Teaching Our Children

As parents, we see the big picture. We understand the whys behind the lessons we seek to teach. We know that those sight words in 1st grade lead to fluent reading in 2nd grade. We see that the 5th-grade unit on government and laws prepares the way for them to pass a Constitution test in middle school. We know that sharing leads to friendship and respect opens doors. There is much to teach, and our days with our children are limited, but our children are more than just depositories for information. We can get so focused on providing guidance that sometimes it is easy to overlook the child for the lesson.

Because while it may feel that we are tending to what matters, we are teaching children, not lessons. We are disciplining our babies, not their behavior. The distinction may seem small but the difference is huge.

When facing a child in a struggle, there are a few things to consider.

  • What does my child need to learn to grow? Do I need to teach? Encourage? Hold accountable?
  • How can I do this carefully and lovingly, with an eye to the future, and not with a punitive tone?
  • Regardless of the task at hand, what is my child feeling? Is he hurt? Confused? Is she sad? Angry? How can I validate their experience, even if I press them to persevere?

Our children need emotional connection

From the time your child is born, you are told that this season goes too quickly. Everyone who has ever had a child will wisely explain that kids grow fast and will be gone before you know it. And while this may be true for you, it is not true for your child. Growing up is hard and long, and there is so much to learn. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. Emotions matter, and as parents, there is much that we can do to help our children. Even when you have to be the strong disciplinarian, you can still acknowledge and name the emotions your child experiences. Validating their hearts is powerful parenting.

Sometimes life is supposed to be hard

Growing is hard, and sometimes, we have to struggle through difficult problems and circumstances. Maybe that's studying multiplication tables. Maybe that's walking through the first romantic breakup. As protective parents, our impulse may be to rescue our children from all struggles, doing their homework for them. But that's not how they grow into strong adults. Sometimes, the best we can do is to acknowledge that the task at hand is hard, but has to be done.

Choose to be present

God promised us to be with us wherever we go. God demonstrates for us in scripture the importance of being present. In Psalm 23 God says that he walks with us through the darkest of valleys. Jesus came to earth, becoming present with us, and he promised to be here through the very end of the age (Matthew 28). Jesus assures us that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8). Following God's example, sometimes the best action is to set aside the impulse to teach, talk, and instruct instead of coming alongside our child and just listening. Be present. Be loving. Be understanding. Be quiet.

Be the safe place

The truth is that our children must matter more than the lessons we need to teach. We need us to remember how difficult it is and to love them when they fall and enfold them when the world pushes them out. When they remember that we are offering a safe place to land, they can process what they need to learn.

So, let’s take a collective breath, look calmly into their eyes, and remember that there is far more to this parenting gig than teaching lesson upon lesson to our kids. We have been entrusted with their lives, and that task is no small thing. There will be days when we need to teach and many, many days when we just need to be.

May God give us the wisdom we need to clearly see which path to take.

About the author — Nadia Swearingen-Friesen

Nadia Swearingen-Friesen is a writer and national speaker with a passion for empowering parents to approach their families with great intentionality and grace.  Nadia and her husband, Mark, are the parents of four children and live in the Chicago area. Nadia also blogs at http://nadiaswearingen-friesen.com/

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