Use TACT to identify role models

Helping our kids develop discernment about the people they emulate is not a one-and-done conversation. The lessons we parents teach our kids about role models is more caught than taught over their childhoods.

Like thousands of stone chips in a mosaic, numerous mini-conversations about role models create a portrait for our children of the kind of people we Christians pattern our lives after. With every two-minute reflection about Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS, a tile is placed in the mosaic. Comparing the leadership characteristics of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning adds another tile. Gently discussing your daughter’s musical idols lay several more. Of course, parents ensure these tiles are colored with the blood red tones of God’s grace.

Multiple mini-conversations about role models removes much of the pressure parents can feel about influencing their children’s choice of heroes. It means parents don’t have to convince their children each time they tackle this topic. It encourages parents to listen to their children’s opinions. It builds confidence in children that they can make the best role model choices.

These conversations work best with some guidelines. I suggest four that are built around the acronym TACT.

T: Testify about your role models

Identify for your children why you have chosen the role models you have. Talk about how, because of them, your life is different and how your walk with Jesus has improved. This is essential: Let your children see you are striving to be the person your role model already is.

A: Ask about their role models

The same questions you want to answer for your kids about your role models are questions you can ask your kids about their role model choices. Ask: Why do you look up to that person? What are the most valuable things you are learning from that person? How has this person helped you more fully appreciate God’s grace?

C: Confirm their role models’ positives

Point out the most positive traits of your children’s heroes and friends. For example, “I’m glad you hang around with Ethan. He’s always polite.” This gains more ground than stumbling through what you don’t like. When you identify favorable traits, you confirm for your children that they are making good choices and you help them define whom they want to influence their lives.

T: Talk about their role models’ negatives

Talking about the less desirable traits of the people your kids admire is important but tricky. When we put anyone on the defensive, barriers go. Approach this topic as a conversation rather than a lecture. Questions usually work best: “Justin Bieber said, ‘A lot of people who are religious, I think they get lost.’ What do you think he meant? How much do you agree? How much do you think that’s true in our family?”

Begin the conversation early. Continue it often. Build the mosaic. Use TACT.

“I cah-h-h-n’t!”

“I cahn’t! I-I-I cah-h-hn’t!” The lament of my three-year-old grandson as he fit together jigsaw puzzle pieces. Within two minutes the puzzle was complete and he was on to another puzzle. But the chant continued. “I cahn’t!” Cute.

Doubting one’s adequacy may be cute at three. It loses charm by grade school. So how do we best love our kids when they insist, “I can’t,” but we parents know they can? I have five guidelines as a conversation starter.

Show grace

Lead with love, not law.  Let your self-skeptical kids know they are loved.  Loved by you.  Even better, loved without measure by our God.  Try, “I’m sorry you don’t think you can do this.  I want you to know I love you more than anything else.  And Jesus loves you much more than that.”

Don’t only begin with an emphasis on God’s grace. Throughout your conversation circle back to your love.  A love that won’t diminish because of your child’s failures. A love that is driven by God’s love for you.   Make God’s grace tangible with your actions: a hug, a smile, a back rub.

Yes, laying down the law has a place. Refuse to start there.

Seek to understand

Ask, “Why do you think you can’t do this?” Your child is believing a lie. Expose the falsehood to the warmth of truth and the problem evaporates.

There are many reasons we might doubt our abilities. For example,

  • Others’ negative opinions.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Prior failures.
  • Peer pressure.

Share your positive evaluation

Gently offer your own view of the gifts and abilities God has given your child. Suggest evidence for your view. “I know you can do this. Remember how you swam across the pool and surprised us all?”

Talk about grace and giftedness

Go beyond offering your evaluation. Talk about grace’s evaluation. Grace insists your child is unimaginably precious to God. The Son of God coming to be our Savior proves that. But in addition, God’s grace means your child is spectacularly gifted as the exact person God wants on this planet today. Consider Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Offer appropriate assistance 

Consider providing appropriate help. You might say, “What if you and I do this together?” “I’ll show you; then you can do the rest.” “I’d be willing to get you started on this project.”

Different kids in different situations at different times in their lives need to be approached differently, of course. What advice would you add?

Christian financial training 101

Laughter. Uncontrolled. “The parents’ column wants you to write about teaching kids finances?” My wife’s question was punctuated by gasps for air. “Do they know you haven’t written a check in decades?”

