The Two Most Important Things To Teach Our Kids

AM Two Important Things

I was lying in bed a couple weeks ago when it happened.


I tried to reel it back in, but the expletive was out of my mouth. I sat bolt upright, pulling the covers off my wife. She put down her book and looked at me like I was a crazy person.

“What is wrong with you?!” she asked.

Panicked, I said, “We only have six days left, and we haven’t done enough!”

Somehow, in my twilight sleep, my mind flashed back to an article she read when our kids were infants. It stated that parents are the chief architects of a child’s moral compass through age 8. After that, kids begin to question the infallibility of adults in their lives and look to their peers for guidance. Even if those peers are throwing bricks off an overpass and snorting cinnamon.

So, with my son’s 9th birthday fast approaching, a sense of doubt washed over me. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably felt it, too. Silently wondering if you’re doing it right, but knowing deep down that you haven’t done enough.

The next day, I Googled “top things to teach your kids” to find out just how much I had failed. One article listed five things of critical importance. Another had twenty-seven. One even listed 100 things. It was completely overwhelming. Especially considering I still haven’t been able to teach my kids to chew with their mouths closed or apologize for farting in my lap.

However, just before my downward spiral hit rock bottom, something miraculous happened. A still, small voice in my soul broke through the malaise and said:

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it has to be complicated.

And that voice is absolutely correct. Our problem as parents is not that we don’t have enough information – it’s that we have too much. Parenting today is like being trapped in a dryer full of “should have’s” and an “ought to’s”. The chaos spins all around us, but there isn’t a single thing we can hold onto for assurance.

In an effort to simplify parenting and get back what’s truly important, I dove into the research looking for common themes. And while there may be countless lessons we must teach our kids, I discovered two that stood out above all the rest. Two simple things that have the greatest chance of creating the society we all crave, filled with happy, productive adults that we don’t want to punch in the throat.


#1: Courage

In the age of helicopter parenting, raising courageous kids can be difficult. As the television fills our heads with fear of kidnappings and sexual predators, we grow ever more protective. We teach about stranger danger and conduct our surveillance from the cradle to the college campus using every device imaginable.

But here’s what has me scratching my head. There has never been a safer time to be a kid in America. A recent Washington Post article points out that mortality rates have fallen by nearly half since 1990. Reports of missing persons are down by 40% since 1997. Before you say, “that’s probably because we’re now watching our kids all the time!” note that 96% of missing persons cases are runaways.

So, not only is our over-parenting unnecessary, it’s also counter-productive. Our well-intentioned protection is actually creating a society of fearful, dependent adults.

Surveys show roughly one-third of professional employers today report parents submitting resumes on behalf of their child. One-quarter say a parent has called to advocate for their child being hired. And nearly one-in-ten accompany their child to the interview.

As parents, we must reverse this trend. We must give our children the courage to face adversity on their own.

Make no mistake, courage is not confidence. Kids today are more confident than ever. Even when there is no justified reason. Courage, on the other hand, comes from the latin word, “cor”, meaning “heart.” Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens you,” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.”

And this is what our kids need.

Because one thing is certain in this life. Our children will fail. No matter how smart, confident or hard working they may be. But studies show that kids who are most likely to achieve their goals are those who find their true passion and doggedly pursue it. But it’s important to note that these passions are not painted on by a parent from the outside. No, they bubble up from within. And they become so all-consuming that the child can’t help but find joy in the pursuit itself, no matter the outcome.

Instilling such courage in our kids requires that we parent at arm’s length. Or farther. Offering autonomy, support, and en-courage-ment. So our kids can become who God made them to be.

In His image.

Not ours.

Yes, this is the courage we must teach. But it’s not enough.


#2: Compassion

Like me, you likely feel that you do a good job of encouraging your kids without pushing too hard. You cheer them on, teaching the value of working hard to achieve a goal. The question becomes: how might our kids interpret all of this encouragement?

The Make Caring Common project at Harvard University recently surveyed 10,000 kids. What they found is both interesting and convicting.

