We go to school anywhere from 12 to 20 years or more to prepare us for our jobs, yet there’s no training for the most difficult job any of us will ever have: being a mom or a dad. You have to pick it up as you go. We do some things right, and we mess other things up. More often than not, I feel like I must be doing something wrong as a father when I don’t see my children acting the exact way I want them to.
The key is learning from our mistakes. Here are three simple things that we can focus on in the new year that could have a big impact on our children.
Commend more than you command. Controlling the behavior of our children is one of the hardest things about parenting. I find myself saying “no” so many times that I’m starting to think I need to learn it in a few more languages since my kids don’t always pick it up. (Let’s try Spanish, “No!” How about Welsh? “Na!”). Forego that lifetime supply of Rosetta Stone software. There are easier ways that – in the long term – are sure to make a difference.
Over time, the power of praise in the development of children has been well-documented (as has the effect of overpraising children). None of us would argue that we should compliment our children far more than we criticize them. As “Focus on the Family” states, our praise should be specific, personal, immediately following the behavior, and never followed by a negative comment. And, our praise is more impactful when accompanied by a hug.
Pastor and author Dave Stone has this to say: “In the absence of encouragement, discouragement prevails. If we're not building up, we're tearing down by default. A house left alone will crumble to the ground.” (Source: How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World, Thomas Nelson, 2013)
It has also been said that children learn best when they are allowed to do things themselves. Before bossing them around, we should consider more opportunities for them to make their own choices within our given guidelines. They’ll develop confidence and decision-making skills which are sure to benefit them long term.
Teach more than you tell. We spend a lot of time as parents talking to our kids about how they should act. If you’re like me, it seems like a lot of those words seem to go into one ear, bounce around in the cavity in between, and fly out the other side.
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese once said, “If one wants to reach younger people at an earlier age to shape their minds in a critical way, you really need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed visually.”
That’s because most children are visual learners. In fact, studies have shown about 65 percent of the entire population learn visually. (I realize each child’s individual learning style is unique, but stick with me.)
You can’t just tell your kid how to act, you have to show them. Let them see you being polite at the dinner table and speaking respectfully to each other. To rephrase, don’t let them see you yelling at the car in front of you or stiffing the restaurant waitress on the tip.
Have you ever heard the saying, “There’s more caught than taught?” There’s a lot of truth in that simple phrase.
Pray more than you worry. For so many of us, anxiety is a constant problem. “Let Go and Let God” is great for a bumper sticker, but it can be hard to put it into practice. We worry about everything – our kids, our jobs, our finances. Where the rubber meets the road for me is in this question: is worrying a sin? Here’s what the Bible says about it:
- Matthew 6:25: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…”
- Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
- Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- Luke 12:25: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
- John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
When it comes to our children, there’s only one way to rid ourselves of the worry. Turn to God. We have to commit our kids to our Heavenly Father. They belong to him, not us. They are just committed to our charge for the time being. And, during that time, we must seek his guidance in our lives and theirs.
Don’t be discouraged. There’s only one perfect Father. And he’ll help us; all we have to do is ask.
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.