Top Tips for Raising Kids With Servant Hearts

I was reading a parenting book by a secular author who was amazed to stumble across a home in another culture where a child saw dirty dishes in the sink and got up to wash them without being asked. As she had a secular mindset, her book then looked at all the parenting differences she thought might create children who were equally helpful. I smiled to myself a bit as I immediately recognized what had happened in that home. The parents were raising the child with the heart of a servant.

Children with the heart of a servant think about how they can help their family and friends before they think about how they want to spend their time in leisure activities. When they see someone at work or struggling in some way, they jump in to help and make the load lighter. They are the helpers and encouragers in their worlds. They are a parent’s delight – even though they still make mistakes and sin.

So how do you raise children with servant hearts? It takes more intentionality, but in the end actually can mean less work because you aren’t having to do everything yourself or nag and punish to get the help you need. It can also mean a more peaceful home as your children focus on helping each other over protecting their “rights”. It can also make your kids stronger Christians as they understand that being a servant of The King (God) means obedience and not getting their own way.

Here are some of our top tips for raising kids with servant hearts.

  1. Teach them what it means to be a servant in the biblical sense of the word. In our modern vernacular, slave is probably closer in meaning to the word often translated as servant in the Bible. Christians with servant hearts obey God’s commands – even if they don’t understand or agree with them. They understand God gets to make the rules and we get to obey them – because God knows what is best for us and by obeying Him we have the best possible life in a fallen world.
  2. Let your children see your servant heart. If they see you consistently obey God, serve others and share your faith humbly, they have a great example to follow. If they understand why you “don’t look out only for your own interests, but the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-5), they may just follow your example.
  3. Help them learn to see the needs around them – even the subtle or partially hidden ones. Raise kids who don’t have to be asked to help. Who see someone with a sad expression and ask how they can help. Who notice when someone drops all of their papers and help to pick them up without being asked. Often, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, it is easy to pretend we didn’t help because we never saw the need. Raise kids who see the need.
  4. Teach them they don’t personally have to solve every problem they see, but they should at least try to find someone who can help. If you take first aid classes, the first thing they teach you to do is to look around, point to someone and tell them to call 911. If not, a huge crowd can be standing around watching the medical problem and no one calls 911. Teach your kids how to help when they can, but it’s just as important to teach them how to quickly and efficiently get other people helping, too. If not, they may burn out trying to solve every problem by themselves.
  5. Teach them to think of others before themselves. This always gets a lot of push back in our culture. Our world believes we shouldn’t raise doormats who allow everyone to walk all over them. Or people pleasers who care about pleasing others more than taking care of their own basic needs. Thinking of others before yourself, however, is a command and not a suggestion. It should be a constant discussion of what it truly means – especially when looking at the life of Jesus. It’s not an easy command and we shouldn’t ignore it or pretend like how to live it is always obvious and easy.
  6. Help your children be encouragers. We tend to breeze right by the scriptures commanding Christians to encourage one another. The world can be a tough place. Encouragers make it a little easier to hang in there and make good choices. Raise encouragers.
  7. Teach your children to assume the best in others. I understand the importance of teaching kids how to be safe around strangers in a dangerous world. It’s a philosophy, however, that assumes the worst in others merely because some adults are dangerous to children. As they get older though, the attitude of assuming everyone is dangerous needs to be tempered a bit or they will never serve others and share their faith. It’s also important to teach them that when they feel offended by someone in some way to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the teacher had a really rough morning and was a little more curt than normal – rather than the teacher hates me. Even if the teacher dislikes your child, coming at the conversation willing to assume the best rather than the worst can make discussions a bit less heated and easier.

While it may take some time before your children jump up to help you without asking or are kind to their siblings, it’s worth taking the time and effort to raise kids with servant hearts. Those are hearts God finds it easy to work with to do His Will.

Are You a “Get” or a “Give” Family?

In her book Generations, author Jean Twenge looked at an analysis of how many times the words “get” and “give” appeared in American books published each year. Before WWII “give” was more common than “get”. Over time, the top word varied from year to year, but the margin was always fairly close. Now? In 2010, the word “get” was twice as likely to appear in a book as the word “give”.

And that’s not the only sign of a growing selfishness in the world around us. Ask any non-profit or ministry and they will tell you that the vast majority of their donors are over the age of fifty. Like any problem, there are probably dozens of factors contributing to this growing selfish behavior. You may not be able to influence the world’s generosity, but you can impact that of your children.

God calls on His people over and over to be generous – not just in the amount they give, but in the percentage (the widow’s mite) of their income and most importantly having a generous, willing heart. That generous heart is best developed in childhood. One of the reasons we were pro allowance is that it provided a way for our daughter to give part of her “income” back to God.

We modeled giving and as a family we gave of our time and possessions as well as our money. We discussed why we couldn’t do some of the things other families were doing because of the needs someone else had that were more important. We didn’t force her to give up presents on her birthday in favor of charitable donations or dictate how much she gave. We did, however, have lots and lots of discussions about generous, sacrificial giving. We Meereen as intentional as possible about being a “give”family rather than a “get” family.

