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.
There’s a hard truth many older Christians have already figured out. If you don’t have God’s Words engraved on your heart, it isn’t very helpful. Why? Because most decisions are made in fractions of a second. If your brain doesn’t automatically know what God wants you to do in a particular situation in that second, you may very well make a sinful choice.
Your kids are no different. In fact, because the decision making areas of the brain aren’t fully developed, they need to have those helpful verses come to mind even more quickly.
But, you are thinking, my kids hate to memorize anything. If I force them to memorize scripture, we will be in constant conflict and they will learn to hate the Bible. The good news is that there are fun ways you can engrave those words on your kids’ hearts. – even if they hate memorizing things. Here are some of our favorites.
Teach them fun songs. If your kids are young, you probably are playing Kidz Bop or Disney music on constant repeat. Why not add some fun scripture songs in the mix? There are songs specifically recorded to help kids memorize scriptures with those tunes young kids enjoy. Of course a lot of worship music also has scripture embedded in it, too. By singing along or hearing it played millions of times, those verses will be engraved in their hearts as well.
Use scripture art. Have your kids create works of art around important scriptures and display it prominently around your house. Don’t forget, they can make pillows and other decorative items with scripture as well. Older kids and teens may also enjoy Bible journaling. (Note: They can do it in a spiral notebook as easily as they can in an expensive wide margin Bible.)
Develop favorite sayings. You probably already have sayings you use over and over again that you probably got from a parent or grandparent. Why not be purposeful about it and find some pithy verses to use as some of your repeated sayings? If you say them often enough, your kids will groan, but join in repeating the scripture just like they do your other sayings. Chances are, they will repeat them to their kids, too.
Have a family contest. Some kids thrive on competition. They already think you are becoming old and forgetful. Why not challenge them to scripture memory contests? You can work together to choose scriptures and what winners will get as prizes. Don’t forget, for kids, getting to choose what you cook for dinner or getting to go to bed fifteen minutes later can be as exciting as a new purchased item.
Have fun with it, but make sure your kids have key scriptures engraved on their hearts. It will make it so much easier for them to know what God wants them to do and to make good choices.
Solitude is a lost art. Your kids may have felt isolated over the last year, but chances are they were engaging constantly with all sorts of people…real and virtual. In childhood days of “yore”, kids spent time lying in the grass and looking at clouds or stars. They fished silently by a stream. They did needlework or sketched, unaware of the world around them. They had lots of free time when they weren’t expected to interact with anyone and had the freedom to think uninterrupted thoughts.
There are some huge spiritual benefits from providing regular times of solitude for your kids. You don’t have to lock them in their rooms, but it helps to shelve the devices. Modern parents have used a quiet, afternoon rest period to provide children with some solitude – even if others are in the same room (because no talking is allowed). However you make room for solitude in your kids’ schedule, here are five important benefits they may get from the time.
Reflection. Have a daily verse they can reflect upon. They may choose to reflect upon what’s been happening in their lives and how they feel about it. Or what they have been learning at church, from the Bible or in their experiences. Giving your kids time to process things means they are more likely to have the time to understand and apply what God wants them to know and do.
Creativity. Solitude does not mean inactivity. Arts, crafts and music still allow one to think while one is working. Sometimes clarity comes when doing something creative….the creativity can spark creative solutions in other areas, too.
Problem solving. Problems often are resolved with better results when time has been taken to think through the possible consequences of the various options. You may need to teach your kids how to do that properly before they can do it independently during their times of solitude.
Talking to God. Prayers tend to be rushed when time is at a premium. Solitude provides time for unrushed, long conversations with God. You may have to work with your kids to help them understand they can talk to God about anything and everything. Once they appreciate prayer, they will often use solitude to engage in prayers they may normally have not had time to pray.
“Listening to God”. No, they probably won’t hear God’s actual voice. The Holy Spirit, however, can put things on their hearts whether it is a reminder of scriptures, ideas or dreams. This is even more likely to happen if they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and have the quiet and solitude to “hear”. Reading the Bible during solitude makes it even easier to learn what God may want them to know. Teaching them how to test and discern what God wants them to know from their own desires or Satan’s temptations is key to “listening” well.
You will probably have to carve out special time for solitude and explain the benefits of having screen free quiet time to your kids. Once they understand how to use solitude though, they may actually ask for more.
