When parents want a child to do something, they often fall back on two parenting standards, the “carrot” and the “stick”. The “carrot” is offering some sort of reward if the child obeys or accomplishes a goal set by the parent. The “stick” is some sort of negative consequence given for disobedience or failing to reach a parental goal.
The problem with both the “carrot” and the “stick” is that they are methods of external motivation. The parent has to continue supplying rewards or threatening consequences to get the child to exhibit the appropriate behaviors. While this can work in the short run, it has one large fatal flaw.
Extrinsic motivation does little to change the child’s heart. It focuses merely on the visible behaviors of a child. External consequences are a necessary part of parenting. They help remind a child that disobedience has consequences. Rewards can be helpful on rare occasions as an encouragement for a child to begin tackling a large task. Neither though really focus on developing the godly heart we want our children to have.
To help children develop that godly heart, it’s important to find ways to encourage the intrinsic motivation that usually accompanies it. A child who is intrinsically motivated and has a heart for God will still make mistakes and sin. They are much more likely, however, to grow to be faithful, productive Christians as adults.
So what do children being raised in Christian homes need from their parents to develop the intrinsic motivation to obey God? Intrinsic motivation is based on a genuine interest and ambition towards completing certain actions. To have that intrinsic motivation to obey God, your kids will need:
- Knowledge of God. They don’t need to just know a bunch of Bible stories and other scriptures that tell them what God wants from His people. They need this knowledge of what is in the Bible to understand who God is – in general – but also specifically to them. That knowledge can begin giving them that internal, passion for loving and obeying Him.
- Understanding of God’s wisdom and plans. Understanding how wise God is and God’s plans are key parts of both having passion and ambition for obeying God. Who wouldn’t want to go through life following God who holds all wisdom and has a plan for them to live eternally in Heaven with Him? Obviously, there are many more details, but the principle is the same. Without understanding why God wants them to obey Him, it will be difficult for your kids to internally motivate themselves.
- Valuing God. There are a lot of aspects of this valuing of God. Your kids have to have that passion and ambition for following, worshipping and obeying God. It will come in part when they truly value their relationship with Him and want that relationship to grow stronger and deeper. If they don’t value God in their lives, they probably won’t spend a lifetime worshipping and serving Him.
- Gratitude. It’s often the gratitude for God’s gifts, Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and everything else God has done for us that leads people to becoming Christians who are active, faithful and productive servants of God. A quick glance through the epistles in the New Testament reveals the immense gratitude the writers had for everything God had given them. If your kids aren’t grateful for God’s blessings, for Jesus dying on the cross for their sins, for the opportunity to spend eternity in Heaven with God, they will struggle to follow Him and share their faith with others.
Helping your kids develop the intrinsic motivation to worship, serve and obey God is vitally important. It’s worth taking the time and effort to help them develop hearts that are truly God’s.