When she regained her composure, I meekly asked, “Wife, would you help me write this article?” Thankfully, she agreed. Sharon’s tips are intended to start the conversation about the financial training of children.

Make use of teachable moments

“Can we go out to eat tonight?”

“No, Sweetie, we don’t have money in our budget for that.”

“Can’t we just go to the bank and get some more money?”

Use these teachable moments to talk about

  • your spending priorities (“We can’t afford that right now, but we are saving for it”),
  • getting the best deal (“Is the better buy at Amazon or Ebay?”),
  • judging quality in what you buy (“This coat is less expensive but will that more expensive coat last longer?”), and
  • resisting impulse buying (“Why do you suppose stores put candy and snacks next to the checkout?”).

Show your kids how you manage your finances.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” my daughter asked when she was in grade school.

“Paying bills, Honey. That check is for your school. This one pays for that new coat we bought you last month. But there are lots of bills I don’t have to write checks for. We pay for many of our bills with money that comes right out of our checking account. That’s how we pay to live in this house and how we pay for our car. But do you see that check over there? That’s the first one I write because I want to make sure there is always money for it. That’s our offering to Jesus.”

Explain to your children how you handle your finances.

  • Walk them through your family budget sheet.
  • Show them what happens when you scan your church’s QR code to make a donation.
  • Let them sit with you as you electronically transfer money between your savings and checking accounts or set up automatic withdrawals. Of course, keep passwords secure.
  • When they are in junior high, help them set up a joint checking and savings account with you. Monitor how they manage that responsibility.
  • Talk about the percentage of income you give to your church and other charitable organizations. Emphasize how God’s grace prompts you to be as generous as possible.
  • When money is tight, remind them that because Jesus is Savior, your Father will continue to care for you. Tell them family accounts of God’s providence.

James and Sharon Aderman raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.

Little white lies are still lies

“It’s just a little white lie. No one was hurt.” An internal argument raged. “But it’s still a lie. You didn’t tell the truth.”

It started over a blob of tangled crayon lines.

“Awesome picture of a tree,” I told my grandson. But I lied. It didn’t look anything like a tree. Or anything I could identify.

I cleared a place on the refrigerator to mount his masterpiece. “Taa daa!” I trumpeted, bowing toward his picture with a grand hand gesture.

I could have truthfully said, “This is the best tree drawing you’ve ever done.” Instead I said, “This is the best tree drawing ever.”

Christians easily recognize the harm in lies that misrepresent God and misinterpret his Word. Deception that takes advantage of others is also obvious sin. But other liberties with the truth can seem not quite wrong. Sometimes justifiable. For instance:

  • Hypocritical lies that promise to allow us escape from the consequences of our convictions. (Have you pretended that living together outside of marriage is acceptable in order to escape ridicule?)
  • Convenient lies that rescue us from situations we find distasteful. (“I’d love to go shopping, Honey, but my foot is killing me. I should just sit here and watch the Packers.”)
  • Fairy tale lies that lead children to believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and other implausible fables.
  • Protecting lies that are meant to shelter others from life’s hard truths. (“Your father doesn’t have a drinking problem. He’s just under a lot of stress.”)
  • Privacy lies that save us from sharing what we want to keep to ourselves. (“Missing that party doesn’t bother me a bit.”)
  • Caring lies, like the one I told my grandson, that are intended to avoid hurting others.

Our Father, the God of Truth, makes it clear in his Word of Truth that his grateful children are to be people of truth. “Do not lie to each other,” he says, “since you have . . . put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9,10).

God’s grace calls on us to be tactful and careful in the way we use truth. But, before all else, the truth of God’s grace compels us to be truthful.

Truth-telling is a life lesson our children and grandchildren need to see lived out in us. And when we fail, they need to hear us admit it, claim our cross-won forgiveness, and pledge to do better.

‪Little white lies are still lies. God’s children gently tell the truth. Even about trees grandchildren draw.

Finding the middle ground

Paul, my son-in-law, and I sat together on a park bench.  His kids played around us.

“It’s sad,” I said. “Kids aren’t free to be kids like I was in the 1950s.”

My Baby Boom buddies and I lived under the neighborhood rule, “Never go beyond earshot of your parents’ shouts.” But within that radius, we could be kids. The lightly traveled street was our playground. The large sugar maples sheltered our clumsily-built forts. The sidewalks were bicycle raceways. Parental interference was minimal.

