A couple of months ago, I promised I would share more gifts you can give to your children – not from the perspective of changing the child so much as changing the parent. These are not textbook theories; they were gleaned in the furnace of mistakes and struggles for solutions.

Children do not come with instruction manuals taped to their chests. I wonder if we would read them even if they did. If you are like me, you look for the pictures and do the “this looks like this goes here and that goes there” approach. Then we turn on the contraption and hope it works.

The scriptures are a guide and would have helped, if I had approached them in the right way. Remember I was a 38-year-old spinster who had been trained in the textbook theories of child rearing. I wanted my children to turn out not having to go through the same trials I went through, so I absorbed textbook theories like a sponge – and I was sure they were right.

You see, there is a certain pride that gets in the way when you trust in the “arm of flesh.” There was the “time-out” theory, the “praise until it gets annoying” theory, the “natural consequence” theory and the “punishment and reward” theory. Those are not the exact names, but you get the picture.

I tried all of them before I came up with something that works: Read the scriptures and pray for each child individually. Get to know each child personally. Spend time with each one. Express love often and pray with and about each one. The Lord will tell you what you need to do.


With that said, I could stop writing now and you would be blessed, but there are two more gifts that I want to share that don’t seem obvious when you read the scriptures. I wish I had learned them before almost all of my children were raised.

Principle Three: Teach your children by example that they can do hard things, and give them a chance to prove themselves. (Click here for Principles one and two.)

The scriptures are full of examples of people who proved that they could do hard things. Think of Adam and Eve forging a pattern for the family of man out of the sorrow and hardship of “the lone and dreary world” after they had been pampered in the Garden of Eden. It had to have been hard.

Think of Noah hammering out the ark and gathering the animals two by two. That had to have been hard. It was probably hard for him to leave those he loved stranded in the rainstorm because they would not repent. I’m sure the days on the ark were not a picnic in the park. I’ll bet it was a real pain.

Think of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. He ran away from Potiphar’s wife – right into prison. He had every reason to be bitter and angry at the Lord for his trials, but he had a firm conviction that he would serve the Lord no matter how hard it was.

Joseph could do hard things. It probably wasn’t easy to store seven years of grain. There were probably seemingly insurmountable challenges, but Joseph, in his life of could-be ease as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, did not shrink from “hard things.” Men of character choose to climb high mountains and swim in deep water. They are not men of ease.

We must remember Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They could have chosen the life of ease. They could have followed the crowd, but they were accustomed to doing “hard things.” Daniel faced the lions in a den because he chose to pray instead of follow the crowd. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced the fiery furnace.

The young men answered the King. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
—Daniel 3:17-18

They not only told the king they knew their God could save them, but if He chose not to save them, they would not forsake Him anyway. What courage and loyalty. These young men were taught self-worth by doing hard things.

Moses was another example of someone who chose to do “hard things.” He was raised in the lap of luxury in Pharaoh’s court. He had servants and people who would do his bidding, but he abandoned all of it to save his people.

Where did Moses learn to do hard things? Remember his real mother became his wet nurse. She helped him to realize what was at stake and what his mission would be. She was successful because he followed her teachings – not the teachings of Egypt.

I have learned that mothers don’t have much time to teach their children before the world takes them away. They must make every minute a golden opportunity to help their children realize that they can accomplish much more than they think they can. They must teach them the way they should go while they are young, and when they are old they will not depart from it.

Today, many children are coddled by Baby Einstein and the television. Those impressionable years of a mother’s touch and a mother’s words are lost as she spends her time in personal pursuits trying to be everything to everyone. Children need their mothers to teach them the truths of eternity early. Infants can hear the stories of Jesus. Infants can listen to a mother’s lullaby no matter how well or how poorly she thinks she sings.

A 1-year-old can understand what it means to share and be charitable. A 2-year-old can understand that he can have his own way if he is willing to obey, and if he throws a temper tantrum he will not get what he wants no matter how hard he kicks or screams.

A 3-year-old can feel the triumph of helping her mother do the dishes and putting away her own toys. Young children can understand if you choose the right path, you will be happy. If you choose the wrong path, it doesn’t work out very well. Four-year-old and 5-year-old children can learn to take responsibility for their own actions.

By the time they are 6 and 7 years old, they can be taught to do hard things. They don’t need to be forced, just taken along. Dads can take them on hikes and let them sleep out under the stars and have a talk about God and the universe. Moms can expect them to help care for younger children.

They can help wash the car, run the vacuum and wash the dishes without a dishwasher. They can learn to quilt, sew and do leather work. They can learn to survive in the wilderness. They can help plan and conduct family meetings. Children are limited only by our own beliefs. We must trust them to do hard things and give them responsibility to prove themselves.

In pioneer times, Warren Reed Tenney had a son who, with a friend, took a team and wagon full of freight about 80 miles from St. Johns to Fort Apache, Arizona. They had to stand on boxes to harness the animals. They were responsible for making sure they didn’t get lost.

They fixed their own meals and were able to return safely. You would think the boys were teenagers with some skill. No, they were 8 years old. They must have been taught to harness horses and to drive a wagon long before they turned 8. Dad must have trusted that they could do the task long before he sent them on their journey. Warren Reed Tenney was a devout Christian and would have left his son and his friend in the hands of the Almighty.

Of course, we must be wise in what we let our children do alone today. There are many more dangers in our society than there were in the woods of early Arizona. We must go with them and teach them before we let them experiment on their own. But we must realize that children are much more capable than we give them credit for.

If we teach our children that they can do difficult things, their confidence and self-esteem will grow. We must allow them to experiment and to try new tasks even if they scratch their knees and elbows trying.

We must compliment them on a job well done, even if it is not the job we would do, but we must also let them know that a job done with little effort is not acceptable. We must expect the best from ourselves and, by default, our children will get the picture. PD