Jim Daly: You have a kind of bucket list for children which are the difficult experiences you think they need to have in order to be ready for life. Now I gotta tell you as a parent, I’m thinking, I’ve got to keep them from difficult experiences, but what’s on that list?
Michael Anderson: Yeah, a lot of the things we instinctively try to keep our kids from are things they need to be ready for adulthood, ‘cause adulthood isn’t gonna be easy. Some of those things would be like not being invited to a birthday party. And we don’t need to jump in and try to get them invited or call the mom (Laughter). Those are experiences we need. The death of a pet or working hard on a paper and getting a poor grade or being fired from a job. It’s not always a bad thing for a young kid to be fired from a job, especially if they need to learn more responsibility. It might be the only thing that’ll get ‘em to take it seriously.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, that’s Michael Anderson. He’s a licensed psychologist and he’s one of the two guests we have on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly today. Timothy Johanson is a pediatrician. He’s also in the studio with us. Together these gentlemen speak. They write and they’ve got a great book called GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids and Jim, you hinted that. We try to protect our children so much from difficulty in life and the program we began last time, the conversation, it had a lot to do with kind of reframing my parental mind-set so I’m a little bit more inclined to let life teach my kids. But (Sigh) that’s so hard.
Jim: Well, it is and I think it’s counterintuitive to what we’re taught in this environment and this day and age about parenting, which is create boundaries; hold the line, which are important things. But what I love about what our guests are talkin’ about is think a little differently.
You know, those disappointments, as we just heard, actually will teach your kids responsibility and doing the right thing in a way that doesn’t force you to give up the relational equity that you have. And I’m hearin’ this as much as a dad as I think you are in the listenership.
John: And I hope you’ll call us if you missed last time. We’ve got a CD of that. We have the book, as well, Gist and we’d be happy to tell you more when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
And Jim, that quote, “bucket list” of things that kids need to experience, I mentioned this to my daughter last night (Laughter), my 16-year-old. I said, “Yeah, well, they … they said things like, you know, miss making the team and not getting invited to a birthday party and the death of a pet.” And she said, “Not the death of a pet!” (Laughter) “No, that’s too hard.” And I said, “I think that’s the point, is that you should experience those things when you’re in the home.”
Jim: Well, I … I mean, I gotta confess it, too, because I was here. Jean and I came to the office one evening. The boys were doing homework. The whole family was here. And Trent with his learner’s permit wanted to go out and drive in the parking lot. There’s nobody here. It’s like 7:30.
John: We have a pretty big parking lot here.
Jim: Yeah, it’s a big parking lot and … but Jean was just mortified at that and she said, “What if he hits something?” And I remember saying, “Yeah, so what? It’ll be, you know, like a light post or somethin’, be a dent in the bumper.” “How could you say that?” (Laughing) But it’s true; sometimes you need to let your kid just have a little accident. You don’t want ‘em to have a big accident, but it’s something they’ll remember the rest of their lives, isn’t it?
Dr. Timothy Johanson: I think that’s very true. We talk about allowing your kid to climb an apple tree, but you have to be willing to allow them to fall and break their arm.
Jim: Now that doesn’t sound right. Every mom just cringed. Why would you put your child in that kind of danger?
Timothy: Because they need to learn how to climb an apple tree, too.
John: And it’s not just moms. I remember, Jim, I’m a firstborn, so I … and I grew up. My dad was … was in management at a paper mill and so, safety was always, you know, in any manufacturing situation, safety’s a big deal.
Jim: Hard hats.
John: I was not in favor of the boys climbing trees and Dena was like, “Oh, what’s the worst that can happen?” So (Laughter)—
Jim: There you go.
John: –sometimes it’s us guys who are—
Jim: Shoe … yeah—
John: –more [cautious].
Jim: –shoes on the other foot. I like that.
Jim: Well, let me formally welcome you back to the program.
Timothy and Michael: Thank you.
Jim: I thought the last conversation was very interesting, engaging. As we talked about a moment ago, these things that cause us pain, that cause us suffering, I mean, the book of Romans right there, Paul says it, right–
Jim: –how these things help build our character.
