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The Big Four For Parents

February 22, 2019

Years ago a friend of mine took me to an all-day seminar by the Covey Group, called, “First Things First.”  This is one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and an idea which he developed into a book (and a good one) on it’s own.

In the seminar, the presenter put a large glass jar on the table in the front, along with an assortment of big rocks, medium-size rocks, small rocks, gravel, sand and water.  The objective, he said, was to get all of these into the glass jar.  There’s only one way to do it.  You have to put the big rocks in first, then the next biggest rocks, then the small rocks, then the gravel, then the sand, and then the water.  But when you did it that way, it all fit.

The point of the exercise?  Start with the big rocks.  Start with First Things First.  The big rocks have to go in first.

Normally I would advise extreme caution for any article, blog, post or pontification that says, “Here are the 4 most important things you need to do.”  Life is rarely as tidy as that.  Four things?  Really?

But I’m writing about what I think are 4 of the most essential things there are for parenting, if not the most essential things.  You’re smart.  You know that there are other things, but these 4 things give you some ideas for what the big rocks might be in your family life.

Last installment I asked you to think about what you wanted to bequeath to your kids.  What do you want them to take into life from you?  A few people may have taken up the challenge of thinking it through and writing it down.

Today, I want to offer four general areas of growth and development that you might be able to locate your bequeathing in.  They’re actually four parts of our being as people.  Dr. Luke refers to these four areas in his biography of Jesus (the Gospel of Luke 2:52).  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Here’s my take on this.

Wisdom: The best definition of wisdom I’ve ever come across is, “knowing what to do about what you know.”  It involves the acquisition of knowledge, and the application of the knowledge you’ve acquired.  Growing in wisdom involves both an expanding data base of knowledge, and learning how best to apply what we learn.  I’d say this is the Intellectual aspect of development.

Your kids are going to grow intellectually.  They’re picking up data at an astounding rate, even when it seems to you theyr’ AWOL, mentally.  Most of it comes from informal contact with data-generators (the people and media in their lives).  They pick up data in formal settings, like school, church, organized sports teams, clubs, extra-curricular activities and the like.  And they’re picking up all kinds of data from the other informal sources, like friends, relatives, TV, movies, music, literature.

As a parent, one of the most important tasks you get to lean into is guiding your child(ren) as they acquire data.  You get to steer them toward data that will be helpful to them and away from data that will be harmful.  What is helpful and what is harmful is not always easy to decide on.  It’s sometimes a moving target.  What would be harmful at one stage in your kid’s development could be helpful at another stage.  Books have been written about the difference between these two things, and hours of discussion and debate could be taken up over it.  My advice is to major on what you think will be helpful.  You have to steer them away from the harmful, but if you use up all your input on that, you’ll have no equity left to steer them toward the helpful.  So be careful that you don’t spend all your breath and influence on the harmful.

My first advice about this is to READ TO AND WITH YOUR KIDS A LOT!  Especially when they’re young.  Before you think they can even understand language.  Some developmental psychologists advocate reading to them before they’re hatched, and are still in their mommy’s tummy.  I’m fine with this, thought I’m not totally convinced it’s essential.

Select books that are fun and interesting.  Use books that fit your child’s development capabilities.  Look for books that depict life under God’s design, books with strong moral underpinnings.  Choose books that will excite your kids’ imagination.  The Internet is full of suggestions for this.  But be careful about advice you get there.  Not everybody on the Internet has the same goals and values you have.  There are lots of books suggested by sites that claim to know what your kids need, but which fall into the harmful category for a Christ-following parent.

Here’s a site with some good suggestions for reading to preschoolers.

Even when you kids are old enough to read for themselves, it’s a very good idea to read TO them.  My wife, Debbie, was fabulous at this.  She would read with drama in her voice.  It was like listening to an old-time radio drama.  Our girls hung on every word.

But when they are able to read for themselves, let them read to you.  Take turns reading parts of the page out loud.  Make sure you don’t use it as a moment to correct and criticize their fragile reading skills, though.  Give them the help they need, but do what you can to make it a positive experience for them.  Otherwise it will just be another thing they dread you making them do.

When they’re able to read chapter books, you can get even more creative.  But you have to go slow.  Remember that you may be a great reader who loves to read several chapters at a time, but your kids are just getting the hang of it.  So don’t expect (and way don’t demand) that they read long portions at a time.

My favorite recommend for kids who are ready for chapter books is C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  I still love reading them.  They’re great for reading to and with your kids.  And they’re also great for your kids to read for themselves, even after you’ve read them with them.

Laura Ingals Wilder’s Little House On the Prairie books are wonderful, too, as is Where the Red Fern Grows. And hundreds of others.  Don’t wait for the titles to come to you.  Go out there and look for them.  Don’t take the Internet’s suggestions cart blanc, but you can utilize it as a resource portal.  So do.

And then one last suggestion on the reading thing.  You be (or become) a reader.  Read more than you watch TV.  Read in the presence of your kids.  Nothing will encourage your kids to read more than them seeing you read.

I’m waxing long, but I wanted to add this other thing to the Wisdom piece.  Much of wisdom comes from experience.  Both positive and negative experiences.  Experience tells you whether or not you have applied data wisely.  The word for this is CONSEQUENCES.

Teach yourself to leverage consequences to train your kids in wisdom.  One of the best ways to do this is to talk about the consequences of their choices.  BUT BE CAREFUL HERE.  If you’re not careful, you’ll end up using consequences as a sledge hammer.  Talking about consequences can easily (and often quickly) become judgmental.  DO NOT GO THERE!  Talk about consequences in observational terms.  This means taking out the judgement and looking at the consequences in an objective, observing way.

To do much with this consequences thing, you’ll first have to help your kids know what a consequence is.  It’s an abstract concept that you’ll have to help you young ones understand in concrete terms.  You know a consequence is what you get for what you do, but that may not help your early- to mid-grade schooler much.  So when they get a consequence, you have to tell them that’s what they’re getting.  Be careful that you don’t just focus on the negative consequences or they’ll lock in on that as all there is in the world of consequences.  Point out the positive consequences too as often as you can.

All this means that you have to have conversation with them about this.  You’ll have to go out of your way to do this.  And you’ll have to initiate the conversation.  My advice on this is to have the conversation after the consequences have taken effect.  Reflect on them as an even in the past.  Your kid won’t be able to process much about it until some time has passed.  This is especially true with negative consequences.  And, really, you may need some time to process what happened.  So allow a margin of time to pass.  But have the conversation..

So that’s a big load.  Lots of words, and still pretty general.  Sorry.  But here’s the point: guide your kids to grow in wisdom.  It’s a privilege and it’s an obligation.

I’ll pick up with “Stature” next time.

From → Parenting

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