A friend was making friendly conversation with my oldest son during that “shake the hand of the person next to you” time in church. “You excited about moving to Africa?”

“No.”

Well—there’s a conversation killer. At least I don’t have to worry about that kid being a people-pleaser.

I gently brought it up with my son a day later, you know, trying to sound as casual and non-confrontational as possible. “I just don’t know what to expect,” he shrugged. You and me both, buddy.

But in truth, I did know a lot more about what to anticipate. And that’s when I dusted off an old strategy. This same son, who is seven, had been begging me for another “Shiloh and Summer” story. Do not waste your time on Amazon.com; these unquestionably fabulous tales are exclusive to my car rides with my children. I gleaned the idea from Barbara’s husband Dennis, who used to tell his kids about “Speck” people, who were in my understanding very small.

My stories are not near that ingenious. In fact, mine are sheerly manufactured for my own purposes, and a real storyteller, or anyone with all their adult molars, would probably marvel at my utter lack of creativity.  You see, Shiloh and Summer are wonderful children around my children’s ages (my kids have asked when their birthdays are) who love learning from their parents’ wisdom. These children are not flawless, but they are pleasantly teachable. They glean great principles that are remarkably relevant to my children’s lives. They apply Scripture to their lives about not whining; they courageously persevere in great feats of character. Sometimes, there is no lesson at all; Shiloh and Summer take a canoe trip and go camping, or discover a magic carpet. (My kids have taken the storytelling reins too—especially when the chief storyteller can’t summon the mental capacity put two sentences together—and then it gets very…imaginative.)

I just add a few details here so that I’m not giving into my temptation to preach at or manipulate my kids, or put one of them on the spot under the guise of a story. (Hint: Those stories are not nearly as fun.) I don’t aim for a cover-up job. These are lighthearted examples that give someone they can relate to; it helps them put themselves in real-life scenarios. I want to encourage them and entertain them with these adventures we have together. Most of us have used fiction books to help our kids approach different life situations, and this requires a whole lot less creativity than you’d think. Trust me. Your kids are not reading John Grisham; they are reading Amelia Bedelia. You can do this.

So in this most recent tale of wonder, Shiloh and Summer were tagging along with their parents on a short-term missions trip to—can you believe it?—Uganda. They had to get shots to protect them from disease (ice cream afterwards), but they also got to do some really cool stuff, like ride on a plane with a movie screen. I eked out pretty much every detail I could about the trip: Not being able to sleep the night before because you’re so excited, going through security and taking your shoes and jacket off, eating breakfast in the airport (bagels and cream cheese), whatever. As we got to certain points in the story, the kids laughed out loud. My oldest was even adding details: “I think when he smelled that stinky stuff he probably wrinkled his nose!”

Our story is revolving: I add more when we run the next errand or drop the next kid off. And that’s how we’ve gotten to details like jet lag, mosquito nets, or having jackfruit and banana trees in the yard. Or what to do when an impoverished child comes up to you and asks for money. Or how Shiloh and Summer remembered not to complain even when it was hot and sticky when they tried to fall asleep.

I think our next story will involve a prequel of Shiloh and Summer selling some of their favorite toys at a garage sale to raise money for their mission trip, because our mammoth sell-it-all sale is just around the corner. In fact, maybe someone could tell me Shiloh and Summer story of my own for that one.

What fun ways do you use to help your kids cope?