Michael: And that’s just where it leads from. If you looked at Romans 5 backwards, you’d say, the goal is to have hope in adversity and where does that come from? Character. Where does that come from? Perseverance. And where does that come from? Suffering. So, suffering is the first step to getting towards what we all want, which is character and hope in adversity.
Jim: Michael, that … it’s laid out right in Scripture there but you know how foreign a concept that sounds to a Western ear—
Jim: –a Western listener? We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid the first step. We don’t want to suffer in any way. Our whole culture is built on reducing suffering and pain.
Michael: And what we’re learning is that it’s very dangerous to try to keep your child too safe.
Timothy: And I think that’s a really important thing for parents to hear, is that you cannot protect your kids from everything. You should not. You cannot create their path so that they don’t have any adversity or hardship. You shouldn’t, as a matter of fact. You need to allow them to make their mistakes, stumble and be alongside them to help them get up and teach them along the way that this is the nature of life.
Michael: The great lyricist and poet, Jackson Brown, put it this way. I just love this. He said, “I would keep her here if I were able to lock her safe behind an open door.”
Jim and John: Uh … hm.
Michael: And you can’t lock somebody safe behind an open door and that’s the dilemma that every parent faces.
Jim: Things are gonna happen and you need to be ready to respond with that.
Michael: Life is not gonna be easy. We … Tim and I talked, gave a talk about … a while back and just on the spur of the moment there were about 70 parents there, mostly between 40 and 60. And I asked, “How many of you[r] lives have gone harder than you thought they would go? And 90 percent of those parents raised their hand. And that was chilling to me and that’s the world we have to prepare our kids for. It’s, for most our kids, their life will be more difficult than they anticipate and it’s our job to get them resilient enough to face that.
Jim: Well, that’s a good term, that resiliency and when you’re parenting, that is what you want your children to walk away from their childhood with is, that resiliency to be able to endure.
Michael: Right and we don’t celebrate that enough.
Jim: We don’t—
Jim: –not at all.
Michael: No, getting back up, you know, your kid writes half of an English paper on the computer and the power goes out and they lose the paper. The thing to applaud there is getting up and rewriting the paper. It doesn’t matter the grade.
Michael: It was the resiliency that we need to applaud.
Timothy: But a lot of parents participate in the “victimness” of that.
Jim: Explain that. What’s an illustration?
Timothy: If that would happen, the parents are gonna get all upset and mad and angry at the fact that they just spend two hours writing half a paper that’s been lost. But the parents need to think about this differently and say to themselves, “Hey, this could be on my child’s checklist to adulthood.”
John: But most parents, I’m guessing, most of our listeners are gonna be trying to figure out how to problem solve for that child. Okay, let’s see now; how can we do this? I’ve found myself doing this. Well, surely there’s a backup and we spend 15 minutes trying to see if there was an autosave somewhere. And eventually we get to the realization that there’s not. I’m guessin’ a lot of parents would say then, “Well, I’m gonna call the teacher and explain why my child doesn’t have the paper done.”
Timothy: And they shouldn’t.
John: Why … okay, they shouldn’t, why?
Timothy: Because the kid needs to understand that, you know, things like this happen in life and I need to now deal with it. I need not to complain about it and sit and mope about it or have an adult in my life feeling sorry for me. I need to do what needs to be done.
Jim: Well, and to that problem-solving energy, if we want to call it that, in fact, in GIST, your book, you talk about a child breaking a window and what happened in that context? I mean, that’s where I would jump in and call the neighbor and start—
Jim: –working it out.
Michael: –where solid parenting transfers into joy of parenting is when you get excited about watching how your kid’s gonna handle this. We just talked about a kid losing half an English paper. The instant that happens, to think this is gonna be amazing to watch how my boy handles this. And in the story you were talking about, a girl breaks the neighbor’s window and your first thought is, okay, how long’s it gonna take her to go ring the doorbell next door? What is my daughter and Mrs. Johnson gonna decide about the window? Who’s gonna pay for it? Who’s gonna fix it? And to discipline yourself to stay back until you need to step in.
