Developing the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting

Dad and Mom holding a child's hands and giving her a swing, while Dad is carrying another child.
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Thank you for taking the Focus on the Family 7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment. This free resource is available to help you continue to grow and develop as a parent. Once you use this outstanding tool, consider next steps for the areas where you scored high or low:

Areas for growth in adaptability
Areas of strength in adaptability

Areas for growth in boundaries and limits
Areas of strength in boundaries and limits

Areas for growth in grace and forgiveness
Areas of strength in grace and forgiveness

Areas for growth in gratitude
Areas of strength in gratitude

Areas for growth in intentionality
Areas of strength in intentionality

Areas for growth in love
Areas of strength in love

Areas for growth in respect
Areas of strength in respect

Areas for growth in adaptability

If you scored low on adaptability you may have difficulty adjusting to change, handling stress, responding to failure and imperfection, and/or having “unexpecteds.” You may even find it tough to go on a vacation. Imagine what it would be like if you were able to handle whatever life brings your way . What would this be like for you and your family? Does this sound impossible?

Think about Abraham Lincoln for a moment. Lincoln’s road to the White House included failures, several defeats and a nervous breakdown. And yet his adaptability, among other traits, allowed him to stay the course, put an end to slavery, and preserve the Union. He is regarded by many as our greatest president.

We may not walk paths as grueling as the one Abraham Lincoln trod, but as parents we have to constantly be adapting—adapting to different personalities, failures, conflict and unexpected illness and loss. We have to adapt to the ages and stages of our children as well as the onslaught of activities, demands, and technology. It is a constant wrestling match. But we can persevere and be successful.

According to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association, Millennials and Gen Xers report the highest stress levels out of the four generational groups (Milennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Matures). Both Millennials and Gen Xers report a lot of work-related stress, often resulting in anger. Were these groups able to cultivate greater adaptability, many of the stresses that plague them—both in and away from the workplace—would be more easily managed and have a lower impact on their lives.

The great news for parents is that our brains are designed to change when we have kids. Moms’ brains begin to change during pregnancy, and dads’ brains are altered as they spend more time with their kids. These changes  represent just one of the ways we are designed to adapt.

Our brains and bodies are incredibly adaptive, but we can still sometimes be overtaken by stress. Stress, over time, can take a toll on our brains and bodies, and we end up becoming reactive instead of responsive. In other words, stress robs us of our patience and emotional self-control.

If saying “no” is difficult for you and your pace of life is constantly draining you, you will not adapt well and will most likely burn out. For parents to be effective, self-care is crucial. Likewise, one of the great lessons your kids should learn from you is how to handle adversity, pain, stress, disappointment and uncomfortable feelings through an unrelenting trust in God.

Considering your assessment, a low score in adaptability most likely means that stress tends to control you. A great way to increase your level of adaptability is to

  • Line up your will with God’s will. Pray for God to make His will clear in your life, and that He would help align your heart and desires with His.  This is the ultimate level of, and route to, adaptability. This type of wisdom is an essential component to healthy adaptability.   
  • Set small goals and celebrate along the way. Accomplishing small goals can lead to a string of successes energizing you toward larger ones. For example, if you are not particularly tech-savvy you can set goals to learn more about technology. You can then adapt and implement proper parenting techniques and use your newfound understanding to set appropriate limits on your children’s technology use.  
  • Learn to be flexible and creative. Families love it when inflexible and traditional-type personalities work on being a little more accommodating and imaginative. Find ways to let others be in control. Allow things (and people) to be imperfect. Put your focus on relationships rather than tasks.   
  • Pause to see the bigger picture and learn to see situations from multiple perspectives. Ask yourself if there are other ways to look your circumstances.
  • Manage your “barrel.” Pretend you have a barrel with a spigot, and draw it on a piece of paper. The demands on you are what come out of the spigot. Write those out. Demands could include attention and time your kids want from you, demands at work, from church, and so on. The more that comes out of the spigot, the emptier your barrel becomes. If you don’t refill your barrel you’ll eventually run dry. Ways to refill could include exercise, quiet time, walks, sleep, reading, watching movies—whatever recharges you. List those things that energize you and pursue them. Work diligently to refill your barrel regularly.
  • Let go. The more you hold on to something with an outstretched arm, the heavier the object becomes. Even a light object held this way for a long time begins to feel like a huge burden. The same principle applies to unforgiveness and resentment. Some people create unnecessary stress by holding on to grudges and bitterness over past wrongdoings from others.
  • Don’t let emotions occupy the driver’s seat. Emotions influence the way you think and can result in poor decision-making.  Slow down enough to think rather than simply ride your emotions. Strive to have an optimistic perspective.  

Adaptability is not easy, but it’s necessary. Your growth in this area will help you lower your stress level and make it much more pleasant for your family to be with you in times of challenge or change. It requires wisdom and energy, but will be well worth it. You and your family will both benefit.

Areas of strength in adaptability

Congratulations! Scoring high on adaptability means you are able to handle what life throws your way. You are flexible, which helps you see situations from multiple perspectives. This can help keep you from getting stuck in a negative frame of mind. You are resilient, bouncing back from hardships more readily than most others. You are able to lead your family through difficulty, adversity, and stress. You are also able to teach your kids how to gain a more accurate perspective when times get difficult. Adaptability is an essential ingredient in relationships. 

