The above poem was often found within the myriad of papers provided new parents during their first obstetric visit or the goody bag that accompanied their sweet little bundle of joy home from the hospital. The author attempted to communicate that children will become what is modeled to them, and there certainly is an element of truth in that. We’ve often said, more is “caught than taught.” However, if a parent only models what kindness looks like or demonstrates what patience looks like, as a child masters a new skill, only half of the equation is being offered. What brings a virtue to life is when a parent actually involves the child in the act, which is almost more valuable than any amount of modeling.This month, the board members of Christian Family Heritage share some concepts on how they nurtured their children in the direction of being OTHER-CENTERED. It doesn’t take too long in our parenting journey to recognize that as cute and precious as our children are, they are also naturally self-centered. For example, an infant thinks only of his needs…not mom’s longing for uninterrupted sleep. A toddler does not concern herself with keeping her diapers clean, for toddlers are only slightly less self-centered. While a two-year-old may have a vague understanding that there is a need to wait a few minutes for food to cool, or that it will take Mom a moment or two to fill a sippy cup, there is still the underlying challenge of “But I want it now!” Yes, even with all the right behavioral examples on the part of well-intentioned parents nothing will take the place of actively encouraging and instructing children to become participants in the art of thinking of others.
So what are some gems we can glean from our seasoned moms and board members who have been faithfully serving and training their children for years? As in all our parenting, it begins with us first checking our own heart motive as we respond obediently to the biblical mandate of teaching our children to be other centered. Remembering we are still works in progress and having the understanding that it will take years for our children’s hearts to become more and more like His will provide us the necessary grace to be diligent and patient. Philippians 2:5 reminds us “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus … but emptied Himself, taking the form of man… and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross,” a beautiful picture of serving from the heart for the right reason, for the good of another. Matthew 5:16 provides another proper motive; “In the same way, let your light so shine before others that they might see your good works and give glory to the Father who is in heaven.” This is a high calling indeed, to teach and train hearts for the kingdom job of serving.
Patricia remembers as a young parent being challenged to accept the responsibility of constantly enlarging her children’s sense of influence. One thing that helped her was changing the concept of “others oriented” to “outward focused.” Yes, they are similar but the latter is probably more easily understood and demonstrated to a young child. It was the thought of looking out and looking up, being circumspect. In so doing a child can learn how their actions affect themselves, others such as parents and siblings, and even beyond to church family and so on…causing them to be aware that their actions have consequences.
Training children to be outward focused also requires that we train and direct the child’s heart to be doing the right thing for the right reason. We have recently discussed in our CMCs the whole idea of people pleasing, and making sure that neither we nor the child get caught up in doing the right thing for the praise or acceptance of others. As a parent it is our job to be the fruit inspector. A great way to determine motives is to look at our child’s responses when he or she doesn’t receive the praise they desired or when their efforts are unrecognized. What they do when no one is around is also a great way to get a glimpse into their heart. One mom stated it this way, “Integrity of character displayed by consistency of action reflects the motivation of the heart.”
So practically speaking how would we as a board, representing collectively over 100 years of parenting yet knowing we had and have much room for improvement, encourage you to train your children in other-centered, outward focused behavior? Here are some things that worked for us that may help you along the way.
“In order for our family to practically teach our children to be “other centered” outside of our home, God actually ended up leading us to change churches. Our new church family met in a school, so that meant each Sunday required the physical aspect of church to be set up, torn down and put away. While our previous church had everything under control, providing very few opportunities for a young family eager to serve, we now were able to jump in and serve wholeheartedly as a family and as part of the team. So our children saw what “other centered” looked like in a practical sense and to this day serving is a part of our children and our family identity.” Think of the skills they learned beyond the act of setting up chairs as they rubbed shoulders with others. In addition to please and thank you, they learned that even the simplest task is better when many hands make light work, and a light heart.
Another Mom reminds us to begin young, and train, train, train…. but as in all training we must first teach, model, require a “return demonstration” and then take our hands off…easy to write in one short sentence but it takes YEARS of doing. It begins from learning to share toys to walking quietly down hotel halls and demonstrating respect for others also residing there. In the process of instructing, it is important to remember to share with your children the why behind the expected behavior. Why are they doing what they are doing? Is it because of what others will say about them or that it is simply the right thing to do? 1 Cor. 10:31 is a good scripture to memorize.
This same mom reminds us that asking our kids focused questions like; “Who were you thinking of?” or “How could you show honor in this situation?” These types of questions will keep the “why” fresh in their minds and also helps us as parents see exactly how our children are processing and internalizing what is being taught.
Be on the look out for opportunities to serve with your children: Help in Sunday School classes or the nursery so parents can attend the church service. New moms may need a bathroom cleaned, toddlers taken on a walk, or a meal and a note of encouragement. Somehow washing the dishes of another is far more rewarding than the same task being done at home.
But don’t forget service at home for the greater good; splitting wood, mowing lawns, visiting grandparents, picking up after the family pet, raking a lawn strewn with fall leaves (being content to let another take credit). All offer opportunities to look up and look out, increasing the child’s sphere of influence.
What about writing thank you notes for more than just things received? A kind note for a consideration shown goes a long way to motivate right behavior, making sure that siblings, parents and grandparents are included in this list so that no act of kindness is taken for granted.
Be intentional about instilling the value of work according to Col 3:23. And Acts 17:28 reminds us that IN HIM we are able to live, move, and exist. Our very ability to serve comes from Him.
We often don’t think about “not whining” as a way of preferring others, but as one mom shares with her children, “it’s like scraping your fingernails on a chalk board,” and we all agree how unpleasant that is. If whining is a behavior a child is characterized by it can be effective to remind him or her that it was due to complaining that the children of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert. In this particular home, whining and complaining resulted in loosing what they were whining about, and the complainer got an extra opportunity to serve.
We do model, just as Jesus did with His disciples. But there comes a day when He sent them out, without Him, requiring them to implement what they had seen Him do, what they were involved with. The Lord knew that in order for them to make the “task” or the “ministry” their own they needed to do it, fail, rise up and do it again. So be intentional, be the ever-vigilant fruit inspector both for your heart motives and theirs and know that it will take years for this particular fruit to be born by their own tree. Be on the alert for ways to enlarge their understanding of how their lives and their actions affect those whom the Lord has allowed them to touch.