One of the most fruitful parenting (and educational) paradigms that I ever learned came from Gregg Harris, father of Brett and Alex Harris, co-authors of “Do Hard Things.” At a homeschooling seminar that I attended in 1985, Greg told a little story to illustrate what he meant by “training in liberty.” Scott and I applied this to so many areas of parenting and teaching that I’ve long loved passing it along.
In my Foundations Series of the Tapestry Teacher Training webinars, I was sharing tips on teaching Grammar and Dialectic students (session #4), and launched into a full-blown explanation of Training in Liberty, which my son David then humorously illustrated. I embed the video here, and then I’ll add some application comments.
The video, as I now re-watch it out of it’s context within the larger TTT session, seems to lack enough detail on how to apply the Training in Liberty principle, so let me flesh that out briefly. (If you have examples as to how you use this principle, please add to this post via the “comment” button above!)
- You can use Training in Liberty to help your kids learn to responsibly keep toys and other belongings in order.
- Let’s say that their trouble is simply that there are too many toys for them to keep neat because storage is lacking. Well, that’s really your issue: you need to establish a place for everything, and everything in its place.
- But, now let’s say that there are good places on a shelf for ten toys, but your child owns twenty. What you do according to this principle is this: you get a big box, label it “Junior’s Toys,” and with his participation you have him choose the five toys that he’ll keep out on his shelf this month. He puts the remaining fifteen toys in the box.
- You keep track of how he keeps those five toys. You faithfully teach, correct, and train him to keep the five toys in good order. If he does well, great. If he does poorly, warn him that he’s got too much liberty, and he’ll have fewer toys to keep track of at the end of the month.
- At the end of a month’s time, retrieve the box with his toys in it. If he’s done well, allow him to exchange any five toys out and choose two more toys to take charge of (and play with). If he’s done poorly, reduce the number of toys that he’ll have access to, but allow him to change out and keep out any three toys.
- In all this you must remain kind, gentle, and encouraging. You are not punishing him for a lack of skill. You are training him by giving him only as much liberty as he can handle. This is very key to this principle: it is not punitive! You should always posture yourself as being in his corner, ready to help, and eager to give him ever more liberty!
- Now, let’s expand on the above. You can easily see how to use the same process on…
- Time spent with friends (or, actually, doing any desired activity, like playing video games or attending sports events) while balancing other responsibilities, like chores and schoolwork. Limit the enjoyable activities according to the way your child handles responsibilities.
- Kinds of friends teens hang with. If their liberty (choosing their own friends) begins to adversely effect them, then you (the parent) can apologize for giving the too much liberty, and (hopefully with their agreement) scale back the time that they are spending with poorly chosen friends. This idea applies to choosing music, clothing, or TV programs–if they aren’t going to choose well and wisely for themselves, they’ve got too much liberty to handle it well and we, as responsible parents, must scale it back (gently, in the fear of God, and hopefully with the child’s full understanding of this principle and agreement).
- Car or other privileges: driving, visiting friends, babysitting, any kind of job during high school–all these can be governed by the same set of ideas: we don’t want to give our kids more than they can responsibly manage! The things that they must do come first; the things that they wish to do are privileges given to responsible young people.
In all of this, remember: the beauty is that you get to sit far more often in their cheering section than in their critics’ corner! You must and should verbally express time and again how eager you are for them to demonstrate competence in an area so that you can responsibly trust them with more liberty in that area! They need to know that you are for them! Tell them so; and demonstrate it by celebrations of key milestones along the way!
Another key element to know: we found that there are times when taking away liberties will initially bring anger and/or resentment. That’s OK. You stand before God as the gatekeeper of your child’s soul; you’ll need to take some heat sometimes. They are fighting ultimately with God as long as you’re truly acting on God’s behalf. You might need to remind them of that sometime. If your child is older and you’re just learning about training in liberty for the first time GO SLOW. You don’t just want to jerk away liberties. Choose your battles well! Finally, it may surprise you to find that, many times (especially with children who have been doing this awhile and/or are still young) you will find that narrowing down liberties is actually a relief to your overburdened child! What a joy it is when that is the reaction!
Parenting in the fear of God involves training our children to responsibly handle both their responsibilities and their leisure time. Keeping those in balance in our modern society is a learned skill that takes years to master. I hope that this one principle will aid you in your quest to do the very best job that an imperfect sinner can do of helping your child to grow in both liberty and responsibility! Remember, though, that without God’s help, no parenting principles are worth much. Please do as Father to help you to see how you can use this tool in joyful submission to and dependence on Him.