Top Ten Ways to Establish Lasting Relationships with Your Children
By Christopher Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #51, 2003.
Your children need more than a rulebook and minimal teaching involvement. They need their parents to have a relationship with them. Here are ten ways in which to do that.
Raising children is hard work. Scripture tells us that "Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child" and each one of us as parents can testify that this is true. Therefore, raising children involves much watchful supervision and many rules enforced by loving discipline. We have to make sure our children learn their academic subjects as they homeschool. We have to constantly create and implement new rules in order to keep order in the house and to teach the children how to live productive lives. We are constantly saying, "Don't touch that," "Stay away from the fireplace," "Keep your room clean," "Do your chores," "Don't hit your brother," "Don't talk disrespectfully," "Pick up your clothes," "Finish your math problems," "Don't procrastinate," "Rewrite that paper," and many other thousands of daily instructions.
Sometimes enforcing the rules is all we can do to get by. However, we must remember that simply enforcing the rules will not make us a success in homeschooling and in raising our children. The Bible says that we must "not provoke your children to wrath but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Many Scriptures demonstrate that parents have the responsibility and authority to train their children. To nurture our children, as Ephesians 6:4 says above, means that we have to know our children intimately. This involves shepherding their hearts. This means developing a close relationship with our child - the type of relationship a hired teacher can never have.
When it comes down to it, relationship is what really matters. We need to make sure that we develop the relationship as necessary to train not just our children's minds and bodies, but their hearts. Here are a few tips for establishing lasting relationships with your children.
1. Be Sure You Keep Your Promises
Ephesians 6:4 states that we should not provoke our children to wrath. One way we can do this is by keeping our promises. There is nothing worse than telling your child that you will take them on a canoe trip and then last minute cancel out because you believe there is something more important. As far as your children are concerned, we need to make them a priority. Obviously, there will be some occasions where promises have to be broken because circumstances have changed. As often as possible, do not make promises but when you do, keep them.
2. Confess Your Sins To Your Children
Your children need to see you admit that you have made a mistake or have sinned. It is hard for most of us to admit we're wrong under any circumstance. Pride often gets in the way. However, we need to die to ourselves and openly and quickly confess our sins before our children, particularly if they have observed an instance where we have sinned in their presence. For example, if I argue with my wife in front of my children or they overhear me, I quickly gather my children together and confess my sin. I explain to them that I have already confessed my sin to God and he has forgiven me and then I ask them for forgiveness as well. There is nothing sweeter than feeling the hugs of your children and sometimes tears when they forgive you. This will help build a lasting, deep, and real relationship with your children, when they know that mom and dad are sinners too and are willing to admit what they did wrong.
If we always pretend that we were justified in yelling at them or losing our temper or having some other sinful response, we are sending them two messages. The first message is that we are being hypocrites. Secondly, we send them a message that we have double standards. This type of approach will simply drive wedges between us as parents and our children.
3. Be Transparent
It is as important to be transparent as it is to confess our sin to our children. Our children need to be aware, to at least a limited extent, of our fears, concerns, hopes, and dreams. Our children need to see that we are regular people like they are who rely on God's strength. They must understand that we realize our weaknesses and strengths and regularly seek God for his wisdom. Then our children will begin to follow our example and will look to the Word of God to be a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path. Your children can grow closer to you when they perceive that you are being totally honest and not putting on a false front.
4. Always Be Available
In this day and age of technology, we have no excuse for not being available to our children. With cell phones, email, and fax machines, we should always be accessible to our children. Every day fathers have appointments and projects where they have to meet deadlines and hold meetings. As fathers, we are very careful to keep those deadlines and appointments. However, it is often the case that when our children want or need to meet with us we shuffle them aside for what is "more important."
Mothers can do the same as they go through the day trying to make sure the shopping is done, the field trip happens, and the studies are completed. Both moms and dads can sometimes leave their children's hearts behind. If we want to be truly close to our children we need to be always accessible to them so that they can reveal their fears and concerns and deepest needs. Reassure them that they are more important than your job and other daily tasks.
5. Write Notes of Encouragement
If have found that one of the most effective ways to reassure my children that I really care is to write them notes. When they see that Dad or Mom take the time away from their busy schedule to write a note to them expressing their love and appreciation, it will have a major impact. When our children see that our love for them is real, it also encourages them in the areas where they need encouragement. It is an opportunity to express thanks for their faithfulness and their ability to handle more and more responsibility. In our notes we can bring out the best in our children while forging the bonds of our relationship even tighter. I try to make a point to give my three older children a note at least once a month. I've noticed that they keep those notes and are always very thankful to receive them.
