Please add in advice or ideas because I certainly don’t have all of them. I learn so much from readers! This is an especially tricky post because a bunch of these questions pertain to older kids and my oldest is only 14. I know there are amazing ideas out there about raising teens and I would sure love to hear them.

Have you ever had to deal with children talking back and been disrespectful. If so, how have you dealt with it?

I think each of my children have gone through stages where they have experimented with talking-back.

So far I have just told them to stop in their tracks and start over again speaking nicely. Often I will even give them a cue of exactly what to say: “I’m so sorry, Dearest Mother :), I would love to help you with that!!”, etc. Dave and I have a pact to stick up for each other if any of them think it may be a good time to be mouthy us.

We really do have an unwritten “no tolerance” policy for disrespect. It’s just not an option. Yes, children have free agency and may choose to be disrespectful despite the “house rules.” But the consequence is that they go to their room and think about it until they can come out and be kind. I think this would be tougher to start when they are older and are already exhibiting a pattern of disrespect. But when they are younger and can “get” the fact that there is absolutely no tolerance for any inkling of disrespect I think they learn pretty quick.

We have yet to see if this holds through the teenage years…I sure hope so!

Because of who your parents are, do you ever feel like you have to be ‘on your best’ when they are around? LOL. {more about my parents here}

That’s a great question because you would think that with “parenting experts” as parents I would feel judged in every decision I make. It would be so easy for them to say, “wow, maybe you should think about how you handled that,” or just simply to barge in and tell Dave and I what to do.

But my parents are very wise.

They know that learning how to parent takes making some mistakes here and there. Our mistakes and problems help us figure out the answers that work best for us in the long-run. So they let us be.

I don’t know if they made a conscious discussion about this at some point when they started having grandchildren or if it just comes naturally to them, but they never, ever pipe in and tell me what I should do. Quite the opposite actually, they praise any good thing I do and I have to call and ask them for advice if there’s anything I have specific worries/questions about. I love that about them. They hope that they have given me the tools to become my own best kind of parent and they want Dave and I to blaze our own trail taking their ideas along with ones form Dave’s parents. I think they delight in watching what each of us nine kids come up with as we deal with our own families.

Oh man, have I mentioned how much I love my parents? Just wondering.

With your daughters do you have any rules about what age they can start wearing makeup or getting their ears pierced?

Yes, I talked about the ear piercing one here, and the make-up one back here.

Obviously we are not overly scientific about figuring out these ages. I don’t believe in making a big deal about either one of them because I think that makes kids want them more.

Your “teens” always look so happy. How do you help them form positive attitudes and prevent complaining? I have a couple nieces and nephews who are teens and seem to think everything in life ‘sucks’. I am trying to figure out if this is a glorious teen attribute or something that can be avoided.

Hmmm, that’s a tricky one. I’m so glad that they look happy but remember that I don’t generally take pictures of my kids when they are sulky. (Even if I did happen to catch one they would die if I posted it.) That being said, I have to say that Max and Elle are pretty darn nice and are generally very appreciative and positive. Maybe they have learned that if they start complaining steam may start coming out of their mother’s ears and they may see her transform into “Mean Mom.” They have learned that if they find complaining necessary in their pampered life they are in deep trouble.

Generally, I mention how grateful I am for things about every fifteen minutes through the day so maybe the gratitude rubs off on them somehow.

Do your kids ever fight? They seem to be so loving and happy all of the time. If they do fight (which, I’m assuming they do), how do you help them resolve conflict?

Sure they fight. And they tease. And they do annoying things to each other just to get a rise out of whoever happens to be the most fun to pick on at the time. But I do really try to nip it before it becomes out of hand. I tell them constantly that they are going to be with each other forever so they better be nice and may as well be best friends while they’re at it.

The “fighting bench” honestly works wonders to resolve fighting. I talked about it back here. It’s really mostly geared toward younger kids but it still works wonders for bigger kids too. I love that method of resolving conflict because it helps kids take ownership of their arguments and helps them understand the importance of figuring out what they did wrong and fixing it.