“Today it’s helicopter parents,” Paul said, “parents who hover over their kids . . . well into adulthood.”

Overprotection does seem to be today’s parenting strategy. No matter how safe the neighborhood, some parents can’t envision their kids playing outside alone. No matter how old their children, these parents intrude on their lives. No matter how culpable their kids, some parents insist someone else is at fault.

“It’s not good for parents to protect kids from everything,” Paul continued. “Kids need to know our world will rough them up now and again. They need to learn their actions have consequences. They need to be held responsible for their choices.” I almost hugged him, but I settled for a manly double thumbs-up.

We scanned the playground, accounting for our kids. My four-year-old grandson had been crawling within a tubular play area that looked like a cross between a 20-foot-long anteater and a sailing ship. When an older child climbed on top of the tubes, Thatcher followed.

“Many parents view their children as fine china that chips and easily shatters,” I said.  “They don’t realize kids are Corelle ware that bounces and rarely breaks. Their fears insist that every situation is dangerous. Their fears drain confidence from their kids. Their fears stymie their children’s independence.”

“There must be a balance, though,” Paul countered, “a middle ground between the extremes of free-range parenting and overprotective parenting. What’s hard is knowing if you are standing in that middle. Look at Thatcher.” Thatcher’s feet dangled two feet above the ground as he attempted to dismount from the anteater. “Where’s the middle ground? Do I let him fall or do I help him down?”

That middle ground can be hard to find. But the ultimate parent has provided us with a map for finding it.

In his Word we see our Father’s parenting strategy; even better, we see the cross-won grace that directs it. Whether he snatches us from the consequences of our mistakes or allows bruised-knee lessons, God’s parenting flows from an open-spigot love we never deserve. Christian parents stand on that middle ground when they love their children in the same way. When grace determines whether they rescue their children or allow a tough life lesson.

And Paul? He helped Thatcher down. Then he set him free to clamber over the anteater again.

It’s not fair!

“It’s not fair,” my granddaughter insisted. “He’s playing with the toy I want!”

Jealousy. It’s inextricably woven into the fabric of family life. Siblings constantly compare who has the biggest or the best, who is most loved or most favored, who got the largest piece or the lesser penalty.

“It’s not fair!” Indignance radiated from her stance. Eyes glared. Lower lip pouted. Elbows flared from her hips like flying buttresses.

Jealousy springs from the sin-infected core that festers in us all. It’s more obvious in children because they haven’t learned to mask it as well as adults. It’s apparent in the seven-month-old who doesn’t want anyone else, even Dad, to hug Mom. It’s in the twenty-seven-month-old who insists that the toy he tired of ten minutes ago still belongs to him. It’s in the seven-year-old who has learned to cover over her jealousy by calling for fairness. It’s in the seventh-grader who didn’t make the cut for the basketball team and is angry with those who did. It’s in the seventeen-year-old who contends he alone, of all his friends, lacks a cell phone.

“It’s not fair!” she shouted again. This time her right foot punched against the floor . . . once, then a second time.

You might expect some advice at this point about helping kids recognize how jealousy has clawed out of their hearts, but this article is heading in another direction. A more personal, introspective direction.

I’m uncomfortable seeing jealousy in my grandkids because I know that I wrestle with it. We never outgrow sin’s selfishness, so none of us ever outgrows jealousy. Worse, jealousy is more infectious than the flu. I recognize that I teach everyone around me more about being jealous of others than about being content with the gifts my heavenly Father has given me.

I have to face it: my granddaughter’s selfish indignance was, to some degree, a reflection of the jealousy she had seen in me. I taught her how to grumble about a friend who has a larger bedroom, a newer doll, or a faster computer. I demonstrated for her how to express pained injustice when someone else stole “my parking place” at Walmart. She might have even seen me pout when the family voted down my choice for the last Netflix movie.

Helping my grandchildren overcome jealousy means I must face my own jealousies. My apology for failing to set a better example will go farther than the wag of an accusing finger. Even better is rejoicing together over God’s forgiving grace. But why stop there? Think of the power in teaming up against jealousy. My grandkids and I can commit to encouraging each other to be content, whatever our circumstances. How wonderful to hear, “Papa, quit complaining. Jesus always provides everything that’s important.”