Jim: That sounds so foreign to so many parents, but it’s a good thing to do. I get the outcome of it.
Michael: One of the tenets of our approach is to train yourself to step back and let things transpire a little bit.
Jim: That is …
Timothy: And then ask yourself, how is this gonna turn out? And just watch in wonder and amazement at—
Jim: That sounds—
Timothy: –what’s gonna happen.
Jim: –so easy, but I’m tellin’ ya, I can’t do it.
Michael: Is there anything I really need to do here?
John: Yeah, there are a lot of … okay, so Jim, you and I have had these conversations. I think our wives are wired kind of similarly. There’s a lot of projection about what could go wrong right here. So, you know, my child just broke a window. He or she won’t take responsibility for that and then, they’re gonna end up with further incursions into criminal behavior (Laughter) and so then, you know what’s gonna happen. We’re gonna be visiting our child in prison because they’re there and it’s all because—
Jim: ‘Cause window breaking.
John: –I didn’t step in and do something.
Michael: Right and you might need to step in. If the neighbor is very cantankerous, difficult, shaming, you might need to step in, but you don’t need to until you see how that’s going. There couldn’t be a better scenario than for her to knock on the neighbor’s door, for the neighbor to bring the child in, to look at the glass, to have a cookie and a cup of coffee and the two of them discuss how they’re gonna move ahead with this. That’s what we want. That’s what we’re looking for.
Jim: Again, we’re runnin’ down this freeway called “parenting” and there’s this off ramp that you’re talkin’ about, which is the modern word would be “chill.” I mean, that’s what comes to my mind. It’s hard to get off on that off ramp though. (Laughter) I want to keep goin’ down the freeway to make sure that I do everything I can as a parent to create the environment for my child to thrive. But you’re saying that’s dangerous.
Michael: It is and we’ve gotten to know in the last year one … a dean of student[s] at Stanford University and she’s talked about how immature today’s freshmen are compared to 20 years ago.
Jim: Now that’s interesting ‘cause that’s an objective perspective. It’s happening and I’ve heard that from other college professors—
Jim: –as well.
Michael: And she’s—
Jim: And what …
Michael: –she’s been there 23 years and she said today’s freshmen are so far behind 20 years ago and part of that is from that mind-set that you’re talking about, is mom and dad are always gonna be involved. They’re gonna be there.
Timothy: Mom’s going to fix it.
Timothy: Parents really need to learn this issue of patience. It’s an underlying theme of this book.
Michael: And this is true.
Timothy: Back off; let it happen. Let life play itself out.
Michael: And this is really true at just about any age.
Jim & John: Hm.
John: Well, our guests on Focus on the Family today are Michael Anderson. He’s a licensed psychologist and Timothy Johanson. He’s a pediatrician and together these men are bringing some great biblical wisdom to the parenting journey and letting go, that’s so very difficult. But Jim, I remember a previous Focus on the Family radio program where we had some college presidents and one of them said something that I still remember. He said my biggest cha … one of my biggest challenges as a college president is dealing with kids who don’t know how to fail. They come to college and they struggle, because this is their first ever failure in life. And I think that’s what our guests are talkin’ about right here is, let your child fail before they get to college.
Michael: That’s right.
Jim: In your book, you also talk about the “What’s Next Principle.” Fill us in on what that means. What’s the “What’s Next Principle?”
Timothy: We call it, “What’s the Two Things.” That’s the name of the chapter and the two things really helps [sic] parents cone down just a couple of things that they’re gonna work on helping their kids learn about themselves, life, relationships, whatever that happens to be.
Jim: What’s an example of that?
Timothy: So, a 5-year-old needs to start maybe to learn how to load the dishwasher and how to pick up their room. Those are the two things that parents should put all their energies into until those things are mastered by that child.
Jim: What does mastering it look like? That when they’re asked to do it, they do it? Or they know Wednesday night, they load.
