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Not your parents’ parenting conference
by Jim Killam | 4-minute read   Like any parents, Chris and Tona Johnson can be baffled by something one of their three boys did. And, like any parents, their […]
Jim Killam
February 5, 2020
by Jim Killam | 4-minute read


Like any parents, Chris and Tona Johnson can be baffled by something one of their three boys did. And, like any parents, their first response might be: “Why did you do that? What were you thinking?”

A big insight for them came during a parenting conference by the organization Raising Boys & Girls. When kids do something crazy, they probably aren’t thinking. Their brains can’t yet make the connections that their parents’ brains can. Just understanding that, and knowing a different approach or two, has made a difference for Chris and Tona as parents.

A few years ago, Tona was one of several women from First Free who attended a conference in Franklin, Tenn. A breakout session on parenting by authors David Thomas and Sissy Goff caught their attention.

“We were like, wow, that’s life-changing,” Tona says. “I didn’t know any of that. How come no one’s told me all of that stuff?”

Specifically, they liked how the speakers talked distinctly about girls and boys, even breaking it down further into age groups: how kids develop, what they need at certain ages.

“I didn’t have any brothers and now we have these boys, and there was frustration,” Tona says. “But then I would talk to other moms with boys and they were seeing similar things. So I thought, OK, my kid isn’t abnormal.”

From that introduction in Tennessee, First Free invited Thomas and Goff to lead a workshop here in 2016. Which led to another invitation for this year.

This is not your parents’ parenting conference. Christianity remains foundational, but the speakers confront today’s behavioral issues and avoid simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions. It’s why the Johnsons were so intrigued last time.

“It was almost like you were in counseling,” Tona says. “Topics would come up and I would think, Yeah, I don’t know what to do with that. I’ve been wanting to talk to somebody about that.”


Chris and Tona Johnson’s three boys are Kyrkan, 13 (right); Hudson, 11 (left); Alethn, 8 (sand)

Engaging kids’ senses

Chris picked up a tip about engaging multiple senses in his kids to minimize frustration. Rather than just saying, “Hey, come over here and clean this up,” a parent can pair those words with a gentle touch on the shoulder to help get the child’s full attention.

“It isn’t like they all of a sudden stopped because I have never touched them before, but it’s the idea that you did that and engaged in an additional sense,” Chris says. “It’s not like it’s a deep, grave, ‘this is serious’ moment. It’s just a matter of engaging them that way.”


Postcards from the bowl

Another practical piece of advice is paying dividends at the Johnson house. If kids constantly forget to do something they’ve been told to do, the speakers advised writing messages on blank postcards and leaving them in strategic places.

“The toilet in their bathroom tends to not get flushed, for whatever reason,” Tona says. “So I decided, I’m going to try this. I put a postcard on the toilet. And my one son who tends to forget said, ‘Yeah, I saw that on there. I thought that was kind of funny.’ And one of my other sons told me: ‘It said flush the toilet. So I flushed the toilet.’

“And I’m like: It’s working!”

As the sign becomes familiar, might adjustments be required?

“Well, I haven’t had to change this one yet,” Tona says with a laugh. “And I don’t want to take it off because I’m afraid of what will happen. I suppose I will move them around and add different ones.”


Johnson family enjoying a Christmas light show.

A golden opportunity

Unsure whether to invest their time in this workshop? For the Johnsons, that’s easy.

“I’m not sure how many parents take the time or deeply engaged enough to go read a book on parenting or watch a DVD on parenting together,” Chris says. “I can’t say that that’s something we do together so that we can parent better. But when you do have opportunities, when they are right there telling you this stuff … and it is right here in Rockford and not a couple of days away, then I would say thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.”

“Parenting is tough,” Tona adds. “If you can gain some information for something that you love so much, that can be helpful, why wouldn’t you? And then who can you encourage who didn’t come? You could encourage a family member who wasn’t there, it can trickle down and have an impact in some way.”

• • •

Register today for Raise Up Parenting Conference Feb. 21–22 at First Free Rockford.



Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.


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