How do you prepare your child to hold true to their values and beliefs when you aren’t there to reinforce them? I’m not just talking about the big things, like obeying rules. I’m thinking about things that may seem really minor, especially to your child.
Here’s a good example - A friend’s ten-year-old daughter just got back from visiting her cousin who lives out of town. She went for five days straight. While the two families have many major things in common - like being the same race and religion, there are a few “little things” they do quite differently. Their eating habits is one such thing.
My friend feeds her family 100% organic. Occasionally they eat sweets, but when they do, the sugar is raw organic and the desserts are all homemade. “Mom...did you know they make cookies in a box?” her daughter asked her one night on the phone. She thought it was the coolest thing. That is, until she and her cousin ate the whole box of cookies.
My friend’s daughter also watched a scary movie - something my friend would never allow. So long story short, the vacation amounted to a really bad tummy ache and several nights of not being able to sleep because she was scared out of her wits. Five days that could have been a blast had turned into a total nightmare (literally!).
That got me to thinking about my own sons. As they grow up, they will be spending more time away from me. They’ll go to parties, sleepovers, and maybe even on vacations without me. How could I prepare them to make constructive decisions?
First and foremost, I concluded that I needed to clarify what things were family rules and what things were just “good things to do.” Being kind, not arguing or fighting, not lying,...there are many rules that apply anywhere my children go and I am sure the same is true in your family. Communicating those things to our children is very important.
Then, I thought of “the other things.” I will tell you right now, I’m not 100% organic by any stretch of the imagination. But, I take pride in feeding my family nutritiously. I can assure you, my sons never get to eat a whole box of cookies.
I believe it is important to let my sons decide some things for themselves as they get older. I will also allow them to pay the price when they make poor choices. When they spend the night with a friend, if they chose to stay up all night, that’s fine. But, if it’s a church night, I won’t let them skip church or sleep during the service. If they watch a scary movie, I won’t let them sleep with the light on because they are scared. I don’t feel I’m being cruel. I’m just helping them to learn that good choices produce good results and poor choices...well, they can give you a tummy ache. I think the key is to help them to transition from thinking of things as values set for them into adopting the values as their own.
In addition, I feel we should draw attention to the good decisions our children make. “Excellent choice!” when he picks an apple over a candy bar. “Good call,” when your tween tells you she got at least a little sleep at the Saturday night sleep-over. Our children will appreciate when we recognize and reinforce their positive decisions and hopefully, that’s what they’ll remember when they are faced with even tougher choices.
And yet another suggestion is that we try our best to offer good alternatives. My friend was thoughtful enough to send healthy snacks with her daughter. Ultimately, she did not choose them. Next time...I bet she will.
My thoughts about my friend’s daughter’s experience dove even deeper though. I started thinking further on down the line. What will happen when my sons go on dates, go to teen parties, and oh my goodness...get to college? My hope and prayer is that by me letting go a little for them to learn small lessons on their own, they’ll be better equipped to make bigger, more important things later.
If the time ever comes that one of my sons is offered alcohol or drugs, I hope they will see the situation for what it really is. Sure, they could possibly do it without me finding out. But, I want them to realize that there are consequences for all things that aren’t good for us. Getting sick, going to jail, getting expelled from school...those are all very serious possibilities. It’s not just about “getting away” with something.
Thank goodness my sons are not the age I need to worry about those things yet. And, hopefully I’ll NEVER have to. But if that day ever does come, I hope that I have taught my sons well enough that they “get it.”