Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Following God’s Instructions

There are those who believe Christianity is merely a set of harsh rules made and enforced by a grumpy old God. Unfortunately, many Christians make matters worse by the ways they attempt to teach, explain and reinforce God’s commands. The truth is that God’s commands aren’t God’s attempt to make us miserable nor are they meant to be some sort of tortuous litmus test for entry into Heaven. Rather God’s commands incorporate God’s perfect wisdom and love. They are instructions for living the best possible life in a fallen world.

Have you ever seen someone try to put together a piece of IKEA furniture without the instructions? Since it’s a challenge even with instructions, attempting assembly without is a formula for disaster. God’s instructions for you and your children are very similar. Life is difficult – even as a Christian. Failing to follow God’s instructions for living the Christian life just adds layers of complications and negative consequences – some of which can have lifelong repercussions or even end one’s life prematurely.

There are some fun things you can do to illustrate this to your children in more concrete ways. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Origami fail. Find instructions for an origami figure your kids don’t know how to make. Give them some paper and read the instructions to them. Do not show them the finished image or tell them what they are trying to create. Periodically, start to read a step (stopping before it makes any sense) and tell your children that you don’t like that step and think you have a better one. Then give them a random step that’s sure to mess up the final product. After the final step, show them what their object should look like. Ask them why theirs doesn’t look the same. Then repeat the process, but this time give them the proper directions. (When we don’t like God’s instructions and try to replace them with our own, our lives won’t turn out the way God wanted them to.)
  • Tech disaster. Ask your kids to help you assemble something or figure out how to use a new product. Refuse to read the instructions. Be as frustrating as possible until they are begging you to read the instructions. (Isn’t it interesting how many Christians try to live the Christian life, but have never even read the New Testament for themselves? No wonder we struggle!)
  • Blindfold maze. Create a maze your children can walk through, but don’t let them see it. Blindfold them one by one and guide them through the maze verbally (using safety precautions of course). Afterwards ask them what would or did happen when they didn’t follow your instructions exactly. (While there is grace when we ask forgiveness, failing to follow God’s instructions perfectly can result in negative earthly consequences – even after God has forgiven us because we repented.)
  • Making up the rules as we go. Play a favorite board game with your children. Only this time, regularly announce you are changing one of the rules. Make sure all of the rule changes obviously favor you. (Sometimes when we don’t follow God’s instructions, we hurt others by our choices.)

Have fun with it, but revisit the topic regularly. It’s critical your children thoroughly understand the problems that arise when they don’t follow God’s instructions.

Helping Your Kids Quit the Blame Game

Have you ever asked your kids who broke the lamp (or did whatever) and immediately heard choruses of, ”It’s not my fault!” and ”He/she did it!”. If so, your kids have already learned how to play the blame game. They know if they can avoid any personal responsibility for something that has upset you, they are also likely to avoid any possible consequences.

Unfortunately, the game is best played using lies and avoiding personal responsibility for one’s choices. Not the best skill sets for a child being raised in a Christian home to learn. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your kids learn to avoid playing the game at all.

  • Play a new game. This is more fun with older kids. As they watch shows, see news reports or just around the house, can they catch others playing the blame game? At dinner each night, see if anyone saw people playing it during their day. What happened? What were the possible negative consequences for those who played? Your kids may not be aware they were playing the game or perhaps aren’t aware how playing it can damage their relationships with others. Seeing or hearing about lots of real world examples can make them more aware.
  • Play the game in an obvious way yourself. You may need to set up a scene with your spouse if something doesn’t happen naturally. When someone asks you something like, ”Does anyone know where my socks are?”, flip into blame game mode. Be a little over the top dramatic. It’s not your fault. Your spouse was in your kid’s room. The cat walked by the laundry basket. After a couple of minutes of blaming others, ”find” the socks where you left them (like the refrigerator!). You get the idea. Be silly and have fun with it. Don’t copy something that has actually happened in your home or it will look like you are making fun of your kids. Sometimes laughing at ourselves can also be instructive. Younger kids may try to intervene and ”fix” the situation. Don’t let them get too agitated. After your little ”skit”, ask your kids to give you a better way to handle things the next time that happens. See if they can come up with other situations when people blame others instead of accepting responsibility for their actions.
  • Have a ”blame” jar. A common strategy for breaking bad group habits, which you may have to adapt slightly depending upon how much money your kids have. An alternative way to play is to place enough money for a family treat in the jar, instead of family members having to put in some of their own money when caught playing the blame game, you take money away from the jar. They can return money to the jar by taking appropriate blame for an incident. This will need to be monitored by parents to avoid cheating. If you are brave enough, allow them to try and catch you blaming others for your own mistakes.
  • Read all about it. Read your kids Bible stories and stories from history where people blamed others for their own choices. There are plenty of examples. How might things have gone differently if the person had taken responsibility for their own actions? You will probably need to point out how blaming others undermines trust and how that in turn weakens important relationships in their lives.

