Did someone ever say to you, ”It’s not what you said, but how you said it”? The ”how you said it” means your attitude, your body language, the tone in your voice. It is possible to say the words ”I love you” and make the person believe we really meant to say ”I hate you”. While the words we say to our children are vitally important, our tone may or may not communicate the same message as our words.
Often people are unaware of the tone they project to others. This can be especially true with our children – who may also may be more sensitive to tone than adults. Tone is often tricky when we correct our children because we can unknowingly reflect the same tone our parents used with us – including the very phrases and facial expressions we promised ourselves we would never use with our own children.
It is important to understand that a firm tone is fine when giving correction – assuming there is love behind the firmness that is well known in normal communications with your children. Overly harsh, angry and disgusted tones should be avoided whenever possible. A sarcastic tone is tricky. Not only can it go over the heads of your children, but if they adopt your tone and use it with other adults, they will often be considered disrespectful.
Remember, when you are tired, hungry or having a bad day, it will be easier for you to slip into tones that actually undermine your parenting. It is also possible to get into bad habits and find it difficult to switch back to using more supportive, loving tones. Unsure what tones you are using? Ask your spouse or other adults who see you interact with your kids. Or if you are really brave – ask your kids (bonus – understanding tone will help them in literature class!). Don’t let your tone undermine what you are trying to accomplish in your parenting.
In discussions of Christian parenting, the focus is generally on how parents can help their children develop the strongest possible faith foundations and develop to their full God given potential. But did you know, parenting your children as God would want you to can also help you grow spiritually?
There are five ways in particular that Christian parenting can help us grow spiritually.
- Selflessness. The Bible teaches that we are to consider others before ourselves. One might think it comes naturally to put your children’s needs above your own, but it doesn’t. Self care can easily become selfishness if we aren’t careful. If we are mindful in our choices, however, parenting can give us lots of practice in selflessness.
- Humility. The most effective parents admit their ignorance and seek help from more experienced Christian parents. We all make plenty of mistakes in parenting. Instead of trying to deny or hide those mistakes, use them as a reminder to stay humble.
- Patience. It takes a lot of patience to answer all of the questions your children have or to teach them everything they need to know to live the Christian life. And especially to stay calm when they are being disobedient or just annoying. When you feel yourself becoming impatient, remind yourself you have just been given an opportunity to work on your patience.
- Perseverance. It takes a lot of perseverance to raise children who become strong, productive Christians as adults. Christian parenting is a marathon. Use that marathon to increase your perseverance.
- Prayer. For many Christian parents, prayer is their life line. If your prayer life has become anemic, use praying for your children as motivation to improve your prayer life.
When you think about parenting your children towards God, take time to consider how you need to grow spiritually. Use the opportunities parenting naturally gives you to work on your own spiritual growth.
It is easy to forget that the way your children behave at school not only reflects on you, but can also give people an impression of Christians. Your kids won’t be perfect, any more than adult Christians, but they should remember God expects them to be salt and light at school.
Your kids may be confused when you begin reinforcing the need for them to be salt and light. What does that mean? It can be easier for them to understand if you read Matthew 5:13-16 to them. Help them think about the stories from the life of Jesus and the early Christians in Acts. What are some of the things they did to be salt and light in their world?
Brainstorm with your children practical ways for them to be salt and light every day at school. Here are a few to get you started.
- Obey the rules. The New Testament makes it extremely clear God expects us to obey the authorities in our lives unless they are telling us to do something that disobeys God. Your kids need to obey class and school rules – even if they don’t like them.
- Thank teachers at the end of every class or every school day. Our daughter participated in an activity that involved taking a lot of special classes. Students and teachers were required to thank each other at the end of every class. You can’t control what the teacher or other students do, but think how encouraging it will be to the teacher when thanked every day.
- Be the encourager. Talk about ways to encourage others in their classes. Everyone could use a little encouragement and students who are struggling really need someone who encourages them.