While parenting undoubtedly has its stresses, you are willing to face life, and you do not avoid stress. Instead, you see it as an opportunity to grow and learn. You help provide your family with a balanced outlook when life gets complicated or out of control.

Your family benefits from your ability to find creative solutions to problems and new ways to approach difficult circumstances. You are the emotional “Swiss Army knife” in your home, versatile and equipped to assist others in times of trouble.

You are able to adjust your plans in response to whatever your family is facing. However, adaptability relies on all of the other six traits in order for it to work best.

You can share your strength in adaptability by

  • Being an example for your kids of how to effectively manage stress. Teach them healthy ways to reenergize and take care of themselves as they encounter stress and adversity in life.
  • Teaching ways to let things go. Show them how they can move toward grace, forgiveness and optimism even when their brain wants to go toward anger, unforgiveness, and negativity. Love, grace, and respect are essential traits that should be emphasized as you teach adaptability.
  • Modeling and teaching how to handle different personalities, opinions and ideas. Each family has different personalities, and family members may have widely varying opinions and ideas. This is where love and respect have to be present in order for adaptability to yield its greatest benefits.
  • Demonstrating a positive attitude toward unexpected changes or circumstances. Each day truly has enough worries of its own, as Scripture reminds us. Counter the worries by purposely focusing on the positives.
  • Modeling and teaching how to pause and maintain an appropriate perspective when life is chaotic or stressful. Read Philippians 4:8 with your family, and talk about what is right and good in your situation. Again, this is an opportunity to emphasize gratitude and positivity in tough times.

Modeling and teaching adaptability can help your family become more resilient. Be intentional about imparting these skills to your kids and they will thank you some day.

Areas for growth in boundaries and limits

Scoring low on boundaries could mean that you are exhausted, disorganized or a conflict avoider, or you may simply have a more playful and aloof personality. There may be various other reasons why you scored low, but the fact is your family and society need your growth in this area.

Boundaries take a lot of energy, time, focus, relationship, balance and communication. It is not easy to face conflict and uncomfortable emotions when kids don’t like your boundaries or when people don’t like your “no.”

In a study from the University College London, researchers discovered that we tend to pursue the path of least resistance. We tend to select the option that requires the least amount of effort, which draws attention to two specific needs: the need for intentionality and the need for focused attention. Intentionality requires planning and energy and helps with setting, defining and reinforcing boundaries. Focus requires disciplined attention and is important in establishing and pursuing goals.

You probably already know this, but other people’s love and approval are for them to give, when and how they want to. Yet some of us try to gain love and approval by easing up on limits and not setting proper boundaries. Likewise, other people’s happiness (including that of your kids) is up to them. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to make our children happy by letting boundaries lapse. That is an exhausting, never ending road and a losing proposition. The truth is, we can never make someone a happy person—not our children, not spouse, not anyone.

We all desire approval and love, but it’s important that we get them in healthy ways. If we seek love and approval by setting weak (or no) boundaries, we end up hurting ourselves and others. When we set good boundaries, though, they actually provide freedom. In the Psalms, David shows his love of God’s commandments and rules. He says they keep him safe. These are good, healthy boundaries that provide the freedom to become the best he could be. Those same boundaries allow us the freedom to become our best selves.

When we lack boundaries with others, many times it means we lack appropriate boundaries for ourselves. For example, many parents struggle with boundaries on themselves when it comes to technology, and it can be very difficult for, say, a dad to impose limits on his son’s video game, computer, or smartphone use when he is unwilling to curb his own use of these technologies. Consistently model limits on yourself with technology, food, media, time, or anything else about which your child may ask “Why do you get to partake in that and I don’t?” This will help improve your relationship with your children greatly. Ask yourself what limits you should place on your phone or computer use. What about eating junk food or time spent playing video games or watching TV? By the way, do your children see you setting proper limits between work time and family time?

A lack of boundaries can result in exhaustion, confusion, frustration, and a loss of respect. But it takes energy and effort to institute proper limits, and even then you may still face opposition. Jesus led a life of balance yet still faced persecution, tiredness, betrayal, and suffering. He held strong to His boundaries even when it made other people unhappy. This is seen clearly in His dealings with the Pharisees and other antagonists. Jesus was not concerned about making people happy. He was concerned about their souls and their relationship with God.