Nearly 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”


Unfortunately, this is the result when we emphasize our kids’ courageous accomplishments in hopes of reinforcing effort and building self-esteem. They interpret this intense focus on achievement as an indicator of what is important in life.

But Brad Bushman, a research psychologist at Ohio State University, cautions that how we praise our children has a huge impact not only on what they believe is most important, but who is most important. His research found that overvaluing your child’s accomplishments, especially telling them how “smart” or how “special” they are, can lead to narcissism.

And this is how courage gets corrupted.

While self-esteem is believing your worth is equal to anyone else’s, narcissism is believing you are better than everyone else. And this can be very damaging character trait. Jean Twenge, who studies narcissism, notes that narcissists tend to lack empathy and have trouble maintaining relationships.

So why does this matter?

In the end, we all just want our children to be happy, right? But virtually every research paper written about happiness shows that the two biggest building blocks for sustained joy (besides health) are 1) having meaningful relationships, and 2) serving others. That’s right. These two trump money, trophies, and trips to the beach. Every. Single. Time. But all the courage in the world won’t give you strong relationships and a servant’s heart. It takes compassion.

Compassion comes from the Latin word meaning “to suffer with.” Compassion starts with sympathy – the ability to understand a person’s circumstances. And this sympathy grows into empathy – the ability to truly feel what another person is feeling. Even if they are suffering.

And compassion?

Compassion is empathy with action.

Compassion is how relationships are built and maintained. Friendships. Teams. Marriages. Compassion is about paying attention to the quiet voices of those on the margins. Hearing them. Feeling them. And then acting as though the interests of others are just as important as your own. Even when society and the scoreboard tell you something different.

Yes, we must teach our children to have compassion like this. And this type of compassion requires courage. The two go hand-in-hand.

Courage and compassion.



As I write these words, my oldest child is now 9 years old. There is already evidence that my influence is waning. We share fewer hugs in the school drop off line. His taste in music is becoming his own. Heck, he’s even spouting slang that I don’t understand.

Still, I refuse to believe that my time is up.

Amid the slamming doors and silent dinners to come, I’m sure there will be times I’ll feel like a failure. In those moments, my head will likely become a spin cycle of “should have’s” and “ought to’s”. But in those moments, my prayer is that I can be a father who has courage enough to show love without condition and compassion enough to see them for who they are. The ones I have raised. The ones I love. The courageous, compassionate children of God.

And in the end, that will always be enough.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.


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11 responses to “The Two Most Important Things To Teach Our Kids

  1. I’ve always felt that kids need to acquire three skills: To read well, to think critically, and to have good manners. Those three tools can take a person a long way in life.

  2. Sue Martin

    And then my son told me he did not believe in God anymore. And faith in God’s grace and mercy and not my own efforts was all I had.

    • Amy

      Sue – My heart aches at your brave admission. I know God is good. My 18-year-old godson has rejected his faith, too. I reassure his mother as much as I can. I believe with all my heart that he is called by God and that God will bring him back into relationship with Him, and that his timing will be perfect and powerful. Believe also in the power of prayer. Pray boldly and bravely for your son, as Moses prayed to spare the Israelites.

  3. Like to chat about the book on my radio (Australian) show. Could we set up a suitable time for.a pre record.

  4. Thanks for this. I have an eight-year-old, so this definitely hits home. I also teach high school English in a competitive school where many students are vying for spots in the “best” colleges, and yes, there is something toxic about focusing on grades/achievements and not on one’s character and relationships. What’s nice about teaching English is that you can address themes like compassion, courage, empathy, love; they show up in the books we read, and hopefully some of those lessons provide a counterbalance to the other, more insidious messages out there.

  5. i feel socialisation is very important in human life. The way we behave with the world shows how we are taught by our parents.

  6. Lauren Kuo

    I’m starting to see all these facebook posts and photos of children’s awards ceremonies and graduations from kindergarten or first grade – as if they had graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. Really, parents? Our daughter and last child just graduated magna cum laude from college. Courage and compassion are the two qualities that will carry her into this next chapter of her life, not the magna cum laude. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. “Have courage, and be kind.”
    -Cinderella’s Mother

  8. itsjusttoni

    Scott, don’t worry so much about what you are “teaching” your children. They don’t really learn from your lessons so much as what you are modelling in your behavior. Children are the Great Observers. From the day they are born they watch us and reflect our behaviors. I haven’t read every one of your posts, but I have read enough to conclude that you are a positive role model and your children will reflect that.

