Yesterday, we began looking at the fact that parents are the primary shapers of faith and values in the lives of their children, significantly outranking the influence of friends and other leaders at any stage of a person’s upbringing. Although 75% of children would come to faith under the age of ten because of parental influence, this figure is still 33% beyond the age of twenty. Not bad given the much lower likelihood of twenty-somethings undergoing such a change, anyway.
We saw, too, that how parents live out their own personal faith helps to shape values in children that stay with them into their adult lives. This is much more important than just knowing what to say. So let’s look at some keys to effective role-modelling that will increase the likelihood of favourable outcomes with our kids, even though there are never any guarantees in life.
1. Spend quantity time, not just quality time. The idea here is intentionalising one-on-one time. Even if under pressure, ask about the day at school and ask open-ended questions that don’t just prompt a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Read a book for younger children or play a favourite board game or video game. Developing relationship is what makes it more likely for kids to talk about life choices or pressure moments when they need to.
2. Eat meals together. Related to quantity time, this creates a crucial opportunity for parents to speak into kids’ lives collectively. You challenge what the ‘other kids’ say and do. You also steer conversations along the lines of values and choices, intentionally discussing hypotheticals and actuals in a family-based discussion.
3. Showcase your own moral triumphs. This is not bragging, but taking advantage of the situations in which you have exercised willpower or discretion or honesty, etc., to show your kids what to do. Talk up good examples from the lives of others, too.
4. Pray with and for your children. At the very least (and for those without a faith) this build empathy and demonstrates care and understanding. However, deliberately invoking the help of God in relation to everyday concerns is critical to showing children how God answers prayer and this makes faith tangible. When some prayer are answered and others are not, this develops a ‘real’ faith and not a shallow and simplistic one.
5. Intentionally discuss tough topics. Money, sex, ethics, faith, death, etc. are all easy subjects to avoid. Many parents think they’ll have a ‘birds-and-the-bees’ talk ‘one day’. Similarly, they think they’ll deal with awkward subjects when they come up. Often, that day doesn’t come and parents can miss golden opportunities to prise open the door on many key subjects that can be well discussed sooner rather than later because of a healthy relationship. Again, it is the proactivity and the willingness to discuss that is important, and not just the content of what is said. Kids will get values shaped from elsewhere, so countering poor examples with the louder voice of a parent is vital to healthy outcomes.
6. Be big enough to apologise. We don’t always get it right. It is important to teach kids that because they won’t either, it is vital to handle those moments. Grace under fire, honesty rather than face-saving ‘white lies’, restoration of relationships, are all important lessons and they get taught best from the actions of parents. Say no to hypocrisy!
7. Love unconditionally. Your significant other, your kids, even people who annoy you. If we show kids that people are only deserving of our attention, support or love when they behave according to our desires, then you develop children who become selfish and hard-hearted. If I believe that God loved me enough to save me, even in my sin, then how much more should I not reflect that love to others rather than to pretend a right to hold grudges?