I also think that singing “Love is Spoken Here” to them works wonders when they start squabbling, but Dave disagrees so I stopped in the middle of my off-tune rendition.

What age do you think is best to start piano? My son is going into Kindergarten and I was going to start him in piano lessons at the same time, but the teacher said she likes to wait until first grade. Thoughts? Thanks!

I am a huge advocate of waiting for as long as possible to start lessons. I talked about my thoughts a bunch back here, and this may sound harsh, but I think it is a waste of time and money to put kids in music or sports too early.

Now, please remember that’s just me. I do not have children that have exhibited the potential for turning into natural prodigies, nor do I wish to turn into a Tiger Mother and coerce them into becoming just that. I have discovered after much analysis and careful discussions with Dave, that we are not really a family of “experts” and we are totally fine with that. {more on that in this letter I wrote to the kids.}

Had you asked me this question in the “early years” I may have said something quite the opposite. I wanted to start my children early in everything. I wanted to push them to be the best of the best. But the years have settled me down a little.

As far as piano lessons go, all the research I’ve read says that it’s best to start kids when they know left from right and when they can read. That being said, we totally planned on having Claire start this year. She’s in second grade after all and has mastered those things. But I was like a deer-in-the-headlights at the beginning of the school year with so many commitments swirling around so we decided to put it off one more year. She wants to do tennis, gymnastics, soccer, piano and dance and well, we could only pick a couple of those.

Bottom line, I think it completely depends on the maturity of the child and the willingness of the parent to sit down to practice with them. Beginning piano students need constant supervision to make progress and it’s a big commitment.

I’m a mom of 2 (ages 4 and 18 months, boy and girl). I know how you like to keep it real, and I do understand that everything can’t always be constant peace and happiness between all of your kids. But I really do get the feeling that in general, your kids love, respect, and are kind to one another and have genuine fun together. Growing up, my siblings and I definitely loved each other and were protective of each other, but we also had a lot of name calling, hitting, relentless teasing, and yelling. And we didn’t usually particularly enjoy one another’s company. (probably because of all the fighting) What do you think has helped your kids get along so well? I so wish for my kids to be best of friends as they grow up and not have all the contention that I grew up with.

I think the above questions about respect and fighting pretty much answer this. The “no tolerance” thing is key. But who knows, maybe subliminally it helps to have “love more” written above the door they go in and out of every day: (more about that entryway here)

…and to have the words Learn, Work, Serve, Respect boldly placed where they can see it and talked about constantly at FHE. (More about family mottos here.)

My oldest is a boy and second is a girl, so it will be fun to see their relationship blossom and hopefully be as awesome as max and elle’s! do you have any tips on fostering a friendship between your kids? mine are still so little, but it’s one thing i always have in mind…how to help them not only love each other as siblings, but genuinely LIKE each other as friends too.

I think the “no tolerance” thing for not accepting disrespect or belittling helps. Dave and I also try to build up our children in front of each other to model kindness and we pray for them each individually in family prayer so everyone can hear…I think that helps to help kids be aware of each other and to help “root” for each other.

But really, I think Max and Elle just happen to have personalities that mesh really well together. Their individual strengths and weaknesses cancel each other out. I’m so grateful for that.

There are so many more great parenting questions I’ll try to get to soon in (part 2). Until then, please add your advice or ideas here!

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  1. I agree with Dave about singing churchy songs when the kids argue. My mom had a wind up music box (it was in a basket stuffed and embroidered) that she'd turn on when we (four boys-two girls within 9 years) were fighting. It played "Love at Home". I still can't listen to that song without feeling mad….(I'm now 29.) That isn't the spirit I want when I hear that song or the reaction I want my kids to associate with it, so we don't do that.
    I love when you answer questions on here. My four kids are 8 1/2-8 months, so my older kid ideas are limited. I'll just learn from friends, prayer, and experience. (Not necessarily in that order.)

