Encouraging parents in their efforts to raise their children to be enthusiastic servants of the Lord.
Author: Thereasa Winnett
Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.
You have probably taught your kids how to take care of their health in various ways. Maybe you have taught them how to brush their teeth, eat nutritious foods or get plenty of exercise. How much have you taught them about how to be spiritually healthy? More importantly, have you taught them how to take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and health in age appropriate ways?
If you haven’t, you are teaching your kids to be merely receptacles…waiting for some Christian to decide to teach them something God wants them to know or help them grow spiritually in some way. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always provide as much help as your kids need or the type of help they may need at the moment. Recently, we encouraged Christian volunteers working with kids and teens to teach them how to self advocate for their own spiritual health and growth. The principles we shared with them, will work at home with a few modifications.
Discuss spiritual health and maturing with your kids regularly. Talk about what it means to advocate for your personal spiritual growth. Discuss some of the things a person trying to grow spiritually does. Don’t talk about it as something only adults can do, but how your kids at their ages can begin advocating for their personal spiritual growth.
Encourage asking spiritual questions and expressing doubts. Your kids should feel safe and encouraged to ask their questions and even express their doubts. If they don’t feel they can express their questions and concerns, they may not get the appropriate help they need. You don’t have to have all of the answers. As you research the appropriate, biblical answer, teach them how you are doing it, so they can do it themselves when they are old enough.
Teach them how to find answers in scripture. Note, “how” to find answers. Knowing where to find the answers they already have been taught is helpful, but to self advocate for spiritual growth, they need to know how to find the answers to their new questions in the Bible.
Encourage practicing spiritual disciplinesindependently. Your kids should be encouraged to self advocate by making time to do the things that will help them grow spiritually like Bible study, prayer and reflection. Over time, they should take personal responsibility for doing these things rather than waiting for an adult to remind them.
Teach them how to find reliable sources to help them understand scripture. There are some things in scripture that are difficult to understand. Teach your kids where to find reliable sources to answer their questions. The internet is too full of unreliable sources of information to neglect teaching your kids where to find reliable, biblical answers.
Encourage them to find and use a variety of Christian mentors. Sure, you want them to come to you, but it might not always be practical. You want them to have multiple strong Christians in their lives whom they respect and will help guide them. One mentor may not be able to help your kids grow spiritually in every way they may need help. They may need a mentor to help them develop and use their similar gift to serve God and another one to answer their questions about a topic like science and God. Encourage Christian adults you know and respect to make themselves available as mentors and encourage young people to reach out and ask for the help they need. Teach your kids to keep trying to find an appropriate mentor if the first person they approached cannot help.
Allow them to respectfully contribute to your family’s and hopefully congregation’s spiritual conversations. Your kids should be encouraged when they have an idea for a service project, Bible class, sermon topic or other idea that shows interest, initiative and engagement with scripture and their church family. If it isn’t possible to make it happen on a congregational level, help them find ways to use that same idea in other ways. Give them guided practice in leading in spiritual endeavors by using those ideas and teaching them how to implement them.
Teach them how to respectfully advocate for the spiritual health of themselves and their peers when they see things that are deterring that growth. They may or may not be correct, but they need to be heard. Often we make unnecessary mistakes because we refuse to listen to the truth from young people. They can see and hear things we may miss. Without this knowledge, our decisions may make things worse rather than better. We need to teach them how to give constructive criticism and we need to become much better as parents, Christians and servant leaders at receiving and acting on important constructive criticism.
Teaching your kids to self advocate for their spiritual growth is teaching them to be active rather than passive Christians. It is encouraging them how to be intentional, productive and take personal responsibility in their attempts to grow spiritually. It is teaching them how to have a voice in things that can impact their spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others. It will take time and intentionality on your part, but it is something we simply must find time to do.
Whether you are having family Bible studies, your kids are reading the Bible independently, or both, if they don’t remember what they are exposed to, it can’t help them. Studies have found that drawing can help improve memory. Instead of pulling out all of your art supplies, why not teach your kids a fun little variation that only requires pen and paper?
