Much has been written and discussed about when to intervene on behalf of your children and how much a parent should be involved. The truth is, every situation is a little different and it is difficult to make blanket statements about those sorts of things. There is one time though, every parent should intervene quickly and that is in the battle for your child’s heart.
As parents, we often become so focused on our child’s behavior we don’t even really consider how their hearts are developing. We just assume if they are obedient, they have obedient and humble hearts. We just know if they say “Yes, Sir” their hearts are respectful and considerate. Yet, as I have worked with hundreds of children and teens over the years, I have seen many obedient, polite children who had some of the most disrespectful, prideful hearts I have ever seen.
Although a godly heart will often produce godly actions, an ungodly heart can sometimes use appropriate actions as an attempt to hide ugly motives and characteristics. So how can you fight for your child’s heart? How can you tell if your child’s actions are reflecting a godly heart? Obviously only God and the person can totally know someone’s heart, but there are probably several things to look for that can give you a clue something may be wrong. Here are some of my favorites for “heart checks”:
- Watch for words and attitudes that are consistently not matching actions. A child who acts loving to a parent, but continually tells a sibling she hates him and bristles around you unless she wants something, may not have a heart that is as loving as she is trying to portray.
- Notice how your child acts when she thinks no one (or at least no adult) is watching. It is pretty easy to notice our kids when they are unaware without being sneaky. Often, we don’t really notice what was happening right before we entered the scene. Does your child rush to hide something? Do you hear concerning attitudes or words coming out of his mouth? Did she just kick the dog for no reason? Everyone can make mistakes or have a bad day, but if you consistently walk in on problematic behavior, your child may also have a heart problem.
- When you have discussions with your tweens and teens about controversial subjects, what attitudes are they displaying with their opinions? Often, we are quick to make sure our kids are taught to agree with our religious or political views on a subject. I would argue your time is better spent making sure your child’s opinions are coming from a godly heart. He may be naive and his opinion is coming from a godly heart, but is misdirected for some reason. To me, that is better than a child who shares your opinion, but does so for reasons of pride, hate, superiority, lack of empathy, etc.
- What consistently upsets your child? Is your child more upset when someone in the world is abused or treated unfairly or when she does’t get something she wants? Is your child more upset there are still hungry people in the world or that his team just lost a ball game? (Okay temporary pass if it is an important game, but in general others’ needs should be more important than sports!) Is your child more upset because there are people in the world who have not heard about God or because they don’t belong to her sorority or political party?
- Seriously consider feedback you receive from teachers and coaches. Often parents tend to ignore negative feedback about their children. The person may be totally wrong about your child, but stop for just a second and consider it carefully. Often teachers spend more time with older children than their parents do. They can be an important early warning system about a “heart” problem in your child.
Next time I will share with you some basic heart characteristics you want to help your child develop. In the meantime, use some of the tests above to assess the hearts of your children. Where are their hearts closely aligned with God’s will? What aspects of their heart still need help to become closer to what God wants for them? Are their actions reflecting their hearts or are they an attempt to cover something ungodly? Knowing your child’s heart is essential to help guide your child towards God.