  2. I love that you hit on the "talking back" and how to minimize it. My husband and I were talking about this, and in general, growing up… we were both confused what this really means. I think it would help to emphasize to children that it's about being disrespectful when you respond or talk back as talking back for me, meant should I just shut up and not talk when she asks me? What's the difference? For a young child, this can be very hard to distinguish and sort through. So we decided to try our best not to say "talk back" but instead mention being "respectful." In Chinese, it's even worse – it is literally translated as shield mouth – as in whatever you say is shielding you but is disrespectful – again, like I said.. way confusing for kids right?

    I think it's great that you let your daughters decide on the ear piercing after six, I myself was not allowed to get my ears pierced until I was eight and only if I got straight A's and since it was such a huge deal for me, I treated those hurtful puppies like jewels and have never once had them get infected or close up – I really took to heart all the cleaning protocol that was advised when I got them done because I was SOOO afraid of having to do it again and working for it again and I think that was a really good lesson from my mum to have me take care of it myself and want it so badly that I was fully invested because those piercings can hurt and get ugly and if you don't want it, you will complain so much more. I also like that i was mature enough to take care of it myself at that age – with some assistance from mum that is.

    As for make-up, we weren't allowed to have it on EVER but there were exceptions like dances and parties but my mom is still a strong advocate of NO FOUNDATION OR POWDER which has actually helped my acne ridden hormonal high school skin blossom into something beautiful. In exchange for the money spent on make-up, I was allowed to get facials in high school to help my skin glow with its natural beauty. To this day, I do not wear make-up everyday, only for special occasions and sometimes for Church. (And of course I had to use it for dance performances and when I did ballroom – that was fun – talk about crazy make-up). I liked those rules my mom set because it gave me a sense of freedom from the usual routine that women tend to have. I'm also grateful for my mom for having emphasized that make-up does not equal growing up. Good skin care however does. I thought it was especially interesting because growing up, I always saw fun make-up stuff in YM and Seventeen (do they even have those teen magazines anymore?) but I always knew that it was important to not do it because my mom taught me so. My mom's not LDS so I guess we never had modesty standards but being very traditionally conservative Chinese, we had make-up standards and dating standards (no make-up! – okay this exception maybe… no boyfriends! – okay.. until she met with my almost boyfriend when I was 16 to interview him and figure out his intentions before we could become boyfriend girlfriend). I imagine that is how modesty standards wil be in my household..

    I really love your advice on being respectful with siblings and emphasizing the love, service and respect – thank you for sharing the beautiful wall art and giving me inspiration that I can too help to instill happiness in my future posterity. You didn't mention the bench your parents had but I just loved that idea and already shared it with my husband who is 100% on board. Love it!!!!

    I'm also reading a ton of your parents books now – they are all checked out of the libraries here in Utah (where we're visiting for a week), hopefully California will not be as heavy in demand. Thanks!!!

  3. Thank you so much for your comments on piano. I had never read about waiting til they could understand the right to left of reading so it would be easier to read music. Makes total sense to me.

    I wasn't allowed to get my ears pierced until 13…and let me tell you, I was SO EXCITED and it was SUCH a big deal for me! I agree that it is great to have them wait until a "magic age" for big moments like that! Like my mom says, "You give your kids so MUCH already…Hold back things for them to look forward to!"

    Love the comment on here about the occasional facial for teens instead of loads of make up. (Even though I had my first facial only this year!) I agree that "natural beauty and glow" is a beautiful thing…and wow was I impressed with my "natural glow" after my facial!

  4. I'm a piano teacher, and I generally don't take students until they are eight years old. By then some early reading skills are developed, but also early math skills, which are really important in piano. The child should also be able to sit and focus for the 30 minute lesson, which usually doesn't happen before about 8 yrs.

