© Jorg Hackemann | Dreamstime.com
How often do you find yourself saying this? As the father of five boys, I know this frustration well. Living on the edge of sanity is a common part of parenting. I love my kids, yet I catch myself allowing exasperation and stress to hijack the good dad in me, prompting the turn-up-the-volume, overwhelmed dad to take over instead. But I want to do better. Don’t we all? So this summer, my wife Amanda and I put our heads together, deciding we could, and would, do better.
Helping them grow
Like all parents, we often obsess over our kids’ physical, emotional, social, and character development. Let’s face it: Our children all have a long way to go towards becoming the responsible, respectful adults we want them to be. And in a house full of boys, it sometimes feels like it’s in their DNA to make growing up harder than it should be.
My wife and I wondered if it was possible to dial in to one point of development for each child. Essentially, we wondered what would happen if we narrowed our focus to one area of development instead of frantically trying to fix everything with mediocre results.
Our decision led to what we now call Words to Live By. We identified one growth area each boy faced that we wanted to see him develop. We then identified a single word and wrote a definition for each boy, a phrase he would work towards improving during the school year. We believed a single word gives our kids a clear target for success.
Here’s what we came up:
Drew (10) HUSTLE • I will work hard, do a good job, and refuse to be lazy.Cooper (7) TALK • I will use my words.Wesley (5) SELF-CONTROL • I am in charge of what I say and do. I will make good choices.Ford (3) OBEY • I will listen and do what mom and dad say.Joshua (1) SURVIVE • I will overcome the odds of four older brothers! (Due to his age, his word reflects something fun for our family more than a growth area for him to understand.)
Strengthen the message
To help reinforce our lesson, my wife and I created a poster of each word and hung it in the boys’ bedrooms. Their individual word is now the first thing each child sees when he wakes up and the last thing he sees before going to bed.
What happened next blew me away. My 5-year-old stopped me as I was leaving his bedroom one night, eagerly pointing to his poster, and asking, “Dad, can I say my word?” After picking myself up off of the floor from shock, I replied, “ Sure, buddy.”
He read aloud, “SELF-CONTROL. I can make good choices.” Granted, he didn’t quote it verbatim, but who cares; my son was eager to grow. It was as if having a clear target motivated him. Leaving his room that evening I wondered if all the times I’ve snapped at my kids, listing off 16 things they need to do, was actually counter-productive to their growth.
It turns out our little experiment is making us better parents, too. These words are now a normal part of family life, and we’re watching as our kids slowly begin to succeed. My son’s defiant attitude is addressed with a reminder of his word: Obey. The email from the kindergarten teacher alerting us to misbehavior at school becomes a discussion about self-control. That stubborn 7-year-old who struggles with speech apraxia is reminded of the importance of speech therapy with his word: Talk. And my boy who drags his feet when taking out the trash is gently prodded with his word: Hustle.
When we give our children a clear target to shoot for, we harness the power of focus and motivation, which can make growing up simpler for kids.
What would it look like for you to help your child focus on one key growth area? How would it feel knowing you set your child up for success? Give it a try.
Harness word power
- Consider your child’s behavior and choose one word you would like him or her to work on this year.
- Make it visual. Put his word on the wall. Kids are often visual learners, lean in to their learning style.
- Add an experience. Look for opportunities to reinforce your child’s word with a life experience. Since my oldest son’s word is hustle, I’ll be taking him to a Memphis Grizzlies game. Not only is this a great parent-child experience, it will show him why hustle is important.
- Gift their word. Leverage a holiday or birthday gift to reinforce your child’s word. For instance, my 7-year-old will receive a karaoke machine with a working microphone to reinforce his word, talk.
Andy Savage is the proud dad of five boys. He is the teaching pastor at Highpoint Church and a marriage and parenting coach. • Learn more at andysavage.com