What does it mean to be a parent? And how can you be a good parent? Becoming a parent is something that happens the instant you have a child, but how and when do you learn parenting skills? Although good parenting plays a vital role in society, it is a skill that is seldom emphasized or required as part of the schooling of our young people. It is sadly also not emphasized in many homes, as both parents often need to work, and thus spend little time with their children. How then are young people who look forward to raising children going to learn how to be parents? How will they know how to best guide their little ones?
Despite so many of life’s traditional standards and guidelines being removed in today’s fast-paced society, the most important keys to parenting today are the same as they have been for millenniums:
– your own good example
– discipline and training (a clear standard of right and wrong)
– acceptance of each child for who he or she is
– faith in each child for what he or she can become
– a lot of help from God
– more love
From beginning to end, the most important key is LOVE. Learning to be a good parent is a process that takes time and involves a lot of understanding, experience, fun, tears, prayer, patience, and a great deal of love. Children need to know that you love them, that you will always love them and be there for them. And they need to know that God loves them and is always ready to forgive their mistakes and sins. With this foundation of love-confidence in God’s love and your love-your kids can be strong enough to handle the many things that come across their paths.
If you remember only one thing from this booklet, remember that love is the key. Love is the only thing that will never fail. Love comes directly from God, because God is love. Even if you feel like a failure as a parent, and no matter how difficult things may get, keep showing your children unconditional love and trust that God will see you through. (See “Bible Study on Child Care and Training” in Power for Parenthood-another title in this series.)
Children Thrive on Praise and Encouragement
Sometimes children misbehave because they want attention. That’s how they test their parents’ love-and they need to be sure of their parents’ love because it is one of the main ways they determine their own self-worth. If they doubt your love, they may doubt their own worth as an individual. So even when your child has done wrong and you need to correct him, also find something to sincerely praise him for. “I know you’re sorry and want to do better, and I know you can. I believe in you!” He needs to know how much you love him, and that you’re on his side.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should gloss over wrongdoing. It’s still your duty as a parent to set your children straight; that’s also an expression of the love and security they seek. But if you feel frustrated because you see one of your children falling short in this area or that, or you find yourself correcting your children more than you are encouraging and praising them, it’s time to rethink. Instead of letting your disappointment or frustration show (or worse yet, belittling the children!), ask Jesus to show you areas that they are doing well in, and comment on those. You’ll be surprised at what a positive effect that has! Every child has some strong points. There’s always some good to be praised and appreciated. For example, if your son made a failing grade on his schoolwork, you can still find something to commend him for-his neat handwriting perhaps, or his cheerful attitude and the help he is to you at home.
Be sincere in your praise. Children are usually very sincere, and they can tell when you’re not. Older children, especially, feel patronized by shallow, insincere praise. Your encouragement must also relate to your child. For example, you may consider your preteen daughter to be beautiful, but if she doesn’t feel she compares favorably to many others her age, she could think that you are being insincere or falsely flattering if you are constantly telling her how beautiful she is. It would be better to encourage her by highlighting specific areas that are particularly outstanding. Perhaps she is not what would be considered a classic beauty, but maybe she has deep, beautiful eyes. Perhaps she has long, thick hair. Or maybe she has a terrific smile. By focusing on specifics, you take her mind off other things that she may consider flaws or imperfections and focus on the wonderful traits that she no doubt possesses. Or you can commend her in some other area in which she excels, such as her speaking ability or her good grades or her loving, sweet character-which the Bible says is true beauty. “The incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”
Of course you love your kids, but it’s extremely important that they know this. They need to hear you say it, and they need to see you show it. Be outspoken in your praise for your children!
It has been my experience that children who know in their hearts that they are admired and appreciated find it easy, in turn, to be genuinely appreciative of others. And this, I think, is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children: to be continually and truly thankful. This is not only because appreciative people make others happy; it’s because appreciative people are themselves happy people.
I think this is one reason why the Bible tells us so often to give thanks, to praise God, and to acknowledge all His benefits. He knows that when we learn to give thanks, we are learning to concentrate not on the bad things, but on the good things in our lives.