You can work on boundaries by

  • Resting enough so that you have sufficient energy to set and hold limits. One of the purposes of sleep is to prepare our brains for the next day. In addition to mental renewal there is physical repair that happens as well. Make sure you make time to stop and recharge so you will have enough energy to set boundaries on yourself and your children. Limit-setting takes a lot of mental and physical energy.
  • Learning to be friendly with the word “no.” “No” can provide breathing room and respect. It is ok to say “no” to others when you need to. It doesn’t make you a bad person, friend, spouse or parent. When you say “yes” to something, you have to say “no” to something or someone else. If you say “yes” to another task at work, being out with friends, or another project around the house you are saying “no” to time with your spouse or kids, or to time you might otherwise use to recharge. It is important to keep your focus on balance as a parent, spouse, employee, friend, and servant of Christ.
  • Establishing rules and consistently reinforcing them. Our homes have fences around them that show the boundaries of our land. They don’t move depending on how people feel. The boundaries are there and people learn to respect them. In the same parents need to set clear limits and enforce them consistently. In a study out of Pennsylvania State University, researchers discovered that it is important to teach children about good moral decision-making with respect to the Internet at an early age (intentionality) so that they are able to more easily understand and follow limits on technology. These children who experienced limits were also more willing and skilled at placing limits on themselves. The researchers also found that younger teens were more compliant.
  • Learning from other people you respect who are able to provide boundaries with love and respect. Watch what people with good boundaries tend to do. They fill their emotional tank in order to most effectively and genuinely engage with others. Learn from these people and don’t be afraid to take notes. Pay attention to what disciplines and/or skills you are missing that can make it difficult to follow through on setting and enforcing boundaries.
  • Establishing what is most valuable to you. What is it that you make time for? What do you spend your money on? Where do you give most of your energy? Rearrange your priorities so that what is truly valuable in your life is treated that way.

Your family will love the results of you working on this trait. It will have long lasting impacts on you and your family. In fact, it will increase both your level of self-confidence as a parent and the level of trust your spouse and children have in you.  

Areas of strength in boundaries and limits  

Congratulations! This means you are friends with the word “no.” Your goal is not your children’s happiness as much as their growth. You are willing to go through the difficulty of training your kids to respect boundaries and limits. This takes consistency and intentionality. 

Two traits that are crucial for the long-term success of boundaries are love and respect. Keep in mind that if you are low on either or both of these traits it could lead to resentment, rebellion, and big-time confrontation in your home. If you scored low on either of those, make sure you work really hard on them before you start establishing and enforcing more boundaries.

If you’re providing your family with the wonderful trifecta of love, respect, and boundaries, you are a gem to your family! Even if there is conflict, your kids will gain security in your home. They will learn to love, respect, admire, and thank you someday.  You are truly providing a great foundation for your kids to learn about what it means to be an adult.

Some people hold to the misconception that boundaries only serve to suppress our freedom and squelch creativity, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we were created to thrive within certain boundaries—obeying God, living with His truth in our hearts and minds, and by listening to Him to gain much needed wisdom.  Psalm 119 provides a wonderful example of the benefits of loving God’s commandments and living within their boundaries.

There are many things in our lives that we need to set limits on—relationships, the words we use, the way we use our time, the media we consume, and our use of technology.

Technology use among children continues to rise, and the average age of individuals who use digital technology on a daily basis continues to skew younger. Technology demands boundaries and limits.  This can take a lot of energy and effort on your part as a parent, but fortunately you have the required skills.

Because there are many demands on time, your ability to say “no” is important to your sanity and to your family’s. There are so many good things to get involved with; you can help your family choose the “great” things to pursue.

You also, most likely, help your family set clear limits on what media is consumed. This is important because of the impact of media on our children’s minds and souls. Media influence belief systems; beliefs influence thoughts; thoughts and emotions influence one another resulting in actions. In other words, media has the potential of influencing our children’s beliefs and actions. While there may be some conflict with your children over media boundaries, just realize that you are investing your energy and time in a very important area of your children’s lives. (Plugged In can be a great support to you in this area. This online resource helps sift through the culture’s never-ending barrage of media to provide you the best information possible as you develop boundaries for entertainment in your home.)

Since you scored high in boundaries, you are able to help your family by

  • Modeling consistency of rules, limits, boundaries, and expectations. Your children learn that your “no” is “no” and your “yes” is “yes.” This makes it less likely for your children to attempt manipulation if they don’t appreciate a certain boundary you establish. Your consistency helps them learn to respect boundaries. It is interesting to watch coaches and players argue with referees. You’ll almost never see an official change a call because a coach or player whines or complains about it. The call remains the call and everyone moves on. In the same way, your consistency helps your children not get stuck on the call.
  • Teaching your kids responsibility. You can teach them that the words “no” and “yes” help set important boundaries in life. They’ll learn how to tell if they have energy, time and resources to do certain things. They will also gain trust and respect from others by being able to say “no” when they need to. A lot is learned about people by what they say “yes” to. Help your children become mindful about the sorts of things they agree to.
  • Modeling and teaching respect for rules, limits and boundaries. This will help your children more effectively navigate friendships, dating, marriage, work, parenting, and society.
  • Teaching what is right and wrong. Don’t be afraid to have conversations about the reasoning for various boundaries. This helps define the purpose of the boundary, and it allows your children to feel heard as they try to adjust to a boundary that they may not like or want.
  • Guarding your family time. This is important. It is very easy to get busy and scattered. Family time is essential. Your family needs not just quality time but quantity time, and your ability to set strong boundaries helps safeguard this precious commodity.

Boundaries are vital, even if we don’t always like them. In that sense, it’s a good thing that emotions don’t always run society because it would be constant chaos, fluctuation, and conflict. Thankfully, you are not controlled by emotions as you set necessary boundaries with wisdom, love and respect. Your family and society will thank you.  