Some kids naturally doodle when listening, while others will be new to the idea of doodling. It’s important to define doodles as little scribbles, so there isn’t any pressure to be an artist when doodling. Teach your kids to pick out a key verse or idea from a Bible passage they think would be helpful to remember. Then encourage them to jot it down and draw a doodle next to it.
The doodles need to mean something to the child, so each of your kids might draw something different for the same verse and that’s okay. Verses that don’t have something concrete in them may prove a more challenging doodle to create. If they struggle with how to doodle an abstract concept, talk about a doodle that might represent the idea, like a heart for love.
If they enjoy doodling scripture, they may get to the point where the doodles themselves have enough meaning that they don’t need to write down the words, too. They will also pick up speed over time. Encourage them to try doodling a sermon and see if they can capture the main ideas.
There is at least one doodling devotional journal you can purchase if you want a little more structure, The Devotional Doodle Journal by DaySpring. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary, but if you want the extra structure it can help. Each two page spread is a scripture and a doodle prompt with space to create the doodle. The main downfall is since doodles are a bit personal, the one they chose for a particular scripture may not be as meaningful as something else to your child.
Have fun with it. See if you can guess the scripture by merely seeing their doodles…or if they can guess one you have done. Use it as a fun way to encourage independent Bible reading and memorizing or at least remembering the summary of scripture passages. Every child won’t find it helpful, but for those who do, it can make a huge positive difference in how they engage with scripture.
Spring has started here. You may be still waiting for the Spring thaw, but Spring is coming. Here some tips, ideas and encouragement from this week’s social media challenges for you to consider.
Monday: Spring brings hope to many. Your kids need to know they have hope even on the dreariest of winter days. Their hope is in Jesus. Finding ways to explain that regularly in age appropriate ways is key to helping them see and feel that hope regardless of how things are around them.
Tuesday:Research has found hospitality is a key component of homes that raise faithful, productive Christians. It doesn’t have to be a fancy party either. Having your kids’ friends over to play works just as well.
Wednesday: Time is fleeting. It has a way of being filled without us really knowing how. You have to be intentional with your time and use it wisely if you want your kids to have strong spiritual foundations and reach their godly potential.
Thursday: We don’t understand royalty today like it was understood in Bible times. That can make it very difficult for your kids to understand what it means to make God their King. God is not a ceremonial head of state living in palaces and having fancy crowns to wear. Your kids need for you to teach them what it really takes to make God King and Lord of their lives. They may not learn it anywhere else.
Friday: The Bible tells us creation points to the Creator. Spending time in nature can help you point your kids to God and give you lots of time for great talks on those hikes.
Has one of your children ever said something like, “He made me mad!” We often ignore those types of statements in our attempts to get to an accurate description of the events that are causing our current parenting issue. In so doing though, we may be encouraging our kids to ignore the responsibility to manage their emotions.
Personal responsibility isn’t very popular in the secular world. Excuses, blame and other strategies are often used to allow people to escape responsibility for their actions. Christianity, on the other hand, is all about taking personal responsibility for your actions, attitudes and thoughts and repenting of them when they are ungodly or sinful.
Emotions, or at least the intensity and the resulting actions taken because of the emotion, can be controlled. Your kids choose to allow something to not only bother them, but make them angry or even enraged. That is a choice. They can just as easily decide to let the incident go with immediate forgiveness, which they have probably done under similar circumstances at other times.
As Christian parents, we need to constantly reinforce that while the initial emotional reaction may feel as if it cannot be controlled by us, the intensity and our reaction to those feelings absolutely can and must be controlled. Learning how to recognize and de-escalate a personal emotional state is an important part of self control. Taking responsibility for creating a more positive emotional reaction and/or forgiveness is a choice. Choosing positive, godly reactions to another’s words or behaviors that may have initially caused us to begin feeling a certain negative emotion is a choice that can be made.