When Sir Walter Scott was a boy he was considered a dull student, and was often made to sit in the ignominious dunce corner and wear the high-pointed paper cap of shame. When about twelve or fourteen, he happened to be in a house where Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, and some others were being entertained. Burns was standing admiring a picture under which was written a couple of lines of poetry. He inquired concerning the author, but no one seemed to know. Timidly a boy crept up to his side, named the author, and quoted the rest of the poem. Burns was surprised and delighted. Laying his hand on the boy’s head, he exclaimed, “Ah, bairnie, you will be a great man in Scotland some day.” From that day Walter Scott was changed. One word of encouragement set him on the road to greatness.
Many years ago, a boy of ten was working in a factory in Naples. He longed to be a singer, but his first teacher discouraged him. “You can’t sing,” he said. “You haven’t any voice at all. It sounds like the wind in the shutters.”
But his mother, a poor peasant woman, put her arms around the boy and praised him. She knew he could sing, she told him, she could already see an improvement. Then she went barefoot in order to save money to pay for his music lessons. That peasant mother’s praise and encouragement changed that boy’s life. His name was Enrico Caruso, and he became the most famous opera singer of his time.
Your Best Investment: Time
The best inheritance a parent can give to his children is a few minutes of his time each day.
Your children will never forget the special times they spend with you. Aren’t those some of the memories you treasure most from your childhood-when your parents invested their love in the form of personal time and attention with you?
Children thrive on love and attention and concern and consideration, and if they don’t have it-or if they think they don’t-then just like the rest of us, they feel bad, they feel unimportant, and after a while they feel rejected. You don’t always have to spend a great deal of time with children to make them know you love and appreciate them, but you do have to spend some time. And the quality of the time you spend with them is just as important as the quantity.
The greatest investment you can make in your children is your time. That’s also the greatest gift you can give them, because nothing else will make a more lasting difference in their lives. As someone once wisely said, “Your children need your presence more than your presents.” Play with your children, read with them, hold them, encourage them, enjoy them. Go for walks or just sit around together and talk. Ask questions and listen to their answers-really listen.
If you’re like most parents, you have more demands on your time than you can possibly meet, and time with your children gets crowded out when emergencies come up. You rationalize that there’s always tomorrow for that. But your children need you today.
Lost! A boy! Not kidnapped and held for ransom while a nation conducted a frenzied search. No, his father lost him. He was too busy to answer the boy’s trivial questions, or scarcely acknowledge him. During the years when Dad is the greatest hero a boy has, his father let go. His mother lost him too. Engrossed in her own career and community projects, she let the babysitter hear his prayers and abdicated her place of influence.
Take time to treasure your children. They are well worth the investment.
Determine how much time you need to spend with each of your children each week, and schedule it. Consider it a top priority, an appointment that must be kept. If a genuine emergency comes up, you may need to reschedule your time with your children, but don’t cancel out completely. If you find that you frequently have to postpone your time with your children, rethink your priorities and plan, and come up with one that will work.
A successful young attorney said, “The greatest gift I’ve ever received came in a very small package that was light as a feather. My dad gave it to me one Christmas. Inside the box was a note that read as follows: ‘Son, this year I will give you 365 hours. An hour every day after dinner is yours. We’ll talk about what you want to talk about, we’ll go where you want to go, play what you want to play. It will be your hour!’ My dad not only kept that promise, but every year he renewed it. That was the greatest gift anyone ever gave me. I am the result of his time.”
-Cited in Moody Monthly
When older children are having problems, they need even more of your time, and you need to be even more attentive to listen. Don’t be too quick to offer solutions or advice, and try not to sermonize. Hear them out completely before you say anything, and help them reach their own right conclusions, if possible. Then pray and take time to hear God’s still small voice in your heart and mind. He’s always ready to answer your questions, and you’ll be amazed at the solutions He will give. (See Keys to Toddlers and Preschoolers, in the Keys to Parenting series, the sections entitled “A Parent’s Best Friend” and “Listening to Jesus Time.” See also Hearing from Heaven, from the Get Activated! series.)
In addition to the time you spend with your children, you also should set aside some time to pray for them. This is another thing that won’t happen unless you treat it as a priority. You have to make time. Praying for your children is a wonderful way to gain a better understanding of them. God is able to show you things about them that you could never learn any other way. You’ll also discover how great His love is for them, and that will cause you to love them all the more. He will fill you with His love, which can carry you and them through anything.