Areas for growth in grace and forgiveness

It’s exciting to work on such a transformative trait as grace and forgiveness! This process will change the lenses of how you see people and the world around you.

Bob, a middle-aged man, used to see me for counseling. He told me he hated his dad, couldn’t forgive him for what he’d done. Bob had come to see me because he frequently yelled at his family, slammed doors at home, screamed at drivers, was short with co-workers and was struggling to maintain his second marriage. Bob couldn’t put to rest memories of his father’s absence, screaming, yelling, hitting, and eventual abandonment of his home. He was a wounded man and was readily wounding others around him. Bob told me he feared becoming his dad, even though it was clear that is exactly what was happening.

In parenting, the trait of grace and forgiveness is essential for the love of God to shine into your kids’ lives. It gives your family the ability to repair relationship when your imperfections clash. Research shows that choosing forgiveness helps our brains grow in empathy and in our ability to see the positive side of a situation.

In the context of parenting, developing this trait will help you understand that kids misbehavior or mistakes is not a personal attack. Children are still growing. They need patient and understanding guidance and forgiveness.

Grace also frees us from our past, allowing us to live in the present. The following are some ways you can begin working on grace and forgiveness in your life:

  • Make a list of events or individuals you have difficulty forgiving. You can put this list in your wallet, purse, Bible or any other place you will look. Ask yourself: Why do you have difficulty forgiving these people? What is your benefit by bitterly remembering these events? What is the benefit if you do forgive?
  • Make a list of past moments that you can’t seem to let go of. Next, try to hold a cup filled with water for 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 10 minutes. Did you notice that the longer you hold the glass, the heavier it gets even though it is the same weight? Likewise, remembering the pain and anger inflicted by others gets so much heavier the longer we hold on to it. You will be free emotionally “lift” your family if you are able to free yourself from the burdens of the past. Picture yourself physically letting go of each past event. What does it feel like to make this list of burdens shrink?
  • Learn to see imperfections in your family as opportunities. Everyone makes mistakes, and when we see these moments as chances for love, learning and growth, we develop skills in patience and grace.
  • Continually ask yourself, “Is there another way to look at this?” This helps train your train in forgiveness, in the ability to see the same event from multiple angles. For example, if your daughters says, “I hate you”, it likely means something completely different. Perhaps she hates the fact that she can’t have what she wants. It is not personal. She is still learning how to handle his emotions. Once everyone has calmed down, rephrase her words to teach her how to more respectfully communicate frustrations.
  •  Look at the bigger picture. Grace is really God’s territory. He has freely forgiven us, giving us the ability to forgive others. Since we have received this forgiveness, why are we often unable to extend forgiveness ourselves? Our brains seem to get stuck on the negatives. We can’t let it go! Challenge yourself to look past the negatives to the positives of a relationship, especially with your children. You’re helping to create an adult. What an amazing opportunity! Find a place to calm your emotions, so that you can see far enough to find grace. Grace and forgiveness will help you develop humility and foster love in your home. It is worth the hard work!

Areas of strength in grace and forgiveness

Scoring high on grace and forgiveness is a true blessing to your family. They have a peacemaker in leadership, one who provides a healthy example of God’s ministry of reconciliation. You are helping your family learn how to handle differences, conflict and even possible betrayals. Grace and forgiveness is an antidote to anger, frustration and disappointment that you’ll often face in family life.

Grace inspires compassion when others hurt us. It brings calmness to stress. Jesus provided us with a powerful example when, while in excruciating pain and humiliation, He yelled out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Grace helps your children know that they can make mistakes while still continue growing in their identity in Christ. Here are five ways you can help your family through grace and forgiveness:

  • Teach your family ways to learn from mistakes, to see them as opportunities to grow. My 11-year-old daughter was acting up recently and spilled frozen peas all over the kitchen floor. We all stopped for a moment and looked at her. She seemed paralyzed, waiting to see what was going to happen next. We could tell she felt bad. My wife said, “the dogs are going to be very happy.” My daughter laughed and watched as the dogs ate every green pea on the floor.
  • Model ways to let go of grudges. It is easy to hang on to events where we’ve felt wronged. It takes a strong person to apologize, but an even stronger person to forgive the person who apologized. As a family, talk through the need to forgive others. Let your kids hear you discussing the grace needed forgive a neighbor, a family member, the driver who cuts you off in traffic. Teach your children what issues and moments are worth standing against, and what is best just letting go.
  • Give your kids the freedom to discuss hard topics. Let your kids see your home as a safe place to talk. Be the voice of gentle wisdom and grace when difficult conversations must happen. This allows for sincerity and open communication to grow in your home.
  • Teach your children how to effectively manage emotions. Even in the small situations of life, help them see that anger and frustration do not have to win. I tell my kids that our behavior is like a vehicle, and our emotions are merely signals—little blinking lights--rather than the drivers that steer the whole car. We have the opportunity to sort through an emotion, turn it off, and then steer ourselves in a different direction.

Areas for growth in gratitude

Gratitude is the foundation to so many things. If you scored low on this, you have been missing out on a lot. It may be that you are a very task focused kind of person or someone who has not grown up with an example of pausing and truly noticing what you have.

