You’re probably familiar with the proverb that says:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

I’d like to ask you to think for a minute about which word you emphasize in that sentence, because it will tell you something about your focus.

When you read these words, do you hear, “Train up a child in the way he SHOULD go…”?

I heard it that way in my head for years. I assumed there were certain things people should know in order to be knowledgeable. There were certain things people should do to be polite.

In a way, this is true…but if we focus on the “shoulds,” we risk becoming regimented and legalistic. The extreme end of this line of thinking is that we actually lose confidence as we progress, because the more we learn, the more we realize all that we do not know. No matter how much we know, we could always know more. No matter how much we do, we could always do more. Paralyzed by perfectionism and a penchant to please, we can spend our lives waiting to earn the final approval that will give us permission to begin living with confidence.

But there’s another way to read that proverb!

What if we shift the emphasis? What if we read the words like this: “Train up a child in the way HE should go…”?

Are there still things we should know and do? A way we should go? Yes! But we’ve shifted our focus off of the “shoulds” and onto the child.

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Instead of overwhelming our children with a mountain of material to be memorized and mastered before giving them permission to be who they feel meant to be, what if we view childhood as an “on-ramp” of sorts? What if we acknowledge that they’re already driving–just not quite ready for the fast lane? In other words, perhaps we should acknowledge that their gifts and passions are already a part of who they are.

Can you see the difference?

Please let me illustrate with a story from my own life…

I directed my first play when I was 5. I wrote the script. Well…actually I didn’t, because I couldn’t write yet, but I had a story in mind, and I dictated it to my mother, who wrote it down for me. She helped me make simple puppets. We cut a hole in a big box and hung a “stage curtain” across it with string. That night after supper, I performed my little play for the family, and I felt SO PROUD.

Decades later, I’ve written dozens of magazine articles, stories, books, and homeschool courses. Some were professionally published. Some I published independently.

At what point did I become a writer?

There are some who would say that you’re not really a writer until you’ve been contracted by a publishing house, because that’s the way you should go about it.

I would submit that if you write, you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if what you’ve written is for sale or for pleasure. You wrote. You imparted information or told a story…and I did that for the first time at 5. That first success inspired me for all that came after, and what came after was about learning how to write better.

So…what is it you want to do? What is the way you should go? I’ll bet in some ways you’ve already begun to do it simply because you are interested. Go for it! You need no one’s permission.

What is the way your child should go? What does s/he want to do or be? I’ll bet in some ways they’ve already begun, simply because they’re interested. Help them to go for it! They may only be waiting for your permission and for your help in finding the next safe step on their journey.

For more about this concept, please read this excellent article by Kerry McDonald at the Foundation for Economic Education.