Nearly every parent reads to their child. Homes across the nation are holding tanks for cardboard books that act as placeholders for children's first memories. These memories are sparked by many adults as they thumb through old children's books, drawing up images of their parents sitting in a rocking chair reading to them as toddlers. This simple act of reading built an expectation for their now adult children that few parents realize is life-forming.
Reading with a parent is usually the first focused attention a child practices. During toddler reading, small children work to track characters and wrestle with moral questions as parents unearth simple stories that spark curiosity. With a parent's arm wrapped around them, children learn important lessons through this focused attention, guided by their parents.
But somewhere between footie pajamas and tying shoes children ditch the books and venture out of the nursery. The danger for parents is to think they've exited the reading phase, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Students continue reading with parents beyond the nursery. Daily interactions and conversations in various locations bring parents back to the rocking chair with their children. The question is, do we realize it? Here are 5 ways parents continue nursery reading sessions well into adolescence, with a helpful tip on how to build into these locations a meaningful contact point for students.
The Long Drive to Dig Deeper:
The biggest life changing event for me was my parents' 4am paper route. There was a unique annoyance with the 3am wake-up calls. But in the car, stuck with my parents for 2 hours, I learned unique lessons. For starters, I was introduced to the Jackson 5 and Simon & Garfunkel. I obviously didn't pick the music.
But more than piercing falsettos, I heard my parents in the car. There is a lot of conversation that can happen in a car. For starters, we can talk about almost anything because it feels private. But more importantly I developed a significant connection with my parents because I spent purposeful time with them.
There are any number of things that can distract us from our kids. But in the car those distractions can dissipate. The cell phone goes in the cup holder. Business calls can't be hashed-out with the dashboard to peer over. The internet is buzzing over our heads while miles pass under our feet. The car can be a sacred space. A place where distractions are actively shutdown. If we as parents focus on creating a sacred space in the car, with purposed quantity time with students, our relationship will get stronger, and kids will open up. I'm a testimony to it.
These car conversations are important for students. Culture is creating an army of pleasure junkies where cell phones and snapchat are a constant source of dopamine. But statistics are showing that more than technology, students want their parents. If parents have read to their kids from an early age, they've trained students to crave parent time. Parents should teach students to build sacred spaces for important conversations, where quick pleasure isn't accessed, and deep questions are always hashed-out. Students learned to read from their parents, and they don't stop. How parents treat long periods of boredom, like a car ride, is something students learn to replicate. So create a sacred space in your car and keep reading to your child.
Pass the Peas and Thinking:
Dinnertime at my house is insane. It usually involves someone falling off a chair because they were reaching across the table, some spilled milk, and me yelling at someone because they started to eat before my wife sat down. Dinner is filled with stress.
But last year something remarkable happened. I sat down on our sofa after a day at work and picked-up my new born. My six year-old left his imaginary world of play and sat next to me. He looked up to catch my eye and asked me a question I've heard come out of my mouth a hundred times at dinner. "Dad," my son started. "How was your day today?" We practiced conversation.
Deeper than the simple lesson that our kids read us is the fact that the conversation trailed deeper because I directed it. I spent the day at work organizing a trip for students to pray at an abortion clinic. I started explaining my work to my son. He heard the depth of issues, how it impacts culture, and why we need to do something about it. These lessons weren't covered in his Thomas the Train books when he was younger, but he learned to listen in that reading time. He learned to ask questions at the dinner table. He learned about the issue of abortion on the sofa. It all relates.
So dinner time is an imperative time for both parents and students. The reason is that dinner is another sacred space, if you create it to be. It's a place where people rise above tasks. Technology should not be present. Instead, we talk about what we're thankful for. We share successes and difficulties from our day. We practice empathy. The peas are personal. Thinking is a taught thirst. Dinnertime is important. Students read parents during dinner. It's an easy time to teach.
Walk in to More Worship:
We don't celebrate enough. Our poker faces are highly developed. We thumb through Facebook and Instagram on our phone with little emotion. When we see something exciting, we like it. When we don't agree with something, we simply swipe past it, and our kids are reading us.
I have been trying to celebrate things more. In my class there is a student who overcame a lot of difficulties to complete an assignment. It would be easy to simply give her a grade. But, this was a time to celebrate. Donuts spread across my desk and when she entered I started cheering. It was a little awkward, but it was so worth it to see a sly smile start on her face. She was reading me. It was important for her to know that emotions are ok. Celebration is good.
This same feeling came over me at Christmas. It's my heart's desire that my kids dance for Jesus, whether in their heart, mind, or physically moving. I deeply want them to be excited about what God does in their life. I often bounce in church to remind myself to celebrate. It's a little funny. Sometimes the ushers jokingly tell me to keep it down, lest I start a riot. But my kids are reading me.
I deeply want my kids to see that church is not a place for a poker face. It's a place to celebrate. Let's walk in more worship, sharing with our students what we're thankful for. They're reading us, are we telling them about the incredible things God is doing? Are we showing them the joy that comes from knowing Jesus? I always read Go Dog Go with inflection, but I'm not sure my life has an equal inflection when it comes to Jesus. I want to walk more in worship. Will you join me in this reading?
Big Deal Birthdays:
Few things are big deals for teenagers. Constant comparison with friends on social media can create a picture of themselves that isn't realistic. They often feel that they need to do something incredible, like complete a handstand on two chairs in their bedroom, to feel a sense of accomplishment. If they don't get a picture on their phone, the event files away as something ordinary. If they don't get over 100 hearts on Instagram, it didn't make a splash.
This is their world. But, parents can redirect this if they're attentive. Students value friendships and popularity, for about seven years. Starting at 13, students begin looking outside of the home to gauge their value, based mostly on what they do. This lasts usually until their twenties. Then they realize the role friends play in their life. But there are certain rhythms parents can create that will build confidence and a better view of self-worth.
Birthdays are an easy ritual in the life of students that parents can monopolize and build into for their students. A family dinner, maybe even with a crown or special pair of shoes, is a simple action that allows parents to communicate value and worth to students. During the dinner families can communicate value to students. What needs to be communicated is that students aren't valuable because of what they do, but because of who and whose they are.
Your kids are important because they're your kids. They should know that. Tell them that. Birthdays are an easy place to communicate that. Also, students hold value because God declared them worthy in sending Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead. In his resurrection, Jesus gives His followers victory. Students should hear what that victory means. They're reading you to see what you're going to say about them. Use special events to say that they're a big deal; not because of what they do, but because of who and whose they are.
Canadians call vacations, holidays. This confused me during the first three years of my marriage with my wife. What I learned is that her view of a holiday is simple. It's a day when no work is done.
Teenagers continually read parents as we communicate the world to them. Vacations are a great time to communicate some important truths to them. There doesn't need to be a waterpark or tiki torches for time away to be a vacation. We just need to put down the phone and not do any work.
In this time students learn that they are important. Simple conversations, or even a simple walk down the street or sitting at the park, teaches students that work isn't the most important thing in life. Smelling the flowers while walking on a bike path teaches students to pause, be still, and consider beauty.
One of my favorite images in my head is the idea of volleying vacations with my kids. I'm looking forward to the time when they have a three day weekend from school and I can take a personal day. I'm looking forward to simply volleying this idea of not working. I'm yearning to teach them to pause, and I'm really excited to see what they teach me in these moments too. They're reading me, but I also want to practice reading them. This discipline of honoring a vacation, taking a break, and focusing on my student will have a lasting impact on them where I believe they'll learn to replicate this practice with their friends, spouse, or even me in my elder years.