Teaching Kids What Matters – 10 Practical Lessons

Our family recently enjoyed a weekend visit from my 73 year old father.  This has been a tough few years for all of us, especially my father, as my mother passed away in 2010 after a long illness.  My parents were married for nearly half a century, a rare thing these days.  My mother was his best friend, partner and wife as well as an inspiration to all who knew her.

As we awkwardly spoke of our feelings of loss during his visit, the conversation turned to reflection and a walk down memory lane.  Old memories came flooding back for both of us and I also learned valuable lessons as my dad shared experiences and insights into the multitude of tough decisions he and mom had made over the years.  I was very grateful in that moment to realize my dad never missed an opportunity to share lessons which would help me be a better father, husband and man.  That has always been his way.  My mother had a similar approach, rooted in a loving style which I remember fondly.

I am in my mid-40s, have been happily married for 17 years and am blessed with two sons, ages 11 and 14.  This recent conversation with my father has been the catalyst for a lot of introspection about my life and the lives of my children.  I know my parents live on in me and their influence often manifests itself in how I behave as a parent, husband, leader and friend to others.  Isn’t this the way it plays out for all of us?  Don’t we hear the reverberating echoes of our parents and grandparent’s lessons in much of what we do and say as adults?

It wasn’t always so, as my younger days can attest.  I went through typical teen rebellion, thought I knew more than my parents and felt I could do better than their generation.  I was blind to all of the wisdom they had poured into me my entire life.  I took for granted the loving and encouraging home they made for our family.  The values they taught me seemed old and tired to my teenage ears.  I wasn’t appreciative of the work ethic they had instilled in me through their own tireless examples.  I grew callous to the strong faith they held and walked away from church as a teenager, not to return to any kind of faith until after two long decades in the spiritual wilderness.  Through all of this, my parents never stopped praying for me.  They never stopped trying to teach me about life and they never ceased to love me.  I was blessed to have such a mother and am fortunate to have my father still with us.

I came to my senses in my mid-20’s and the many seeds my parents planted in me began to take root.  I was amazed at how smart my parents had become in the years since I had moved away from home!  There were numerous stumbling blocks in front of me back then as I was building my career, but their words of wisdom kept coming back to me: “Do the right thing”, “Work hard and let your results speak for themselves”, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, “Put others before yourself” I find myself sharing these bits of wisdom with my own children and I am grateful for the solid foundation my parents laid for me when I was growing up.

Do you ever stop and reflect on the lessons you learned in your childhood?  Do you share those lessons with your children?  There is a desperate need today for a return to the values of past generations.  The “anything goes” mindset so pervasive in our culture today could benefit from clearer boundaries.  Our children would only prosper if they could actually be children for awhile and not forced to become shopping crazed consumers and addicted to technology at increasingly younger ages.  Teaching our kids about faith, values, morality, manners and the importance of a good work ethic is a critical responsibility for parents today.  What if we detach our kids from the electronic pacifiers and force them to play outside?  I grew up with a bike, books and a good imagination.  Playing outside and reading were my principal pursuits as a kid and yet, somehow I survived. Harken back to what I hope will be positive memories of the lessons you learned from your parents and grandparents.  Don’t we have a responsibility to pass along all that is noble and worthwhile to our children?

10 Practical Lessons to Hand on the Faith and Advice for Living

As I was thinking about some helpful advice to offer parents who read this article, I decided to not reinvent the wheel.  Below is a list of 10 practical suggestions that come from my vivid memories of how my parents passed along important life lessons to me and my sister.  I think we could all make a similar list from our collective past and I hope you find this to be useful:

  • Model the right behaviors.  Lead by example.  Avoid “do as I say, not as I do!”
  • Teach the importance of faith, values and the difference between right and wrong.
  • Encourage excellence and independent thinking.
  • Listen to their thoughts and ideas with patience and no judgment.
  • Love children without reservation, but also enough to say NO when necessary.
  • Expose them to God, nature, beauty, art, music, history and different cultures.
  • Give them quality time.  Make family time the alternative to unhealthy habits.
  • Instill an appreciation for hard work and how to be responsible with money.
  • Create boundaries and explain the rules.  Discipline is important.
  • Inspire them to give back to the community and help others.

You may have a very different list, but these are some of the most impactful ways my parents taught me and how I hope to pass along the same lessons to my children.  It is a scary world out there and I see a generation of children not being equipped to succeed in today’s culture.  If we don’t accept full responsibility for raising and teaching our children, than video games, TV, the Internet and their peers will likely fill the void.  That is the ugly reality.

I want to challenge you to do a few things.  If your parents are alive, give them a call and reminisce a little about your childhood.  Pick up an old photo album and be reminded of your youth and possibly better days.  Look at your children when they are sleeping tonight and think about how you can prepare them for the real world.  Ask yourself if they are on the path to be faith filled, values driven, hard working, and selfless people in a world that desperately needs these traits.  Finally, be hopeful that one day when they have children of their own, they will hear the echoes of your positive influence on their lives…and pass that priceless treasure on to their own children.


Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore. 

The Catholic Briefcase was recently voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.


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