Thursday, April 21, 2016

Investing In Your Child's Character

Growing up I was intimidated by my grandmother. I only saw her once a year, when she would visit from Hong Kong during our summer family reunions. She was always very well dressed, well spoken, poised, proper, and often with something new to teach us about how to conduct oneself. In some ways, she was teaching me Chinese customs of respecting our elders, and the importance of family. But looking back, in her own way, she was investing in my character.

Our JAM ministry had the privilege of hearing from Susan von Ehrenkrook of Real Simple Parenting recently. She asked us to name various characteristics that we felt were important to instill in our children. Then she asked us to narrow them down to six. SIX. It was hard, but it also made the task of parenting just a little more doable. I chose Integrity, Compassion, and Faithfulness (I'll be nice and let my husband pick the other 3 since I'm trying to be a little less bossy . . . just a little).

Susan cited some statistics about how much money parents invest into their children annually. On average, Americans spend $2300 on clothing (not including high end stores), $3600 on sports (not including elite teams/leagues), and over $50,000 on 15-18 years of education. Let's not even get into technology. Kids are spending on average 7-10 hours a day on some kind of technology - do I even spend 7-10 hours a day talking to my kids, face-to-face? Sadly, no. If we're investing all this money into our children to give them a better future, why not spend time investing into their characters - which is more likely to produce successful, happy, and healthy adults?

She broke down childhood into 4 age groups. 0-4 year olds only think about themselves. At this age they're "Doing the wrong thing the majority of the time." It seems young, but this is the age to start teaching respect - such as eye-contact. She recounted how she would turn it into a fun game of sliding M&M's to her son as long as he maintained eye contact. Why this young? Because when they learn to make eye contact when you request it, you'll only have to give your instructions once (i.e. less nagging!). Also, they learn to make eye contact when they're speaking to others. I'm SUPER guilty of rarely making eye-contact with my kids unless they're in trouble, and yet I harp on my 8 year old daily to make eye contact with adults whom he's speaking to. Double standard? Yes. Helping him to become a confident young adult who makes eye contact during job interviews AND is socially engaging? Hopefully! (Please Jesus, let him find a good job someday . . . )

4-8 year olds do "the right thing for the wrong reason", so we can take this time to teach them to respect other people and their property. Role playing is a fun way to do this - we whine and complain like kids, and they admonish us like adults. It's win-win, really. They see how ridiculous they sound, and . . . we see how ridiculous we sound! Fun, right? But at least now we get to parent our kids, instead of policing them, which at my house means a lot of yelling. (Sigh)

8-12 year olds do "what appears right to others," because they want to be popular and accepted by their peers, right? Teach them about personal respect - talk to them about how they treat others, how they talk about others ("were you talking about the new kid in a way that's respectful to him? or in a way that would make you more popular?"). Ultimately, this would then lead to open communication with your aloof/sassy pre-teen (Please, Jesus, make the sass and attitude go away . . . it goes away, right?)

Finally, 13-18 year olds, can be taught to respect their community and family, by doing things around the house because they're a part of the family, not because they were told to, or paid to, or bribed to. At this point, hopefully all our years of investing into their character will pay off when you send them off and impact the next generation.

I would add that even with your adult children, it's never too late to invest into their character. I once jokingly called my prim and proper grandmother a "snob-and-a-half". My dad shot me a look and quietly said, "Don't call her that, she's your grandmother." I KNOW he fully agreed with me and probably wanted to laugh a little, but he was also very serious about me still speaking about my grandmother in a respectful way. I think I had just turned 33 when this happened! Lesson learned.

Ladies, whether you are a stay at home mom, working mom, care-giving grandmother, shared custody parent, weekends-only parent or grandparent, I implore you to invest in your children or grandchildren. Think about what kind of character you want them to have as they navigate through life. Susan emphasized that no amount of time was too little time to make an impact on a child's character. Just try to make it fun!

Deuteronomy 6:5 says, "You shall love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." We all know this verse, right? It's the next few verses that have stuck out in my mind the past 5 years: (v. 6-7) "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." To mean, that means, "Don't just talk about God on Sundays after church on the drive home. Talk about God, the Bible, and Jesus ALL. DAY. LONG. I'm really just talking to myself when I say this, but now you get to hear it as well: Put down your phones, turn off the TV at home and turn off the music in the car. Talk to your kids. Don't just talk AT them, listen to them. And start training them NOW. Whether they're 12 months old, or 12 years old, it's never too early to start, nor too late to start. Susan mentioned the "Ripple Effect". If you don't correct a behavior now, you're only setting off a ripple effect that will teach them that they can be disrespectful to their siblings, their peers, to other adults, to authority, and ultimately to God.

Pick six characters with your spouse or partner, and start investing in your children's character. Pick one that you can teach your child today. As soon as my 8 year old wakes up, I'm going to look at his eyeballs until he can hold my gaze . . . even if it makes me squirm, because I have terrible eye contact, or so my husband tells me.

Contributed by: Lois Yue Stolee
JAM (Just Among Moms) Programming Coordinator / Calvary Women's Small Group Leader

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