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Helping Your Kids Be the Best
August 26, 2009 - Dennis Gingerich
While summer isn’t officially over and we southwest Floridians are eagerly awaiting our first “cold front,” our children going back to school sends the signal that summer is nearing the end. If you are a parent, you definitely want the school year to go well. You likely look forward to getting back into routines and rhythms of schedules. This change of pace is always a good time to think of fresh beginnings. This is an excellent time to reflect on our relationship with our children.
How do we help our kids become the best they can possibly be? Parenting is one of the most important assignments we will ever be given in life. Regardless of how many lives we may influence in our life time, you won’t touch anyone – for good or for bad – as you do your own children. As a parent of three children and as a pastor to hundreds of families over three-decades, I have some thoughts that may be an encouragement for helping you help your kids to become the best they can be.
Appreciate your child’s uniqueness. This is the starting point for healthy children. That is a relatively simple task when you have only one child. You tend to see them as uniquely different than other children. When more children are added to your family, some parents make the mistake of assuming that each child needs the same kind of affirmation, attention and discipline. The second child may have a very different temperament than the first child.
There is an often quoted verse from the Bible that has been misunderstood and misused. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I’ve heard that scripture used as a club, battering parents with guilt when they are totally devastated by poor decisions their teenager has made. We must realize, this verse is not a prescription but an observation. It is a proverb, not a promise. A proverb is generally true, but there are exceptions. If you train up kids in the way they should go, they generally will not depart from it. But you and I both know of countless examples that prove this wrong. I know kids who were raised in the most positive environment one could imagine but they made a total disaster of their lives. And, I know kids who grew up in a disastrous home environment and yet have become amazing productive and positive adults.
Deeper research has shown me that my childhood understanding of this proverb was skewed and the original Hebrew phrase, “in the way he should go” literally means “according to his way.” In other words, if we train our children in the unique style God has made them to be, they will thrive. There are many things that make our individual children unique. He or she is in a unique stage of life, has a unique personality and temperament, and has unique needs and unique talents. Proverbs 22:6 is reminding us as parents, we must take that uniqueness into consideration as we raise and train our children.
Our children will have different learning styles and intellectual capacities, so we should not expect the same academic performance from different siblings. They will likely have dissimilar personalities. Some kids come out of the womb as peacemakers and others arrive as fighters. We must take into account both their chronological age and emotional age when we place expectations on them. As parents, we must adjust our communication style and not speak to a 17 year old as if they were a 5 year old. We must train them according to their strengths. Some will have athletic inclinations and others will have other interests. If you have three children, you need three parenting styles. If you want God’s best for your child, you can’t force them into a predetermined mold. Treat them uniquely.
Give lots of affirmation – that’s the second important ingredient in helping your child become the best they can be. All of us starve for attention. Our kids are no exception. I’ve never met a single person who doesn’t need attention. People go after it in many different ways, but everybody is starving for affirmation. God, our Heavenly Father, consistently reminds us of our value. I’m always intrigued by how Jesus explained our value in Matthew 10:29-31, “What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” And we must value and appreciate our children if they are going to become all that God intends for them.
How do we value our children? Paying attention to them, showing affection to them and expressing appreciation are three things that come to mind. I’m sure there are other things you could add. I’m not sure what kind of family you grew up in. Maybe you received very little affirmation from your parents. Don’t let that be an excuse for withholding affirmation from your kids. They desperately need it to become all that God has created them to be.
Entrust them with responsibility. We all grow by being challenged with trustworthiness. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot…” (Luke 16:10). Humans respond to responsibility. As parents, our biggest strength can become our biggest weakness. Our good desire to protect our children can become a hindrance to their growth. Parents who continually keep their children from making mistakes and from experiencing failure prevent them from growing into responsible adults.
If we overprotect our children so they don’t learn valuable life lessons, we actually are giving them a message that they are incompetent and it is can be received as rejection. Giving a child increasingly more and more responsibility shows them that you trust them and builds self-esteem. And you’ll prepare them for life in the process.
Correct without condemning. We all need correction at times. Children need correction. The Bible reminds us, “If you refuse to discipline your children it proves you don’t love them” (Proverbs 13:24). But how do we do it without condemning them? Here are several suggestions from God’s owner’s manual, the Bible. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather bring them up with loving discipline…with suggestions and godly advice.” Parents must work very hard at not correcting in anger. Disciplining in anger is just getting even. Retaliation doesn’t help a child to grow. That kind of discipline is more about us as parents than it is about bringing out the best in our kids. It may change their behavior because they are scared but it ultimately creates resentment.
Related to this is learning to carefully choose the words we use to correct our children with. There are harmful words and helpful words. Harmful words create hurtful memories. Nearly every adult I’ve ever met can remember very specific harmful words that were spoken to them when they were children. Put-downs and tear-down words might motivate a child in the short term, but they will plant seeds of rebellion, resentment and condemnation in your child’s life.
Love your children unconditionally. It seems to me that this has two parts to it – forgiveness and perseverance. You will be hurt as a parent, but God-focused parents find a way to forgive their children. Ephesians 4:32 in the Bible puts it this way, “Be kind and loving to each other, forgiving each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” We forgive our children and others because we’ve been forgiven by our Heavenly Father.
Also, never give up on your kids. Love is described this way in the Bible, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Authentic love never gives up on people – even when the same child you tucked into bed and walked to school gets into drugs or bad relationships. Love just never gives up. Not to say, that we should be living in unhealthy co-dependent relationships with our children. Knowing what kind of love to express – tough love or gentle love – is another subject for another time. But, from infancy to adulthood, our children need to know that our love can’t be earned or lost. I’ve witnessed this truth many times - this kind of love and security can propel them to grab a hold of God’s best for their lives.
Interesting to note that the above five actions aren’t just what good parents do. They actually resemble how God treats us. He demonstrates all five of these actions toward every human. That shouldn’t really surprise us though, should it? He’s the best parenting model we have.
Now, that you’ve heard from me, I would love to hear what you are learning about how to help your child become the best kid ever. Log in below and share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.
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