September 2015 Mailbag: Preschoolers, Porn, & Fighting a Critical Spirit MAILBAG (Sept 2015) // -- How to handle a BUSY PRESCHOOLER while homeschooling older children, Being proactive with teen sons about PORN, and more...


Q: I feel at a loss with what to do with my 2-1/2-year-old daughter while we’re homeschooling, or even just throughout the day as I’m trying to get things done. What do you do with your 2-1/2-year-old?

A: Well, Theo’s my current 2-year-old, and he’s a fairly laid-back little introverted guy. But he’s our 6th 2-year-old, and we’ve had a mix of busy wigglers, talkative little ones, and introverts, so as you’ve rightly guessed, I have some suggestions for you.

  1. BRING HER ALONG WITH YOU. Have her participate in everything you are doing, to whatever degree she’s able. Reading a book aloud to the older children? Have her sit in your lap and turn the page when you tell her to. Folding laundry? Toss her the washcloths to “fold.” Unloading dishes? Give her the plastic kiddy plates to put away. Going to the restroom? Take her with you. Keep her within eyeshot all the time. This is perhaps the most important thing of all because “a child left to himself” is not a good thing. It’s a BLESSING for your little one to be very, very close to you. Close enough to participate in what you’re doing, and close enough for you to teach and correct as the day goes along.
  2. FOR TIMES (like homeschooling) WHEN TOGETHERNESS IS DIFFICULT, YOU NEED TO EITHER TRAIN HER TO SIT QUIETLY, OR QUIETLY ENTERTAIN HERSELF NEARBY. Homeschooling is truly rough with an 18-28 month old… but once they get toward 2 & 1/2 and up, they’re plenty old enough to choose to either sit still and participate (by quiet coloring, quiet listening to/looking at books, quiet watching what the kids are doing), OR to quietly entertain themselves nearby. We have a sunroom near our living room (where we do school) and this is where Theo goes if he doesn’t want to quietly participate in schooling and stories.
  3. IF SHE RUNS OFF, USE A PLAYPEN. Use the playpen the same way I describe in the next two points, only they’ll be doing it all contained. This may be a temporary measure (“if you run out of the room even one time, you will have to sit in the playpen the rest of the time until lunchtime”), or it could be that they enjoy it and it becomes part of their routine of playtime while you get schooling done.
  4. BE HIGHLY DIRECTIVE. A young preschooler like this is not yet to a stage where they self-direct their play. By that I mean, in our home they do not get to choose what they’re doing for huge swaths of the day. Throughout the day, give her direction and show her what she should be doing. Here, that looks like: “I’d like for you to grab the box of blocks and come sit on the floor by my feet and build while mommy cooks dinner.” “Darlin, come here and let’s wipe off the table.” Etc. When an older child asks if she can come play, that looks like, “would you like to go jump on the trampoline with Baxter?” (yes) “When you’re done, come back in to mama and you can help me unload the dishwasher, OK?” (“ok mom”) Then see to it that she does it. This does not come naturally for any of us (it didn’t for me either, at first!), but the more you do this, you will (I bet) find that she becomes increasingly content and responsive to you. You will also, by nature, begin to keep up with her better than what comes naturally. Rather than causing frustration, doing this more will actually promote her trust in you, and knit your hearts closer together.
  5. CONSIDER A TOY ROTATION. I don’t do this rigidly or in a scheduled way, though I’ve had friends who do. {For example, Monday: pattern blocks, Tuesday: Magformers, Wednesday: Lacing cards & wooden beads with shoestrings, Thursday: Colored pencils and “fancy” coloring books, Friday: Lincoln Logs} But I do rotate toys from time to time. On the one hand, I want them to have sufficient “sameness” to push past the “I’m BORED” mentality, but also sufficient diversity of opportunities to keep themselves contentedly occupied. By that I mean, contrary to some advice, I don’t want to be rotating their activities every 15 minutes. That approach feeds an inability to be content, and a tendency toward distractedness. In that case, the child might just need to be forced to sit with the same toy for longer periods of time to teach contentedness and how to entertain oneself. This is a wonderful skill for them to build (the ability to be content with one toy set for a nice length of time– 30-45 minutes at a stint). But I also am not one who thinks they should just sit there with a cardboard box and be content to sit still in one spot for the rest of their lives. Every few days, if the same-old-same-old toys are getting stale, I try to direct him toward something new to do. It could be one of the suggestions above, or one of these. Other toys we’ve invested in that are enjoyable at this preschool age are:

I don’t keep all these toys out all the time, but I do keep them put away in bins. Rotating toys from time to time allows them to have “fresh” toys I can pull out when they’re having a difficult day (or when *I’M* having a difficult day) 😉 , and it helps keep them busy a little longer.