Stopping to notice the value of the little things leads you toward kindness. Interestingly, kindness synergistically increases gratitude.

According to research done by Antonio Damasio, professor of neurology and psychology at USC, true gratitude was found to inspire a “pay it forward” attitude. In other words, when someone does something for you, gratitude causes you to want to do the same for someone else. This can be transformative for you, your family, and the entire culture.

In Scripture, God repeatedly reminds us through Paul to be thankful. He mentions it as an anchor to the new self. It helps the other Christian virtues work and shine. Your family will love that you’re working on gratitude, because it naturally makes you a kinder person. It will also help you become a “noticer” of things and people around you. You’ll also bring an energizing peacefulness to your home.  You can work on gratitude by:

  • Learning to pause and notice things and people you are thankful for. Stop and verbally say what you’re grateful for. You can start by truly being thankful for air, food, water, shelter, and life. Genuine gratitude requires pressing the “pause” button of life and allowing yourself to really feel thankfulness. Researchers have found that this type of gratitude is great for your health. God designed it that way.
  • Starting a thankfulness journal and share some things you write with your family whenever you can.
  • Telling your kids specific things you’re thankful for in them. For example, telling them you are grateful for their smile, their laughter, their help or words.
  • Trying to shift a perception of a situation from negative to something with hope or positivity. For instance, if your child accidentally breaks a plate, you can focus your attention on the opportunity to show grace and help your child learn responsibility by cleaning up what happened. You are also able to model love through patience.
  • Breathing. Sometimes ungrateful people are really stressed out people. Stop, breathe, notice, and challenge yourself to say out loud what you’re thankful for. This helps your brain gather up several “wins” throughout the day, even though stress may try to pull you sideways.

Gratitude will not only transform you, it will transform your relationships. It will help you find peace and see God’s fingerprints all over your life and surroundings. You will know He is truly with you wherever you go. 

Areas of strength in gratitude

Thankful people are kind people. Since you scored high on the trait of gratitude, you see the true value of relationship and tend to value what is around you. Your perspective is essential for your family. You are able to see the “bright” side of things. Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement and the secret sauce for positivity.

You are more likely to bring peacefulness wherever you go. Gratitude is a sign of Christian maturity and requires a perspective focused on freedom. Positivity and calmness follow you. What a great gift you bring to those around you through your strength in gratitude ! Your kids most likely feel they are valuable to you. They know that you are thankful to have them as your children, regardless of their imperfections. You are likely to express your gratitude verbally: “I am thankful to have you as my son/daughter!” This is a great exercise. Act with the assumption that your children don’t know you’re grateful for them. Always strive to let you kids understand that you’re thankful for them, even when you are busy, stressed, tired, or cranky.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain is changed by gratitude. Prathik Kini of Indiana University led a group of researchers to look at the effects of gratitude on the brain. They found that the more a person practices gratitude, the more their brain naturally responds gratefully. It’s almost like working out. The areas of the brain that help with being grateful grow and develop long lasting connections. The brain develops resiliency in response to disappointment, adversity, and loss. This is brain growth that can happen at any time in life.

You can help your family become more grateful or just benefit from your strength in gratitude by:

  • Modeling how to pause and notice what you’re thankful for. You can show them how to stop and “smell the roses.” Help your kids acknowledge the little things and feel the great benefits of truly being and feeling thankful. Help them see God’s provision on a day-to-day basis.
  • Practicing saying something you’re thankful for each day. You can do this at the dinner table, while driving, or walking. It is easiest to just incorporate it into the day. You can also model talking to God all day long about things you are thankful for.
  • Creating a family gratitude journal. Some families do this either in a very accessible notebook or a private family blog that everyone can add to at any time.
  • Helping your family see what you have as a family and what God has provided rather than being hyperfocused on what you don’t have or what others have.
  • Helping your family see the positive side to difficult, disappointing, or frustrating situations. This can get annoying for some, so be careful. Find genuine ways to gain new perspectives that may have been overlooked. For example, if your basement floods and you have insurance, you will most likely be thankful you have insurance and will have it fixed. It will just be inconvenient. There are some people who are able to say, “It’s just stuff” when they have lost almost everything. They respond with an attitude of, “At least we still have our family, lives, and health.” This helps them have a resilient mindset. You can model this resiliency, which can help your children tremendously as they become adults.

Paul takes gratitude to an extraordinary level. He says in Romans 5:3-5 (ESV) that, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving Day. It is for all year round and in everything, including our sufferings. Your gratitude will help your family find peace and help them truly see what has been done for them, including the sacrifice of Jesus’s death on the cross for their sins. 

Areas for growth in intentionality

The men who have pride and peace of mind
And the respect of other men…
The men who say in their twilight years
That they’d do it all again…
The men who love the flowers and trees
And watching animals (and kids) play…
These are wealthy men, for what they have
Can never be taken away.
— George E. Young

Picture these men. Where does their wealth come from? From taking the necessary time to pause, see, and connect. These things take awareness and effort, i.e., intentionality. Intentionality doesn’t require perfection or even adequacy. A low score on intentionality may mean several different things. For instance, you may be quite busy or disorganized. Regardless of the reason, take heart. The fact that you are reading this means that you are being intentional! Changing takes time, effort, and commitment. You can do this!

