels too. Even though your husband is a grown man, he’s still her child. So when she asks about his latest doctor visit, or wonders aloud if he’s getting enough sleep, don’t take it personally. She’s a mom, just like you. She’s asking because she cares, not because she’s being nosy. Realizing this alone could go a long way to resolving your mother-in-law problems.

2. It’s hard not to give advice.

Believe it or not, your mother-in-law likely has some really great insights into parenting, running a home, and lots of other areas too. So when she sees you doing something differently than her, or when she sees a legitimate need she could help you meet, it’s very hard for her to keep quiet. And, sure, your way of doing things may not be hers, but what’s the harm in hearing her out? And even if she gives advice unsolicited, practice your patience and kindness skills by listening and not getting defensive.

3. She wants to be a part of your life.

I don’t think we will really understand what it feels like to be a grandmother until we become one–kind of like not really knowing what it feels like to be a mom until you become one. Just imagine how much your mother-in-law loves your children and your husband (and you too!), and realize that she has a longing to be a part of your life. So include her when you can. Have her over regularly. If she lives far away, email her or call her often. Invite her to big events in your children’s lives. Also, check out our 5 Things Not Worth Fighting About in Marriage (in-laws are on the list!)

4. She might be lonely.

Pause for a moment and picture yourself in an empty nest. It’s quiet, isn’t it? And while that peace might be very welcome right now when you’re surrounded by rambunctious kids, one day you will miss the hum of family life. Your mother-in-law needs loving interaction as much as the next person. Help her fill that void.

5. She can be a big help.

Most mothers-in-law want to help, but don’t always feel welcome enough by their daughters-in-law. [Click to Tweet] So turn to her for help driving the kids around. Ask her for advice about how she raised your husband. Let her teach the kids how to make her famous pound cake. Even if you don’t see eye to eye, she’s lived more than you, she has more life experience, and she can help you in your role as a mom.

So today, reach out to your mother-in-law with a new perspective. And if you don’t have mother-in-law problems, call her to thank her for being the great mother-in-law she is!

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Boys and Anger: Teaching Boys How to Handle Their Emotions

Boys need to remember one thing most of all when it comes to their feelings (especially anger)—they always have a choice for how to respond. So says author and pediatrician Meg Meeker. I hear her loud and clear on this because I have a boy on the cusp of puberty (hello, testosterone)—the entry point to manhood.

Dr Meeker explains that, when boys are still young, they need to learn that while their feelings can be intense, they do not need to be ruled by them. In fact, she says that moms can put it this way to heir sons, “Are you going to allow your feelings to dominate your decisions, or are you going to take charge of them?”

Here’s how to teach your son to handle his emotions in a constructive way.

Put a name on them.

Before your son can deal with his emotions, he needs to identify them. So while it may seem like he’s angry at his father about being late to his ball game, the actual feeling underneath the surface is sadness. Teach him to look beyond the surface emotion to what lies deeper.

Green light the feeling.

Try not to make your son feel guilty for his emotions. As Dr. Meeker says, “…they can feel strongly about something, but then must choose how—and how not—to respond to those feelings.” So don’t teach your son to suppress anger, jealousy, or other strong emotions. All of those are part of the human experience.

Call him to action.

Once the feeling is identified and acknowledged, boys must then decide what to do with it.  First, encourage your son to talk about what he is feeling. He doesn’t have to over-analyze it, but if he can verbalize it to you, that’s huge. You can then guide him—not to be confused with giving him advice—on how to sort out his feelings through a filter that takes into account his moral beliefs.

Put him in charge.

Your son needs to know that, ultimately, he is the one in charge of how he reacts to his feelings. [Click to Tweet] Teach him that physical force is unacceptable and that he should never use that type of force with others. If he needs to get out aggression, he can find physical release through exercise, punching a pillow, or even screaming into a pillow. My very wise uncle, who’s also a child psychologist, says we need to teach our children that they are the boss of their feelings.

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.