    That is not to say that they won’t rebel or stretch your boundaries as teenagers, they have to in order to become adults. But surprisingly, once they make it through those turbulent years, they return to the behaviors they saw from you when they were younger. Napoleon was right when he said, “Give me the boy until he is seven years old, and I will give you the man”.

    Just keep up the good work!

  9. Wow, finally after searching and searching have I found a place to comment about a previous blog of yours. What, do you have the ability to turn off comment replies by pushing a button? If you’re going to blog your personal thoughts for the world to see you can at least leave up the comment section for people to reply. Now Im not one that feels personally offended by your idiotic thoughts. However, I am concerned about how others have taken those thought. There seems to be an overwhelming response from the non able crafting individuals that they feel like you were writing through them, as if speaking their minds. Words of phrase and oh thank God someone said it’s over and over again. And thats fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But when the opinions of others go so far as to call the parents that do this fairy poop dust glittery crafting thing for kids, bad parents, dont spend time cuddling with their kids and such, well thats gone a bit to far. You were the cause of this, you hold full responsibility in igniting the flame underneath these rude people to post such comments about your words of wisdom. You have also made the parents that do the crafting with their kids or for their kids and other kids, to feel as though they should’nt. As if they are lesser a person for doing so. That you feel its a jab at you because you hadnt been given that God given talent. That is an unpopular thing to do, like its a nerdy thing to do. Your words, and I stress your, were the backbone of all the parents ignorant comments. Is that a Godly thing to do? Did God intend on you igniting such hatred in others to act in such a manner towards one another? I would like to think differently. Im am starting to think that you’re more a missionary of the devil. Do you not think before you write, or do you just bolt at it as if someone was attacking your family and you must do something about it? Slow the hell down and think before you write something. Obviously your words are empowering, think about what your going to inspire in people before you put it out for the world to see. Or rather, your herpes. I truly feel horrible for the parents that do the crafts for their kids. They should not feel ashamed for doing so. You apology was riddled with excuses, not a true feeling of being ashamed for influencing people to feel such contempt towards something that brings a child joy or a parent that has the ability to use their talent in such a way. Art is an expression, a way of being creative, just like your writing or being a parent in general. There are many different ways to express creativity in an artistic form and crafting is one of them. Do you not have art hanging in your house, or drive a nice looking car, live in a home, eat fine dining, go on vacations and admire works of art, or even see the world around you that was made by our creator? He himself is an artist, a crafter! So to the parent that was so ignorant to say that we dont cuddle with our children or rather that it takes time away from cuddling, it does not. When were not doing it for them we’re doing it with them. Its not just a good way to spend time with you’re children but it teaches them things, things they will use later in life, things they will do with their kids when they have a family, fine motor skills, colors, shapes, math, vocabulary skills at you interact and talk with your child. And its a good time to have a conversation about something that might be bothering your child or a good time to talk with them about some good qualities to carry on in life. Teachers use crafting everyday in school to teach subjects. Church teachers use it to teach children about God. Its a way of making something boring into something fun for kids. The child does not care if you cant cut a perfect circle, or that you cant draw a perfect dog. All they care about is that your spending time with them. And all you should care about is that your spending time with them. Quality time, one on one time, a time that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Its truly sad that you parents feel as if its something that you have to do your absolute best at or its not good enough. As if you’re a failure because you were not given that particular talent. And its sad that you feel the need to bash those that do have that talent. Everyone has a talent of some sort. And I hope that nobody ever makes you feel as though its a worthless, stupid, useless talent like you have done to many that have this talent. Shame on you all. Think before you write, do unto others as you would have them do unto you! Now go spend some time doing something that you enjoy doing with your children no matter what the hell it is! Thats good parenting!!!

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