Teach One Reach One Ministries recently created a fourteen day Family, Faith and Fun challenge for some local families. Each day has a devotional, a fun family activity and some parenting tips. We want to encourage your family to join us on this journey.
Although the days correspond to specific days on the calendar, you don’t necessarily have to use them on those particular days. We do, however encourage you to do them in order as the entire study completed chronologically will give your family a reminder of the over arching story of the Bible.
While the original challenge had lots of add-ons, we will try to provide links to some of the things we used or add them to the bottom of the posting for that day. We believe completing the challenges will help your family refocus after this very different year and start the new year off with healthy new spiritual habits. All of the challenges are free, so please share them with other families. May God bless you and your family!
P.S. If you go to our website www.parentinglikehannah.com and sign up for our newsletter, each of the daily challenges will be delivered to the email address you provide. (We do not sell or share your information with anyone.)
If you know me very well at all, you know I’m passionate about honesty. I didn’t always feel that way though. As a young child, I evidently went through a stage when I believed lying was the best way to avoid getting into trouble. I don’t really remember the lying or any of the consequences my parents used. What I do remember is what they did that changed my perspective on honesty for the rest of my life.
One day they handed me a Bible. I honestly can’t remember if they gave me a concordance or a list of verses, but the instructions were that I was to read every scripture in the Bible about honesty and lying to see what God thought on the subject. I can’t remember my emotional state after all of those verses, but I clearly remember my conclusion…God hates lies and I would be wise to refrain from telling any more of them.
Some of you may have had a similar experience growing up. Unfortunately, for some kids, using scripture as a parenting tool can backfire. It’s not the scripture that is the issue, of course. It’s the way they are used that can cause problems later.
There are several things you need to remember when you are attempting to use scripture as a parenting tool.
Knowing and loving God comes first. If your child knows nothing about God….if your family doesn’t put God first…if your child doesn’t love God, scripture won’t help much. Scripture is useful, because we love God and we respect Him. We know He is the author of wisdom and we want to spend eternity with Him. We are unbelievably grateful for Jesus dying on the Cross. That all should lead to a desire to obey God and make Him happy. If your child doesn’t know, love and respect God, that needs to be your primary focus. If that is not the underpinning of your parenting, very little else will go well…at least spiritually speaking.
Use scripture for encouragement more than correction. Yes, it is meant for both. When you begin using scripture as a parenting tool though, you don’t want to only use it as a way of trying to scare your kids straight. If you do, they may begin to view God as the big meanie in the sky. Rather share scriptures that will strengthen them when they are frightened, soothe them when they are nervous, console them when they are sad, and ones that encourage them to be who God wants them to be. Then, share those scriptures that reinforce correction.
Choose short, clear verses. When you want to share scriptures with your kids, try to find verses that are relatively short and easy to understand. There is a time and place for those longer passages. For now though, you want something that’s easy to understand and remember.
Place key verses in strategic places. The bathroom mirror is one of my favorites. Write out a couple of key verses on index cards and tape them to the mirror of the bathroom your children use. They will see those verses several times a day, subtly ingraining them in their minds. Decorative art, computers and refrigerators are other great places to put scripture.
Use the same verses multiple times. Repetition over time helps move scriptures from short term to long term memory. It’s okay to use more than one scripture for the same topic. The more you use the same scripture though, the more it will become firmly planted in their long term memories.
Use gist. Studies have shown that people tend to remember the gist of something better than a word for word memory of it. While the exact quote of scripture is key, using the gist of scripture also serves a purpose. The key is making sure you are stating the gist of the scripture properly. Misusing scripture can backfire, so use Bible study tools or ask a minister or Bible class teacher if you need help.
Point out earthly consequences when they occur. Often kids begin understanding God’s wisdom and the need for heeding it when they see the earthly consequences for obeying or disobeying God. Consequences aren’t always consistent and fair because we live in a fallen world. When they do occur, though, be sure to point out that the consequence that just occurred was one of the reasons God said what He did in scripture. Remember that the positive consequences for obeying God can be more important for some kids to see than the negative ones for disobeying God.
Scripture can be an important Christian parenting tool. Using it well, not only helps in the moment, but also gives your kids scripture in their long term memories that can help them for the rest of their lives.