Below is a list of values that my wife and I are constantly trying to instill in our children. This is not an exclusive list, and many overlap, but these are the top items on my parenting agenda (my wife may have others) as we shepherd our children.
FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST
Following Christ is the most important value of all,1 which serves as the foundation for all of the values set forth on this list.2 As children get older, they must learn to follow Christ as their compass (see Calibrating the Mind ).3
Parents cannot force faith on their children, but parents have the responsibility to build the spiritual foundation for their children. Parents are planters and waterers, but God alone makes things grow.4 To plant and water, parents must live in obedience to Christ as an example to their children. They must teach their children God’s Law, which includes disciplining with scripture so that children understand the standard by which they are to measure their lives.5
LOVE OF CHURCH
For all that is wrong with mainline denominations, my wife and I want going to church to be a natural part of life for our children, a routine that will follow them into college and adulthood. To this day, when I am reluctant to go to church one Sunday (whether I am tired, or lazy, or have something else I would rather do), I am, almost without exception, convicted by my children, who wonder why we are not going to church and are disappointed. I love being convicted of this by my children; it means that they are being fed (spiritually–and, quite frankly, physically–who doesn’t enjoy a sweet croissant?) at church.
But fostering a love for church is not accomplished by simply going to “big church” every Sunday or even every once in a while. Instead, a love for church requires regular attendance, going to Sunday School, attending Wednesday night Youth Group, and participating in mission trips. It requires teaching children about Jesus in the home. It requires praying as a family at the dinner table. It requires living a life in obedience to Jesus. Without these elements, simply dragging kids to an occasional church service will do little to nurture a love for church.
The Bible teaches to love everyone like Christ loves us.6 This is a tall order considering Christ loves us to the point of death. And this doesn’t stop at friends and family; scripture calls us to love everyone, including enemies.7 When put into practice, loving others eliminates judgment, revenge and most anger.
- Enemies. Parents need to teach children how to love their enemies and those who are disrespectful or mean to them. What does this look like? Loving enemies doesn’t mean becoming a doormat or condoning sin. If someone is mean to a child, instead of the child lashing out and seeking revenge or engaging in nasty gossip, what about encouraging the child to pray for that person? Loving an enemy doesn’t mean enjoying the enemy’s company or socializing with the enemy; it just means respecting the enemy as God’s creation and desiring the enemy to come to know Jesus. The best way to demonstrate love for an enemy is to pray for them. Praying for enemies also guards the heart from hate.
- Sinners. What about someone who is committing a sin that repulses a child? Instead of the child judging the person and being repulsed by him/her, how about encouraging the child to build a relationship with that sinner and being a positive influence in his/her life? Judgmental Christians tend to drive sinners away from Christ. But loving the sinner without condemnation may lead that person to Christ and repentance. Many Christians confuse loving sinners as condoning sin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners. Why? Because He came to save the sick, not the righteous.8 Parents need to teach their children to be a light to the lost instead of a judge of the lost.
- Differences. Something very difficult for children is to love and accept people who are different from them. Differences can be in personality, style, fashion, looks, or hobbies. Jocks, for example, find it difficult to understand and accept those who are interested in fine arts (and vice versa). But why? Liking football does not make a child better than one who likes fine arts. I am constantly harping on this point with my kids–they should be friends to all, not just those who like the same things as they do. It may be easier to connect with someone with similar interests, but that is not a reason to ignore or not be friends with someone with different interests.
Children should have a serving heart to the point that they hold the door open for people.9 Since I have boys, I want them especially to hold doors open for girls/women and adults (and, as I read on the internet the other day, even if that person is 20 feet away). Not only is this polite, but it shows respect for the person being served and keeps the servant’s heart outward looking instead of inward looking.
Related Post: Teaching Children a Servant Heart.
“MA’AM” AND “SIR”
Children should be taught to say “Ma’am” and “Sir.” It’s a constant battle at our house, but I think it is so important. Such a small act shows so much respect and politeness. To this day, I say “Ma’am” and “Sir” to anyone significantly older than I am, to the point where some people get annoyed. It is how I was raised.
MR. X AND MRS. Y
I cannot fathom why our kid’s generation is taught to call adults by their first names. It grates on my last nerve. Not that I am entitled to such formality, but I was raised that politeness and respect demanded that I call adults Mr. X and Mrs. Y.
I like this custom.
Even if adults want my children to call them by their first names, I prefer my children to insert “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before the first names. Instead of “Hey Julia,” how about “Mrs. Julia”?
Otherwise, it should be “Mr. [Last Name]” and “Mrs. [Last Name].”
This may seem stuffy; but it’s simple courtesy and respect.
EYE CONTACT AND CONVERSATION
We are constantly reminding our children to make eye contact with adults who speak to them and to make conversation. I can’t stand it when I approach a child and they won’t look at me and seem so uncomfortable that they cannot make conversation. This is another way to show respect for elders. It also is a sign of maturity and will serve them well as they grow older.