    But the most important thing to think of when considering music lessons is the child/teacher relationship. Always try out a teacher for 3 or 4 weeks to see if they are a good fit for your child. This will be the number one factor in whether or not your child succeeds in music lessons. Teaching style, curriculum, personality, and music focus all vary between teachers and children. I always give a new student some time to see if they like taking lessons with me, and I'm not offended if we decide they might do better with a different teacher.

  5. My mother used to always make us sing a church hymn if we were to say anything rude. It was so ridiculous and comical that we always wound up laughing together rather than fighting.
    Thank you for your thoughts. Your source of strength is immeasurable and idealistic.

  6. Love,love, love it all. I also have a "no tolerance" policy, but I guess I've never thought about forming the words to call it that. I interrupt if they are "whining" or "back talking" and kindly suggest they start over or "speak in a voice I can understand." I recently instituted "kindness coins." I was tired of the unkindness I would see between my kids and I want to nip it in the bud, if at all possible. You can readmore about it here

    Though you may not share or take pics of your kids "sulking" the fact that we have seen so many happy faces, shows that they are generally happy children. My oldest is almost 11 and is still a happy kid, but I see a handful of kids his age with the constant frown and it worries me. I like how you mentioned continually sharing what you are grateful for and praying for each individually in your family prayers. Great thoughts;)

  7. This was so helpful and fun to read. I agree too that you have soooo many happy moments and photos of your kids it's hard to imagine them being unhappy or moody. I really feel the love all of you have for each other when reading your blog and wonder if my kids love each other as much as yours. They have their rare moments but it's usually fighting, complaining, name calling.
    We are trying to teach the older ones what talking back means so that they understand. To them it's just expressing themselves and I'm trying to say do it in a nicer way though.
    So thanks for all these thoughts and the readers comments helped too.

  8. I have a question for you from a few weeks ago. What software did your daughter use for her slideshow? It was super cute. I have some young women who have an assignment to make a slideshow and would love to help them out. Thanks!

  9. I LOVE these posts! I have a question for you… I don't think you've talked about this on your blog, but I'm not sure – Christmas! We are about to have baby #4, and now that our oldest two are 4 and 6, we're realizing that we will need to figure out a strategy for Christmas gifts that won't leave us totally broke! I know as they get older, their gifts are only going to get more expensive! I love your alternating year birthdays, and I think once everyone has had their first couple of birthdays, we are going to start doing this. I am wondering if there is anything y'all do to keep Christmas manageable. Right now each of our kids get 1 big thing ($100ish) from Santa and 5 smaller things (20 or so each), and then one medium (50 or so) gift from us parents. They also each get $15 to spend on their siblings. But when you multiply that times four, it's actually more than our family needs to be spending (we also have large extended families, and even with drawing names for cousins, etc. it still adds up). It's so hard NOT to want to get our kids everything on their list… but we are also committed to living within our means, and that means keeping the holidays under control. Thoughts? Ideas?

  10. 'Nother piano teacher here. The earlier you start your child, the more work you will need to put into it yourself with their practicing. So, yes, it can work at the younger ages. But it is soooo much easier if they are older. I think 7-9 is the golden window for piano, but I've seen people do very well starting even a couple of years later.
    Wonderful counsel, Shawni, about dealing with disrespect and contention! Thank you so much.

  11. I'm a new reader of your blog, so I am catching up. 🙂 I have a question for you: How do you address modesty? One thing I will never forget from when I was a teenager, was when I was with my best friend at her dance class. Senior Prom was coming up so we (my friend's dance teacher, myself and my friend) were talking about what we were going to wear. The dance teacher had advised my friend to wear whatever she wanted because once she got married in the temple, she wouldn't be able to wear strappy shirts and dresses anymore. I was shocked and very upset about this "advice." My personal feeling is that you wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees and stomach while young because it's modest and doing so prepares you for the temple without having to make major wardrobe changes…How do address modesty? Especially with your teenage daughter?

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