Have fun with it, but make it a priority in your home. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is a huge part of repentance. If your kids can’t accept responsibility, they will struggle to be a Christian.

Correcting Parenting Mistakes

One of my favorite questions from young parents is whether or not my husband and I did all of the things I advocate with our own child. While we did much of what I suggest, some of the ideas I share with you were ones I thought of after our daughter was an adult. There are things in retrospect I wish we had done even more of and things I think we could have skipped without harming our child. And there are some mistakes we made along the way. Thankfully, our daughter is far enough into adulthood that I think we are safe now in saying they weren’t fatal mistakes, but they were still not our best parenting moments.

In fact, I have yet to meet a parent who claims to have parented mistake free. That’s especially true for Christian parents who have so many additional things to teach their kids. What makes a truly effective Christian parent different from others is an unwillingness to just shrug off mistakes as if they don’t matter. The truth is that your kids either immediately know when you’ve made a parenting mistake or they will figure it out at some point. What breaks down the parent child relationship and compounds the errors are not so much the errors themselves, as the lack of addressing them.

So what should you do when you realize you have made a mistake in parenting?

  • Admit the mistake to your child. This frightens many parents, but it’s the right thing to do. Not only does it set a good example for telling the truth and accepting responsibility for one’s actions, it also shows your kids how to repent. If your children are younger, be very specific and concrete in what you say and use words they can understand.
  • Acknowledge the negative consequences your child has or will experience because of your mistake. In some cases, this is fairly obvious – for example, you said something you shouldn’t have and it hurt your child’s feelings. Other times, it’s a little more abstract – perhaps you have neglected to correct a character flaw in them consistently and you know if not corrected that flaw will create problems for your child in the future. Once again, try to explain it in age appropriate ways to your child.
  • Apologize. Sometimes the most powerful words in healing an issue in a parent child relationship are, ”I’m sorry.”
  • State what you will do in the future to avoid repeating the mistake. At times, this will also mean your child will need to make changes as well – especially if you will begin correcting a behavior you have been ignoring or will be giving your child new responsibilities.
  • Acknowledge any potential difficulties your child may experience because of the changes and apologize again for the mistake you are now having to correct. If your child had the new expectation from day one, it probably wouldn’t seem as drastic as having been allowed to behave in a certain way for a long period of time and then suddenly being expected to change. Remember, you are not apologizing for the change itself, because that is ultimately in your child’s best interest. What you are acknowledging is that the change may be difficult to make for both you and your child.
  • Make atonement when possible for your mistake. Generally, this means reducing a consequence that was too harsh. It could also be giving a grace period to become accustomed to a new rule or responsibility in which reminders will be given perhaps a little more gently than normal.

It’s important to note, that you can go through these steps even if you don’t realize the mistake you made until your child is an adult. Obviously, at that point you may not be able to change anything. You can, however, explain clearly how you believe your child’s life would be improved even now if a change of some sort is made. If the mistake is pointed out to you by an adult child, it is perhaps even more important that you acknowledge the mistake if it was indeed one. Reconciliation is great, but don’t allow your child to develop a victim mentality and refuse to move forward from whatever mistake you made. A child who can’t forgive your parenting mistakes, will stay stuck in the past and never really reach his or her godly potential.

Don’t be afraid to admit your parenting mistakes or attempt to minimize them. Take responsibility for them and correct them. It may be one of the most important things you will ever do in parenting your child.

Spotting Quiet Rebellion in Your Children

A Christian parent’s worst fear is a rebellious child. Your heart’s desire is for your kids to spend eternity in Heaven. If they have a rebellious spirit, they are much less likely to obey God. The blatantly, ”in your face” rebellious child is obvious to most parents. Those children make no attempt to hide their rebellion and may even seem proud of it.

There are some children, however, who are slowly but surely developing a rebellious heart, but don’t necessarily show obvious outward signs of it. They are more quiet about their rebellion. They may seem outwardly obedient, but their hearts are looking forward to the future breaking of those rules. The more this heart gets away with hiding this quiet rebellion, the stronger the rebellious spirit becomes. These are often the children parents believed were ”wonderful” until high school or college when they ”mysteriously went off the rails”.

If you are observant though, the signs of a heart that is possibly becoming rebellious are often revealed by the things that are said when they are caught disobeying or that they say when discussing the topic of disobedience. Said occasionally, they are probably just a convenient excuse. If these excuses become a natural part of their thought process, however, they can help rebellion grow in their hearts.

Here are some common excuses that can be given by young people who are developing a rebellious heart.