Timothy: Exactly, that they are self-regulated, that they are self-governed around the issue of doing what their responsibility is.
Jim: Okay, so over the course of what, 15 years (Laughing) you finally get ‘em in the right place?
John: You start at 5 and finish at 20. (Laughter)
Timothy: Well, once their two things are done, then you go on to the next two things—
Timothy: –and the next two things—
Timothy: –and the next two things. And over 15, 18 years, you’ve clicked off hundreds of things, but you’re coning it down to a manageable job. Parents who try to change everything and I have a list as long as my arm with each of our three kids, what they need to learn next, but I can’t work on 50 things with three kids.
Michael: I have to cone down to two things. For one of our daughters, one of those two things right now is to teach her how to budget. That’s one of the big two things.
Michael: And that’s what we’re working on. We’ve been working on it for two months.
Jim: In the book, GIST, do you give age-appropriate two things to work on?
Jim: Is that connection there?
Jim: So, give us a snippet of that. You’ve got the 5-year-old loading the dishwasher. What should the 10-year-old be able to do?
Timothy: Well, let’s take a 15-year-old who is not getting his homework assignments in and not showing up at the time that he’s supposed to be home in the evening, that 11 o’clock curfew. Those are two big things, but parents should focus on those things and then, forget about his room being clean. Forget him about, you know, vacuuming this or taking the garbage out.
And Mike has a … some great scripting that he’s done with parents in what to say to your kid when you’re just working on two things. Mike, maybe you want to share that.
Michael: Well, yeah, one of the things that I found really troubling to me is how many kids even in their mid to late teens, mom or dad are still waking them up in the morning. So, I tell parents, it’s really hard for your child at 17 to feel like a young man, if he’s still getting up the same way he did when he was 4.
Michael: And so, one of the two things I suggest for them is, that we’re gonna start next Monday. I always give them, tell the child a week from Monday or 10 days from now there’s gonna be a new policy, not starting now. (Laughter) Parents love starting now.
Jim: That’s a good rule. I’m laughing because that’s my default.
Timothy: And what … what I think a lot of parents find, is if they give that five, seven, 10 day-thing, sometimes it takes care of itself before you ever start–
Timothy: –because the kid knows that they’re gonna work on that.
Michael: So, you would say to a child, “Look, you’ve got about eight things you need to do around the house, but right now you’re behind in math and you’re not getting up on yourselves. We’re gonna focus all out attention on that. Those are the next two things you need to learn on your journey towards adulthood. And you’re … [it’s]still your job to unload the dishwasher or shovel the sidewalk or whatever it is, but we’re gonna back off on that, because we don’t want you to get confused about what we’re focusing on.
John: So, you’re saying, we’re gonna suspend all other things for right now for you as a child.
Michael: Suspe … not suspend them like you don’t need to do ‘em, but—
Michael: –you don’t …
Jim: –don’t focus on ‘em.
Michael: We’re not gonna focus on ‘em because we don’t want you … one of your excuses to be, you expect so much of me. We’re expecting you to get all your math assignments in and get up on time for the next five weeks.
Jim: So what happens in the end? So, you do this two at a time, one at a time, maybe you can even squeeze three at a time occasionally, but what happens at the end? What’s the benefit? You think they’re—
Michael: Then you—
Jim: –getting it.
Michael: –then you say to your child, “I’m so proud of you. I just went online and checked and all your assignments are in and nine of the last 10 days, you got up on your own. And so, we’re gonna do this for one more week, then we’re gonna drop that off and maybe look for a couple other things for you to work on.”
Jim: (Laughing) Would you ever get the response, “It’s always another couple things, dad.”
Jim: “It never ends.”
Michael: Well, that’s a really … that’s a really good point and one of the … our parenting approach, we believe you have to convey that you’re for the kid. And if you don’t do that, you’re not gonna be able to pull it off. Too many kids that I see, see their parents in a … as an adversary.
Michael: And if you’re for them, you’ll structure your sentences like this, “Because I know how important it is for you to be caught up in math, I’m gonna back off on a couple other things to set you up for success.”