Greatness in most things like music, sports, and art require hours and hours of hard work and diligence. How much more effort and time do great marriages and great parenting require? A lot! In reality, we will never be perfect spouses or parents no matter how much time and effort we invest in our families. However, through intentionality, we can pursue growth and connectedness in our families.

Intentionality really is about what we pay attention to throughout the day. The word “intentionality” comes from the Latin intentio, whose root word means “directed at”. We are inundated with distractions, some louder than others. In order to develop intentionality we need to learn how to become “directed at” our goal and become more laser-focused.

You can become more intentional by:

  • Paying attention to and making time for the small stuff. Each day, try to make a list of just a few important goals and accomplish them. For example, writing a note of love to your wife, a note of affirmation to your daughter, and a note of encouragement to your son are three great things you could accomplish in a day. The next day, you could expand your list and keep adding small changes in attention and connection. These small adjustments can create a significant impact.
  • Defining what is important to you. What are your wants, and in what order? Our needs are clear—God, air, food, water, shelter, clothes. Our wants switch according to the time of day, day of the week, month of the year, and age and stage of life. Our wants are not only dependent on our emotions, but also our values.
  • Taking control of your time and schedule, as well as your family’s. This requires knowing how to set limits. In a study out of the University of California, Berkeley, researchers examined the sleep habits of 2,700 teens. They discovered that later bedtimes were correlated with emotional problems in young adulthood. They also found that teens with healthy sleep cycles (approximately nine hours of sleep per night) not only did better emotionally but also academically. Kids can reset their off-kilter circadian clock (which predisposes them toward later bedtimes) when parents help them set limits on bedtimes and nighttime technology use, with the goal of preparing their brain for the next day.
  • Taking time to connect. Connecting with God and family should take priority over all other relationships. If there isn’t time for these, things get off balance; you don’t run your life—your life runs you. Make time in your schedule to surprise each of your kids for a quick lunch date at their school. Present them with unexpected tickets to a movie or an invitation to go to the park. Be creative, have fun, and make time. Chances are good that your schedule will say you don’t have time for creative connections. If so, take control of your calendar and stop letting it take control of you.
  • Learning to plan ahead. This is difficult and takes organization. After all. many of us have the skill of procrastination down to a science. But planning ahead brings peacefulness to your life as well as your family’s. You don’t necessarily have to plan months and months ahead. Start by planning just days in advance. Intentionality thrives on simplicity.
  • Teaching your kids about life at each stage. Each new phase of a child’s life presents new challenges. You have the opportunity to help prepare your child for what is to come. You also get the privilege of teaching your child how to understand and manage what they are currently facing. This requires some intentional unplugging and disconnecting from the world in order to connect.

Intentionality doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple, but be focused. We all pay attention to a number of things—we just have to figure out what those are and why. Do you want to be focused on what currently has your attention, or are there better things to concentrate on? This is a great opportunity to shift and take action.

Areas of strength in intentionality

It is fantastic that you are dependable, involved and focused on helping your kids grow. Your ability to plan, think ahead, prepare, learn, and emotionally invest yourself is a great gift to your family. Daniel in the Old Testament was intentional with his prayer life, and he continued despite adversity. He was committed to God with all his heart, and God honored that.

Keep in mind that true intentionality has relationship at its core. Since you are intentional, you are most likely willing to talk about difficult topics with your kids. Your goal is to prepare them for the next stages, situations, and relationships they will be facing.

Intentionality also means that you are willing to do the hard work of parenting. You learn about technology to be able to truly parent your child in a world surrounded with technology. You are more likely to have monitoring and/or filtering software on all or most technology devices.

You are more likely to have family contracts and lists that help clarify boundaries and expectations. You are also more apt to take time off of work to spend time with your family.

Parenting takes time, sacrifice, and hard work, which is why intentionality is crucial when the pace of life for parents is so fast. You can help your family become more focused and relational by:

  • Teaching how to prioritize. Prioritizing sometimes means going against your own emotions. One way to help kids learn to prioritize is to help them distinguish needs from wants. You can make a list of needs and rank them in order from 1–10 and share your list with your family (e.g., air, food, water). Next, make a list of wants and rank them. This is the list that will help teach your kids prioritizing skills. Needs and wants tend to jump around depending on how we feel in the moment. You may point out, for example, that if you are hungry, a hamburger might be high on your top ten list of wants. If you’re not hungry, a hamburger might not even make your list. Intentionality helps keep wants where they need to be, which is beneficial to relationships and for life in general.
  • Modeling sincere attention to relationship and necessary details. Jesus was attentive to both of these as He remained focused on His purpose and calling. As a mom or dad, you can help your children genuinely care enough for relationships and details to say “no” to other things. This is difficult, but worth it.
  • Seeking wisdom and not just knowledge. Many people are inundated with facts but seem to lack wisdom. Wisdom requires you to intentionally pause, think, reflect, and respond.  Discernment, the capacity to perceive what is true, takes careful thought and intentional connection with God. One source of wisdom and discernment regarding entertainment options is Plugged In. This excellent online resource helps provide parents the necessary information to make the best decisions about movies, TV, music, and other media.
  • Developing and implementing healthy and consistent limits and boundaries. You can help design contracts and plans that provide guidance and boundaries in your home (e.g., guidelines that govern computer or smartphone usage, use of the car, etc.). Applying filters and similar software to your networked devices is another way to create healthy boundaries that can keep your family safe while surfing the Internet.
  • Planning ahead. This means taking the time to determine your next steps. This is great skill for kids to learn. You can gently, and with grace, help your kids learn to plan, which in turn helps them develop a sense of security and responsibility. Give them hands-on opportunities to plan some things (a weekend activity, a meal, a part of your family vacation, etc.). Kids love to feel in control; give them some control as they plan. Be creative and make it fun.
  • Initiating communication. Take the time to listen and talk. Your goal is connection. Make it a priority to put things aside just to build and solidify relationships. Be willing to tackle difficult topics with your kids, such as sex, drugs, friends, and decision-making.