I tell my children all the time to discover their passion and find out how to make a living in pursuit of that passion. Don’t obsess over making a ton of money; it is more important to enjoy what you are doing, since you will be doing it for the rest of your life.
For this reason, I actually parent against the grain and discourage my kids from becoming doctors and lawyers and such. If they have a passion for it, fine. But, otherwise, do not pursue a career simply because it is lucrative.
And, by all means, avoid any job with billable hours.
Materialism is such a big trap, especially while living in an affluent community. But “stuff” never brings long-term happiness. There is a moment of joy when that materialistic item first appears, but that joy quickly fades as the next best and greatest thing comes around.
I have never found a material item that brought me long-term joy. And yet so many work long hours, sacrificing family and friends, in order to make enough money to buy all the materialistic joys they can.
I want my kids to learn contentment and recognize that materialism leads only to unhappiness and destruction.10
Children should be taught to honor their commitments. So many times, people make commitments and then renege when something “better” comes along or they simply forget the commitment because it wasn’t important to them. Whether it’s a social commitment or an athletic team, I want my child to learn the value of commitment.
For one thing, commitment shows trustworthiness. People can count on someone who keeps their commitments. For another thing, commitment shows respect to those to whom the commitment is made.
When we hop from one commitment to a better commitment, we succumb to the self-centered nature of our society. As Christians, we must swim against that self-centeredness.
Children need to be taught the value of always telling the truth. Scripture says, instead of swearing on the name of the Lord, let your “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no.”11 In other words, when you consistently tell the truth, you are honorable, and people know they can trust you. They don’t need a pledge or an oath to hold you to your word.
Those who are liars have no place in the Kingdom of God.12
It amazes me how those who routinely lie will lie about even small and meaningless things. It becomes a part of who they are. They have given sin a foothold in their lives.13
WORD AND DEED
One of our family mottoes is “Word and Deed,” which I wrote about in an earlier post by that title (Word and Deed).
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. . . . Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:17, 23-24.
No matter what my children are doing, whether in speech or conduct, I want them to think about how they are serving and glorifying God.
RESPECT FOR ELDERS AND AUTHORITY FIGURES
A common deficiency in youth is a failure to respect elders and authorities, whether parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, or other adults. This lack of respect is demonstrated by not listening, scoffing, disobedience, goofing around in class, smarting off, arguing, etc.
Nothing makes me angrier as a parent than when my children are disrespectful to me. Somehow, they convince themselves that they have the right and are entitled to argue, roll eyes, and disobey anyone they disagree with or don’t respect.
Scripture instructs Christians to obey elders14 and authorities.15 Disrespect and disobedience do not reflect the love of Christ.
When I see youth acting disrespectfully, I wonder if respect is being emphasized in the home. I know parents don’t have full control over how their kids act in public, but the lack of respect is so pervasive, I wonder if parents have abandoned the concept altogether.
I will never be so naive as to believe that my children are always respectful to others because I have to get on to them a lot at home about that very thing. At the same time, it amazes me how many compliments we receive from coaches, teachers, and other adults about how respectful our children are. They stand out from the crowd in this regard. I can’t help but conclude that this is because we emphasize it so strongly within the home.
One of the most important values is forgiveness. We are called to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.16 When we refuse to forgive others, we reject Christ’s sacrifice, which served as our forgiveness.
Parents need to teach their children the value of forgiveness. For example, when one of my children is wronged by his brother, he quickly responds in anger and revenge. We talk with them all the time about forgiveness and not getting baited into anger and revenge. Sure, this is difficult, but it is important to emphasize forgiveness over and over with children. Forgiveness truly is the heart of the Gospel.
There is little we battle more in our home than self-centeredness, which is an epidemic in our society. If following Christ, children should be outward looking, not inward looking. Instead, children get so consumed about what is best for them and how circumstances affect them that they are unable to see how their conduct contributes to or causes the problems in their lives or how their conduct affects others.
So often my children get upset about what someone (like a brother) has done to them or how some teacher or coach has wronged them that they are blinded to how their own conduct contributed to or caused the actual harm. For example, one of my children may attribute a bad grade to a teacher “not liking football players,” but he fails to own up to his lack of studying or paying attention in class. It’s easier to blame the teacher. Or if there is a lot of yelling in the house, it is easier for the child to attribute the yelling to a crazy parent instead of owning up to the failure to do chores, arguing, disrespect, grades, etc., that led to the yelling.
Children also need to be taught how their conduct affects others. They have a difficult time seeing beyond their tiny personal bubbles. So, it is important to bring to their attention the consequences of their behavior on others. For example, missing a game because they are tired or want to do something else affects their whole team. The coach may have to adjust his or her game plan and substitution plan at the last minute, players may have to play positions they don’t typically play to fill the gap, and the absence may ultimately affect whether the team wins or loses. Or a child forgetting his homework might make his mother adjust her whole day’s schedule just to bring it to him at school. Children do not naturally see these consequences.