- Refuse to talk badly about others, mock, bully, exclude or gossip. School personal relationships can quickly become extremely toxic. Encourage your kids to be kind and loving in all of their interactions with others.
- Be kind to the excluded. The suicide rate among elementary children is exploding. Part of the problem is that these children feel isolated. Something as simple as being asked to sit by someone or a kind conversation could change everything for some children.
- Do their best at schoolwork. The Bible says we are to work as if working for the Lord. If they struggle to do their best (“best” may be different for each of your children), encourage them to think about how they would act if Jesus were their teacher.
Reminding your kids to be salt and light at school will give people a more accurate reflection of how God wants Christians to live their lives. Not surprisingly, being salt and light requires behaviors that will also make them better students and friends. It is truly living the best possible life.
When we were exploring the idea of homeschooling our daughter, I did a lot of research. There are as many types of homeschoolers as there are parents. As a card carrying overachiever, I was floored by the families who had working farms, ground the flour for their home baked bread and educated children who went on to earn college degrees at young ages. Many of these families were also Christian and appeared to have children who were living their faith.
While I have yet to grind my own flour when I bake bread several times a year (versus weekly for those super homeschoolers), I did adopt a few of their secrets of success. One of them was having a plan and following the plan. Their plans weren’t necessarily rigid, but they knew without one their children would miss learning crucial material.
Over the years, I began thinking about the idea of planning. I worked with our daughter to develop a plan for all of the things she wanted to learn how to cook and all of the life skills she needed to learn before leaving for college and we slowly worked through the list over time. Why don’t we have a similar plan for the spiritual education of our children? The very rare church may have one, but most will just point to their curriculum scope and sequence. I don’t know that I have ever met a parent that developed one (although I am sure someone has).
With a degree in education, I often have master educational plans floating around my brain. I don’t know why I didn’t capture a spiritual education plan for our daughter, but thankfully with lots of time and intentionality, I believe we eventually gave her a strong faith foundation. Would we have been more thorough and effective if we had a more formal plan? I think if we weren’t too rigid, it might have helped.
So what should be in your child’s spiritual education plan? What Bible stories should they know? How will they develop spiritual disciplines like independent Bible study and prayer? What scriptures will they memorize? What godly character traits should they be mastering? How do you plan to help them identify, develop and use the gifts God gave them to serve Him? What else do you want to make sure they are actively taught about God and living the Christian life?
The spiritual education of your children is eternally important. It needs some serious time, attention and planning. If you put more effort into planning your children’s baseball or dance careers or preparing them for college than you do into their spiritual education, don’t be surprised if their faith foundation crumbles.
School starts back in just a few days in some districts. Others of you may have another month before the first day of school. No matter when your kids head back to class, why not start the year out right with the first of what could be a year of important, practical family devotionals?
The book of Proverbs is a great way to teach children and teens the practicality and importance of following God’s wisdom and obeying His commands. Wisdom is a great theme to discuss with your children throughout the school year. What is knowledge? What is wisdom? Can one have lots of knowledge, but little wisdom? Is it possible to be wise without knowledge? How do the things they are learning each day in school fit into the ongoing discussion of knowledge and wisdom? How might they use the things they are learning to serve God?
Choose a time for your devotional that is unlikely to be interrupted by activities. If your children are particularly exhausted in the morning or the evening, try to pick the time when they are most alert. Tie your family devotionals to something you do every day, like eating a particular meal, when they are eating an after school snack or at bedtime. Don’t make them too long. If they are particularly interested in the verses you have read, you can continue your discussion off and on throughout the day.
Proverbs has 31 chapters, containing 915 verses. Since the school year lasts 180 days, that means you only need to cover an average of about five verses each school day. Or you can cover more and go through the entire book more than once during the year. Don’t get too rigid about the number of verses each day. Some days a thought might take ten verses, while other days just one verse can spark a lively discussion. End each devotional time praying over your children, their teachers, friends and schools. It’s a great way to keep your kids focused on being who God wants them to be every day at school.