“How many times do I have to tell you!” is something I think nearly every parent has exclaimed. Unfortunately, the obvious answer is, “Until I get it!” but no child is ever quick enough to utter those words. But that is the truth; we need to keep telling our kids until they get it. The problem is though that we only tell our children where the Bible clearly instructs us to train our children. Let’s look at what training means in a parenting context…
So what does it mean to train our child?
Train up a child in the way he should go Prov 22:6a
When I looked into the Hebrew meaning of the word “train” in this verse, I found three words that gave me fresh thought
I think we are all familiar with the concept of training – athletes train, soldiers train, we get training at a new job. It is being taught a new skill and practicing that skill until it becomes second nature.
To dedicate means to devote time or effort to a particular subject. Do we dedicate ourselves – our time and energy – to this process – to our parenting? To be dedicated means single focus,without being distracted. If we look at all the interactions that our kids need through the day – that is a tall order indeed – to give of my time and energy without being distracted!
To inaugurate something is to initiate, to begin, or to commence something. We are to initiate our children on the path that God desires for them – that is to walk know Him and walk in His ways; later in life, it will be their decision which way they will go.
So with these three words in our minds, we can approach the instruction and discipline of our children beyond the frustrated lecture and half-hearted instructions that we so easily slip into. We begin to see that it isn’t just about getting them to do what I want right now but, there is a bigger picture at stake; what we do today affects their life today and the next day, and the next etc.
How do we train our children?
So how do we train our children?
When a sports coach trains the athlete they teach a technique that they know is going to help the athlete improve their game. They break it down into little movements so they can build up their muscles ready for the next competition. They get the sports person to practice, practice, practice. They do their training drills, and they use different environments like the oval, ocean, or gym, to exercise different muscles. The coach guides and protects the athlete in other areas of their life so they aren’t distracted from the main game. They do dummy runs and they play the real game. After the game or competition, they have debriefed and targeted the skill areas that let them down. They continue to practice, practice, practice. This also describes the process of being a trainer-parent.
If we are to train our children we need to have the same mindset as a sports coach. We are in it for the long haul. It requires us to be consistent, helping our child learn what they need to do life well, being there alongside them, observing and ready to help them correct the things that caused them to struggle or stumble. We teach and explain and practice – over and over and over again. Do you see the analogy?
5 Stages of Training
There are 5 stages to teach – or train – our children in any area of their life.
- Know your Why
- Be a Role Model
- Teach don’t tell
- Practice and Tweak
- Be Responsible
It starts with our children not knowing and finishes or comes to an end when the child is able to be responsible for that aspect of their life.
-1- Know your why.
Before you teach your child something you need to know why it is important. There are three reasons why something is the right thing to do – obedience to God, morally right, or it’s a practical or safety issue. Before you start teaching your child that a particular action is the right action – you need to know why it is so. And you need to know how to communicate that to your child in an appropriate way.
If we continue with the sports coach analogy – they know their stuff, they’ve played the game, they understand what is required and they have their players’ best interest at heart.
As the parent – we too know what is important, and have our children’s best interests at heart. We need to be ready to teach them how to do life well.
-2- Be a role model.
Our children are watching how we do life anyway – but if we want our lessons to become a part of how children do life – we must be the example of living out the very things we are teaching. Whether this is obedience to God, living out our morals/showing character, or doing the practical life skills we want them to do.
I must say that part of being a role model to our children is showing them how to correct and grow from our mistakes. So when we do things wrong that doesn’t disqualify us from being a role model;’it gives us another opportunity to be a role model, to show our children how to pick ourselves up from a situation that hasn’t gone as we would have wanted it to. So don’t rule yourself out as a role model because you still struggle with stuff.
-3- Teach don’t tell.
Our children need to know what to do and why. Teaching is such a good word for parenting. When we tell someone something we just state the facts – once and done. Teaching on the other hand is showing and explaining the what, how, and the why. Because our children are usually concrete thinkers, especially in the younger years, our instructions need to have actions. Our children need to see what it looks like. So a part of teaching our children is to show them, and have them walk through it and do it with you – which leads to the 4th stage, Practice.
