“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
When our son Bill was four or five he carried around a wrench and pushed around a big yellow Tonka truck. He greatly admired the man that came to pump the septic tank — his big truck, the hoses and wrench, and oh yes, the gloves! He almost never played in his room. Dan, our second son, carried a toy phone around, loved the intricacies of anything miniature, and has always found his room to be a sanctuary that was his space alone. They are both developing into fine young men that we are proud of. We celebrate their differences! But more important than what these boys will DO as an occupation is what they will BE as men.
I have seen men who have lost their jobs in mid-life and are thrown entirely into a tailspin because their only identity was in what they did. Very little of their identity was found in who they were as an individual.
With our shifting, changing society, job security is almost extinct. Young people can plan to train more than once for careers that are also shifting and changing as fast as our technology advances. Stability is no longer found in what we do or where we live. It must be found in who we are; otherwise we are in danger of being crushed by the changes taking place all around us.
So how does a parent equip a child for a world that is fast evolving, and a society that is eroding, changing, and growing all at the same time? I look back over the years as our children have matured and grown. As we have pondered that question ourselves, I see one very important underlying principal: teach them to live a life of significance!
Just what does that mean? First of all, let’s look at what it doesn’t mean. Today, in our society’s desperate quest for self-esteem, we sometimes buy into the false philosophy that beauty and possessions are our score cards and our significance is measured by that. But this couldn’t be more wrong. One look at the evening news shows us daily the lives of people who have been stripped of possessions and even beauty.
Regularly we hear of people around the world who have lost everything material and many have been hurt or maimed in fierce circumstances. Some will be left only with who they are as individuals. No flash flood or earthquake can wash away their love, courage, intelligence, compassion, or their ingenuity and their faith. These are the things they are on the inside. These are the things that make one’s life significant.
In order to help your child understand their significance, here are a few things that you can do. You will come up with many others as you explore the idea of significance coming from being as opposed to doing.
- Introduce them to others using their name, demonstrating that each child matters.
- Give them chores that they are capable of doing, and truly appreciate the help and effort put forth.
- Let your children speak for themselves.
- As your children grow older,ask for their opinions concerning things that affect the family and show appreciation for their ideas. Children have amazing insights when we truly listen.
- Spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Even 10 minutes invested with direct eye contact and real listening will make a difference. Knowing they matter impacts actions dramatically.
- Trust your children and let them know you do.
- As they get older, support them in their ideas as much as possible. Dialogue more and demand/command less.
- Commend character qualities such as compassion, courage, kindness, and caring.
- When they behave in a way you disapprove of,let them know that it seems out of character for them to do so, and thus help break patterns of negative behavior.
- Teach them to help others: unsolicited and without expectation of compensation.
- Remind them daily of the value that God has given them: that they are made in his image, that he loves them beyond measure, and that he has made them for a purpose!
Letting children know they have significance builds courage and allows them to tackle the world and go after what they want. Strength of character anchors one through change as no outer accomplishment can.