29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #14

14.  Encourage positive character qualities.  While we may be challenged to compete or excel in the beauty, brains, and brawn pageant, we all have the ability to be honest, courteous, cheerful, loyal, enthusiastic, faithful, and much more.  The ability to develop these qualities is totally separate from what anyone thinks of us.  And the affirmation aspect of this goal is the great value these qualities will be to your children in the workplace, their future marriage, the mission God calls them to, etc.

When I visit with high school students on the topic of dating, I like to ask what makes a girl or boy popular with the “in” crowd.  Good looks and a confident personality usually top the list.  When I ask a group of guys if they sit around and talk about a girl’s loyalty, honesty, and integrity as an attraction for dating, they ROFL.  Our culture glorifies the superficial, yet the character qualities we are emphasizing here are the very things that contribute to a tremendous marriage; the ultimate goal of dating.  We encouraged our children to look at the character of a potential dating partner when entering a relationship that may lead to marriage as opposed to being swayed by someone who is good-looking and makes you laugh.

How do we instill these positive character qualities into our kids?  We teach and we model.  Ages 1 to 7 are known as the “age of regulation”.  We make the rules and consequences clear.  On the negative side, we punish for willful defiance.  On the positive side, we teach healthy character traits through charts, stickers, rewards, and other motivational methods.  By ages 8 to 12, children enter the “age of imitation”.  If we have developed a relationship with our kids, they now take on the positive character traits they observe in us.  We are not just the authority figure; we are the inspirational figure as well.  And it behooves us to walk in a worthy manner as an example to our children.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #13

#13  Teach self-control.  One of the fruits of healthy discipline is self-control.  Children are generally motivated by a desire to have their needs and wants met right away.  They want their desires attended to pronto.  Self-control, on the other hand, brings some patience and thoughtfulness into the equation.

There are three aspects of self-control we want to teach our children.  First, we want to teach the concept of delayed gratification.  Not everything has to happen right now.  Sometimes the desired activity or reward needs to wait.  One way we taught this concept to our kids was in how we let them spend their money.  We encouraged and guided them in how to save their spending money for something they really wanted but required more than their cash on hand; rather than running to the store to spend all their money every time they earned some pay.

Another aspect of self-control we want to take root in our child is the idea that we cannot and should not satisfy every physical desire.  Just because they can conceive it, does not mean we have to achieve it.  We need to teach them the priority of legitimate needs over wants.  We need to teach them how self-control becomes a godly weapon in the fight against our sinful desires and irresponsible behavior.  These lessons, learned early, set an incredible foundation for a lifelong walking in the Spirit.

Lastly, we want to teach our children the important role self-control plays in controlling our tempers, speaking without complaining, not giving in to anger, and defeating other negative behaviors.  For the believers in your house, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and as such, walking in the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit and we will not satisfy the desires of the flesh.  Can self-control be taught to children before they have the Holy Spirit to empower them to live it?  I believe it can because they live in a sanctified home.  In our homes, we have many opportunities to practice this lesson.  And you are the ones to teach them how.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #12

#12  Discipline in an emotionally healthy manner.  Children do not feel good about themselves when they “get away with things.”  At the same time, discipline that is arbitrary or angry is unhealthy and frustrates our children.  We encourage our kids when our discipline instructs and teaches rather than serves as an avenue to “get even” with our disobedient child.

In the early years, children are motivated by discovery and feeling, not by reason.  As they develop their understanding of right and wrong, we need to make the rules abundantly clear as well as the consequences or punishment if the rules are broken.  One of the areas we need clarity is recognizing the distinction between childish irresponsibility and willful defiance.

Things like leaving their baseball glove out in the rain or spilling their milk at the dinner table are examples of childish irresponsibility.  These things happen because children are forgetful, clumsy, immature, etc.  Children should not be punished for being children.

Willful defiance, on the other hand, needs to be addressed with immediate and appropriate discipline.  What do I mean by willful defiance?  Let me give you an example from our household without identification to protect the miscreant.  We had a gymnast toddler who somehow managed to stand up in her high chair no matter how secure we made the seat restraint.  On one of the occasions when Houdini stood up in her chair, I calmly said, “_____, please sit back down in your chair.”  Her response was classic toddler.  Rather than sitting down, she put her tiny foot up on the tray in a Captain Morgan pose and looked at me with the clearest, “NO and what are you going to do about it, Dad?” expression you have ever seen.  This is willful defiance.  The child clearly knows and understands what is expected and goes in the opposite direction.  So, I did something about it.  I administered an age-appropriate spanking in a controlled manner and gave her a another opportunity to obey.  We celebrated her new choice to obey her parents.