Many parents of grown children will tell you that their greatest regret is that they didn’t spend more time with their children when they were small. You’ll have to sacrifice other things to do it, and in the beginning you may feel it isn’t the best use of your time, but keep it up and you won’t be sorry. Every minute you give your children is an investment in the future. The rewards will last for eternity.
Being there for your children makes a great difference in their lives, even when you do not think you are doing a lot for them or accomplishing much.
Independence Through Dependency
One of the common myths of modern parenting is that giving children whatever they want and letting them do whatever they want will make them happy in the present, and in the long run teach them to make the right choices. According to this school of thought, children who are indulged in this manner will grow into happy and productive, free-spirited, independent adults.
Nearly the opposite is true. Children need boundaries. They need clearly defined limits of behavior. They need to be taught moral standards of right and wrong. A spoiled and demanding child becomes a spoiled and demanding adult.
Yes, children should be given the freedom to choose for themselves in many matters, but they must also be taught to take responsibility for their choices. When parents are able to make freedom and limitations work together in proper balance, their children learn to make the right choices; they learn independence through guided dependency.
The basis of independence through dependency is this: First teach children foundation lessons of obedience, the difference between right and wrong, and the fact that their choices affect others and have good or bad consequences. Then little by little, as they prove themselves responsible in relatively small matters, give them more independence and allow them to make more important choices, all the while monitoring their progress and helping them understand and deal with the consequences of their decisions. This way they gain the independence they want and need, but not before they are prepared to handle it wisely.
Once they’ve proven that they can carry a certain responsibility on their own, you need to show your faith in them by not checking up on them constantly, or repeating instructions to them, or quickly taking back the controls even when you feel you would have personally done something a different way.
A guided and gradual transition from dependency to independence results in more well-rounded, competent adults who are neither overly dependent upon others, nor so independent that they cannot get along or work well with others. If children are taught from an early age to be responsible for their actions, and lovingly helped to handle the consequences, they will mature quickly and have a strong foundation that will support them through the turbulence of adolescence and a lifetime full of choices, some of which will be very difficult to make wisely.
Raising Good Kids in a World Gone Wrong
Our world is full of confusing messages and troubling images for children. As your children get older, you may wonder how you’re supposed to train them to be loving, obedient, respectful and positive when so much of what they are surrounded with is completely the opposite. Movies, TV, video and computer games, advertising, music, the Internet, and troubled peers all contribute to a growing moral pandemonium that can have a negative effect on your children. Many of the influences your children are exposed to not only fail to teach godly values, but actively encourage wrong attitudes and behavior.
No wonder the news is increasingly filled with reports that children have committed terrible crimes, often without any apparent sense of conscience or remorse. And their parents are increasingly being blamed-and in some cases being held legally responsible-for their children’s wrong behavior. Ironically, at the same time that parents are being held more accountable, they are also being stripped of their traditional rights and powers as parents to correct and exercise authority over their children. After the tragic and shocking incident in a Littleton, Colorado high school in April 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 other students, a teacher, and then themselves, syndicated columnist Don Feder wrote:
Except for the National Rifle Association, no one has taken more hits over the Littleton, Colorado killings than families. “Where were the parents?” critics cry. Liberal child-rearing advice is a mishmash of contradictions: Monitor your child, but don’t invade his privacy. Raise him to behave decently and respect the rights of others, but don’t discipline him. While they’re lecturing us about our responsibilities, the elite has created a cultural sewer for adolescents to swim (or sink) in. … When concerned parents try to protect youth from the more invidious aspects of the same, they’re called censors and control freaks, and told their repression is apt to provoke an adolescent backlash. … Parents can’t win. The impossible is expected of them-direction without discipline, monitoring and control while respecting the “rights” of 12-year-olds, all in the context of a culture that undermines their authority and seduces their children by playing to their darkest instincts.1
What can we as parents do to lead our children to moral high ground? The Bible gives us many guidelines for doing this. God promises that if you instill godly values in your children from an early age, as they grow older and take charge of their own lives they will continue in the right way. Where do you start? Teach them to love God and others, so they will learn to make the right decisions and grow into children you can be proud of!
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.2
The Bible also tells us that a child left without correction and instruction will bring his parent to shame.3 God has given parents the responsibility to actively participate in their child’s learning, by correcting him along the way. Sometimes how to correct and instruct your child is a question-if so, keep reading.
“Expecting the Impossible of Parents,” Jewish World Review, (April 1999).