It won’t be easy. You are probably still working on it in your own life. Acknowledge how difficult it can be, but also reinforce that because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t expect us to continue working on it. Share strategies that help you and encourage older kids to share strategies they find that help them (which may also help you). If you can get your kids to accept personal responsibility for their emotions, you will be helping them have greater self control and make better choices in negative emotional states. It’s definitely worth your time and effort.
Note: In some cases, children with certain special needs or mental health issues will need the additional help of a medical professional. This post is not intended to minimize those situations, but rather encourage parents to work with their children on managing their emotional states and actions within those states.
One of the main differences between secular and Christian parenting is that secular parenting often focuses on the outward behaviors of a child, whereas Christian parents are focused on the heart of their child. It’s not that behaviors and attitudes don’t matter to Christian parents. They have merely learned from the ministry of Jesus that so called good behaviors can cover a heart that has no intention of worshipping and obeying God.
Since God looks at and judges hearts, we need to be concerned about whether or not our kids’ hearts belong to God. Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability Jesus did to perfectly know another person’s heart. Our kids aren’t necessarily going to freely offer the information we need to know about whether their hearts are gradually moving towards or away from God. We must use a lot of different parenting tools to try and get the most accurate picture of the hearts of our kids.
One fun way to get a glimpse of your kids’ hearts is to ask fun thought questions. While secular parents also use these same kinds of questions at times, your purpose is different. Often secular parents use these table talk type questions to generate interesting conversations. Or out of curiosity about their kids’ opinions.
As a Christian parent, you want those things, too. You also, however, want to later analyze the answers to see if they give you any clues about your child’s heart. You can Google and easily find hundreds of free table talk questions that will be fun and engaging for your kids. How do you go about analyzing their answers for clues about their hearts? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about their answers later.
Was their answer just for fun or was there an underlying attitude, character trait or thought process to consider? Let’s say the question was about whose life would you want to live for one day. Two kids may answer the question the same way, naming a popular music star. The “why” part of their choice is the most important piece of the answer. Did they choose that person because it would be fun to sing well in front of a lot of people, or because they want the lifestyle of having everyone give you everything you want? The first answer may actually reveal your child has an interest or even a passion for music. The second answer may reveal a heart that is focused on self more than others. You shouldn’t read too much into just one answer, but a pattern along with other behaviors can indicate a heart issue.
What underlying attitudes or beliefs might their answer reveal? This is somewhat subjective, but you are looking for patterns over time.
What changes in answers do you detect over time? Asking a hundred questions in one encounter is not as helpful as asking a question or two regularly over a long period of time. Do their answers show a shift in attitudes or beliefs over time? For example, do their answers appear more selfish or less selfish over time? Kids are rapidly growing and changing. You want to catch negative trends before they become entrenched attitudes and beliefs that pull them away from God.
Do their answers reflect deeper level thinking? If your kids can never explain their answers, answering the “why” part of the question, it may reveal that they are doing little if any metacognition – recognition and analysis of their own thought processes. If they don’t become aware of their thought processes, it will be extremely difficult for them to recognize when they are being tempted and to take steps to avoid sinning.
Do their answers reveal ignorance of important Bible knowledge? You can make some of your questions about information in the Bible. For example, what three people in the Bible would you want to invite over for dinner? Or which Fruit of the Spirit do you think is most helpful in your life? If your kids can’t name three people in the Bible or don’t have a clue what the Fruit of the Spirit options are, it reveals an ignorance of important Bible knowledge. It’s a sign they need more Bible instruction at home than they are currently receiving.
Have fun with it. Don’t make your kids feel like they are being interrogated. Don’t critique their answers in the moment (You can have those conversations later.). Share your own answers, too. Mix in some silly questions. Analyze the conversation later on your own or with your spouse out of the hearing of your children. Use the information you learn to teach and help mold their hearts towards God. It’s another great tool in your parenting toolbox.