Our children will have the opportunity to make a “gazillion” choices about a “bazillion” things in the course of their life. We know what they don’t…you will never know beforehand the full consequences of the choices we make. (Dealing with the unintended consequences of our choices is the lot in life for those of us who don’t possess divine omniscience!). That being the case, it is to our children’s benefit to develop the kind of habits of life and thought that will direct them rightly as they make their way through life.
Let me suggest three areas I believe are vital to accomplishing that goal.
A child needs to learn how to be content and thankful. These are “two sides of the same coin.” Children are naturally self-centered. It is, to use a computer metaphor, their “default mode.” No child ever had to be taught how to be selfish, how to think more of themselves than they do of others, or be instructed in the correct way to be self-centered. It comes naturally. I am of the opinion that all children need to learn the lyrics to the song by the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find, you got what you neeeeeed.” Children are born with a ‘me-o-centric’ view of life. What makes me happy? What does “me” want at this moment? How can you please me? They need to be shown and taught how to overcome themselves.
Contentment is a habit of the mind made evident by our words and deeds. Gratefulness and thankfulness, expressed, is the fruit of contentment. Finding reasons to be thankful is a habit to be acquired, practiced, and verbalized. Our natural human predisposition is to find fault and complain. We see that in ourselves. It’s easy to find fault because we all fail so often. Demonstrating a habit of contentment and thankfulness before your child AND having them practice the habit (yes, practice: eg, “thank you mommy for fixing my breakfast”) will incline them to adopt it as a lifelong habit.
Children need to learn how to joyfully submit to authority, even when they don’t like it. Grudging submission is the way of us all. You see it regularly. So do we. “Son, it’s time to brush your teeth and go to bed.” So he walks down the hall with arms folded almost stomping each step saying, “Ooooo-kay.” While children are small, obedience is easy to enforce. But when he or she is 15, taller than you, looks you in the eye, and says “make me” it’s another story all together. Teach, no, first SHOW your child what joyful submission looks like. That means to do the thing you don’t want to do, with a thankful heart and a joyful attitude expressing thanksgiving to God for all that He has given you. Or, go ahead and tell your child to do what I say, not do what I do.
Finally, a child needs to learn self-control. (Reread the verse above.) Building the habits of self-discipline builds strength of character. Do you have a remote control for a television? Children learn very quickly that “pushing the pause button,” means to stop for a while. For example, teach them to do the same thing when they are upset before they use angry words. Once a word has been spoken, it cannot be taken back. Have them walk to your remote control, pick it up, and push the pause button. Let it be their reminder to be “slow to speak and slow to anger.” Does your child interrupt you during a conversation? Teach them to place their hand on your wrist and wait until you acknowledge them. This tells you they want to talk, are seeking to be respectful, and shows honor to you.
Practice may not make us “perfect” but it will enable us, and our children, to acquire greater proficiency at the important skills we need for life.