It is said that we are all 2 bad choices away from personal destruction. That is pretty frightening when you consider what personal destruction could look like in your life and realize how close we all are. When I was a kid I remember my mother saying “My job is to teach you right from wrong, your job is to choose right.” If I could simplify our parenting responsibilities to one thing this probably would be the top of the list. As parents we are to train our children to grow to be independent adults that consistently make good choices.
If only training our children to make good choices was as easy as just saying so. Recognizing that raising children is a complex art, I offer the following tips in an effort to give you some high level perspective and encouragement as you navigate through the various personalities, circumstances, family history, and sometimes overwhelming responsibility to raise our children. So how do we help guide our children to make good choices?
- Model good choices. As parents we must live out good choices in front of our kids. Simply put, what you get is who you are. Your kids will look to you as their example and follow you. It is kinda hard to tell your kids to eat their vegetables if they never see you eating your vegetables.
- Instruct and discipline. When your kids are young, less than 6, they should learn to follow clear instructions and operate within the boundaries that are established by their parents. This is the time when parents can safely teach their children that there are consequences to bad choices. Kids want the parents to be in charge and operate better when there is order and consistent boundaries so they know what to expect. When our kids disobey or make bad choices we use discipline to provide consequences. Without going into the controversial topic of discipline I will offer a couple suggestions. First, discipline out of love. Only apply discipline when they make a conscious choice to disobey or clearly knew they were out of bounds. In other words, don’t punish them for something they did not know was wrong. Let the punishment fit the crime.
- Be a coach. As your kids get into grade school and you have established a healthy respect for following the rules, have established expectations and boundaries, and they are beginning to practice good choices you graduate to a coach. As a coach teaches the athlete to think through the possible scenarios and make good decisions, the parent/coach helps our children think through their options to make good decisions. There are still consequences to bad choices, some natural consequences and some imposed by the parent. This is the time where good decisions earn responsibility and privilege and bad decisions earn loss of privilege. It takes TIME to be a good coach and mentor.
- Become a fan. As you kids leave the nest and are trying to make difficult life choices they still need a coach and also need a fan to encourage them and celebrate their good decisions. If you played sports in high school you probably remember a coach that you respected, accepted instruction, and accepted consequences when you failed. After graduation, you begin to transfer your authority to them and become their cheerleader or fan. Parents are there to celebrate success and encourage kids in their pursuits. If asked or needed, wise counsel and a listening ear is always available for our kids.
Teaching our children to choose right is the goal we all have as parents. Children are complex creatures and every individual requires a different technique. In our family, I have one child that a stern look or stern word can crush their spirit. On the other hand, I have a child that needs a little stronger approach to get their attention. Even though each individual child may respond differently based on their personalities I think we can be encouraged by our progress as we travel through these four stages in raising a child to be an independent adult that consistently makes good choices.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.