I think my parents would be amazed to hear me say I learned something from them. Oh sure, they taught me to make a bed, tie my shoes, and be polite – but what about the truly big things? I actually learned a few of them. Unfortunately, I was about 25 before they sunk in – and had already failed miserably.
My Dad always said, “Don’t wish your life away.” For instance, don’t wish you were 16 so you could drive; don’t wish you were 21 so you can drink; don’t wish you were 25 so your insurance will be cheaper; and so on…. After a lifetime of wishing I was 16, 18, 21, and 25 – I finally figured out what he meant. He was right!
My Mom taught me that everyone is imperfect. “We all have scars,” she said. “Some of us have scars on the outside, and some of us have scars on the inside.” She was right! Unfortunately, it didn’t sink in until I was in my 20s. I had spent the previous 20 years feeling sorry for myself, angry, bullied, and pitiful. But once her words sunk in, I began to grow again.
“Know where you’re going, be patient, persistent, consistent, and don’t quit.”
Last week, while eating dinner, my almost seven year-old Darling Daughter began talking about finding the right boy to marry. After a moment of panic and intense eye contact with my Wonderful Wife, I offered some kind and helpful words of advice. My advice could be summarized into three bullet points:
- Don’t be in a hurry – wait until you’re out of college.
- Look at his heart, not his outsides. Make sure he has a pure and kind heart.
- He has to have my permission first. Before you make a decision, he has to come to me and get my approval.
She looked at me with great earnestness and acknowledged me. I have no presumption that she understood a single word I said – let alone the principles involved. I get that – but the conversation isn’t over. We will continue to have this conversation for years, and someday she’ll be saying to her adult friends, “My Dad always said…..” Which is what I often say about being in a hurry to grow up.
The lesson I learned through this encounter was that teaching our children the big stuff takes time, persistence, patience, and consistency. But most of all, I have to know what I’m teaching before I even start. So, here are my five tactics for teaching children the big stuff:
- First, Have a vision. Know where you’re going, how you want your children to grow up, what that looks like, and what defines success. This doesn’t mean to micromanage their future, but rather, to have certain character traits in mind that you’d like to instill within their hearts. What values do you espouse? What principles are you raising your children with? Where is this journey going. Some people will actually put this into writing and revue it on a regular basis – making changes as life prevails.
- Second, be patient. Realize these big life lessons don’t come over night. Most likely you are seeking to correct some of your biggest character flaws. Remember, your actions speak louder than words. If you don’t want your children to smoke, quit smoking, If you don’t want them to be angry, deal with your anger. If you’d like them to be patient, show that to them. Preaching doesn’t work, but showing your growth, change, and development will instill hope and provide a powerful role model.
- Third, persistence is key. Saying it once won’t work. Saying it the same way doesn’t work. You have to say it over and over – without getting preachy. You have to say it with your words, your actions, and your heart. You have to live it, say it, and practice it. If you want your children to be lifelong learners, you first need to be a learner. You’ll also need to expose them to books, interesting events, and fascinating people.
- Fourth, be consistent. All caregivers need to be on the same page, sending the same message, and understand the underlying principles. Kids, like adults, get confused easily. Keep it simple and keep it consistent.
- Finally, stay in the conversation for the duration. This takes time. In my case, I have another six and a half years before my first-born is a teenager. That scares me because it’s only 6 & 1/2 years, but on the other hand, I’m glad I realize this now – it gives us some time to develop the conversation and bring our kids onto the same page with us.
I’ve heard lots of people say, “My Dad always said…”
Another important factor is to realize there are only about two or three core values that you’ll be able to instill in those you lead. If you have a list of 17 things, don’t expect your kids to grasp all 17. In fact, they may miss your highest priority principles. So, it would probably be best to narrow down your list and stay focused.