Time is Limited!
As co-parents of 5 active children, my wife and I determined early on that we would only have a limited time to create lasting and hopefully character building experiences as a family. We watched older children of other family’s, age and leave the nest to form their own family; the opportunity to create personal and family experiences had passed for the parents. Their role would change from leader to supporter; in many cases from parent to grandparent. The season of creating meaningful family experiences diminished…
UNLESS … they built within their family a legacy of enjoying time together and experiencing life together, even as they raised their own family and developed their own legacy of family experiences.
Have a Plan…
The first step in having experiences with family begins with a plan. The parent(s) must decide what they want to achieve with their children. What lessons of life do they want to teach? Which character attributes do they want to instill?
As one of our boys grew to adolescence, we noticed that when he greeted an adult he looked down at the floor when being introduced. We recognized a deficiency that needed experience, so we planned family activities around being introduced to others. This included attending weddings, funerals, business events, and church gatherings. Before long this deficiency was no longer prevalent in this particular child, or our family in general, as his siblings also benefited from these experiences.
It’s all about the experience!
One of our character goals was to develop leadership skills in our children. Now this can be quite a challenge since not all children, ours included, naturally possess the leadership temperament. But it is our belief that if it is a skill, it can be learned.
So, along the way we provided opportunities for our children to plan, schedule, and assign responsibilities to other family members during family events and activities. We were careful not to impose negative reaction to failed attempts at developing leadership, but it didn’t take long for the more creative children to use that effort in their defense when they made wrong choices, which ended them in the time-out corner.
The cry of “But mom, I was only practicing my leadership skills,” took me back to my own leadership development as early as kindergarten.
An experience in Leadership?
It was a cold, frosty morning in my home town of Holbrook, AZ, and as my schoolmates and I waited anxiously for the school doors to be unlocked and warmth again to once again thaw our frozen bodies, I remembered the ring of keys I so proudly wore on my belt loop. My father was manager of the local Ford Motor Company and he had given me these spare keys to play with.
Feeling desperate to get inside, I crept down the steps of the building which led to a door. I had no idea where the door led, but I knew on the other side offered warmth. I tried a few keys without success as my fellow classmates hung over the steel railing about 8 feet above me, cries of encouragement replaced with groans with each failed attempt.
Then success! The key inserted… and turned! I froze with excitement as I processed what had happened, only to be jarred back to reality by the cheering of my schoolmates. I had successfully become their leader.
With the door ajar, I moved to open it widely and felt the warm air immediately rush out to greet me. And the cold stare of Custodian Reynolds leaning on a mop handle. I had successfully entered the girl’s bathroom!
Leadership training often comes at a price, and being hauled to the principal’s office so early in the morning, sitting on a hard, wooden chair for what seemed like hours for my father to come, gave me time to think… and worry!
Allow wiggle room…and growth
Back in the day, strict adherence to rules and common courtesies were enforced with an iron hand, or whatever tool might be readily available to “teach a lesson.” But parents who hold a child to strict adherence to rules without allowing occasional “crossing the white lines” may find that the child, as an adult refuses to take normal risks in life which are necessary to social and economic success.
It’s all about the experience.
My parents, although known for imposing a non-tolerance for certain social behavior (breaking out their car headlights with a hammer at the age of 5 years old, or shooting out the postmaster’s rear window of his 1949 Ford coupe, with a power BB gun as he headed home from work) were wise enough to choose their battles without breaking my spirit for adventure and curiosity. Yet they burned into my psyche a fear and respect for authority and laws. Did that keep me from being summoned before Judge Shelley’s court, for drag racing? Not really. But I learned from my experiences as I grew that there would be consequences resulting from ALL choices.
Without being clinical about it, my wife and I developed parenting skills from a combination of our own upbringing, as well as outside sources. We read parenting books, attended parenting classes at church, and formed lasting relationships with other parents who were going through similar experiences. We thought about who our children would become, and tried to plan personal and family experiences that would give each child a chance to develop skills that we saw in them.
The PBS link to “The Whole Child” recommends activities such as “field trips, celebrating holidays and activities with other ethnic groups, and encouraging children to bring visitors to school,” to enhance the creative process in our children. (http://www.pbs.org/wholechild/providers/play.html)
As I look back on it, there were at least 5 character traits/skills we hoped our children would individually possess, not necessarily in order of importance:
1) Leadership -capable of making independent decisions
2) Faith in a Supreme Being
3) Socially functional
4) A work ethic
5) A love of music
This list is in no way complete, but is shared with the intent to provide an “example” of a visual plan of what is important to the parent(s) to instill in their children before the world has its way.
As you look over the areas of emphasis you choose to instill into your children, you can begin to see how this is a “first step” in planning activities that provide experiences to enhance and strengthen.
What about those “unplanned” experiences?
Although being on the hot seat for breaking into the Elementary School Girls Restroom brought the wrath of a concerned parent, it also opened the way for lessons to be taught and learned.
Isn’t that a purpose of family, to provide a safe environment for our children to learn and grow, as they become exposed to life’s experiences?
Thinking back to the time when our children were experiencing life’s challenges as they grew, I remember such outcries as: “you don’t trust me.” Or “You don’t think I’m capable.” Years later it would dawn upon us that we were often negligent in turning lemons (poor choices and actions of our children, often creating unplanned experiences) into lemonade. We were not using these infractions against rules as teaching moments. We were just “reacting” rather than teaching.
We can’t always be prepared to teach when life’s unplanned events occur, but we can develop a mindset to become more aware of those opportunities.
Planning experiences which serve to enhance and support the development of character traits takes thought and getting to know your child’s interests and temperament (more on this in future posts) on a deeper level than most parents feel they have time to give. But those of us who feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of parenthood, let alone learning to understand and create a plan for each child’s character development will soon find that advance planning of experiences will become a key to unlocking time we didn’t know we had… as well as the opportunity to create character traits and relationships with our children that will last a lifetime – and beyond.
It’s all about the experience…
For twenty strategies (and proven activities) to help your children develop good character traits, visit Character Ed.net at http://charactered.net/parent/parenttwenty.asp
(If you happened to miss part 1 of Chuck’s blog post entitled “It’s All About The Experience,” read it in the Archives section dated Feb 9, 2015)