Animals have instinct—different species are born knowing a number of different skills immediately: walking, running, swimming. Megapodes, a type of bird also known as incubator birds, are completely independent and self–sufficient from the time they hatch. They generally have no interaction with their parents, and yet, when they reach maturity, they perform the same complicated nesting process as their ancestors. The mother lays eggs into a nest over a period of months and then leaves. The father stays with the eggs, and tends to the nest so that the eggs are kept at a near–constant temperature. This same procedure is performed generation after generation, even though it is not a skill that is taught to the hatchlings. Humans, however, must learn. We collect information and knowledge through our senses and build up a store of skills through experiences. As parents we have an enormous responsibility to actively teach and train our children.
Our society has gotten so busy, so demanding on our time, that parenting is being squeezed out of many adults’ lives. Parents are outsourcing the task of raising their children. From a very early age, preschools and daycares watch children for many of their waking hours. After they enter the school system, they spend vast chunks of their week in school classes and after–school programs. When the children are at home, the television and the computer often have as much—or more—influence on the children as the parents do. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child watches three hours of television every day! Many parents admit to using television and video games as a babysitter for their children without having full knowledge of the type of content their children are seeing.
In a 2003 Developmental Psychology article titled “Longitudinal Relations Between Children’s Exposure to TV Violence and Their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977 – 1992,” researchers led by L. Rowell Huesmann, Ph.D. found that viewing violence and aggression on TV did not just affect the viewer during childhood. “The structural models show that for both boys and girls, habitual early exposure to TV violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression, their own intellectual capabilities, their social status as measured by their parents’ education or their fathers’ occupations, their parents’ aggressiveness, their parents’ mobility orientation, their parents’ TV viewing habits (including violence viewing), and their parents’ rejection, nurturance, and punishment of them in childhood.” Without a doubt, children learn from all of the influences around them, and those influences will affect their character for life! “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
It is becoming a rare thing to find a family that spends quality time together without artificial distractions. The family dinner, picnic, hike or camping trip are disappearing from modern society, replaced by dozens of other influences. Whatever happened to one–on–one time playing sports, teaching work ethic and being dynamically involved in every aspect of our children’s lives? Children are constantly learning from the moment they are born. Who is training and teaching your child the ethics, skills, values and principles that will constitute their character? As a population, we parents need to reengage with our children, so we can be a positive, beneficial force in their education.
Engaged parents interact with their children
Some families spend the majority of their time either ignoring each other or in a virtual brawl. The children learn that communication is an adversarial competition to manipulate, cajole or berate the other person into doing what you want them to do. And when that fails, an appropriate reaction is to let your temper flare or stomp off to sulk and bathe in feelings of self–pity. In other families, the only time the father approaches the child is to rebuke misbehavior or correct an improper batting swing or football throw, or perhaps a one or two minute chat while sending the child to bed. The simple remedy to this kind of dysfunctional communication is to have a conversation with your child every day.
It is important to have a healthy communication channel between parents and children. This principle is applied every day in successful business projects, is required in every crew–oriented profession such as shipping, commercial flying, firefighting, and is recognized universally as key to any healthy relationship. Yet how many parents really apply it to their family life? The child should always understand proper respect for parental authority, and the parents should start, and continue, a habit of having interesting and interested conversations with each child. A common practice for many effective managers is to hold a “one–on–one” meeting on a regular basis with each person who reports directly to them in order to build the habit of communication. How many of those same managers do that at home with their children?
Nancy Gibbs, in the June 12, 2006 issue of TIME magazine, writes, “Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use” (“The Magic of the Family Meal”). The family dinner is not magic on its own, but it does create a consistent time and place where conversations happen, experiences are shared and relationships are strengthened. However, when you have a conversation is not as important as making sure you do it regularly. Talk about school, friends, and cars while playing catch, baking cookies, driving to the store or lying in bed. If you are traveling and cannot talk face–to–face, give your child a call and tell him about your trip and the city you are visiting.
Ask yourself honestly, when was the last time you gave your child your undivided, undistracted attention during an extended conversation. Often, you will have to do most of the talking—that is perfectly fine and is a wonderful opportunity to pass on knowledge. However, as this tradition of communication is established, you might be surprised to find how much your child has to say. If you make a habit of having these kinds of conversations, you are guaranteed to learn more about your children, improve your relationship with them, and be able to teach more effectively.
Engaged parents know their children
Just like you heard in high school writing class, much important information can be gleaned from answering who, what, when, where, why and how. Know where you children are, what they are doing, whom they are with.