Hopefully this helps give you some new ideas, or reframes your thinking about what to do with the toddler/preschooler. It’s a challenge, but you CAN do this! Hang in there and keep being creative to keep her occupied, and within eyeshot, as you get schooling done with the bigger children!



Q: Jess, yours is one of few large families I’ve read about online who seem to value sleep as much as we must around here. So I have a few questions on how to balance many siblings’ varying sleep needs. How in the world do the early risers and the late sleepers all get enough sleep in the same home? We homeschool, we use white noise machines, blackout curtains, rules for quiet play for the early birds, etc., but it seems to be a never-ending balancing act. I give one child a natural serotonin supplement to sleep past 5:30 am. Another is naturally a late reader and let riser and excels in his schoolwork on this schedule. We have a boys’ room and a girls’ room but I’ve honestly considered grouping them by sleep needs! Do you have any insight on these issues?

It seems so trivial as I type but it can truly affect our daily life when out of balance. We are expecting our sixth baby and I still don’t know where the toddler will sleep when baby arrives. Thanks for your thoughts.

A: You know, we do value sleep, and you’re right– I work hard at this aspect of family life. It’s one of my personal “sanity-makers.” :) Here’s everything I’ve written on sleep.

The only real advice I have to offer is this: apart from sleep disorders, I think being a late/early riser is largely a matter of practice. We get better at what we practice. This is how a wide variety of people adjust to being on the night shift, and how we shifted our family’s schedule from being on Texas time to being in completely different timezones, when we moved across the world, and back and forth, multiple times over our 6 years abroad.

Here in our home, I want everyone to wake up within an hour or so of each other. (I do let people sleep in when we’ve been up unusually late the night before.) I would not allow some people to regularly wake up hours ahead of others, but would, I think, work to help them sleep later, or to get the rest of us up earlier, whichever needed to happen, in order to promote good sleep for everyone. So, my main piece of advice would be to have a general wake time you’re shooting for (i.e., “no one out of bed before 6:45,” or “everyone at the table by 8am,” or “everyone dressed and ready to start school by x time”), and then work back from that to find everyone’s optimum bedtime. Considering my experience with shifting schedules from jet lag, if you work at it, it will only take 1-2 weeks– TOPS– to get everyone on the same general schedule if you insist on it.

Beyond that, or if that advice won’t work for your crew, then I’m sorry to say, I don’t have great solutions to offer you.

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of legitimate challenges, and have tried many of the things I would suggest (blackout curtains, white noise). I included it in this mailbag, though, so you could perhaps get some insight from other readers.




Q: The Lord has graciously brought it to my attention that I have a critical spirit. You could call it pessimism. Do you have any encouragement on how to change my heart in this area? Example: Not having much encouragement for the kids but always pointing out where they didn’t measure up or did something wrong.

A: Ouch! It hurts to have ourselves exposed, doesn’t it? But like you said– it’s really the grace of the Lord that He shows us our sin. Well, I’m sure many of us can identify with you.

The difficulty with this particular issue is that as mothers, I believe we are an oft-used tool in the hands of the Father to identify and bring about change in the lives of our children. So part of our “critical eye” comes from powers of careful observation that have been honed in order to BLESS them.

But whenever I find a sin in my heart that is one of these, I try to identify and discern the root things going on in my heart. The question, “WHAT IS IT I’M REALLY WANTING?” can be a helpful tool on this point.

