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Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. Proverbs 4:1
I am always a little shocked by how much my children actually hear what I say. It is even scarier to realize how much they watch what I do. Several years ago I had picked our boys up from school and was driving home when from the back seat I heard my oldest say the word stupid. I quickly turned around and said, “Son we do not say stupid.” Later that same evening the boys and I ventured into the back yard to play in our sandbox. As I dragged off the cover, designed to keep the neighbors cat from pooping in our sand, I discovered a nasty deposit. I scooped out the poop and said under my breath, “stupid cat”. My son came running over from about 15 feet away, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Dad, we do not say stupid!” Ouch, the painful humility of realizing my own hypocrisy. I was reminded of how powerfully the words and actions of a father impact the lives of their children.
I strongly believe that the messages fathers send, stated and unstated, have a profound impact on how their sons (and daughters) come to view the world, God, themselves, and others. “Stuff Dads Say” is a short and encouraging read covering the top ten most important messages all children need to hear from their fathers. I believe these messages should be sent over and over again throughout a child’s life. They are paying attention and will gain understanding. The question is, understanding of what? This challenging E-book will be available Free for the next three days only. Browse the list below for a sneak peek.
The most important messages every child needs to hear from his father:
- No kicking in the face
- Where does it hurt?
- Come on, I need your help
- Let’s go on an adventure
- Oh, Let’s try that again
- Let’s go help mom
- How are you going to handle that?
- I’m sorry
- What do you think about that?
- How do you ask nicely?
I have caught myself saying each one of these phrases. Before having kids I never imagined that they would become part of my parenting vocabulary. I am excited to share with you how they have shaped my journey as a father and how I believe they continue to shape the way my sons view the world.
This is the final post in my Series “Stuff Dads Say”. What I thought would take a couple of months wound up taking more like six but I am excited to have covered what I believe are the most important messages that dads send their children. I am even more excited to let you know that I have compiled all of my “Stuff Dads Say” posts into a very affordably priced E-book. This book is a short and encouraging read that would be a perfect “virtual stocking stuffer” for a husband, son in law, grandpa, or new father. Check out the links below to read more about it.
“A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself”
I live in a house with three sweaty, stinky, rough and tumble boys. They love to wrestle, play in the mud, eat lots of food, and make funny noises. Being an older and hopefully more mature version of these creatures I have sometimes found it difficult to know the appropriate level of manners to require of them. I am thankful for the high standard that their mother has helped me to set and the lessons our boys have learned from it.
Early on in our parenting experiment my wife began to require our children to say please and thank you at the appropriate times. We had never really discussed this expectation but since she was from the south it was something that had been stressed in her home as a child. At first I thought it was a little over board, “come on, the kid can’t even talk and we are teaching him signs for please and thank you?” Being the laid back person that I am I followed her lead and persisted in this expectation.
As the years have rolled by and the children have multiplied I have fully embraced the expectation set in those early days. I regularly find myself saying, “how do you ask nicely” as a way to remind my children of there appropriate manners. They always know how to respond and more and more lately they have not needed the reminder.
It seems today that manners are less and less of a priority. I have met 5 year olds that say words not even adults should utter out loud. Many times people are surprised to here children speaking with respect.
I may be a little idealistic but I firmly believe the above scripture, “A kind man benefits himself.” I am not teaching my children to say please and thank you to get them a better job, or more money. I think the scripture could just as easily say, a kind man respects himself, controls himself, befriends himself. When we set high expectations for our children’s manners and behavior they begin to see a picture of who they can be. They can’t be perfect but they can be self-controlled, respectful, kind, generous, and a good friend. These are qualities that I hope my children learn from saying there please and thank yous.
I totally screwed up the other day! It had been a long week, a long day at work, and when I arrived home things were a bit chaotic. I lost my temper, and snapped at my oldest son. My tone of voice was angry, the words were shorter than normal, and I am sure my facial expression was scary. I cannot recall what pushed me over the edge, but I can see the look on his face.