Intentionality takes a lot of energy and effort, but it will help keep your family on a consistent path. As you model and teach this trait your children’s respect for you will grow, especially if your actions are seasoned with love and grace. 

Areas for growth in love

Being a perfectly loving parent is never easy. We all have times where we fall short. And scoring low on this trait doesn't make you an unloving parent. It just means that what you think of as loving may not be the most authentic, connecting love your family often needs from you. And there may be any number reasons from your background that drives you to interpret parental love in this way.

But what an exciting area to grow in, and learn about. True parental love is more than just an emotion. It is a discipline composed of decisions — choices that parents learn and refine over time.

As I’ve worked with families, I’ve seen parental love demonstrated in a variety of ways. Some parents just seem more loving and nurturing. This is seen through their words (compliments and encouragement) and actions (serving, giving of their time, affection). Some other parents are more task-focused and seem to love through providing order and security in the child’s surroundings rather than connection. Still other parents may express their love by doing things for their children so that they won’t feel hurt or upset. Their intentions are good, even if this type of love isn’t always healthy for kids.

As you seek to be a more loving parent, it is important to understand that love does not mean hovering around your kids. This “helicopter” parenting involves rescuing kids whenever there is any type of adversity. I’ve seen parents blaming teachers because their kids were getting bad grades. This is not love; this is crippling! These kids won’t be able to learn how to resolve problems. They won’t buckle down and work harder when the going get tough. Not long ago, a study out of Florida State University found that “helicopter” parents actually prevent kids from growing up and learning how to handle life. These parents essentially stunt their kids’ development—all in the guise of love.

Love is so much more than just buffering and protecting. The other side of love—the limits, correction, and being able to say “no”—must play as large a role as the gentle side of love. This is grounded in the truth of God’s love, how He balances care and nurturing with the direction and correction that all human beings need.

To work on love, you can begin by working on these five practical and easy-to-implement exercises:

  • Challenge yourself to play, laugh and smile with your kids for 10 or 15 minutes every day. Then take time to reflect on what this felt like to you and notice how this impacts your kids and your relationship. After about a month, double the time playing with your kids. Your kids will love it. God created laughter and play to be beneficial to our health and available to us at any time. What a gift!
  • Prioritize your schedule. Make of list, seeing where you can put some one-on-one time with each of your kids. Consistent quality time is very much appreciated by kids. For younger kids, even a five-minute cuddle at the beginning of the day can help them feel real, connective love.
  • Put stop sign or pause button sticky-notes around your house, in the car and on your phone. When you see these, practice relational attention. What can you stop and notice about your child? Tell him how thankful you are that he is your child. Take a moment to share with your daughter something you love about her.
  • Recognize each child’s uniqueness. Write them notes to tell them what you see and admire. Kids love to know that they are noticed. I love to put a circle where I know my child will be looking in the mirror. Next to the circle, I put arrows and encouraging observations that I see in my kids. They love this!
  • Write out Philippians 4:8 and put your child’s name in the verse. For example, what is excellent about ______________? What is trustworthy about _______? What is pure about _________? What is honorable __________? You get the point. Once you have this list written out, put it somewhere where your child can see it. 

Areas of strength in love

Congratulations! You scored high on the trait of love. Love is the foundation upon which the other traits rest.

It’s not always easy to pay attention to or interact with our kids, especially when most of us are juggling busy schedules with depleted energy levels. But real parental love provides “emotional glue” for family life, helping us all thrive in the messiness and busyness that goes into building relationships. Parents who, even when exhausted, take the time to pause, laugh and play, their children will remember these moments and feel a sense of connection with their family. Lightheartedness and sincerity is an awesome gift for your family!

Real love helps your family live and work as a team, despite every family member’s imperfections. These skills of flexibility grow over time, because there is a constant need to adjust, learn and respond everyone’s differences. Your love nurtures this flexibility, so that disagreements don’t get stuck spinning in negativity.

Loving your kids means telling them that you love them in various ways. This comes through time together, through little gifts, through encouraging words. Your kids are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and worth when they sense the message of “I love you” through your daily interactions.