Jim: Hm. That … that is—
Timothy: That is really–
Timothy: –like grace.
Jim: –yeah, that—
Timothy: It does.
Jim: –really is important for us as parents to capture this topic here, this very thing, because again, I think our instincts are to drill in and be punitive, rather than to back up and reward on the small things that are going well, so that the child really, so that their sense of well-being and even healthy self-esteem spiritually speaking, I mean, good self-esteem, starts to develop, right?
Michael: Right and what I want parents to do is, to say to their child, “You know, you are just nailing fifth grade. I am so amazed at how you’re doing fifth grade. You’ve got great friends. You’ve got a great grade point. I’m gonna back off a little bit and give you some space.”
Michael: One of the biggest problems I see with kids is, when they’re making bad decisions, their life doesn’t go that much different[ly] than when they’re making good decisions.
Michael: And we really need—
John: Because of us, as parents?
Timothy: It does.
Michael: –yeah. And it’s partly the culture and it’s partly the parents, but we have to make sure that a kid’s life goes radically different when they’re making bad decisions than good decisions. That’s how we learn. That’s the environment. I run into kids all the time that I’ll say to them in September, “How was your summer? Tell me about the best day of your summer.” And they’ll say, “Well, I went to a buddy’s cabin and we stole a boat and we did this.” And the very night that they made the most bad decisions is the night they had the most fun.” That’s a setup for poor learning.
Michael: And what I … I have … my wife and I had three kids of our own and 13 foster kids and what I always said is, I am not gonna sit back and let you fail, but if you are succeeding, I will cheer you on.
Timothy: Imagine a 10th grader who gets a message from their parents, “You are really doing well in school. You’re thriving in life. You’ve got great friends. We’re really enjoying watching you. And we don’t really have anything we can think of that we need to work on with you.”
Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)
Timothy: Can you imagine a 10th grader getting that message from their parents?
Jim: Yeah. Well, I … yeah, and I was gonna ask this. Sometimes siblings act differently, oftentimes.
Timothy: Oh, sure.
Jim: So, you may have a younger sibling that’s displaying greater responsibility than an older sibling.
Jim: How do you manage that as a parent, to not go too far overboard in kind of coincidentally shaming the older one who’s not up to the task?
Timothy: Kind of indirectly.
Jim: Yeah, kind of indirectly shaming them.
Michael: I think if this is the call … the vocabulary of your home, the vocabulary of your home, they’re not gonna be confused. They’ll be used to that and you’ll say to this one, “Your weakness right now is responsibility, but you’re great socially. Your sister, on the other hand, is great responsibly, but she’s weak socially. So, we want her to have at least two friends over a month. And we want you to stay home and do your homework.”
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Michael: And … and don’t look at each other. The rules are different for everybody here.
Jim: Yeah and I really appreciate it, that encouragement you’re giving to parents and to me right now, so let’s talk about spiritual training of children, because this is an area where a lot of families can experience challenges. I’m thinkin’ about the teen years especially, probably ‘cause I’m living there, where going to church has become a bit of a struggle. They don’t always want to get up on Sunday.
Let’s say my teen boy or girl just doesn’t want to go. They find it boring or they lack the interest, whatever the excuse they may give. How do we re-energize them? How do we encourage them that this is somethin’ the family does. It’s important and we need to do it, just like we need to have dinner every night? What would you suggest?
Michael: Well, one of the things about that is that when we use as Christians modeling, Christian modeling as a parenting technique, we’re giving our kids a lot of ammunition they know how to hurt us. It’s almost like a cheat sheet on how to push our buttons.
Michael: So, if they know that church is really important and how our family looks at our church is important and that we’re on the missions committee, they can refuse to go just to dig us back, you know. But every family has to decide that for themselves. What I would suggest when your kid’s in their late teens is, “I’m a reasonable person and because of that, one or maybe two Sundays a month you can stay home. But I’m still your parent and you’re still a minor and you can go to our church three times a month.
