I wrote this article in November 2006. Though it was originally written in the context of home schooling, somehow I think it's also appropriate for adults in light of the recent financial crises. I will follow it up in a few days with the handouts from a class I am teaching Monday for English, including an essay called "What Will It Take to Forge Our Character?")
Preparing Children for the Storms of Life
The storms of life will come and go, but will your child be prepared or be blown away? In some ways, home schooling shelters children from many storms of life – appropriately so! In other ways, it can prepare them to be even more effective in dealing with challenging and disappointing situations. This process takes effort on the parents’ part as they try to discern the balance of sheltering and preparing. There are many ways any parent can help prepare a child for weathering the storms of life.
Cultivate a sense that God is in control, no matter what happens. Show how faith, hope, and love can conquer depression, fear, and anger. We don’t always understand what is happening, but we can trust a sovereign God. In showing God’s providence and our need for perseverance, you can use Bible stories (such as Joseph, Ruth, or David), Bible verses (such as Psalm 43:5, James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:26-39, 1 Peter 1:6-9, and Habakkuk 3:17-19), hymns and worship songs, and prayer. Many children are disillusioned when they pray and God doesn’t answer like they want him to. Explain that sometimes he answers yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Share stories from your own life when you asked God for something that would not have been good for you, and how you are glad you didn’t get your own way. You can also model a wholesome response to trials in your own life. Your children are always watching you!
Equip your child with both skills and responsibility ahead of time. Don’t coddle your children – challenge them! If you make life too easy for them, they will never be strong enough to face the outside world. Stretch them appropriately in their academics and household chores, and don’t let them give up on an assignment just because they think it is too hard. Press on! Children who have learned to value responsibility and duty over comfort and convenience will have more inner strength to face challenges in life. There are also specific skills you can teach that will help your child prevent or solve problems. Be sure to cover time management, money management, organization skills, household repair, etiquette, and communication, etc. With younger children, play “What If?” games, asking what they could do if they got lost at the mall, or another child dared them to do something wrong. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Teach Biblical peacemaking concepts. Walk them through how to resolve interpersonal conflicts, which are usually either the cause or result of so many of life’s storms. Peacemaker Ministries (www.peacemaker.net) has many wonderful resources.
Let your child “own” his trials. You can comfort them and brainstorm with them, but don’t be quick to offer easy answers. Make it a dialogue, where you are merely coaching them through solving their own problems. Give plenty of time – don’t rush through this process! Follow up later on to see how well they are coping with the aftermath, and if there is any bitterness or confusion. Teach your children to think ahead of time about the consequences of their choices. “If I do this, then that could happen.” Let them suffer the natural consequences of their own poor behavior, since they will learn from that more than from a lecture. Do not let them whine, sulk, or manipulate others. Hold them responsible for their share of conflicts, rather than simply blaming the other party to salvage a child’s feelings. If you see your child reacting to a frustration with bitterness, accusation or impatience, stop them and role play a calm, wholesome response. I no longer allow my children to yell, “THIS IS STUPID!” Instead, they may say, “I don’t understand this.” And finally, encourage your child to look for a life lesson that God is trying to teach them through this lesson. If they caused their own problem, they could learn to repent and prevent situations from happening like this again. In a situation that was not the child’s fault, they can learn patience to endure, faith in God’s care, and compassion for others who are suffering. Be sure to point out “evidences of grace” that you see in your child’s life because of this trial that has helped them to mature.
In your home schooling time, be aware of teachable moments. Read plenty of heart-reaching books where the people face difficult circumstances. Talk about what they did that was appropriate, and what they did that wasn’t. Biographies, well-written fiction, and even history text books can be so vital! The time periods of the early church persecutions, the Reformation, the American Revolution, slavery, Civil War, Holocaust, Civil Rights era, and others provide many examples you can use in teaching how to deal with adversity. We also like the animated history videos produced by NEST (www.nestfamily.com), since they show the struggles that famous people have faced. While studying science, point out instances in the natural world where “adversity” is necessary to produce the best results, such as precious metals being refined, gemstones being hacked out of the ground and chiseled into shape, muscles being exercised, tree roots growing deep for nourishment and anchoring, etc. Math can be a major source of frustration. However, it can model more general problem solving principles, such as staying calm in the knowledge that the problem is here to teach you something valuable, following any instructions, breaking it down into smaller parts, thinking through the different options, working carefully with keen attention to detail, asking for help when necessary, and checking to make sure the solution is reasonable. See how even the academic aspects of home schooling can prepare your child for facing the storms of life? What a blessing!
I hope that these ideas are as helpful to you as they have been to me over the years. Of course, we’re still working on them, but with 10 children in the house, there are plenty of opportunities to practice!