6. Listen to Your Children
In the hubbub of our daily lives, we often will keep up with the news concerning our children and make certain rules are kept, but will forget to listen to our children's hearts. Our children quickly will develop facades and try to cover up their feelings. This will require us to probe and ask them deep questions so that we can find out what they're thinking and feeling. This requires time that we need to set aside to listen carefully.
Just like when we deal with our spouses, we cannot simply throw solutions at them. We need to come alongside them to understand why they're feeling this way and identify with them as best we can. Then our children will know that we truly care and our relationship will grow deep as a result.
7. Never Cut Your Child Off
I have seen certain parents who train their children and hold them up to a very high standard. Then these parents are devastated when their children don't meet those standards. All of us have to teach our children God's words and urge them to follow the standard of Jesus Christ. I explain to my children often that they are not to look to me as the standard or to my wife, but to Jesus Christ. My wife and I will fail and sin, but they will be responsible for whether or not they keep the ways of Jesus Christ. If they follow our sinful habits or patterns, that is no excuse. We want them to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.
The temptation sometimes is, when our children are older and they do not reach these standards, to cut them off. I urge every parent to never cut their child off but to always pour love upon their children and try to love them through the rebellion or difficulty. I Corinthians 13 lays out the importance that God places on loving each other, forgiving each other, and not keeping a record of wrongs. Unless they have done a very heinous sin which requires the church to enter in and exercise church discipline, we need to faithfully reach out to them, even as the father in the parable of the prodigal son. We must always remember that Jesus loved us while we were enemies and gave his life for us. Can we do no less with our children?
8. Warn Them of the Dangers Ahead
Since our children are not in public school, they do not have the opportunity to experience many of the temptations and sinful practices of the world. We need to make sure that we explain to our children what temptations to expect, so that they are not completely surprised when they are on their own. This requires time and consideration. We obviously want to make sin look as offensive as possible so that they will not be tempted. We need to explain the consequences of the sin. We need to show them how God feels about the sin and how much it hurts Him. Of course, we need to emphasize that these sins, which they will be tempted to commit, will endanger their own souls, which has consequences forever.
We also need to show them how foolish these temptations are, and give them real-life examples of people who fall into these temptations and the results. Whenever I hear a story of a family whose child has rebelled and turned away from the Lord, I share those stories with my children. My hope is that my children will learn from the examples of these others who have gone before them, and avoid their mistakes. I usually don't reveal who these families are but simply let them know that they are real-life examples and if they learn now, they will be able to recognize the danger signs and steer clear.
9. Share Burdens
Our children have many feelings and burdens that they carry. We need to come alongside them and help them carry those burdens. I have lived with multiple sclerosis for eight years. My children see me slowly losing ground as the nerves are being gradually eaten by the disease. My children silently carry the burden of the fear and sadness for my condition. As I have talked to them and asked them how they feel, I find out that some of my older children have many frustrations and concerns over my disease and the future. My wife and I help our children carry those burdens and show them that they must cast their burdens upon the Lord, because he will sustain them. By knowing what our children's concerns are, we can help them place their trust in the right place; that is, in the hands of God. God promises us that he will be there with us and that he will not give us more than we can handle. It is difficult to train our children in this area unless we know their hearts and have taken the time. The more we help carry our children's burdens, the closer knit our families will be.
10. Forgive Quickly
Scripture says that we forgive because Christ forgave us. Oftentimes, when our children sin, we take it personally. We should try to squelch our own pride in the situation and simply realize that our children are sinners and will disappoint us. However, our goal should not be to defend our own pride, but to train their never dying souls. Certainly, discipline is important in the family and our children have to receive consistent discipline. However, forgiveness is even more important. Sometimes we will discipline a child and send them off crying, knowing that the rule was enforced, but we have left a broken heart behind. We need to make sure that we pray with our child and have them identify their sin, pray to God for confession, and then forgive them ourselves. I always let my children know that after discipline they are starting with a clean slate and they can move forward and with God's help not repeat that sin. I want to make sure that I do not bring the sin up again as well, so that they know that my forgiveness is real. As parents, we are pictures of God in their lives as to how he forgives them as well. As we forgive them, they will grow more endeared to us and our relationship will be much more lasting.
These are just a few ways to help you in your daily training of your children to not get lost in all the rules and the work to be done each day, but to take time to truly get to know your children. This will have an effect on them for their whole lives, if not even for eternity. One friend of mine had children who turned away from the Lord and he explained to me, with a choking voice, what they said to him. They said, "Dad, you cared more about the rules than you cared about us." We never want that to be said in our home. Although we have rules that we do keep, they are certainly secondary to the outpouring of love, forgiveness, and mercy that we try to extend to our children on any other basis. Sometimes the balance is hard to reach, but with God's help we can.