And you don’t have to believe what they say, but you have to be polite. You have to listen. You have to participate, but you’re getting to be close to adulthood, so what you believe is up to you. But I … you know, I’ve given my life to Christ. I believe it more than anything else. It’s my job to raise you and like it or not, that’s how I’m raising you.”
Timothy: And I think that brings in the Proverbs 22:6 really strongly. It’s been a very important verse for me as a dad. I desire nothing more tha[n] my three kids will all be believers in Jesus Christ and follow Him. And my wife would say the same thing.
But we also understand that kids and when they get to a certain age, their brains think differently. We did, too. We didn’t always think the same way as we think now. And parents need, especially Christian parents, need to be patient in the process of raising your kids the way they should go, in a biblical way, knowing full well that many of them, in fact, the majority will probably fall away from their faith in the teenage or early adulthood years.
But through prayer and through trusting God’s promise in this, know that they will come back and my wife and I have certainly experienced that with our kids.
Jim: And most importantly, we’ve touched on it, that good modeling that they can see faith in action in you as mom and dad, that’s not disconnected. They’re not seeing you act differently than what you tell them to act like.
Timothy: Right and the transparency of the discussions are so important. There were … there was a time where one of our children, if we would even bring up anything in faith, you know faith-related question, she just couldn’t hear it. She couldn’t listen to it. She was in a really tough phase of her life. She had some woundedness from some decisions she’d made and it was so hard for both my wife and I, especially my wife, to just let that go for a couple of years. And now she has come back full circle and is a completely devoted follower to Jesus—
Timothy: –and is on fire where she’s at.
Timothy: It’s just wonderful.
Jim: –and that’s a great place to end, because that in essence, is the whole story, that they end up in the place they need to be. And as parents, that’s what we want ultimately. The journey may be all over the place, but we want to …
Michael: I’m not sure why, but it seems sometimes deeper faith follows when camp faith or Sunday school faith fails. It … there has to be … that child-like faith has to dissipate and come back as an adult, mature faith.
Jim: And sometimes the wilderness is what happens.
Michael: And we hate to see that as parents. It’s hard to watch.
Timothy: Yeah, we call it a collision at our house when our kids have had collisions of their faith with life and what life has dealt them. That’s when things really change and it becomes internalized and it’s their faith, not our faith. They own it.
Jim: Yeah. At that point …
Timothy: And that’s a joyous time for my wife and I, when we’ve seen that happen.
Jim: Well, that’s great. Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson, authors of the book, GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids, great to have you with us.
Michael: Great to be here.
Timothy: Thank you.
John: And that’s how we concluded this 2-day conversation with our guests. And please make sure you get in touch to get a copy of their book, GIST, our number is 800 – the letter “A” and the word – FAMILY. 800-232-6459 or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: I hope you appreciated the insights that Michael and Tim shared with us today and last time. There were so many good things and as parents, we really need to get behind the eyes of our children to understand what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling. Especially when there’s conflict or a problem where we’re more likely to react than look for a better way to respond.
And let me add, if you’re facing a parenting challenge like we’ve described today, whether it’s a discipline issue or something more painful — like a prodigal child — I hope you’ll contact us here at Focus on the Family.
We want to be your “go-to” resource for advice and encouragement. We have lots of tools for you — like our team of Christian counselors, or the free parenting survey we have at our website. And broadcasts like this one, and resources like the GIST book that we’ve talked about today.
We’re here to help you any way we can. And I’d like to put a copy of this book, GIST, into your hands when you send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. That’s our way of saying “thank you” for partnering with us to strengthen today’s families.
John: I hope you’ll make a monthly pledge to this family ministry — that will help us better prepare for the tens of thousands of parents who will contact us in the months to come. But even a one-time gift can be so helpful. And we really appreciate your generosity.
Donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or when you call 800 the letter – “A”- and the word FAMILY.
Coming up next time on this broadcast, why Gary Thomas wants to protect Christians from toxic people!
Gary Thomas: But when I realized that Jesus was willing to walk away and let other people walk away, it changed my life. And I could see Jesus letting toxic or close-minded people go and then investing in the reliable people – his disciples.
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