An expanded version of Ephesians 6:4 might read, “Fathers, do not provoke, antagonize, or exasperate your children to the point of harming your relationship.  Instead, nourish them by establishing a training program that puts into their minds the ways and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  When we discipline in an emotionally healthy manner, we encourage – not frustrate – our children.  And a training program that follows this path will nourish your kids.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #11

#11  Develop self-confidence.  Teach your children that other’s opinions of you do not determine who you are.  I made a career out of embarrassing my kids at the Olive Garden restaurant to make a point about self-confidence.  When the waiter did not return with the pepper grinder as promised to top our salads (an ongoing problem it seems), I would roll over in those great chairs they had with the casters to the nearest pepper grinder and roll back with the goods.  My point was, “Don’t worry what people are thinking of you if you are doing something that needs to be done.” (Of course, as Rhonda points out, I enhanced the embarrassment with my showmanship.)

The kind of self-confidence we wish to instill is not some boastful or arrogant attitude.  It is instead a firm determination to follow the agenda, both big and small, that God has placed in front of us no matter what others may think.  Jesus gave an example of this in John 7:1-6.  After the feeding of the five thousand on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus’ brothers said, “Hey, Jesus, you should go up to the feast in Jerusalem and do your thing.  Anyone who wants to be well known needs to be doing these miracles on the big stage.”  Jesus replied, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune” (vs 6).

In our lives, we have people and institutions that would be happy to set the agenda for our family.  And while we want to learn and practice biblical principles in a community setting, we are the ones responsible for following the path God has laid out for us and our family.  As you set the identity for your family, following God’s direction, you instill a sense of self-confidence in your children that says, “This is what the ____________ (fill in your family name) do.  This is who we are.”

Does this kind of self-confidence befit a Christ-follower?  I believe it does and when we do this, we emulate a trait in Jesus that even his enemies recognized.  “You teach the truth without catering to man’s opinion” (Matt 22:16).  Teach your children the balance between living and cooperating in a community but at the same time having the self-confidence to move forward in life “without catering to man’s opinion.”

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #10

#10  Help your child compete.  Even though we recognize the injustice of the beauty, brains, and brawn value system, it is the world our children are growing up in.  As parents, I believe we have a responsibility to help our children compete.  What do I mean by compete?

If your child’s crooked teeth are a beauty distraction, get them braces.  If your child struggles academically, search out some tutoring options.  If your child suffers with a severe acne problem, seek medical help.  If you son wants to increase his strength, buy him some weights.  In short, take action to help your child compete.

Now, two reasonable objections to this approach must be addressed.  The first objection is, “By teaching our children to compete are we actually training them to value the world’s system?” and secondly, “All these suggestions cost money and we cannot afford braces, tutoring, etc.”  Let me take the second objection first.

What about the money?  I realize we all have different financial limitations and I want to be careful not to come across too crass.  My encouragement would be to think outside the box as far as you can.  For example, do you have some 401K savings money you could use for a serious family need?  This goes against traditional financial advice to never touch this kind of money, and we should never be flippant or casual about using retirement funds early.  But I am trying to stretch your thinking about the idea that “save, save, save” for retirement has been drilled into our heads when pressing family needs may require “spend”.  There is only a short time to meet the needs of your family and then they are grown.  Again, not a decision to be made lightly, but worth some thought.

Back now to the first objection about the message we convey to our kids when we help them compete.  When one of our children had a severe case of acne, we did not think it appropriate to just say outward beauty is not important so you have to carry this burden knowing the self-conscious feelings of inferiority it caused.  Some physical challenges we do have to teach our children to just accept if they can’t be changed.  But it is an affirming parent who helps relieve these self-conscious fears whenever possible.  I don’t believe this is glamorizing beauty; I believe it is encouraging our children.

We walk a fine line between wanting our children to look their best while saying outward beauty is not all-important.  We want our kids to do well in school while saying academic achievement is not our #1 goal.  How we accomplish this is a question of balance.  Even as we help our children compete, we recognize these efforts are secondary to instructing them in the things that matter most; love, kindness, integrity, loyalty, honesty, and devotion to God.