Nothing can erase the memory of the day you brought your little one home from the hospital. A day that was both exciting and extremely terrifying at the same time. At this point your precious baby was totally dependent on you for all his/her needs. This season of dependence is however, very short and it is not long before you are teaching and encouraging your child to become more and more independent. Ultimately we are preparing our children for the big wide world.
There are many skills and abilities that need to be taught to them before they venture out on their own. To achieve this we send our kids to school, Scouts, Sunday School and other activities but we cannot and must not assume that these organizations will teach our children all they will need to know. The fact is that the home is the primary place for teaching our kids skills for living and parents are the most important teachers they will ever have. This is a God given responsibility.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn form it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Sadly school did not prepare us for this incredible job, but God has given us what we need in His Word and through common sense. Remember this is not done over night it is precept upon precept.
How do we Teach?
We teach by example – Common sense tells us that kids are great observers and imitators. You just have to watch your children playing to realise that what they see on TV they are soon imitating. So we as parents need to be the best example of what we want them to grow up to be. Our children will be greatly moulded by the way we behave and act whether good or bad. We must lead by example. One day while I was driving with my three year old son, a car dangerously overtook us and from the back seat I heard the following remark, “You jerk in your merc!” I gently told him we don’t say things like that to which he replied, “But Daddy says that all the time!” Our children observe us and imitate us all the time.
We teach formally – As we go about our day use the time with your children wisely. Plan time with your children – for the purpose of teaching them. One way is to have ‘Quiet Times’ with them where you show them what the Bible has to say about everyday living. I have found that if you don’t plan time with your kids, work and other things will take steal your time.
We teach informally – Use everyday events to teach your children about everyday life. Opportunities present themselves all the time. Through play, doing homework, at the dinner table, in the car – in fact anywhere. Use these moments to build godly character and values. For example, if you have instructed your child to tidy their bedroom and you discover that they have just stuffed their toys under the bed so it has an appearance of tidiness, you can show them from God’s word His value of work.
Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men”.
Teach them side by side – Sometimes as parents we have to go step by step with them. For example, teaching your children to answer the phone. Do a role play to practice answering the phone and then stand by their side ready to help them when a call comes in. Once they feel confident you can them leave them to do it on their own. As our children got older my husband Dave went through the steps of getting a passport and other important documents. He did this teaching them one step at a time. When they needed their passports to be renewed they were able to do it on their own with Dave just a phone call away.
Teach from a distance – As our children become more and more independent we need to teach from afar. Like a coach of a sports team coaches from the side lines. There are times when you have to stand back and let them make mistakes and then help them to get back up.
What should we be teaching them?
1. Biblical living
As a parent of two grown up kids one of the things that was so important for us to know was that our children were following God not just because we were but because they had established their own relationship with Him. So over the years we have spent time teaching and sharing God’s word with them. They have also seen what every day Christianity looks like by our examples.
Besides reading Bible stories to them we wanted them to grow in godly character. There is no quick and easy way for them to obtain these virtuous qualities. It is a process that continues throughout an entire lifetime as the Holy Spirit does His work. It is not your job to demand the end product of good character from your children; instead you should lead them on the road they must travel and guide them as far as you possibly can.
Modelling the Christian life is by far one of the most difficult parts of parenting. If you teach one thing from your mouth and do something else with your life, your children will see your hypocrisy and may then rebel against your authority. Does this mean we have to be perfect? No, of course not. Parents sin too but we can show our children by example how to repent, how to seek forgiveness and to correct our wrongs as best as we can.
When our children display godly character be quick to praise them and express appreciation. Something like:- “What an excellent example of self-control I am so proud of you.” Encourage them with praise and remind them that true character change is revealed in how they act when no-one is around.
2. The importance of family unity and interpersonal relationships.
If any of you have more than one child you know that at times your kids play well together and other times they send you round the bend with the sibling rivalry, so cultivating family unity is important. Here is a little humour for you on “Toddler Property Laws”
• If I like it, it’s mine.
• If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
• If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
• If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
• If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
• If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
• If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
It sounds funny now but when you are living it out it can be a nightmare. Sibling conflict is normal. Loving and respectful interaction with others does not come naturally. Selfishness however does. Children need to learn how to get along with brothers and sisters as well as others outside of the family.
Family activities are wonderful for drawing parents and siblings together. Not just the activity but the planning, preparations and execution. These shared activities will someday become your children’s precious memories and can create a special bond. Teaching kids to get on is not just to have a peaceful family but it is also preparing them for relationships outside the family.
3. Virtuous living through discipline.
Much of teaching and training is done through discipline. Remember discipline is about changing the heart of your child and not just striving for better behaviour. We need to have a healthy balance of discipline and instruction, love and correction. Let me give you an example. Tendai a little 5year old kept arguing with his mother. She corrected him and shared this verse with him. “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. (Philippians 2:14-15)
She sat him down and explained, “Tendai, you are a child of God and you shine like a star – but when you argue, your light begins to fade. I want you to always shine brightly, so please think about your attitude.” It wasn’t long before Tendai was making all the effort to shine. When our kids slip up, we have the opportunity to teach them wonderful truths and not just reprimand.
Remember it is not about the punishment, it is about what comes after the correction. Always look at the bigger picture. Discipline is much the same. Have you ever heard the saying “Let the time fit the crime”?
Let me give you an example. Let’s say your child is watching TV you let her know that as soon as the program is finished she must go for a bath. The program finishes and instead of going for a bath she stays watching the next program. She needs discipline so what do you do? I suggest you take away the privilege of watching TV the following night. The disobedience had to do with TV so it makes sense to use TV as part of the correction.
Teaching our children manners is a must. Manners are a way of communicating to others that they are important and of great value. Manners help your children to be socially accepted and build respect for others.
5. Personal Safety
As parents we want our kids to avoid unnecessary pain and injury. However our kids often see this as fussing over them and not allowing them to experience independence. So the best thing to do when you teach personal safety is not just to give them “Don’t do this” or “Do it this way,” but to explain why we do things the way we do. If your children have understanding they will more likely take on the safety rules you are teaching. Knowledge and wisdom go hand in hand.
Some examples of this are: don’t run in the house; tie your shoe laces; keep toys away from the top or bottom of stairs; no standing up in the grocery trolley; keep fingers and toes away from doors; do not run with sticks or lollipops in your mouth, etc. Then you can teach other things, like swimming safely – don’t swim on your own; make sure someone who can swim and is older is watching you, etc. Sharp things; hot things in the kitchen; fires; electricity; strangers; road sense. etc.
6. Practical living skills
There are many skills we can teach our children before they leave home. These are practical skills both within the home setting as well as outside the home. Remember, we want our kids to be able to cope when they get out there. We want our kids to be diligent, hard working and up for any challenge.
You can start this at any age, but be sure to make the tasks age appropriate. When children are young – keep the job simple, not too long (do not overwhelm them). Keep charts and have stars or smarties each time they finished a task with a happy heart.
Start with simple things like: basic hygiene, memorising where they live, Mum and Dad’s phone numbers and how to deal with strangers. As your children become older teach them basic cooking, washing clothes and other tasks related to the home. Then in their latter teen years teach them to be alert when they drive, how to change a flat tyre, how to open a bank account, how to budget. The list is endless. Be diligent to keep adding to these skills every few months.
Training our children is one of the most important jobs you will ever have and it brings great rewards. The apostle John said: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John vs 4). He said this of those he had discipled, but that same joy is ours as we see our children taking their place in society and living out what we have taught them.