Am I being critical out of:

  • pride? (i.e., I don’t want to be embarrassed in public.)
  • rudeness toward a particular child? (i.e., He’s been annoying me and I’m on a tangent.)
  • irritability because I’m genuinely overtaxed? (i.e., I’m taking on too many tasks and don’t take time to slow down and give myself margin.)
  • a commitment to my own kingdom rather than God’s? (i.e., nitpicky self-oriented corrections like “you WILL fold the dishtowels MY way!” rather than legitimate correction oriented toward the furthering of God’s Kingdom
  • habit? (i.e., Mom/Grandma/so-and-so was always critical like this, and so I think this is normal.)
  • and I’m sure there are other reasons, too.

Truth is, you’re probably being critical for a variety of these, but it help me to discern my own heart. Then I would begin calling it by its right name (i.e., “pride” or “rudeness”) and fighting it like any other sin… like this:

  • confessing it AS sin and repent of it to the people I’ve hurt and affected- (probably, all the children + your husband, maybe others if they’ve been around or heard you rebuke your children)
  • memorizing and meditating on verses about that issue- taping them up in the high-traffic areas of my home so that I am confronted with God’s Word in this area)
  • stopping myself whenever I catch myself about to do it… or as soon as I realize I’ve done it- and reorienting myself to the truth. “I want to ________ but God has shown me that is sin. I want to walk in the Spirit. Father, help me to die to self and live unto Jesus.”
  • Re-confessing, re-repenting as necessary.

In my life, I’ve found that the more I call my sin, SIN, and reorient my thinking toward the way God views that sin, the more success I have in fighting it. The more I mask it and couch it in language that sounds (for me) justifiable, the less success I have.

So for me, the key has been to change my thinking about my sin and not justify things that God calls wicked or abhorrent. Pride is wicked. Rudeness is unloving. Doing more than I should and making myself over-tired is, in actuality, a form of *pride* that says “I can do it all. The world can’t keep spinning if I don’t keep running like the energizer Bunny and doing it all.” It’s a form of trying to live life as if we are God. So, reframing my sin into sin language, and out of justifiable/OK/understandable language, has been critical for me in fighting sin.

You can read more HERE about how I’ve done that in my fight against yelling & sinful fits of anger.

I hope this helps you to reframe this issue and begin fighting this sin in your life. Thanks for your transparency; your desire to grow and submit to the leadership of the Lord in your life is an encouragement to me.



This question came in response to my post about the Josh Duggar scandals.

Q: My question as homeschooling mom of 2 teen boys and one that is 22. I am aware of pornography. I have and do read continuously about the concerns and the ages and numbers of boys that are exposed.

My husband and I talk regularly about the issue but we have such a hard time talking to our boys. I have a great relationship with them and find myself going in their rooms or talking to them in the car…”how are you? Have you stumbled upon any sites that have been bad? Are you having any issues or feeling tempted? (I have also read that when you talk and actually talk about a game plan if anything happens that you are more likely to be successful at reacting the right way. Ex. maybe a friend shows you pornography on his phone…what is your plan of escape?)

I feel stupid when I am talking with them because I really don’t know how to keep a conversation going or what is healthy or how to do this? Can you give us some suggestions.

I find myself thinking about it and being fearful that we are not doing enough. How can my husband and i know how to address this, keep talking about it, and be helpful as the parents with this issue? I do not have any reason to think that my boys have a problem with this. Our son in college has said that it was an issue in the recent past and I do not want the 17 and 14 year old to be caught in a snare. I think it seems like once you are exposed it is harder to fight the temptation. Thank you.

A: Thanks for your honesty; this is a common question. If you feel you are not doing enough, that is probably a very accurate feeling– you probably aren’t. And that’s not personal against you– it’s just a fact that most of us were told little to nothing (and most of us discovered things we shouldn’t have from ungodly sources), and our natural posture is one of silence and inaction; “not doing enough” is what comes most naturally to us.

This culture around us stands ready to reel our sons and daughters into sexual deviancy, expose and use them, chew them up, and spit them out wounded and filled with shame. Porn is but one of the ways they can falter, without warning and wisdom from the Lord.

Let me encourage you: Dive in to conversation and KEEP diving in. Admit that you feel weird about it, and yet out of love for them, you plan to keep pressing through the weirdness in order to engage on this important topic. Keep starting the conversations and don’t stop.

