Teaching Children to Set Priorities

Teaching Children to Set Priorities - Parenting Like Hannah

Photo by Horia Varlan

Life is about choices. Every choice we make has some sort of consequence. It may be good or bad, but something happens because of the choices we make. Many are so minor we don’t even notice them. Others can change our entire world. Some consequences may be immediate, while others will happen years later. As Christians, we also believe that some of our choices have eternal consequences.

Part of teaching our children to make good choices is teaching them how to prioritize. Eternity changing decisions need to be made with the most thought and prayer. Choices about what to have for breakfast shouldn’t require as much of our time and effort. Yet often, we find our priorities have gotten all out of order. Suddenly we find we have spent hours searching for the perfect outfit, but don’t have the time to read our Bibles or attend Church.

Somewhere in our lives the every day crisis begins to consume our time. Meanwhile, all of those godly things God asks of us (and we would say we really want to do) somehow fall by the wayside for a lack of time. If we are really honest though, is it a lack of time or have our priorities gotten mixed up in our lives?

How can we help our children understand the need to make priorities? How do we help them practice prioritizing choices so they choose the godly and important over the every day and urgent? There are probably lots of ways to help your children practice this important skill, but here are some we have used in our house:

  • Use vacations, summer break and other periods of free time to create a family “bucket list” of sorts. Write down everything that needs to be done and everything everyone wants to do during that period of relative free time. Now, work as a family to prioritize the list. How many things can you realistically do in that amount of time? What things must be done? What things seem like they must be done, but could be done another time without negative consequences? What things are the most important to complete? Is there a way to prioritize the list so the most things get done? If Jesus sat down and prioritized our list, would he change any of our choices? Do we put worshipping God at the top of the list, or leave it off all together?
  • School work is a great way to teach priorities and consequences. Which subjects does your child think he should spend the most time studying? Should she prioritize getting her homework done before relaxing or does relaxing for a few minutes before working make her more productive? What are the consequences of not putting a high enough priority on a school project versus playing a game? If your children are homeschooled, they will get even more practice. As they get older, many homeschooled students control their entire schedule, just like they would in college. What happens if he procrastinates on a subject he hates? What happens if she puts extra time and effort into a particular subject?
  • Allowances are another way to help your child practice setting priorities. Should they set aside money to give to God first, or wait and see if they have any money left? How much of their income should go to God? Should he spend money on candy or save for the camera he wants? How many quality, classic outfits can she get with the money she has?
  • Service work is another way for your children to practice setting priorities. How much time and money should your family set aside to help others? Who should get how much? How can you share your faith with people as you serve them? Who is the most important person or group to serve today? Who will benefit the most from their service?
  • Set aside a relaxed time to discuss your family’s priorities. How does God influence your choices? How do you and your spouse make decisions? What happens when you have to decide between two things which seem equally important? Throw out some scenarios to your older children that you and your spouse had to face in your younger years. What would your children have done in your situation? How did they make their choice? What were your priorities at the time and what are they now? Are your priorities bringing you closer to God or moving you farther away?

Setting priorities is a learned task. How much better for our children if we proactively teach them godly ways to set priorities in their lives? What other ways have you found to teach your children how to prioritize their resources? I would love to hear about your experiences in a comment below.

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Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NIV)