We spend a lot of time teaching our children to look outside their personal bubbles and evaluate how their conduct contributes to or causes the negative consequences they experience and how their conduct affects others. So much of society’s problems stems from a lack of this very simple skill.
Loving others as Christ loves us leads to a compassionate heart. In short, compassion means caring for someone in need COUPLED with action to serve that need. As scripture says, it’s not enough to recognize someone’s need and wish them well; the Christian must act to alleviate that person’s suffering.17
In a child’s life, this can play out with a classmate who is being bullied, or a classmate who is lonely and without friends, or a disabled classmate who is ignored or made fun of by others. My wife and I want our children to recognize these situations and move toward those classmates in need. And not out of compulsion, but out of a sincere desire to love and be a friend to that classmate.
Children often take childhood too seriously. I was one of those. My family pokes fun at me all the time about being a “little man” as a child. I was serious, and orderly, and generally obedient. But what I lacked and still lack is the ability to simply have fun.
I experienced a culture shock when I started dating my wife when I was 16-years-old and I began interacting with her family, who was all about having fun. I don’t mean irresponsible fun, but just enjoying life–laughing, entertaining, socializing, singing, playing volleyball in the middle of the dining room. Yeah, did you catch that? The first gathering of my wife’s family that I attended was over at her grandmother’s house, and they cleared the floor and played balloon volleyball in the middle of the dining room. It was traumatic for me (not really; I actually had fun–I just tried not to smile).
I want my kids to simply have fun. Life, especially childhood, is too short to be serious all the time. Fortunately, they have enough of their mother’s genes to compensate for my stuffy genes. I just try to stay out of the way.
FRIEND TO ALL
My wife and I encourage our children to make an effort to be friends with everyone.
Simply because my child does not like what a classmate does outside of school does not justify discarding friendship with that person. The key is for our child not to socialize in a way that the bad behavior adversely influences him; instead, he needs to learn to socialize in a manner where his conduct is a positive influence on the classmate. This can be a delicate balance and requires constant communication between parent and child.
We also encourage our children to be friends with those who are different from them, as discussed above.
Being friends with all is exemplary of scripture that teaches to love everyone as Christ loves us and not to hide a lamp under a bowl but instead let the light shine to the world.18
As painfully demonstrated by this political season, one “HUGE” deficiency in our society is the inability to be civil with each other, particularly when discussing issues with people who have a different viewpoint. Discussions of politics and religion in particular become heated quickly.
One thing I have always been able to do, and enjoy, is talking about religion and politics with people with varying viewpoints without escalation. That is largely due to a demonstration of respect for the other person’s viewpoint as well as keeping a respectful and non-confrontational tone. I won’t say I have never been in a heated argument, but the overwhelming majority of interactions remain civil.
Civility is a long lost art.
I want my children to learn the art of civility. For one thing, a person should not be so confident in his opinions that he does not try to learn from others. For another thing, a person will never convert another by screaming, yelling and belittling. All that gets us to is Washington, D.C., and we all know what sorry a condition that place is in.
In order to teach civility, it is important to have conversations with children about controversial issues, particularly those where the child has a different viewpoint from the parent. Discuss with the child the importance of civility and demonstrate how to engage in a civil discussion of ideas. I’ve failed at this and been successful at it, but it is important to engage in the exercise.
We need to break this vicious cycle playing out in our society.
LEADERSHIP AND ROLE MODEL
I want my children to learn how to be leaders and role models. They don’t have to run for any particular class office, but they need to lead by example–working hard at whatever they are doing, maintaining self-control, being nice and respectful to all, being compassionate, being honest, being trustworthy–these are all leadership qualities people notice. These qualities make kids stand out from the crowd, and others look up to them. Often kids exhibiting leadership qualities do not actively seek leadership positions but are instead placed in those positions by their peers and adults.
These values do not constitute an exclusive list. I could have expanded this list significantly, but these are the top items on my parenting agenda. I keep all of these in my mind as I parent, always nudging my children along these paths.
It is helpful as a parent to set goals and work toward them as opposed to parenting from the hip. Keeping a running list of desired destinations along with supportive scriptures can really increase the power of parenting.
If there are other values at the top of your parenting agenda, please feel free to share them by commenting below.
Copyright © 2016 by TheDaddyBlitz
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1 “One of the teachers of the law came and heard [Jesus and the Sadducees] debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’” Mark 12:28-30.
2 “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-11.
3 “[I]f by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13.
4 “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:7.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6.
5 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.
6 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13.
7 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45.
8 “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” Matthew 9:10-13.
9 “[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28.
10 “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 5:10.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have . . . .” Hebrews 13:5.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” Matthew 19:23-24.
11 “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” James 5:12.
12 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8.
13 “[D]o not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:27.
14 “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—’so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.'” Ephesians 6:1-3.
15 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Romans 13:1-5.
16 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13.
17 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16.
18 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” Luke 11:33.