18. Teach your children to communicate with adults. One of the best ways you can prepare your kids for a confident adult life is to teach them to communicate with grown-ups. This ability is not valued and is desperately lacking in their peer-influenced world. Somehow conversing with adults is not cool and we have come to expect rudeness as typical adolescent behavior. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here is an illustration we used to help our children in this area. One evening I went to the garage and came back with a tennis ball. With the kids gathered around, I asked for a partner to play a game of “catch” with me. I let the volunteer go first and she threw me the tennis ball. I then held on to the ball, not retuning her volley. Soon everyone complained that by keeping the ball, I was failing at the game. And they were right. For a game of catch to be fun and successful, both parties must do the throwing and the catching.
I explained to our kids that conversing with adults is like playing a game of catch. When an adult asks you a question, they are throwing you the tennis ball. You can hold on to the ball with a stare, a mumble, or just an uninterested look. But just like a game of catch, a conversation without the back and forth is not much fun. Your response when spoken to – i.e. when the ball is thrown to you – should be to throw the ball back. You do this by answering the adult’s question and then throwing the ball back by asking a question of your own.
Of course, we “practiced” what kind of questions would be good to ask an adult by throwing the ball back and forth, asking each other questions as we did. It was great preparation for those times our children were in the company of adults. And it became a code word to use when our family was going out. All I had to say on our way to another family’s home for a visit was, “Remember to pass the tennis ball” and our kids got the message.
One last thought on this topic. When children learn how to continue a conversation by asking questions, they are showing a maturity that many adults don’t exhibit. In a USA Today column, titled “One question: Why aren’t you asking me any?” the author laments how common it has become in casual settings to have people telling him all about themselves and answering his questions without seeking to learn anything about him or being even interested enough to ask him some questions of their own. It is an interesting observation. Asking questions is not just good conversation starter material, it shows a genuine interest in the people we meet. A good social skill, a good business skill, and a good friendship skill. Throw the ball!
Well here we are, over half way there on our journey to 29 ways to affirm your children. For you OCD types, I apologize for using the prime number of 29 in every title. Maybe I will come up with a number 30 before we are through (but then I would have to go back and edit every title). Did I mention the number 29?
One thing I would like to stress is that these ideas are not a new to-do list to add to your busy schedule. Depending on your stage of life, we are all at varying points of busyness ranging from having some margin in our lives to very little margin to haven’t seen margin in a coon’s age. The point of these posts is to work this affirming approach to parenting into your normal activities. It is about making intentional choices in our actions and attitudes to relate as a family in affirming ways.
17. Make sure they keep up with their schoolwork. Just as in completing their chores, kids feel best about themselves when they have done the schoolwork that is required. Start early in the school year to check up on how your children are tracking with what is expected of them in their classes. Teach them not to procrastinate on their homework. Teach them to get started on those special projects that to them have a due date way into the future. We often stressed to our kids that the time they spend in school was their “work” just like Mom and Dad have workday responsibilities.
We did not expect academic perfection from our kids. But we did want their grades to be a true reflection of their God-given ability in academic areas not diminished by a lazy approach to their schoolwork. We wanted to see their best effort.
One way this translated to college was this idea of starting early in the semester on keeping up with the homework. Under the new freedom and social opportunities of being on your own, college homework can not only take a back seat; it can end up way in the trunk. And procrastinating to the end of the semester is as common as empty pizza boxes surrounding dormitory trash cans. But our kids did learn as they went along that getting off to a good start in seeking explanation for difficult concepts, keeping up with the reading, etc. did lead to some stress reduction when finals rolled around. Another important lesson for life in the adult world.
16. Teach children to complete their chores. As a follow-up to teaching children to work, we want to emphasize teaching them to finish the job. This became an important issue at our house because Rhonda and I recognized how our own personalities sometimes interfered with that effort. Rhonda is an artist and an idea machine. As such, she easily moves to the next big idea before the previous endeavor is complete. It is not a laziness issue, but just the opposite. It is driven by a love to tackle the next big thing.
As for me, I have an uncanny knack for completing jobs to the 80% level. I mow the yard, but don’t quite get to the edging. I do the hand dishes, but always leave a dish or two soaking in the dishwater. I clean and organize the garage, and inevitably leave a corner of junk I can’t quite decide what to do with. The scary part that has Rhonda rolling her eyes is how much I credit myself for making a “dent” in the work load when the job is half done. I also like to talk about what I am going to accomplish much more than actually doing it. Do our kids have any hope of finishing the job?
Yes, they do; because we have recognized the inherent challenges in our make up and have worked hard to overcome them. One of the things we learned early on was to give our kids jobs that are age-appropriate. That is, jobs they can complete and complete well. It started with simple “helping Mommy” jobs when they were young and progressed through the typical childhood chores and high school jobs. In addition, we used verses from the book of Proverbs to encourage diligence in finishing the job. The affirming part of this instruction is the satisfaction our children enjoy when they complete the task at hand; and the great asset it becomes for their adult lives in regard to marriage, careers, and faithful service!
15. Teach your children to work. Another way we spur our children forward on the path of becoming productive and independent adults is to teach them how to work. The irony is that despite its value, most kids are not too interested in developing this skill. The best way to get them started is to work alongside your children. We tried, in our family, to make working together as natural as playing together. Our kids helping us clean the garage or raking the leaves became just as much a part of family life as playing children’s games or building Lego cities with our children. Your influence in the “work alongside Daddy” increases when you, the adult, “play alongside” as well. Having your kids work alongside you teaches them the necessary specific skill of that job as well as the overall value of work.
Persistence and consistency on your part is an important part of teaching children to work. After the “newness” of mowing the lawn or spraying the Windex wore off, our kid’s reaction to these jobs was generally not too positive. But consistent expectation from Mom and Dad and praise for a job well done usually led to the youngster soon taking pride in their work.
While diligence in its own right is a virtue, it also translates to value in the job market. We taught our children to pursue careers that God had gifted them to enjoy without too much focus on the ups and downs in the economy or perceived demand for a particular field of study. Hard workers will always be in demand.
A subpoint of teaching children to work is teaching “life skills” to our kids. Click here for a Life Skills summary adapted from The Teaching Home magazine. This list of goals for training children is a great starting point for the things we would like our children to learn throughout their growing-up years. Don’t fear another “list”. These are not meant to be overwhelming. They are just things to teach our children in the ordinary flow of life, not a new task to complete.