I now see that my angry response triggered an angry response in him, which only made the whole situation worse. As I have reflected on my anger over the last few days I am reminded of something I once heard a speaker say. He said that the most important thing he ever did as a parent was to apologize when he messed up. I have tried to keep this advice in my mind specifically for times like these.
A couple of times in my experience as a parent I have apologized to my children and seen the immediate calming, and healing effects of the words, “I am sorry.” Another time that sticks out to me is a situation in which I jumped to conclusions about my son’s actions. I walked into the house thinking I knew exactly what happened and began handing out consequences before getting the facts. As the injustices of my uninformed decisions mounted I could sense my son puffing up with defensiveness and frustration. His reactions got larger and the tears began to roll.
As I came to my senses and began to learn more about the situation I realized my mistake. I had misunderstood, over-reacted, and been wrong. Due to the wise words of the previously mentioned speaker, I realized my mistake, apologized to my son and immediately saw him deflate. He calmed down, relaxed, and opened up to me about what had happened. He could put down his defenses, as he was no longer being attacked.
Apologizing when we make mistakes disarms a situation; it demonstrates humility, strength, and honesty. If we as parents are willing to apologize our children will be more willing to apologize as well. “I’m sorry” is a crucial message to send to your children. It allows them to understand that you are not perfect, you are doing your best but make mistakes. Saying I’m sorry also gives them permission to make mistakes. They will learn to handle their own mistakes by following your model.
What is your experience with apologizing to your children?
My kids fight! I am not sure why, I am not always sure what about. All I know is that sometimes just when I think things are going really well and I have got it all under control, people start hitting each other.
Most of the time these fights, and other crazy things occur when I am not in the same room with my children. They are downstairs and I am trying to catch a moment of stillness, or I am changing the baby while they are playing in the other room. Typically one of them will run to me and begin to recount the story of what happened. These are the moments of parenting that I find most difficult. What do you do? It feels good to support the crying child, tear into the other room and bring “justice” to the situation. Unfortunately, I am not really sure what happened, Who hit who? Why did he hit you? It can all be quite disorienting.
Someone told me once to never place myself as the judge in these types of situations. I was told that these scenarios are lose, lose for parents and children. If we choose the crying child, the “hitter” feels unloved. If we choose the “hitter” the “cryer” feels unloved. I was advised, instead to intervene with comfort and then a question to both parties. Provide comfort to the hurting child and then ask the question, how are you going to handle that?
I really like this question it can be used in many situations and it always provokes thought. It is so tempting, and usually easier for parents to give answers, provide solutions, or give instructions. Asking, How are you going to handle that creates discussion, it allows your child to think through their choices and hopefully to make one. The best part is that when they make a choice and act on it, no matter how it turns out they are responsible. If they choose wisely and the situation turns out well, they are responsible experiencing a wonderful sense of accomplishment and joy. On the other hand, if they choose unwisely, they are also responsible for those actions. They are left to face the natural consequences of their behavior with no one to blame but themselves.
What other questions do you find yourself asking your child?
How do you promote thought in tough situations?
I learned a very important lesson about marriage even before my wife and I got married. She was living in Texas and I in Southern California. She came to visit and meet my parents for the first time. I was excited to show off my hometown and my parents were elated that it looked as though I might be moving out of the house at some point in the future. My then girlfriend however, got a glimpse into how she would be treated as the future Mrs. Mark Vander Ley.
She returned to Texas and we continued our nightly phone calls. She gave me the news in her characteristically straightforward manner. “If you treat me the way that you treat your mom, we will not be getting married.” She saw the way that I treated my mom during that visit and was not impressed. She wisely knew that a son who disrespects his mother is a son who disrespects his wife. I am thankful that she called me out on this behavior before we got married. By the time the wedding came around I had made some growth. I am still working to model for my boys, the level of respect and honor that their mother deserves.
Another lesson came when my wife and I served as mentors for a young married couple. Like in many cases I learned much more from this relationship than the young husband I was mentoring. One day we decided to hold each other accountable for serving our wives in unexpected ways through out the week. This might mean emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, picking up around the house, or making breakfast. Basically, it was getting off my “duff” and doing something without having to be asked.
