Those shows featuring British nannies with lovely accents drive me crazy. If you have never seen one, the episode usually begin with a family whose children are totally out-of-control. The parents have evidently never heard of rules or consequences. In swoops expert nanny, who basically spends the remainder of the hour teaching the children and their parents how to make and enforce rules. The show usually ends with Nanny riding off into the sunset leaving behind a now nearly perfect family. (It can’t be truly perfect unless she had lived with them forever of course!)
While watching those shows can give you a sense of parenting self-righteousness (after all your kids have never been that horrible), they fail to address one very important concept. You can change your child’s behavior, at least temporarily, without changing your child’s heart. Unfortunately, if you don’t discover and correct the heart issues your child has, ultimately your efforts to raise a godly child may fail.
The teachings of Jesus introduced a radical concept to the people of that time, which still shocks many people today. Jesus spoke over and over again about how God wants our hearts to be pure. Jesus taught a pure heart will produce pure actions and an ungodly heart can produce ungodly actions. He also taught however, even supposedly pure actions can be used to cover a very ungodly heart. The Pharisees evidently were people who had perfected the art of appearing to obey all of God’s commands, but used their obedience to cover prideful, ungodly hearts. Jesus confirmed actions were important, but the heart behind them was what really delighted or concerned God.
Many times parents struggle to even correct the misbehaviors of their children effectively. You may feel if you can ever get your child to stop speaking disrespectfully or hitting his brother when frustrated, you will have accomplished something major. And it’s true, children definitely need to have rules and boundaries and have them enforced consistently and fairly. Some days that may be all you do from the time your children come out of their rooms in the morning until you kiss them goodnight.
I want to encourage you though, to periodically take a step back. Ask yourself if your child seems to have a pattern of struggling with particular behaviors over and over in spite of repeated correction. What is possibly motivating those behaviors? Is it selfishness? Is it rebellion? Is it pride? Is it some other godly trait? Discuss your thoughts with your spouse. Has he noticed the same pattern? Does he think your child is struggling with the same heart issues you have noticed?
Once you suspect a heart problem in your child (and let’s face it we all have them, even as adults), make a plan to work on those heart issues outside of the times you are correcting the behaviors. Look back at previous posts under “Character Training” and find some fun ways to help train your child and strengthen his heart into one that is godly.
When you are correcting your child”s behaviors connected to the heart problem you have identified, don’t be afraid to mention it in your correction. I believe it is perfectly acceptable to say something like, “What really scares me as your mother when I see you do xyz is that I am afraid it means your heart is becoming abc. I would hate for that to happen, because God knows our best, most fulfilling life is when we have the def heart He asks us to have.”
Older children may be willing to work with you on their heart issues. For this to happen though, it will require you to be transparent about your own heart issues. Admit the heart issue you are currently working on in your own life (assuming it is child appropriate). Tell him your concern for a heart issue you are afraid his behavior is revealing. Don’t give him a laundry list and make him feel hopeless. Focus on the one area giving you the most concern. Ask him if he feels like he is struggling in that area. You will have to make the conversation extremely non-threatening for him to be open and honest. Reassure him this is not about punishment, but about helping him grow to be the man God would want him to be. Ask him how you can help him work on this issue. (I’m using the male pronouns for convenience, but it applies to females also.)
To an overwhelmed parent, training your child’s behaviors and heart can seem an impossible task. Unfortunately, without correcting the heart or addressing heart training, your child may grow up to be a modern day Eddie Haskell – all perfect manners, but a snake in the grass behind the scenes. Worse yet, heart issues can grow to the point where your child’s heart may turn from God entirely. Taking some extra time to go beyond behaviors and focus on your child’s heart can make a huge difference in her faith journey. It’s worth the effort.