Good parents give their children roots and wings: roots to know where home is and who they are and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them. This is the contradiction of parenting—juggling the act between setting limits while simultaneously encouraging independence or ultimately teaching them the gospel and allowing them the freedom to live it.
Our worst assumption as parents is to think that our children are either too young to understand or that they do not have the ability to do what is needed. There are even times when we as parents just get too tired so we think we will teach them later.
We can liken our parenting to skydiving. We need to teach our children the safety rules, make sure the parachute fits, then the first few times we go down with them to make sure they know when to pull the cord and how to control the landing. Then we get to the point that we need to allow them to try it out for themselves.
There is a fine line between each stage of teaching and letting go. At times, it is easy to find that line when we are in situations that are not too detrimental. These are the times to practice.
When we are in a safe environment and we as parents can assist our children, or be ready to pick up the pieces and reteach if needed, then is the time to give them independence. Practice in a safe environment is what prepares children for the real-life experiences and prepares them for the hard times when you are not there. The following activities are some important guidelines and steps that make giving roots and wings to our children less complicated and more enjoyable. These steps can be adapted depending on the age of your children.
Teaching gospel principles and how they apply to our lives: giving our children roots.
1. Scriptures—In addition to encouraging personal scripture study and encouraging family scripture study, there are lots of ways to get your kids excited about the scriptures. Choose the ideas that would fit your family best.
a. Choose a weekly scripture that you recite daily at breakfast. This is good for seminary and learning the mastery scriptures your children are studying at the time.
b. Pick a subject or have your children pick a subject in the scriptures for a month. Each night before bedtime read a few verses that apply to that subject.
c. Sing songs about the scriptures. You can find recordings of these songs on lds.org under music. Some fun ones are:
i. The Books in the Old Testament
ii. The Books in the New Testament
iii. The Books in the Book of Mormon
iv. The Article of Faith songs
v. Make up your own
d. On different occasions, dress up and act out the scriptures. Or, draw pictures or make dioramas of them. Here are a few great stories to start with:
i. Christmas—Luke 2:1-19
ii. Nephi’s bow—1 Nephi 16:18-32
iii. The prodigal son—Luke 15:11-32
iv. Christ loves the little children—3 Nephi 17: 1-25
v. The tree of life—1 Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 11
2. Prayer—Help make prayer more meaningful by making family traditions around prayer.
a. Have a family motto to say at the end of evening prayers such as: Family Name ending with “are forever” (Eden’s are forever).
b. Hold hands during prayers.
c. Make it a point to say a prayer before each family event or trip.
d. Before family prayers, have each person name one thing they are grateful for. This will bring peace around any contention your family is having and it prepares hearts to be more in tune for prayer.
3. Attending Church Meetings— In order to help your kids get the most out of their Sabbath day, practice the behavior you want at home before attending meetings.
a. If you want more reverence in Sacrament meetings, start by practicing at home. Take a few minutes each day or several times a week to do sacrament meeting practice. This can be something as simple as putting on a conference talk (found on lds.org) and setting the timer for five minutes (if it is a small child). When they achieve that, celebrate. Then go for 10 minutes before the next celebration. As time goes by and abilities grow, add more quiet time.
i. For very small children this may need to be done with them quietly coloring. Use a church coloring book of some kind.
ii. With older children, they could repeat what they have learned or tell you who spoke or what they look like—anything to show they paid attention.
b. If your children struggle going to nursery or Primary, practice that behavior at home. Ask them how they would behave and how that behavior makes them feel. If they show you poor behavior during practice, ask them to come up with a better idea on how to do that. Ask what behavior would make them happy and one that would make you happy. Practice, then practice some more.
4. Teaching in the Home—Make teaching your children more than just family home evenings. Find times throughout the day to help them grow. Though this is not a formal setting to teach, it is such an important time to give children roots to grow.
a. Take advantage of any teaching moments. When a child comes home from school upset, this is a good time to just listen. Actively listen until you find out what the real problem is and help them learn to solve problems on their own.
b. Plant good seeds and set real-life goals and direction for your children so they can learn their potential. For example, as youth were gathered at the temple to do baptisms, one asked, “What does the rest of the temple look like?” An adult leader responded, “That is a good question. Let’s look it up on our phones.” After looking at pictures, the leader continued, “When you go on your mission, you’ll be able to see the rest of the temple. It is more beautiful in real life than these pictures.” The leader set a loving, encouraging goal for the youth—to serve missions.
c. Make time just to talk and fix dinner together. This is a good time to find out how their day and life is going.
All of this can feel so time-consuming. Yet the results of well-formed roots last for eternity. There is no time limit for eternal happiness.
Teaching our children life skills: giving our children wings.
The idea of wings communicates we have the power to reach higher limits, to reach our potential. That begins with the ability to be responsible for ourselves. When our children know they can take care of themselves in everyday living, this gives them wings to fly higher.
1. Housekeeping—Follow these general rules and steps for teaching children to work around the house. It’s important to know what to expect from our children. Expecting too much cam make them feel frustrated, unappreciated, and worthless. But expecting too little can have the same devastating effects. Keep in mind:
a. As babies, parents do everything for their children.
b. As they progress and grow, parents do things with their children to set an example.
c. With more progression, parents watch how their children do and correct lovingly and gently.
d. By teenage years, children should be ready to do most things by themselves.
Let’s take doing the dishes as an example: As a newborn baby, of course, we do the dishes for them. As they become toddlers they can help wash, dry, or fill a dishwasher.
By the time they are starting school, they can do dishes pretty much by themselves, so we just observe. Then they are ready to do the dishes completely by themselves.
Some chores do take longer to master. That is okay; take one step at a time.
2. Social and Emotional Intelligence—This refers to the ability to be self-aware and aware of others. Do they have the ability to understand and manage their own emotions and others' emotions in social interactions? How can we help them develop this? Here are a few ways:
a. Ask children to watch the facial expressions and body language of others in order to see how their own actions may affect others.
b. Ask how they would feel if someone repeated their actions towards them.
c. Smaller children may need to practice what it looks like to be sad, mad, or any other emotion.
d. After a negative interaction, ask your children what they could do better next time.
3. Problem Solving—When children come to you with a question, before answering them, ask them how they would answer. If they give a good answer, that shows they understand their role in life. If they give an answer that needs a little more understanding, this is a good teaching moment. Just remember to be gentle and not belittle their response.
To see our kids succeed in life and head in a good strong direction that is beneficial for their life, is by itself a great reward. As we practice strong teaching habits, we will give our kids roots and wings and the opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.
Get a free download for more ideas to teach your children: Roots and Wings Activities, written by Master Life Coach Kristena Eden.
Lead image from Getty Images.
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