Repetitive exercise strengthens our muscles. So we need to give our children plenty of practice, with us standing by ready to help, in order for them to learn what we are teaching. If they don’t know the actions connected to what we are teaching it is just head knowledge. Our role through the practicing stage is to observe and see where they need further help. And then give them that help – this is where they may need to tweak, or change, or correct how they were doing it into a better way – to build on that skill. This is all a part of the practice aspect of training.
-5- Let them Be Responsible.
After we have shown our children what is right, we have given them plenty of opportunity to strengthen their muscles and practice doing what is right we eventually need to let them play the game – and be responsible; be responsible in this particular area we’ve been working on. This means we hold back from instruction and reminders in this particular given situation. We need to give them opportunity to make moral choice of will they or won’t they do what we have taught them to do.
When an athlete runs his first race, he may not win; he may stumble, have a bad start, or lose his rhythm and when this happens the coach is ready to help prepare for the next meet. Its not all over – there is a next opportunity. Maybe it will require more training; perhaps just some fine-tuning, maybe a complete overhaul. But the athlete has another game to play, another competition to show up for. So do our kids.
Once again this athlete/coach illustration is perfect for us as parents. We need to give our child an opportunity to be obedient, to be respectful, to be honest, etc and if they don’t make the grade, we need to be there ready to keep on going with more training; more instructions, more practice – whatever it is they need to do life well.
A coach who is training a high-performer athlete knows which skill area to hone in on; they will focus on that one area until it is performing at maximum level. There is so much for our children to learn. We need to take it one skill at a time. Train in obedience, practice obedience and let obedience happen. And then move on to something else such as love and kindness towards siblings, or orderliness and picking up toys. When our intense training is focused on so many issues all at once not only does the child get disheartened but we lose focus as well. It is as our children grow older; when they have more training, more practice, more experience that we begin to see everything come together just as you do with a seasoned athlete.
I thought I’d done all that!
Unfortunately, when our children misbehave we tend to think it is their problem, this is where the lecture comes from; we want to fix them. But the real issue is us as parents – when our children misbehave we need to recognize the need for more training and that needs to involve us! If we consider we have done a lot of training this may take us by surprise and we see it as a backward step. But it is not. It is the ebb and flow of training. It’s the ebb and flow of a child growing up and learning to be responsible for their life.
Yes, there will certainly be times where your child doesn’t want to learn, or doesn’t want to be responsible, doesn’t want to do the right thing and you will have to take time to see what is going on in their hearts and help them sort it out. But so much of what we see as conflict can be redirected when we have an attitude of training.
Heart Focused Action Step:
Since training actually starts with us – we need to have a good look at how we are engaging with our kids. Are we telling – telling once and expecting them to get it or are we training, expecting lots of repetition? Do we understand training but have we dropped the bundle and let things just slide?
I know that these heart-focused action steps can be a bit hard at times. It is hard to look at ourselves and see where we have to change. This isn’t a guilt thing. This is a maturity thing. If you can have a good look at the things that you are doing, and see where there are areas you need to grow – that is maturity. You need to then make a plan – be intentional about it. Know what triggers your impatience – and work on it. Think about what makes you feel like you don’t have enough time to do these things – ask yourself a – is that true and b- is that the way you really want it to be and c- what can you do about it.
Whenever I was overwelmed, stressed, frustrated at circumstances when my kids were little my mum would always say – what is one thing you can change that will make a difference. To be honest – she still gives me that same advice even though I know it deep in my heart. What is one thing that I can change that will make a difference in this situation. I know this can be a helpful strategy for you too.
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Saying “I’ve already told you Once!” is not training our kids: Training is a long-term project; it will not be over and done with just because we told our children something once, or even twice.
The Alert Parent gives Instructions to the Heart: The Alert parent is aware of the situations that will challenge their child’s heart – their beliefs, character, passions and emotions.
Following Instructions is an Important Life Skill: Following instructions is an important life skill for kids to learn, but so much depends on us and how we give instructions.
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