Child-Training the Bored and Restless Ones

By Keith Miller | February 14, 2011

Dear Keith,  my husband and I are both Christians.  We are doing our best to teach our two young sons how to treat other people—thinking about other people’s feelings, showing respect and using good manners.  They seem so uninterested when we explain these things to them.  What else can we do to help them learn about this, since it is so vital for their ability to get along in the world when they are grown and on their own?  Any ideas?

Sounds like you’ve got the future well-being of your boys well in mind as you bring them up.  I had some good days and bad days as a father.  I don’t know how old your boys are now, but it seems to me that their apparent boredom [dis-interest] is pretty normal.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t watching and listening.  And it doesn’t mean that you quit explaining. But I believe that it is possibly your personal example that teaches the most—how you and your husband treat each other, your friends, relatives and the strangers you encounter in stores, etc. when your sons are with you.  Also, if you write or e-mail thank-you notes for Christmas presents, etc.  We required that our kids write thank you notes starting early.  It’s also important in how you treat your boys, even when they are disrespectful, rude or insensitive to your feelings (i.e. Do you correct them without shaming them?  If you have shamed them, can you tell them you’re sorry?)  It’s very possible that they may be watching you more than you think.

As I thought about this, I remembered a story from my childhood.  When I was five, I heard that my mother’s birthday was the next day. She was always giving people gifts. “What if she didn’t get one?” I thought.

I decided I’d buy her a birthday present. I put the thirty-five cents I’d saved from my allowance in my jeans pocket, slipped out of the house and started walking the dozen or so blocks to Main Street and the five-and-ten-cent store.  Once in the store, I couldn’t find the right gift.  Finally I approached the lady behind the counter.

“I want to buy a present for my mother.”

“How much money do you have?”

I opened my fist and showed her my thirty-five cents.

Nodding seriously, she said, “I see.” She showed me some things, but I only shook my head.  Then she picked up a little blue glass jar with white bumps all over it and a powder puff inside.  Wow! How could that lady have known that Mother had broken her jar just like this one!

“That’s it!”  Then fear.  “What does it cost?”

“Uh…thirty-five cents. Would you like me to wrap it? Wrapping is free.”


I carried the little brown sack with the gift-wrapped jar in it all the way home.  I was so excited that it didn’t seem far at all.

The next day while her friends were having birthday cake and coffee, I gave her my present.  She was really surprised! Then she asked, “Where did you get this, Johnny?”

“I walked to the store to buy it,” I said proudly.

You what?” Suddenly she looked frightened.  “Don’t ever do that again!”

When I cried, she picked me up. Hugging me, she said, “I love the present, but you should not walk downtown alone.”  Then she wept and held me until I could wiggle free.

As I was running out, I heard one of her friends say, “How in the world did you teach him to do that kind of thing at five?  Mother just shook her head and shrugged.

Grown ups were so dumb. There wasn’t any trick. All my life I’d seen my mother go to the trouble to give presents to everyone she knew.

Lord, thank you for a mother who was the changes she wanted to see in me.  Help me even at this late age to become a better person—father, grandfather and great grandfather—who may help them see and experience the love I feel for them as I hang out with them at the edge of their worlds.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Point your kids in the right direction—when they’re old they won’t be lost.” Proverbs 22:6, The Message


“The training of children is a profession, where we must know how to waste time in order to save it” Jean Jacques Rousseau, Swiss-born French philosopher, educationist & author


“Each child represents either a potential addition to the protective capacity and enlightened citizenship of the nation or, if allowed to suffer from neglect, a potential addition to the destructive forces of a community…. The interests of the nation are involved in the welfare of this array of children no less than in our great material affairs.” Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US president, 1901-09, colonel of Rough Riders cavalry in Spanish-American War


When you give a child advice your state of mind is far more important than the advice itself.  You may be inspired by fear—the fear that he is turning out badly.  In this case you will suggest the fear to him even without formulating it.  And your advice, however proper it may be, by turning his thoughts toward evil, gives power to the evil.  if, however, you are inspired by prudent and trusting wisdom, this same advice will be useful.

You have to punish a child.  You know well that you can do it in anger.  You will then work out of your own system the irritation his misdemeanor has caused you.  Or you may be avenging yourself unconsciously for punishments you yourself received in childhood.  In such a case the effect of the punishment will not be to correct him, but to arouse rebellion in him.  But it may also be a proper sense of your educational responsibility, which prompts you to punish him without any question of your being angry.  In this case it is your love for the child that inspires you, and the punishment will be fruitful.” Paul Tournier, Swiss Internist, The Person Reborn, p. 58

One comment | Add One

  1. eapenmohan - 02/14/2011 at 8:41 pm

    well i wish i had more time to spend with my boys, though both are 24 and 22 they are still my kids.
    we need to be available at even this stage.

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The Edge of Adventure (course) gave me the nudge I needed to remember that sometimes we just need to give ourselves completely to God and let Him do the rest.
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