This experience softened my heart towards my wife. The accountability of this young married man helped me to put my wife first. He helped me to step up and lead through service. I still struggle with selfishness in this area and have plenty of room to continue growing. I am hopeful however that my boys will get the message of “let’s go help mom.” I am convinced that they will learn to respect their mother, and women based on the example they see.
I hope that dads will humble themselves and follow the command to, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:33
In what ways could you serve your spouse this week?
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
Do you ever find yourself correcting your children for the same thing over and over again? Sometimes I think, “I put you in a timeout for that yesterday, and the day before, how many times do we have to do this?” At times I get frustrated, why are they not learning this lesson? Do they not understand what is being taught? When will they learn?
Unfortunately the answers to those questions are: no they do not understand right now and it will be a long time before they do. I have learned that many times we parents misunderstand how discipline works. We seem to think that our children are like piggy banks. They come to us empty of knowledge and it is our job to fill them up with the lessons of life so they know how to act. Each time we discipline is viewed as dropping a coin in the bank. Once that “coin” has been deposited the lesson is learned. One deposit equals one lesson right?
It has been helpful for me to think of children as wheat fields, rather than piggy banks. A wheat field is spread out as far as the eyes can see with stalks about waist high. If you were to walk across the field and then look behind you, it would be possible to see a slightly worn path where you had been. If you walk that path one time it will eventually go back to its original state. If you walked over that path hundreds or thousands of times however, it would be well worn and very clearly visible.
Think of these paths as experiences in your child’s life. Each time they have a similar experience, it is as though they had walked down the same path. Imagine the “throwing a ball” path. The more they throw a ball the more worn that path becomes and the better they get at throwing the ball. Athletic trainers call this muscle memory neuroscientists call it a neuropathway. The more they experience a certain behavior the more likely they are to repeat it.
Applying this analogy to how children learn from discipline can be helpful in understanding why we find ourselves correcting the same behavior over and over again. Sometimes those behaviors have become well-worn paths and in order to change the behavior we need to create different paths using different experiences.
I recall speaking with a mom whose son had a habit of taking things that did not belong to him. She had decided that instead of the normal punishment she would begin to practice picking things up and putting them back down. Her plan was to create a new neuropathway. She wanted to create the experience of seeing something that is not his, wanting it, looking at it, and leaving it be. I was blown away by her wisdom she was not sitting back and waiting for her son to steal so that she could react with a consequence. She was proactively creating new experiences, and neuropathways.
I believe that viewing our children as wheat fields rather than piggy banks can be extremely helpful for parents and children. For parents it can help to reduce anger. When I am trying to fill a piggy bank and it seems that the lessons are never learned eventually anger is the result. When parents are angry they are less able to parent effectively. When we view discipline as creating healthier pathways and experiences I am more able to remain calm and view an incident as yet another opportunity to wear a desirable path.
In our house we love redo’s when our oldest hits his brother, we say “Oh, let’s try that again.” And we repeat the situation in a more appropriate manner. When our youngest throws a fit, “let’s try that again.” Prescribing the words to use telling us how angry and upset he is about what happened. As we repeat over and over again these experiences of positive behavior the paths become worn and behaviors more common.
We don’t do this perfectly, but we are working to create new pathways for ourselves, of patience, compassion, and joy. I am hopeful that you will as well.
Please start a conversation and leave your thoughts and comments below.
Over my years as a therapist I have spent many hours talking with teenage boys. One of the phrases that I have heard over and over again is, “this is boring.” I have heard parents complain about children who have bins full of toys, yet describe themselves as bored. How is it possible that in our society of 24/7 entertainment anyone would be bored?
I recently listened to the White Horse Inn podcast that argued boredom in our culture stems from the over abundance of entertainment. They argued that our desire to have every experience be “THE” experience cheapens the value of all experiences. Even in churches and youth ministries we are constantly searching for the next big thing. The next exciting program or activity that will draw in more kids or parents so they can know how exciting Jesus is. We take high school students to camps and mission trips filled with emotional worship, funny speakers, and really gross games.