When a newborn is brought into a family, parents always know where the baby is, who is holding her, if she is hungry or has a fever. As a child grows and matures, becoming more independent, some parents feel that they need to “turn loose” completely to avoid being overbearing and nosy. Keeping track of your children is not overbearing; it is responsible parenting! And even though your children may not seem to appreciate it at the time, chances are that once they are grown, they will realize that your interest saved them from any number of dangerous and heartbreaking situations.
Help your children learn to make good decisions, give them opportunities to practice decision–making, but stay informed. Ask them about their friends. Help them make judgments about the kind of influence other people have on them. If they will not discuss this with you as they get older, you probably did not build the habit of honest communication in their earlier years. While it may be harder to start once a wall is in place, it is never too late. Parenting is not about being best friends with your children or keeping them satisfied and happy with you from one moment to the next, but about helping them build lifelong values and character. In spite of their protests or unwillingness to talk, they do want you to be sincerely and lovingly involved in their life.
Share your life with your child
A responsible parent must know the details of their child’s life. At the same time, your child can learn an almost limitless amount by being involved in your day–to–day life. Even the mundane events in an adult life can excite and spark a child’s interest.
If appropriate and possible, take them to work with you. Let them see what it takes to support a family and complete a job successfully. Come up with a creative way to let them help you with your responsibilities. Perhaps they can copy and staple, deliver a memo for you, organize a toolset or cheerfully greet a customer. This also provides an opportunity to reinforce respect for adults and proper behavior in public. Obviously, you should never put them in harm’s way or expose them to inappropriate surroundings.
The routine trip to the grocery store provides another great teaching experience. Finding a good deal, learning to sift through marketing hype, picking a ripe piece of fruit, calculating a budget are just a few of the technical skills that can teach more important lessons around judgement, values and organization.
Teaching them to sit and listen, politely and respectfully, to a conversation among adults can be immensely educational. You might be surprised how tuned in even very young children are to the conversations that take place around them. This can be a plus or a minus: if your conversations are stimulating and edifying, the youngsters will pick up worthwhile knowledge. The inverse is true as well, so avoid having hostile, distasteful, or gossipy discussions.
Including young children in your routines may feel like a burden and slow you down initially. However, if you take the time to teach them these skills, they will actually become very helpful as they grow older. Parenting is not always convenient, but the rewards are immeasurable as you see the fruits of your labor paying off in your child’s life.
Children are not just miniature adults
In spite of the stereotypical image of an authority–hating brat, children crave correction and boundaries. Do not be afraid to say “no” and set boundaries. Limits on their behavior actually help children feel more confident and comfortable about the world around them and help instill the vitally important traits of self–control and discipline.
Each of us is under the authority of others: our supervisor at work, our local government, and so on. The parent is the controlling authority of the child, yet so many parents think that the proper approach is to befriend their child and try to reason him into submission, even when he is very young. Creating a set of rules and expectations is not going to squelch his individuality or stunt his personality development. From the beginning of their life, children need to start learning that every behavior has a consequence—good or bad.
Teach them what they are expected to do, then require that behavior of them. Set reasonable boundaries and be consistent about holding them accountable. We have seen it over and over again with our own son. He is happier and more at ease when he knows what is expected of him, but he does not know it is really expected of him if he is not required to adhere to the standard. If you allow your children to skip their chores whenever they feel like it, or to do a job halfway, they will learn that they do not really have to to do what they are told, and that someone else will pick up the slack for them.
When your children break the rules, make sure you consistently apply the consequences, but always discipline in love. Your job as a parent is to teach them and help them grow to be successful adults, not to appease them. Still, make sure you never lose your temper, get mad, yell or verbally attack them. Even if their behavior makes you angry, keep in mind that the long–term development of your child is far more important than your feelings.
Accentuate the positive
Anytime that you correct your child, give him positive instruction as well. Teaching your child does not have to be just a list of “don’ts” and reprimands. Make sure you are also showing them how to make right decisions and appreciate true values.
When children make a mistake, do you just reprimand, or do you teach them what they need to know? Remember, teach them what they are supposed to do and then require it of them. If they fall short, correct them and give them instruction in the proper way to do it.
Educate them on their surroundings and introduce them to worthwhile culture. Take them to a symphony concert, a zoo or a botanical garden. Read books with them that are filled with exciting, real–life adventure. Show them the endless number of interesting and uplifting activities, books, and music they can enjoy: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Even if you have had a rough week, strive to help them develop and maintain a positive outlook on life. Children should be filled with joy and optimism. Focusing on the positive will be encouraging for you as well.
Families are the basic unit of every community, region, and society. The parents are the God–ordained leaders responsible for the outcome of their family unit. We must be vigorously involved in our children’s education, training, and teaching if we are to have a positive impact on their lives. There is no higher responsibility from one human being to another than for a parent to give his all in raising happy, healthy, right–minded children. Start today in your family!