"Mom! What do you think of my picture?" My friend leaned over, took a long look at her daughter’s picture and said, "Well, Honey, it’s not your best work, but I think it’s very nice."

Without batting an eye, the little girl tilted her head, looked up at her mom and said, "You know what, Mom? I think so, too, but I do like it!"

To that, my friend smiled and said, "Yes, Honey. I like it, too. I really do."

That little conversation had a big effect on me. I was a young mom then and thoroughly intrigued by the way my friend matter-of-factly told the truth to her child.

My friend and I hugged and said our goodbyes. I buckled my kids in the car and headed home. As the trees sped by in a blur, I reflected on how quickly time passes and how soon my sons would be young men preparing to face the world.

Lost footing

I couldn’t help but think of a young man I knew during my college years. He was a charming, gifted individual. If anybody had the goods to accomplish great things, he did. Yet never had I met such a self-conscious, insecure person. We became fast friends, and so I finally asked him: "How is it that you can be so gifted and talented yet so unsure of yourself?"

His answer shocked me.

"I came from a great family, a Christian family. My mom loved me, and I knew it. But according to her, I could do no wrong. She praised every single thing I did. And if I messed up, she helped me find some way to explain why it really wasn’t my fault. I went through my school years thinking I was always right.

"As you can imagine, I was not at all prepared for what was waiting for me in the real world. Out there, people don’t sing your praises every single moment. Your professors couldn’t care less if you have five good excuses for not doing what they asked. I’ve encountered more conflict and more disappointment than I know what to do with. It’s as though I’ve lost my footing. I don’t even know who I am anymore."

My mind lingered on that conversation while I pulled the car into the garage and unbuckled my sons. As they made their way into the house, I pondered how each of them had their own blend of contradictions – one minute selfish, the next minute generous; one day confident, the next day painfully insecure; one moment brave, the next full of fear. I didn’t want them to experience the pain of growing up. Yet to protect them from every difficult truth was to deprive them of the opportunity to be healthy, humble and confident.

Telling the truth

Most parents go to great lengths to ensure the health and proper growth of their children. But there’s another aspect of our children’s lives that is every bit as important – spiritual growth and maturity.

In order for our children to thrive in a culture where values and virtues are turned upside down, our kids need to know how to receive correction in a way that builds them up and prepares them for life. They need to understand the reality of their weaknesses and the importance of taking responsibility. Above all, they need to know that we love and respect them enough to tell them the truth.

In a world of finger-pointers and fault-finders, we desperately need a generation of teachable kids.

My sons are now adults, and our middle son recently said to me, "By teaching me that correction is a positive thing, you have helped me become a better friend, employee, student. When those in authority over me correct me, it doesn’t occur to me to take it personally because I know who I am."

We do our kids a great disservice when we constantly coddle them. On the other hand, we give our sons and daughters a valuable gift when we lovingly equip them to handle correction and redirection. Those kids will be tomorrow’s leaders.

Tips for raising teachable kids

One-on-one times: The most effective time to teach, shape and correct comes in the absence of conflict. When tempers flare, it’s best to hold your tongue. But when you know your child is feeling loved and accepted, that’s a perfect time to speak into her life. Start with something like, "Honey, I’d like to talk about what happened the other day. This is something that keeps coming up, and you’re going to need to look at it. I believe in you, and I know you can make better choices than these."

Prayer times: Pray continually that your child will have a humble, teachable heart – and that you will, too. Pray for the wisdom to correct him in the right way at the right time. Let him hear you pray about his strengths and his growth areas. Pray that he’ll understand his divine value as one created by God and that he’ll embrace his divine call to become more like Jesus.

Susie Larson lived in Andover, Minnesota, at the time of publication with her husband and three sons.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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