I am a simple-minded guy. I look for the simplicity in all things, even the complex. So, as I reflected on what it takes to raise kids of whom the world and God can be proud, I realized that fathers are nothing more than bridge builders.
When we build bridges as fathers, we connect our kids to values, we connect them to their earthly father, and we connect the family team. These bridges connect to three universal, emotional needs for our kids: purpose, appreciation and affiliation. By building bridges to these needs we prepare our kids for the world with support beams that are unshakable regardless of circumstances.
Connect to Values
When we discuss values and biblical truth with our children it helps them clarify purpose and meaning for their lives. To make these values real and relevant for your children share your walk of faith, struggles and all. This will relieve their expectation of perfection and help them better prepare for trials and doubts they will experience. Of course, as you share your walk you must also walk your talk!
Discussions and stories of values are given real legs by application of those values. Actions bring values to life. Our goal is to build faith that works. So, when you make daily decisions or take daily action, explicitly communicate why you are doing so and link it to a personal value. For example, when you choose a certain family vacation, church group or a service project, tell your kids what value(s) underlie that decision. This is particularly important around decisions regarding your time and treasures since they really define your values.
Be intentional (and values-based) in making your decisions. Be just as intentional about communicating with your kids why you are making those decisions.
Connect to Your Child
When you connect with your kids on their level you fulfill the critical emotional need of appreciation. If you do not fulfill this powerful, human need they find someone else who will! I have coached successful executives in their 50s who are still trying to fulfill this need that was left vacant at home, and the means they are pursuing are rarely productive.
Start by telling your kids you love them every chance you get. Here are a few three-word phrases every kid (and adult for that matter) wants to hear:
- I love you.
- I thank you.
- You are terrific.
- I promise you. (and keep it!)
- God bless you.
It is wonderful and easy to appreciate your kids when they do well in school, on the field or at home, but they really want to know they are appreciated for who they are, not just for what they do. So, when they are less than perfect, remember these three-word phrases:
- I can help
- I understand you.
- You are talented.
- You will succeed.
- I forgive you.
Although your words are critical to expressing love and appreciation for your children, they do not spell “love” L-O-V-E. Instead they spell it T-I-M-E. Choose your time wisely so they can feel and see your words in action.
Connect Family Members
Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. You as fathers can make your families winning teams. This meets the need of affiliation. Again, if your kids do not have that need fulfilled by their family they will seek it somewhere else. My wife is gifted in many ways, but she is doubly gifted in meeting this need with fun family rituals and activities to build shared experiences and bonds.
Are you on the sideline of your kids’ lives or are you in the game with them? Find fun and meaningful activities to do as a family. It is never too late. It can be as simple as Friday game night, monthly service day in the community, sharing a Hi and Low from the day over dinner, peach picking each summer, family talent show or going the circus each year (we did that one for 23 years straight until the circus ended!).
One ritual I started years ago was “Letters from Dad”. I wrote a personal letter for special occasions like birthdays, gradation, Valentine’s, Christmas that contained a blessing, stories, jokes, memories, etc. Anything from the heart that connects me and the family member who received the letter. Trust me, your kids will not grade your writing skills when you write from the heart.
God has given you all the tools you need. Get started today building bridges to a bright future for your family!
You can find practical ideas and tips in a rapid-read book by the three Colan children titled Please Listen Up, Parents: 12 Secrets YOUR Kids Want YOU to Know.
Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is founder of The L Group, a leadership consulting firm that equips and inspires leaders at every level. He is an executive advisor, author of 14 leadership books and presenter of practical ideas. www.theLgroup.com @LeeColan