  • “It’s too hard to obey”. There are variations of this excuse, but the idea is that they can’t possibly be expected to obey a rule or command that is so demanding.
  • “I’m obedient most of the time, so disobeying just this once won’t matter.” This is a convenient out for ”good” kids. The danger of this philosophy of course is the idea that if you do enough ”good” things, any bad choices somehow don’t count. This idea is not at all biblical. As all of us who have started out eating a ”sliver” of cake that ended up being a huge chunk of cake know, starting down this road can lead to increased justification of poor choices.
  • It’s not my fault.” Perhaps the favorite excuse of all children – rebellious or not, this excuse is an attempt to avoid personal responsibility for one’s actions. Young people need to be constantly reminded they always have a choice. It may not be between options they like, but there is always a way to obey if they choose it.
  • I don’t know why I disobeyed.” This one is a bit scary, because it shows either a total lack of awareness of one’s own thought processes or that the young person just follows the crowd without thinking at all.
  • ”My disobedience actually helped someone.” This is usually an excuse given for telling a lie. It’s the mistaken idea that the only way out of a delicate situation is to tell a lie.
  • “I’m a Christian, so I just figured I could ask God to forgive me later.” This excuse tries to use God as some sort of magical ”get out of jail free” card. Yes, God does forgive us when we repent, but using that as an excuse to be rebellious was never the intent.
  • “I’ve disobeyed for so long, it would be embarrassing/too late to start obeying now.” This excuse is often used by a young person who has done something he or she believes is a ”big” sin, multiple times. It probably starts as remorse, but can eventually become an excuse to avoid even trying to reform.
  • “I’ll become a Christian when I am older and start obeying God then. After all, I’m not sure I’m ready to make a decision about becoming a Christian yet.” This is an excuse within an excuse. The first part may not be verbalized, and the second part may be covered by other excuses. This is often the young person who ”isn’t sure God is real” or who wants to keep throwing out questions for years on end – hoping to find a question that can’t be answered to allow for more stalling.
  • “My parents are Christians and I’m really angry with them, so I will reject God to get revenge on them.” I don’t know that any young person would actually verbalize this, but it can be the underlying attitude behind rebellion in some cases.

Quiet rebellion often takes root because it goes unrecognized and unaddressed. Watching for signs of it in your children can help your kids avoid developing a truly rebellious spirit.

Are You Raising a Difficult Child?

Every parent has difficulty with their children from time to time. We have all had those moments when we wondered (however briefly) if our children would grow up to be adults no one would want to be around. A recent study from UGA has shed light on the character traits that make someone a difficult person. It’s interesting how their findings paint a picture of someone who is not obeying God’s commands about our character.

So what are the traits they found made someone difficult and what are any corresponding commands God has given us in regards to those traits?

  • Callousness. According to the authors of the study, callousness indicated a total lack of caring and concern for what happened to others or how one’s behavior was impacting people in negative ways. The Bible is full of commands about how we are to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 7:12) and looking out not just for our interests, but the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-7).
  • Grandiosity. Grandiosity is an attitude of pompous superiority or pretentiousness. The Bible would probably call this pride. In the Philippians passage above, it also says we should in humility consider others better than ourselves. There are dozens of other verses commanding us to be humble or meek (often used as a synonym for humble).
  • Domination. Domination is not the same as being good stewards or having dominion over creation. Rather it is the tendency to control others in an oppressive manner. I think one could make a strong argument that the example Jesus set and commanded us to follow of serving others would be the opposite of someone who wanted to dominate others.
  • Suspicious. The authors of the study equated suspiciousness with the inability to trust others and the tendency to assume the worst motives are behind another’s words and actions. This one is a little more complicated. The Bible teaches us to trust God above people. Our kids need to know that when someone says something in opposition to what God has commanded or has revealed as truth, God is always to be trusted and believed (Psalm 118:8). On the other hand, the commands for us to forgive others should create in us a healthy wariness, balanced with forgiveness, that should encourage us to give people the benefit of the doubt in our personal interactions (1 Corinthians 13:7).
  • Aggressive. This aggressiveness is not the same as setting healthy boundaries or standing up for what is right in the face of evil. Rather, it is the tendency to lash out at others, cut into lines and other behaviors that could be considered bullying or selfishness. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus also commanded his followers to be as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).
  • Manipulativeness. Manipulation is the attempt to control others by a type of trickery. Often it involves choosing words that encourage the person to do what we want them to do – even though we know they don’t want to do it. Manipulation often involves telling lies. Sin entered the world because Eve believed a lie. I haven’t counted, but my guess is that the command to not lie is probably one of the most frequently repeated in the Bible.
  • Risk Takers. This is a tricky one also. What type of risks do they mean? God doesn’t want us to risk disobeying Him our entire lives in hopes that we can do whatever we want and still get to Heaven with a deathbed conversion. I also think scripture supports the idea that God doesn’t want us to take unnecessary risks with our health or the health of others. On the other hand, I think all of the early Christians were risk takers. They risked prison, beatings and even death for spreading the Gospel. To be an active, productive Christian, we will need to be willing to take some risks. Hopefully, we won’t need to go through everything the Apostle Paul and the others did, but if necessary, we need to be willing to take those risks.

Are you raising a difficult child? Teaching your child to obey God and helping them model their attitudes and behaviors to those of Christ means they will not be considered a difficult person.