Parenting Help

Teach Your Children The 4 R’s

And you thought there were only three!

No, I’m not adding another R to readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic. There are four other R’s that are actually more important than those well-known core curricula of academics. These four R’s represent the core competencies of life—the basic building-blocks upon which rests a person’s success and happiness as an adult. They are:


    1. RESPECT

The Four R’s are not as easy to teach as the Three R’s. They aren’t easily defined and they can’t be taught in a classroom. Some schools and churches have tried to teach them in the classroom, but with little success. They have to be taught at home.

Unless parents model these qualities of character in front of their children and give them opportunities to learn them from experience, they won’t be learned at all. In fact, the Four R’s are what this entire book is about. They are values which are naturally instilled in children who grow up in a home that is “Four-R Friendly.”

Respect is obviously in short supply these days. Kids of the past may have been expected to show respect for their elders and for those in authority—but not today. Postmodern youth are taught to respect themselves, not their elders or anyone else—and to question authority, not to accept it or obey it. Unfortunately, the “don’t trust anyone over thirty” mantra of the sixties has come back to haunt parents who themselves rebelled against authority when they were teenagers.

Growing up in a world of disrespect has had serious consequence not only for parents but for kids. Children naturally look up to older people for guidance and direction. When it is not to be found, they naturally experience anxiety and confusion.

Additionally, when young people lack respect for particular adults in their lives, they end up lacking respect for adulthood in general. It’s no wonder so many youth today are so ambiguous about the prospects of becoming an adult. Who wants to be something that you have no respect for?

Respect is something our kids need to learn, not so that we will benefit, but that they will. When kids learn to respect others, they also learn to respect themselves. You must give respect before you can get any, even from yourself. And self-respect plays a huge role in how young people mature. Kids with self-respect do better in school, have better friends, make smarter choices and generally live happier and more successful lives than those without it.

So how do you teach kids to be respectful? Certainly not by demanding, begging or pleading for it. Respect, like most important things is learned the old-fashioned way—it has to be earned. Parents get respect by establishing their authority early in the lives of their children and then being competent and consistent over time. Children need and want parents who act like they know what they are doing. You don’t have to actually know what you are doing, but you have to act like you do. Confident parents instill confidence in their children, which anchors their sense of security. When kids feel secure, they respect the source of their security.

Of course, respect is a two-way street. Especially with teenagers, parents need to show respect as well as expect it. Kids who get respect are more likely to be respectful. But the kind of respect that parents give and the kind that kids give are two different things. Mutual respect doesn’t mean that parents and children have equal amounts of authority in the home. Instead, kids respect their parents by obeying them. And parents respect their kids by expecting them to obey. This kind of mutual respect results in greater trust and more freedom for both parents and kids.

Once upon a time, children learned to be responsible by getting lots of it. Parents of the past often had large families not necessarily because they loved children but because they needed them. My grandparents lived on a farm and raised ten children. When each one of them got old enough or strong enough, they were given responsibility for gathering eggs, milking cows, plowing fields or harvesting crops.

But in today’s world, kids have an easier childhood but a harder time learning responsibility. They aren’t expected to contribute to the economy or to the welfare of the family, so they just assume that someone else will take care of everything for them.

To become a capable adult, your teenager will need to learn responsibility both for himself and for things outside of himself. Responsible people are reliable, trustworthy, accountable, faithful and dependable. They carry through on projects and finish what they start. Responsibility includes competent and capable, and it involves a willingness to delay instant gratification for a greater payoff at some point in the future. No one is born this way. It is something that every person must learn, and the best place to learn it is at home.

One way we teach responsibility in the home is by assigning chores. When children are small, they can begin by taking responsibility for picking up their toys or clearing their own plates from the table. As they grow older, they can contribute more to the family by sweeping, dusting, running a vacuum cleaner, taking out garbage, washing cars, feeding pets, doing laundry or caring for lawns and gardens.

A resourceful person is a creative person. We’re not using the word creative here to describe artistic talent, but the ability to solve problems. A resourceful person looks at every problem as a challenge—another opportunity to explore, experiment, adapt or invent. A resourceful person is a flexible thinker, one who can look at things from a variety of angles and use both trial-and-error and persistence to find solutions. Rather than giving up, resourceful people find a way to win.

You can make a winner of your kid by teaching them resourcefulness. Among the ways you can do that is by allowing them to do more things for themselves, building their tolerance for frustration by not indulging them, and by limiting the number of toys and entertainment options they have access to. As you probably know, television’s greatest threat to your kids is not in the amount of sex and violence that it exposes them to, but the time that it robs from them to play and be creative. Both young children between the ages of 2 and 5 and young adolescents between the ages of 11 and 14 have tremendous capacities for exploration, discovery and imaginative play. But when these kids spend hours sitting in front of a TV set, they are unlikely to engage their creative or problem-solving skills. Resourcefulness is something that has to be encouraged, practiced and developed. It doesn’t just come from good genes.

Reverence is more than “being good in church.” Reverence is a sense of wonder and awe that flows from gratitude for life and for the Source of it. It is getting goose bumps from hearing great music, seeing the majesty of nature, gazing at stars ablaze in the nightly sky, smelling a rose or experiencing the mystery of a birth. It is a sense of wonder which compels us to worship.

Reverence is an appreciation of the sacred and the holy in all of life. It is what has inspired almost everything worthwhile that humanity has ever achieved—in art, music, literature, health, education, science and civilization itself. Reverence provides people with a sense of significance and motivates them to accomplish great and beautiful things.

Sadly, many young people growing up in today’s aggressively secular postmodern world have no real understanding of this and find themselves handicapped as a result. They lack purpose in life because they live only for themselves. They lack confidence because they feel alone. They lack motivation to live decently because they have no authority. They lack hope because they have no sense of the eternal.

Teach your kids reverence for the things of God. It is the spark that gives respect, responsibility and resourcefulness their power.

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Wayne Rice

Wayne Rice is a life-long youth worker, Christ-follower and bluegrass music nut who spends most of his time these days writing, speaking, consulting, playing his banjo and trying to be a good husband, father and grandpa. Wayne co-founded an organization called Youth Specialties, as well as a parenting organization called Understanding Your Teenager, which is now part of Wayne has written over 30 books, including the parenting book, Generation to Generation. You can follow Wayne on his blog at

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