The problem is, this is not real life. Real life is mundane, it is getting up to go to work or school everyday, it is doing the dishes, laundry, and homework. Faith is hard, church can be normal, and even Jesus was not exciting all of the time. In my opinion the problem with the “bored” children is that they have never learned to imagine. Toys don’t require imagination these days. Computer graphics create vast worlds in infinite detail, none of it imagined by the players. It is nearly impossible to find a plain lego set that can be formed into whatever a child imagines. They are all movie themed and designed to be built into some specific object. Even infant toys are full of bells, whistles, lights, and buttons.
I was pleased to sit and observe some kids developing their imaginations the other day. I felt like one of those nature photographers catching the final footage of an endangered species. I sat very quietly hoping they would not notice me, so as not to disrupt their play. They played for about an hour with nothing more than a bucket tied to a rope and water. I am not sure what they were doing but they were all fully engaged and involved. Somehow they all had a role to play but no one told them what it was. There was yelling, laughing, jumping, and running; it was great fun. They were having a true adventure.
A true adventure is not some overhyped, artificially produced experience of which we are spectators. A true adventure is something we are actively involved in. It is a path that unfolds before us based on the shared experience of family and friends.
This was not the latest and flashiest toy. It was a white bucket tied to a rope, but it lead them on a wild adventure full of excitement and joy. I hope parents will say, “let’s go on an adventure” by giving their families the time and space to imagine. Let’s cut down on some of the adult organized “exciting” activities, and begin to create our own adventures in the backyard.
How does your family find true adventure?
What toys helped you to imagine as a child?
Ephesians 4:12 “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”
My children are growing up as part of the “entitled generation.” I have read several articles recently discussing this generation of youth as lazy, entitled, coddled, and narcissistic. One article written by Brett Mccracken from relevantnetwork.com describes the entitled generation as,
“raised on the notion that we deserve things, that the government owes us something, that everything we want should be accessible and that somehow we are not responsible if we don’t end up quite as successful in life as we’d hoped.”
Several years ago a colleague and I were sharing with a group of parents about Shelterwood, the teen-counseling ministry that we worked for. At the end of our presentation a parent asked us what we saw as the most troublesome problem facing teens today. Thankfully my colleague answered the question, however his answer surprised many of the parents. They expected to hear an answer of online pornography, drugs, texting while driving, or peer pressure. Instead, he described a sense of entitlement as the number one problem facing teens today.
How does a parent raise children that are thankful for the smallest of blessings? Is it possible in this day to raise children that view their purpose in life as serving others rather than accumulating possessions? If they are willing to serve others will they do it to please God or to gain some sort of notoriety? How can I do as Ephesians 4:12 says, “prepare God’s people for works of service.”
I witnessed an impromptu class in teaching the “entitled generation” about service during a family retreat while working at Shelterwood. All the parents and families had come to town for the weekend. This was our time to meet, encourage, support, and get to know the families of the teenagers that lived in our care. We were serving them right? After dinner one night the staff were to stick around to help clean up so that the families could leave to spend some quality time with their teenage child. One father had a different plan. As the families began to leave for the night he began picking up tables and chairs with the rest of us. He didn’t say anything, he just started pitching in and offering a hand. The class began when I witnessed his two pre-teen sons jump up behind him and mimic their father’s actions. I thought in my mind that this could not have been the first time these boys saw their father standing up to serve others. They must have seen him helping others over and over and over again. They desired to be a man, and from what they saw, men were servants.
I was convicted and inspired by this lesson on preparing my kids for works of service. I confess that many times my mind is set more on preparing my kids for college, a good job, or responsibility, rather than serving others. I often find myself losing sight of God’s mission of service for my life. I find myself desiring money, possessions, and notoriety. Like the lesson I witnessed first hand has taught me, the best way to halt the entitled generation is to be a servant myself.
I have been challenged to say to my children, “come on, I need your help” when I have opportunities to serve others. I hope that when my boys think of “manhood”, they picture a servant who is quick to pitch in, take out the trash, and stack up the tables and chairs.
Start the conversation below
In what ways can a family serve together?
How have you taught your children that serving others is important?
What are some other ways to Halt the Entitled Generation?”