God is love! It’s exciting that your love as a parent provides a picture of one of God’s core characteristics. Here are a few ways you can help pass on this great personality trait to your children:

  • Model and teach your children how to love God, each other and others outside your home.
  • Model connectedness by showing your kids how you prioritize your schedule. Show them ways they can prioritize their own schedules to show love to others.
  • Model a gentle kindness toward others, even when there are disagreements and conflict. This is important when you speak about others in front of your children, especially people that you personally don’t really like very much.
  • Teach your kids how to be flexible when disagreeing, disappointed, or frustrated with others.

Areas for growth in respect

Respect is a central trait to effective family communication, resolving conflict and receiving respect in return. Scoring low on this trait may indicate different things about how your background has influenced your parenting personality. But take heart: Taking the time to read these notes is a big sign of respect toward your family.

You may have grown up in a home that didn’t often demonstrate respect. Perhaps family members communicated through sarcasm, volume or power. This style of communication will not likely work well with your children. Sarcasm is not a genuine or helpful component of any relationship—it can be degrading and disrespectful. Loud, powerful parenting is likewise ineffective. As parents, our goal in communication is to connect with our children, not control their behavior.

People from homes where children rarely had opportunity to express their opinions likely didn’t see great models of respectful behavior. As parents, these individuals may struggle to let other family members share their opinions. They may have a more opinionated or inflexible personality, especially when their child’s opinions oppose their own.

Children and teenagers are much more likely to value and respect their parents when they are given frequent opportunities to be heard, to express their opinions. This helps build the skills to develop a clear sense of identity and respect for others. This also helps them grow into young adults more capable of tackling adversity.

As you strive to build a more respectful environment in your home, consider implementing these six strategies:

  • Take the time to pause and explain to your kids your expectations. It’s important that you help them understand the reasoning behind the expectations. Kids are natural curious to know the “why” behind rules, and as parents, we shouldn’t interpret this curiosity as disrespect. Think of it this way: If you were creating rules for a newly invented sport, no one would know how to play if the rules and expectations were not clear in their purpose and definition.
  • Guide your kids to become better decision-makers. Sometimes this means holding off on offering a opinion while your child wrestles through a decision. Other times, this means guiding them through the pros and cons of possible decisions. Wise decision-making skills usually take time and patience. Set up written reminders in your home that help you remember this truth: “Time and patience = good decision-making.”
  • As your family faces decisions, ask your kids about their opinions and sincerely listen to their point of view. This doesn’t mean you’ll follow their point of view kids just love to be heard and known. You’re still in charge, but you’re listening.
  • Frequently pause and think about how your child may interpret or misinterpret what you are saying. Consider their unique personality, what they are sensitive to. Ask yourself, “What is it like for my son or daughter to be with me?” or “What is it like to have me as a parent?
  • Work very hard at noticing opportunities to compliment rather than criticize. Become the primary “observer” of uniqueness, accomplishments, wittiness or other great characteristics and moments of your family life. Your children will love this about you.
  • Strive to use humor that doesn’t put your children down. Be sensitive to the fact that your words—even everyday silly jokes—are building blocks to their identity. Use your humor to provide lighthearted, restful moments when things get tough. If humor doesn’t come naturally to you, find some riddles or jokes and write them on a napkin or note for your kids. Put them at their place at the table or in their lunch bag. Your children will look forward

Ask your kids their opinion and sincerely listen to their point of view. It doesn’t mean it’s the right point of view, kids just love to be heard and known. You’re still in charge, but you’re listening. 

Areas of strength in respect

Respect is one of the most important ingredients of effective and connected communication. It involves recognizing the God-given value of every person. It is seen through patience and helping others see that you value their opinions and presence.

Scoring high on the respect trait likely means you provide your kids with a sense of belonging and competence. You give them an opportunity to be heard. If you use humor, you use it for connection rather than to assert power or create shame. More importantly, you model God’s instruction. He wants us to pursue wisdom more than riches and power, and you are helping to train your kids to become more confident and wise decision-makers.

Researchers analyzing differences between permissive and harsh parenting styles have found that parents who let kids do whatever they want were slightly more likely to develop bullies than parents using a harsh parenting style. But truly respectful parenting provides children with a healthy balance of correction and connection. Respectful parents are not threatened by kids asking questions regarding rules and expectations. Your kids are learning to advocate, think and resolve disagreements. These are excellent relationship skills!

You can help your family learn to grow in the area of respect by:

  • Modeling the actions of listening and observing instead of simply reacting. Over time, this trains your children how to attentively listen to others.
  • Teaching the value of symbolic “stop signs” in the home. For example, if your child interrupts another one of your children, you can remind the interrupter that he just went through a stop sign. You can be creative in how you implement this, but the message to your child is the same: respecting what others have to say is just as important as what you have to say. Stop signs help us develop patience and awareness, key ingredients to respect.
  • Clearly communicating and reinforcing limits, expectations and love in the home.
  • Helping kids recognize how wise decisions are a sign of respect for others. Give your children the ability to think beyond themselves and the moment. For instance, regarding media discernment, you can teach your child to ask, “Is what I am about to watch respecting my future wife or husband?” You can also teach your child to strive to be thinking about, “What’s it like (for other people) to be with me?”
Copyright © 2017 by Focus on the Family

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