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6 Things You Want Your Kids to Be Able to Do

March 31, 2019

Only 6?  OK, I know there’s more than 6 things you want your kids to be able to do.  I’m not even saying these are the 6 most essential things.  I’m just saying these are 6 things I would want your kids to know how to do before you unleash them on the world.

Here’s my list, in no particular order of importance:

  • To know the difference between needs and wants
  • To know the difference between suffering and inconvenience
  • To know how to sacrifice for someone or something
  • To know how to express their emotions in appropriate ways
  • To know how to make, save and spend money
  • To know how to say yes and no

If you’ve got your own list, good for you.  By having a list, you’ve made a huge step toward raising great kids.  Way to go!

For the other 99%, walk with me through this list.  I’ll do it a little bit at a time.  And I’ll try not to overshare.  Each of these things could have somewhere between a chapter in a book and a whole book to themselves.  Don’t be afraid, though.  I’m writing a blog, not a book.

But before I get into the list, we need to do some thinking about how you can teach these things so your kids will get them. There are two primary ways.  By what you say and what you do.  Long ago I heard, “Children will rarely remember what you say, but they’ll rarely forget what you do.”  I’ve found this to be true.

Don’t let the fact that what you do is powerful make you think that what you say isn’t, though.  They’re both essential.  Asking which is more important is like asking which wing of the airplane is more important.  Not being an aeronautical engineer, I couldn’t say.  But as a passenger, I can say I don’t want either wing to be missing or not in their finest working order when it’s time to take to the air.

Your words are more powerful than you can imagine, even if it feels like they’re not being listened to.  What you say to your kids about what you believe about them (and about you) are the most powerful words you’ll speak.  Your words about other people, your work, your beliefs, your thoughts, your world are being picked up by your kids.  Even the ones who give you every indication that they’re not listening.  They actually are listening.  So think about what you say and how you say it.

And your actions are incredibly powerful.  So watch your actions.  Monitor them for yourself, and ask wise and trusted people in your life to help you monitor them.  You’re being watched by your kids.

Nothing is as confusing and destructive for a kid as hearing your say one thing and do another.  Nobody’s perfect, and all of us will miss the mark of making our words and actions consistent and congruent.  So it’s going to happen.  But don’t kill yourself trying to be perfect.  You’ll never succeed at being perfect, and if perfection is your goal, you’ll end up raising kids who think they’ve got to be perfect to be loved.  And that’s a horrible way to live.  When you fail, admit it, apologize, and start the journey again.  The Bible calls this repentance.

OK, so now the list.  First up: To know the difference between needs and wants.

We’re part of a culture that has no idea how to make this distinction.  I’ve written rants about this before.  They system is rigged to blur the lines between needs and wants.  This works very well in a consumer culture.  If it didn’t work, Facebook, Google, and pretty much every other free service I access all day every day on my electronic devices wouldn’t be free.  Gazillions of dollars are shelled out so advertisers get to help you believe that what they want you to buy is a need.  The deck’s stacked against your kid being happy and contented with what they’ve got.  By the way, it’s equally stacked against you being happy and contented with what you’ve got, too.  Duah.

So how do you make the distinction between a need and a want?  At its most basic level, the question comes to this: is it essential?  If it’s essential, it’s a need.  So there you go.  Easy-peasy.

Except it’s not a black and white thing.  There are all kinds of shades of gray between black and white.  Is it absolutely essential, or is it just kind of essential?  And is it essential now, or will it be essential later?  How long will it be essential?  Can I even know?  Why do I think it’s essential?

That’s probably the real question.  In order to say whether it’s essential or not, I have to be able to answer why I think it is or isn’t.  One way to do this is to think about what your life would be like without it.  If the question is whether I need food, water, shelter, physical safety and security, the answer to what life would be like without them is that it would quickly get really ugly.  Like in The Walking Dead.  Are these essentials?  Yes.  Imagine life without them.  But if it’s about how much food and what kind of food is essential, well, we’re in an altogether different discussion.  This is the level of discussion you’ll have a lot as you raise your family.

At this point, you might be thinking that if it’s not an essential, an actual need, it’s wrong to want it or to try to get it.  That’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that I often convince myself that a want is a need.  Lots of wants get misidentified as needs.  But every want isn’t evil.  If I can’t tell the difference between a need and a want, I’ll have many ugly problems in my life.  I’ll default to seeking out what feels like a need.  You can easily see the problem with going with what you feel is a need, and not sifting through to see if it’s actually a need.  But needs aren’t intrinsically evil.

What I’m advocating here is that you help your kids decide for themselves what’s a need and what’s a want.  When they’re very young, you decide this for them without discussion.  Don’t try and reason a 4 year old into understanding the difference, though.  That will always end badly.  Stiffen your spine and just tell them what you’ll permit and what you won’t.  But if they’re 11, and you’re still doing it that way, you’re asking for trouble. Big trouble.

Your kids need to learn to make this call for themselves, with your guidance.  Like pretty much all the other important decisions and judgement calls in life that they need to learn how to make.

Go after this experimentally, in partnership with God.  And if you’re blessed to be a part of a smaller community of people who are also committed to living their lives according to God’s design, lean into them.  Support them and let them support you.  It’s a daunting task.  But to quote a line from the life-changing cinematic masterpiece, The Water Boy, “You can do it!”

 

From → Marriage, Parenting

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