By Joey and Carla Link
May 25, 2022
Does your child know why he needs to hold your hand when you are getting ready to cross a street? Do your kids know why they need to ask permission before they go out in the yard? Do your kids know why you think it is a big deal they keep their room clean? Do your kids know why it is important to treat those everyone else ignores with kindness and respect?
Please don’t ever assume your kids know the “why”. And when they ask you “why” please take a couple minutes and explain it to them. We get so busy things slip between the cracks. When we tell them to pick up their rooms, we expect they know what we mean by that and they know they should do it just because you want it done. After all, how difficult can it be to pick up their rooms? What’s missing when you walk by their room later on and find their stuff somewhat rearranged, but the room still a mess? The why and the how. That is what is missing.
When you give your kids a task to complete, you have a picture in your mind of how it should look like when it is done. Do your kids come up with the same picture? The only way they could is if you have carefully showed them how you want it done, and this must be age-appropriate. When my girls were in preschool, I had their toys in bins. I would carefully sort them each week into the bins, and expected them to stay that way when the girls put their toys away. They didn’t stay that way and the toys would be such a jumble the girls could never find the toy they were looking for, which caused all of us frustration.
My mom was visiting one time when this happened, and she asked me how the girls knew what went into each bin, as they were all the same color. She also told me “Pick up your room” was too big of an instruction to a preschooler and I needed to break it down for them. We went out and got different colored bins. That problem was solved, as all I had to do then was say, “put your books in the red bin and come back to me when you are done.” When they told me the books were in the red bin, I told them to put their dolls in the yellow bin and so on until the room was clean.
With older kids, do they know exactly what you expect to see when you say, “Pick up your room?” My 10 year-old son once said to me, “My room is picked up!” He had picked everything up off the floor and put them in piles on his dresser and shelf. We set some boundaries that worked for both of us. During that conversation he asked me why it was a big deal if his room was picked up or not? After all none of his friends kept their rooms clean. I told him the room belonged to us. We were letting him use it. When you used something that didn’t belong to you it is your responsibility to do what the owner wants done with it. We talked about other examples like doing what his employer wants done whether he agreed with it or not, about obeying the laws when he started to drive and so on. We really didn’t have a problem with his room not being picked up during his teen years.
“Be good” “Stay out of trouble” and “Settle down” are neutral statements. Do you really expect your kids, especially if they are with other kids to stop and define what ‘good’ or ‘trouble’ looks like, or to know what you mean by ‘settle down’? A different way of handling this would be to say, “Stay out of trouble. Give me two examples of what you think I mean by trouble.” ‘Trouble’ can vary given the circumstance, so having them define it on the spot puts you and your child on the same page.
Instead of telling your son to be kind to his sister, ask him to give you one way he can show kindness to her. If he doesn’t know, have him sit until he comes up with something. Then ask him if he is willing to do what he came up with at that time. Again, if he says no, he sits until he is willing.
The best way to teach your children the ‘moral reason why’ is to talk about it as you go about the normal tasks of the day. When you read a book to a young child, ask a couple questions like, “Why do you think the elephant thought he should be kind to the turtle?” When my kids could read for themselves, when I was making dinner or folding laundry, I would ask one of them to come and read to me and then we could talk about ‘the moral reason why’.
Asking questions will tell you what they know. One of my daughters was impulsive and always wanted to be first. To work on this, we told her she had to wait to get in the car when we were going somewhere until her siblings got in. I asked her why I wanted her to do this, and she immediately said it was because she pushed her way in to be first and didn’t care if someone got hurt in the process. When I asked her why this was wrong, she said because she should never hurt someone. That was an acceptable answer for a 1st grader. When teaching your children the ‘moral reason why’, please keep in mind that it changes, not in definition but in application with age. Keep your ‘defining’ as simple as they have the maturity to understand.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Being consistent in giving your children the moral reason why throughout their lives is the foundation for them to grow into wise men and women who understand God’s way is always the best way.