Most conscientious parents desire to help their children grow into maturity. I would like to suggest some topics that may help parents see this issue more specifically. I will take a short compilation of ideas on maturity from my book, Handbook to Joy-Filled Parenting.
I learned about maturity from the Life Model by E. James Wilder, et. al. It is a central truth of and one of my favorite topics. As I look at what maturity entails, its progression and its goals, it has helped me to realize that as parents we are not raising children, we are raising adults. That is our goal—to see our children become fully functioning adults. This worthy task will take daily attention and time over several years. Working on it may prevent some of the problems we see around us today.
In today’s world and even in the church, the task of growing maturity is seldom mentioned. We receive all sorts of messages screaming “how to” or “you should” but we don’t hear enough messages that shout, “Grow up!” I’m on a mission, when possible, to try to bring maturity into discussions whenever I encounter struggling relationships. The maturity I am most interested in is not Spiritual maturity but emotional maturity, the kind that helps us act like the age we are supposed to be. Spiritual maturity is vital, but without emotional maturity, others can be harmed by immature, self-righteous people who are full of knowledge but don’t know how to love and relate well.
We all know adults who whine, blow up and/or attack when they don’t get their way. We know adults who can’t keep a job or who spend unwisely. As I mentor and counsel people and watch children in various settings I see some maturity lacks that are similar in all ages. For now I would like to tickle your thinking about four specific areas that can help parents guide their children into maturity while checking out their own behaviors concerning these skills. It’s important to keep in mind that “More is caught than taught,” and that children will learn none of these specifics unless parents are willing to model them in their own life and give unselfishly of their time. The topics I would like to share about are: knowing how to do hard things, respecting another’s “no,” knowing what to do with disappointment, and knowing good repair skills when conflict arises.
It seems to me that many people do not understand how to do hard things, a task to be learned before the age of thirteen. Perhaps one reason for this lack in children today, besides the fact that parents have that lack, is that we have become a culture of busyness and doing the least possible to get by. It does take tons of time to parent well as we slowly and persistently teach children that homework is part of life and comes first; that delay of gratification is more important than having everything one wants-when one wants it-the way one wants it; and that seeing life from the “big picture” will go a long way towards preventing bad choices later in life. It is very hard as an adult to live within ones means financially, giving and spending the way God intends, if these values were ignored or not modeled while growing up. It is difficult to manage one’s time well as an adult if that topic was never spoken to or modeled. Remaining pure while dating will be extremely absent if children have not been taught that their choices can affect generations.
A parent who does not know how to do hard things will find it difficult to make the sacrifices of his or her time that are vital to parenting well. There is no place for selfishness when making the time consuming, hard choice to be the kind of parents who want to be involved in building character into their children’s lives. When children reach the age around four to six and do not demand as much intense attention, it can be easy to become dismissive and step back with our time and effort and allow the children to “take care of themselves.” Parents often do this without thinking and then wake up when the child reaches middle school and begins to act out. It can then be too late to reestablish a close relationship that could have been maintained with unselfish time and attention from birth to twelve. The elementary years are some of the most important for teaching values and building character.
Everyday moments bring great opportunities that over time form maturity. Noticing these opportunities is a mind-set that we can choose to have and then trust God to lead us in those moments. When there are squabbles, hurts, questions or celebrations, taking time to interact will send a deep message of value, love and acceptance to our children.
Another specific area for training towards maturity is that of helping children learn to respect the “no” of others. Siblings can be taught to respect a “no” at a very young age when someone says, “Stop” or “No, you can’t play with this right now.” If parents are aware of this aspect of maturity it can become part of everyday life by reminding them when they fail to respect a “no” and praising them when they do. Sharing of course is taught along the way also, but if we stop and think about it, we can become aware of many places conducive to training children to respect others’ “no’s.”
Along with respecting a “no,” another important task is to help children learn what to do with a “no” which often brings disappointment. This is part of returning to joy from sad and taming the nucleus accumbens, (the pleasure center of the brain) but it can be very practical and often will expose that we as parents might not do well with disappointment ourselves. It is much more difficult to take the time to work out, comfort, and/or discipline crying or a tantrum over disappointment than it is to give in. Over the years, and it may take years, children can learn to hear that “no” without falling apart and realize that they will not surely die when not getting their way. Again I see the hard choice for the parent—time and patience instead of going the easy road and giving in.
Asking for forgiveness when conflicts arise is another skill I cannot emphasize enough. When children are taught, beginning around the age of two and half to three, to say, “Will you forgive me,” instead of, “I’m sorry,” it will be an engrained habit that will serve them well in life. If you do not think it makes any difference, then try it yourself and see how much more humbling it is to say, “Will you forgive me?” That phrase allows the other person to answer “yes” or “no.” “I’m sorry” leaves only a place to say nothing or to lie and say, “Oh, that’s okay. “
My daughter-in-law, whose four girls have asked the question from toddlerhood, will not answer anything if her children try the “I’m sorry” route with her. She just remains quiet until they finally say, “Will you forgive me?” After she answers, “Of course,” joy is restored. Once again this kind of training will take time and persistence. As the children get older, we can add, “I was wrong, will you forgive me?” This can be even more difficult to say. This way of seeking forgiveness trains children to take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming others for their mistakes.
Granting forgiveness goes right along with seeking it from others. Future relationships will have fewer struggles when mature adults know how to ask for and grant forgiveness. If this is practiced in childhood with siblings and parents, it will easier down the road. When someone asks, “Will you forgive me?” the offended one can say either, “Yes,” or “No” or “I’m not ready yet.” In a family where this kind of practice is normal, the children do not stay very long in the latter two answers. Return to joy is accomplished quite quickly and fear of ruptures is non-existent, another mature skill to carry into life.
Taking the tons of time needed to build and guide children through the maturity tasks will be very rewarding and worth the effort as we watch our children enter adulthood better equipped to thrive. Selfless parenting can help prevent many problems that will arise from immaturity issues such as “infants” marrying other “infants or children” and then “babies” having babies. Young adults will be more likely to succeed in school and careers, spend and give money as God designed, and have better relationships by respecting another’s “no.” Realizing that disappointments are part of the entire journey of life and learning to suffer well in them will help life go a bit easier because they will already know that joy comes after feeling sad and/or not getting one’s way. I hope these four topics will encourage us that maturity is an extremely important and necessary path worth considering in everyday issues that arise in our relationships with our children. For more on instilling matuity, see Part 2
(My Workbook for the Handbook to Joy-Filled Parenting contains a comprehensive list of questions that can help parents with maturity skills).