Ever since our son, Jacob, was a baby, my wife and I have been teaching him how to demonstrate five qualities. We taught them in order—there is a sequence, milk before meat.
As Jacob developed one quality, we added the next.
It will take a lifetime to master this “handful” of qualities, but, although each child is different, a reasonable goal would be for each quality to be established by the age that matches the number of the quality. So a 1-year-old could certainly understand “Be gentle,” and a 2-year-old could understand “Be quiet.” Jacob’s younger brother, Ben, quickly got caught up to Jacob’s schedule and by 4 years old was reliably demonstrating all five qualities.
We find that the shorthand language of Gentle, Quiet, Happy, Curious, and Accountable enable teaching moments throughout the day. The five qualities are also broadly enough defined that it is easy to link them to some consequence or situation and to reinforce their benefit. The definitions become more sophisticated as the child matures: For example, Gentle grows from “Don’t hit” to “Avoid extremes of behavior or expression.”
One could argue that there are many more qualities a child needs to be successful—or that our “handful” doesn’t accurately define even the basic five. But for our children, these five qualities form the base to which they could add or refine however they choose to. As long as Jacob and Ben are Gentle, Quiet, Happy, Curious, and Accountable, we will consider them ready to become adults.
After my sons developed the five qualities every
kid needs to be successful, we helped them focus on five
actions every kid should do to create success.
These actions give any kid the upper hand in life—an advantage
over life’s challenges. These actions are appropriate regardless
of background, race, ethnicity, gender, social group, wealth,
religion, nationality, ability, or any other category one ascribes
to a kid. As with the five qualities, there is a sequence to
learning the actions.
As Jacob and Ben developed one action, we added the next.
It will take a lifetime to master this “handful” of actions, but, although each child is different, a reasonable goal would be for each quality to be established by the age that action becomes most relevant. A child approaching teenage years is flooded with emotions, so “Use your brain” offers important balance. A child moving up to high school faces the competing demands of more work and more personal control over how and when to do that work, so “Work first” helps them prioritize. Often around 16 years old a child is preparing to get a driver’s license—and needing to make important decisions about the rest of his life—so “Drive 20 miles ahead” reminds them of long-term perspective. At 18 a child (now an adult) often is preparing to vote in public elections and live away from daily parental coaching, so “Stay free” reminds them of one big consequence of their choices. Finally, as the young adult begins to build a family of his own, “Protect family” guides the most important decisions he will ever make.
One could argue that there are many more actions a child should do to be successful—or that our “handful” doesn’t accurately define even the basic five. But for our children, these five actions form the base to which they could add or refine however they choose to.
As long as Jacob and Ben Use your brain, Work first, Drive 20 miles ahead, Stay free, and Protect family, we will consider them prepared for adulthood.
POSTSCRIPT: Wendy Harkness Beck is going to write
her own book to add to this series. Her book says that if you take
both hands from the first two books and fold those hands together,
you remember to pray. That God is what makes all this possible,
and that God’s plan for our happiness is what ties these qualities
and actions into a full and successful life.