I love your conversational example of the “plan of escape.” That is a great thing to talk about! “If it’s a friend you like very well, and he starts to show you something, what will you do?” These are wonderful things, if you can, to include your husband in… or even (if you’re sure he’s past it) this older brother. They have BEEN IN those shoes, to one degree or another, and should be able to give specific input to help them.

Here are some ways we do this with our older children:

  • We use “Passport2Purity” during a weekend getaway with our kids sometime between the ages of 11-13 (the two of us with the one child)
  • We pause/stop movies and TV shows mid-moment if there’s something happening-– even mild– that goes against our values as a family. (For example… Peeta & Katniss in bed together before marriage, even without sexual activity shown on screen, is something that we might stop and point out… “Even with clothes on, why do you think mom and dad would say that this is a terrible idea? Where do you think that is going to lead? Would it be OK for mom to lay in bed with some man I’m not married to, as long as we’re both clothed?”, etc.) We want to think through, ethically, and biblically, why something is/isn’t OK… not just stopping at “because we say so” or even “because the Bible says so” but actually talking chapter & verse and supporting ideas for the wisdom we want them to internalize.
  • We cast a vision for wisdom vs. foolishness, and we talk– OFTEN– about the consequences of sexual foolishness. When I hear a story about another minister who has fallen because of adultery, we talk about it. When we see a magazine article about Bruce Jenner (calling him “Caitlyn”), we talk about the sexual ethos of this have-anything-your-way age, and how it is not bringing happiness to people. We talk openly about the promises sexual temptation makes, and how it is an empty, temporary promise that has lasting pain, shame, and consequences associated with it (yes, pregnancy + STDs but also guilt, shame, humiliation, sorrow, depression, self-loathing… all of which are symptoms of the over-arching problem of refusing to submit to God’s ways and His designs for His creations.).
  • As they get older, we randomly ask pointed questions about porn/sexting. “Has anyone ever shown you porn?” “Have you had friends try to show you or talk to you about stuff that you know we wouldn’t be OK with?” “Which of your friends have phones?” “If someone holds out their phones and asks you to come look, and it looks suspicious, or overtly sexual, what should you do?”
  • We talk about porn in comparison to meth. One of the drugs ravaging our nation is meth… meth’s biggest difference from other drugs is that it blows your dopamine receptors, even from the first time you use it. Ironically, though it promises great pleasure, it actually destroys your ability to feel pleasure. So, while there are probably more comparisons between the two that can be made, the two I point out to my preteens and older are these (1) it will destroy your ability to feel God-given pleasures, (2) it will make you into a black hole of unsatisfaction… you will keep needing greater and greater stimulation in order to be satisfied, and the only possible end is deadness and shame. Though I do not send them to read articles, I DO read about the difficulties in marriages affected by porn, and I cast a vision for them of fighting to keep their minds free and clear of the drug called porn, so that they can be free to enjoy God’s wonderful gifts of sexuality with their wife, without the shame-cycle and physical difficulties that accompany pornography use.
  • CovenantEyes has a FREE e-book called, “Your Brain on Porn” that would be great for all parents to read, and may be of benefit for older youth, to understand the way porn alters your brain functions and experiences of pleasure. CLICK HERE to download it.
  • We also, at least once a year, sit down one-on-one with each child and ask a litany of questions for the purposes of sexual abuse prevention, reminding them that it’s OK to say “no” to any and everything that makes them uncomfortable, and making sure they know they can & should talk to us. During that conversation, we ask questions like, “Has anyone ever shown you their privates? asked to see yours? Tried to touch you or asked you to touch them? Shown you pictures of naked or partially clothed people?” etc. Yes, it’s time-consuming and more than a bit awkward, but we want them to know– we take this stuff seriously, and we want to protect you in this area.
  • We don’t have a child with a phone yet, but once we do, there will be measures in place for internet accountability and access… but as they get toward adulthood, that transition is going to be… well… heavily influenced by our sense of how mature/wise they’ve been with it, as well as their age and level of independence (i.e., if we’re still paying for you in some way, then you need to be accountable to us for what you’re bringing into our home, etc.).
  • Use passwords, accountability software (like SpectorSoft or Covenant Eyes), and public placement of computer screens (not off in bedrooms/behind closed doors), for accountability on computers and the internet. Do not trust teen boys to be stronger than Samson, godlier than King David, and wiser than Solomon. See your teen sons rightly– as humans– made up of flesh and blood… with hormones and curiosity and a burgeoning sex drive. Cast a vision for wisdom, yes, but prepare for foolish choices, and seek to cut them off at the pass.
  • Pray for them to get caught when/if they sin in this area– and pray for that in front of them. Ask God to guard them by hedging them in with loving discipling when they stray sexually. This can be an act of His great mercy in their life.
  • Cast a vision of HOLINESS out of LOVE FOR CHRIST. A commitment to a set of rules WILL NOT carry our children throughout their lives… but a DEEP LOVE for Christ can constrain them and carry them through a pornified culture toward holiness BECAUSE OF THEIR GREAT LOVE FOR HIM. A pursuit of perfection will only cause frustration… and failure– but a pursuit of the greater pleasure of Christ can so rule their hearts that HE can constrain them toward holiness through His Word and His Spirit.

