(This story was first posted on Medium.com)
Parenting on the fly.
A few days ago, my wife and I were cleaning up from breakfast when my son dropped a bomb on us.
“Can adults do whatever they want, dad?” asks my 5-year-old son.
Lindsey and I looked at each other and smiled slightly. It’s always so amusing to hear what kids think about. Usually, it’s not what we expect.
My son was clearly thinking that when he’s an adult, he’ll be eating candy any time he wants. The kid seriously loves candy. Not that he doesn’t come by it honestly, since I’m a major chocoholic!
We can see him licking his lips — literally. Yet, he doesn’t ask if he can eat candy anytime he wants, he asks if adults can do anything they want.
I wonder how his mind jumped from the candy to ‘anything’?
Regardless, it was a great question.
We knew the easy answer was “yes”, but we wanted to use the moment as a teaching lesson. So, after we shared a smile, we began quickly wracking our brains for how to teach him a lesson in terms he could understand.
Taking parenting seriously.
This year, I’ve started teaching the kids a new lesson each month. We’ve talked about love, kindness, joy and a few others. Last months’ lesson was about self-control.
And was our answer: self-control. We defined the term for the kids as
Choosing to do the right thing, even when you don’t want to.
So, we told our son that adults could technically do anything they wanted, but they needed to practice self-control. Adults could do anything, but part of being an adult is choosing to do the right thing, even when we don’t want to.
“Oh, okay,” he said. And then he asked if he could have some candy.
After we enjoyed a big eye roll, we reflected on how interesting his question was.
As adults, we don’t often stop to think about the many characteristics that help us get by in this world. We take for granted things like kindness, manners, and self-control. At least, until we come in contact with another adult who is not displaying these characteristics!
My son reminded me that I am just one choice away from behaving like a child. It sounds like being an adult would be nothing but fun times, doing whatever I want. In reality, being an adult is hard.
Parenting on the fly.
Kids can be annoying with their constant questions. Oftentimes, we just blow them off with whatever words or sounds make them go away the fastest. This is a huge mistake.
We have had so many opportunities to teach our kids since deciding to be intentional about our role as parents. More than just “please” and “thank you”, we’ve been teaching them about how to be good people. We want them to live a good life, be responsible and have great relationships. This doesn’t come by accident.
So, here’s how I challenged myself.
Have a plan.
I need to know exactly what I want to teach the kids. I need to know what values are important to me, important to succeed in this life, and important to have great relationships. I literally sat down and wrote them out.
Teach constantly and consistently.
We go over each important value lesson every day. I took the time to make definitions that the kids could understand, and I make them recite all that they’ve learned back to me. My 3-year-old does okay, but my son is really getting it.
Not only do we recite these definitions together, but we constantly look for opportunities to show them examples. When they really want to leave right now for the park, but we aren’t planning to leave for another half hour, we discuss patience. If one has a toy that the other one wants, we remind them about kindness and ask them to share. When one of them hits the other, we remind them about love.
On the flip side, as parents we also have to be consistent. They are watching, and they have been known to remind us about things like patience!
Stop. Look. Listen.
Probably our biggest flaw as parents is not really listening to the kids. With three of them running around, things get hectic. We’re pretty much constantly doing some type of chore, whether cooking, cleaning, laundry or yard work, so it’s easy to tune them out.
I’ve learned that if I stop what I’m doing, look them in the eyes, and really listen to what they are saying, I have so many opportunities to teach them. They ask all kinds of crazy questions during the course of a day, and they run into a myriad of situations that could be used as object lessons.
But, I can only take advantage of these teachable moments if I’m paying attention.
I’m still working on that…
…and on self-control, just not when it relates to chocolate!
If you have a hilarious kid story, I’d love to hear about it. We’re all in this parenting thing together, you know?!