Parenting is hard, but rewarding. Children thrive with love, encouragement, training, correction, good examples, and a world that does not revolve around them. So what should their world revolve around?
Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Deuteronomy 6: 4-7
What if you aren’t a Christian? Keep reading. Your kids will benefit from these principles.
Principle 1: Children are precious, and we love them beyond words, but they should know that the world simply does not revolve around them. My children have an important place in my world. I will teach them and train them. Each one has worth because he/she was formed by God in him image, and he has a plan for their lives. But they must learn that other people also have worth. So they will learn to share toys and attention. As they grow in age, they will learn to discover the joy that serving others brings. When we focus on ourselves, we are miserable. When we focus on helping others, we begin to see God’s heart for the world.
Principle 2: Have your children think through the deeper tones of why we are alive. These give purpose and meaning; they shape your children’s goals and dreams. The Westminister Shorter Catechism states that the chief purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Each person has a deep need to know why his/her life is important. Are we just the result of a cosmic coincidence? (If so, then nothing really matters, and I should live for pleasure.) But if God is real and will hold me accountable for my actions, then I should listen to his words and obey him. Living in accordance to his design for life brings freedom for the soul and joy.
The human spirit can withstand a lot if we know there is a purpose for it, and the adolescent years are tough. Remind your kids that God has a specific purpose for each of them. Life is about more than what is visible now, so ask God to give you eyes to see where he is working and join him.
Principle 3: After knowing Jesus, the next best secret to your child’s happiness is contentment. Teach your child to be content with the toys, clothes, and food that they have. God blesses us with good gifts. In learning to be grateful, your child’s heart attitude will have a perspective that pleases God. We do not deserve good things, but God gives us good things so we can bless others. Then we develop a heart like Christ’s. (Matthew 20:28)
I also believe that you cannot outgive God. The more I serve him, the more he blesses me. Not that this is a hard and fast rule; he doesn’t have to bless me. But he often chooses to because he works through his people to help other people. So if I have a willing heart to help others, God will give me the supplies I need to be able to help them. God chooses what form this comes in and its timing, but I have learned to patiently watch and smile at his creativity in blessing me.
Serving people comes from a contented heart. I have enough, so I can give to help others. We should not grab or hold onto the things in this world tightly. Teach your children to keep their eyes on heaven and store up wealth there by serving God and others here. (Matthew 6:19-21) It’s not wrong to want nice toys or nice things, but keep a thankful heart for what you have.
1 Timothy 6:6-9a “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation…”
Practical tips for gaining contentment:
Teach your child to say, “I like” instead of “I want.” Their happiness should never depend on getting what they want.
Have your child routinely tell God what he/she is thankful for. Let him/her hear you say what you are thankful for.
Make sure your child counts their relationships among what they are thankful for. Things come and go, but people are what really matter. “Your sister will be your best friend for life. She is your cheerleader. So hug her and make up.”
Talk about how we are happy for others when good things happen to them. “I am happy you won the game because I love you, and you are important to me.” Don’t turn the focus onto yourself.
Principle 4: Teach your child to value others. You can role play with your child to help them walk in other people’s shoes. How do you think your friend would feel if he fell down and skinned his knee, and then you laughed? How would your sister feel if you kept talking about what you wanted at her birthday party? Would you want someone teasing you if you didn’t have the latest toy or fashion?
Also teach your kids the right things to say. If someone is new in town, teach your child to be a friend to them. If an older person needs help carrying groceries, teach your kids to help. Ask them each day if they saw an opportunity to serve someone. It’s important that they start looking at the needs of others and develop empathy.
These matters are not obvious to most kids. Character must be taught, and you child needs time with you to learn these things. Taming the tongue and training hearts to think of others are hard to do, but worth the time.
Principle 5: Limit the amount of screen time your children have each day. This includes computers, phones, tablets, electronic games, T.V., videos, etc. I want children to be technically literate, but this is not difficult for them. The dangers in allowing too much screen time include limiting your child’s imagination (something else is entertaining them), teaching your child they must have instant responses (making them lack patience), learning the wrong values (have you listened to the way the characters talk to each other?), and possibly allowing someone else to contact your child or show them inappropriate material (as on a computer). One evidence that your child is having too much screen time is if you child becomes impatient. Video games give instant feedback, so if your child demands instant feedback for you, it’s time to take a few days off from video games. We finally settled on 30 minutes a day of screen time. You want your child to learn to entertain himself/herself and to be creative. Learn drawing or art skills, crafts, or music. Learn to make a house of cards, or to take turns playing games. Learn to take care of an animal or entertain little siblings. Gain thinking skills by playing word games or solving verbal riddles.
Also, for teens/preteens, routinely watch what websites your child visits. Our daughter watched some YouTube videos that fueled an eating disorder. We didn’t realize she was watching those. It is really hard to get images out of one’s head that one has seen. Be careful with what they see and talk to them about it.
Principle 6: Use delayed gratification to teach your kids to have happy hearts while they wait for something. Instead of giving your kids a sucker at the store, tell them they can have it after dinner. Kids naturally want treats immediately, but they need to be trained to wait patiently and graciously, not with whining or complaining. The goal of parenting is to grow our kids into happy, healthy adults. Delaying gratification teaches the self-discipline of waiting graciously for something we want. This is crucial for many areas in life–saving a down-payment for a house, not instantly buying the next shiny gadget, waiting for God’s timing in finding a spouse, etc.
As a side-note, treats are not a reward for good behavior. Good behavior is expected simply because it is the right thing to do. I used to tell my kids that we are Cochrans, and Cochrans don’t whine. It’s fine to have some family pride here–you are a family unit, and your kids should be able to look at you to see how mature people behave.
However, I did use treats and toys as incentives to attain specific skills such as swimming across a pool, jumping off a diving board, reading a certain number of pages in a week (or a summer for an older child), etc.
Principle 7: Teach your kids the difference between right and wrong. This world contains good and evil, and right is encouraging the good. Wrong is anything that furthers evil, often by harming or deceiving someone. When I was four, I threw a rock at my brother because I was mad at him. That was obviously wrong. I needed to learn to control my emotions. Those who want to blur the lines between right and wrong are ignoring the difference between good and evil.
Also teach your kids the difference between facts and opinions. Facts are based on truth–what really happened, or what really exists. Opinions are what someone thinks, which may or may not be true.
One final thought–teach your kids to seek truth and to love it. Somehow, our culture is fascinated with lies. An old song has the lyrics, “tell me sweet little lies.” Why would I want to be lied to? I would rather face the truth of my bathroom scale and know where I really am than for it to lie to me.