Honestly, the difficulty you’re sharing about is one reason why we start talking about sex earlier than many people. The longer you wait to talk about this stuff, the harder it gets, the more awkward it feels, and the higher the stakes are raised. By the time you reach the late teens, it’s not just “explaining sex” that’s an issue- there are REAL risks involved. Though we don’t like it, as Christian mothers, promiscuous sex, porn, and sexual deviancies are now mainstream.

I’m not in any way saying this to you to embarrass you, but rather to provide an instructive lesson for those who aren’t yet to your stage of parenting. To those with younger children, I urge: TALK OPENLY NOW. START YOUNG. OPEN the doors of communication. Do it sooner than you think you need to… so that by the time you DO need to, it won’t be as awkward or as “out of nowhere.”

A few articles that may prove helpful:

I believe a large part of our role as parents is teaching our children how to view the world God has made– including sex. Here are the articles I’ve written on this subject:


The Truth About Sex & How It Affects Our Parenting //


The (On-Going) Talk // Talking With Your Kids About Sex From Birth to Age 2 //


Is It Biblical to Teach Our Kids About SEX? //


The (On-Going) Talk // Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Ages 2-5 //



Submit A Question // jessconnell.comTHANKS, READERS, FOR YOUR GREAT QUESTIONS!



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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast ( I write and wrangle kids.

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2 Responses

  1. katy says:

    For the mom feeling overly-critical. I have always struggled with that too. My dad was a perfectionist so… Anyway, the Lord showed me in His Word how He can, does, and will continue to change me! Here are some things I pray daily (I put them on a piece of paper and use them as a bookmark in my Bible): Lord, please let me have a ‘gentle answer [that] turns away wrath (Prov. 15:1a). May I give ‘cheerful look[s that I know] bring joy to the heart’ (Prov 15:30) even when I feel silly doing it. (Then I smile to practice – unfortunately, smiling at my children once they get past the age of 2 or so does not come naturally.) I pray I have ‘pleasant/encouraging words [as I know they] are…sweet to the soul’ (Prov 16:24). Then I pray specifics throughout the day: when a certain child is having trouble (being lazy and having to be corrected a lot) with math and they are just about done, I will pray that I will say ‘Good Job!’ if it is correct instead of saying nothing b/c truly I’m thinking ‘finally’ 😛 There are SOOOO many other verses I pray each day and I have seen how God has changed my heart towards my children! I also pray that when I give a godly, loving response, that I would immediately realize it was GOD who changed me to make that response (because that is certainly not my nature!) and I praise Him immediately, sometimes outloud! Baby is awake but I encourage you to go to His Word. He will direct you :)

  2. Natalie says:

    Just what I was looking for! We have 5 sons, 1 grown and 4 at home. I was trying to talk to my 9 year old yesterday (oldest one at home) about why we are careful with the computer. It was uncomfortable because I did not know what to say. Thanks for the information you provided!

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