Not sure if you are a “get” or a “give” family? Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Are there more conversations about buying things than giving things in your home?
  2. What percentage of your income is given to church, ministries and charity? (There’s no rule, but “give”families usually donate much more than ten percent of their income.)
  3. Are your children encouraged to give weekly to God? Even though many congregations have gone to online giving, most have a box somewhere where your children can place their cash donations. Make it a weekly habit if you really want to raise a giver.
  4. Do you and your kids always have to have the latest and greatest or do you get as much as possible out of the things you own? Once again, everyone is different, but many givers try to keep a new car at least ten years and don’t continually replace other items meant for long term use.
  5. Do you toss (or sell) outgrown clothes or items you don’t use any more or do you give them to someone who needs them? You may be able to give because you sell used items and that’s great! If you are selling or tossing without any thought to others, though, that can indicate an issue.
  6. If someone had a desperate need for something you own, how hard would it be for you or your children to part with that item? Sometimes, it’s just not practical. You can’t give away the car your family needs to get to work. A gut check though is your initial reaction to a need someone has. Do you immediately start thinking about how you can protect your assets as much as possible and still be seen as helping or do you start trying to help even though it may be inconvenient to do so?

This is not a one time issue. “Give” families can become “get” families and visa versa. Have regular discussions about giving and generosity. Ask your kids which type of family you are and why. Raise givers and not getters.

Everything You Need to Know About Chores for Toddlers and Preschoolers

One of the biggest complaints I hear from employers is that many of their employees lack a healthy work ethic. While we tend to associate the problem with Gen Z, it’s actually pervasive in every age group. The Bible tells us that God expects Christians to work “with all your heart, as (if) working for the Lord, not for human masters”(Colossians 3:23 ESV) – one of several passages in scripture about God’s expectations of His people regarding work.

No matter what careers or jobs your children may have, their bosses and managers will expect them to work hard – especially if they want to get raises and promotions. Even if they don’t hold a job that pays, your kids will need to work hard at school, in their extra curricular activities and even when serving others and sharing their faith. Idleness and laziness aren’t good for your children spiritually, emotionally or even physically.

Establishing a strong work ethic in your children – like many things in parenting – is easiest if you start them as early as possible. Think of it as early intervention for laziness! One of the easiest ways to work with toddlers and preschoolers on a good work ethic is by giving them chores to do around the house. Not only will chores give you an opportunity to correct a poor work ethic, but they will also provide opportunities for teaching responsibility and numerous life skills.

Historically, specific chores were given to specific children for a period of time. This made it easier for parents to track – especially if they had several children. One of the reasons I believe chores have become unpopular is that our children’s schedules are not as predictable as they may have been years ago when children had few activities outside of their home. If something throws off your child’s schedule, assigned chores may not be completed in a timely fashion – if at all.

One solution is to give your children chores on an as assigned basis. If you see something that needs to be done and your child is capable of doing it, then ask them to do it within a certain specific time frame. It gives you more flexibility and extra help when it is needed. The downside is that you have to be intentional about giving each child little jobs to do each day. If you have trouble tracking that, then the older way of giving out chores will probably work best in your family.

When does all of this start? As soon as your children have a few gross motor skills – like the ability to pick up and hand you items – they are ready for a few simple chores. For most children this is about the same time they are learning to walk, often known as the toddler years.

So what are some great chores for toddlers and preschoolers? Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Handing you grocery items to put in cabinets. Set the grocery bags on the floor and let them hand you one item at a time. If you use low cabinets for storing food, some preschoolers may have the skills to put grocery items on your pantry shelf without much assistance from you. (Don’t let little ones handle raw meat packages and wash their hands after they are finished helping just in case.)
  2. Laundry chores. Teaching colors? Let them help you sort the laundry, naming the colors as they go. Depending on the type of washer and dryer you own, many toddlers can take clothing and help move it from the washer to the dryer.
  3. Dusting, sweeping and mopping. Toy brooms and mops for children sweep and mop almost as well as adult sized brooms and mops. Make sure you clear the surfaces you want your children to dust to avoid breakage. These chores require a few more motor skills, so your children may be in preschool before they can do them.
  4. Help make their bed. Depending upon the age, size and skills of the child this may vary in meaning. Using a comforter makes it easier for younger children because there isn’t any tucking involved. Older children can help you make a fresh bed by perhaps putting a pillow in a new pillowcase or helping you smooth the sheets.
  5. Put away their toys. Your house and their room will seem less messy and chaotic if you get them in the habit of putting away one toy before they take out a new one. (Note: Toy chests can be problematic because of their lids. Consider using open baskets or a closet or cabinet for toy storage.)
  6. Dust baseboards. If your house is like mine, this chore goes to the bottom of the to-do list. Put socks on your children’s hands and let them have fun dusting baseboards.
  7. Put dirty clothes, towels and linens in the hamper.
  8. Wipe up spills. Their ability to do this independently will vary from child to child and with what has been spilled. They should never be asked to clean up hot spills or any kind of spill involving harsh chemicals like cleaning fluids.

Don’t forget that your children were not born automatically knowing how to do any of these chores. Teach them how you want the chores done. Always supervise young children doing chores – even if they are doing them well. Periodically talk about how important it is to always work hard and do our best at any “job” they are given. If you work with your children consistently, you are well on your way to giving them a great work ethic!

Please note that children should never be left unsupervised near any type of cleaning fluid and should not handle them – even if the tops are tightly fastened. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Call poison control if you even suspect your child may have come in contact with a cleaning fluid or ingested one.

Involving Your Children In Adult Ministry Projects

Talk to any Christian parent of adult children actively engaged in serving and ministering to others and they will tell you they involved their children in their ministry projects from almost infancy. Their children grew up serving and sharing their faith with others as much of their identity as other family priorities. Why? Because not only did their parents live their faith on a daily basis, they included them in their personal ministry in age appropriate ways as early as the toddler years.

Now if you weren’t raised in a home like that, you may wonder how it is even possible. How can parents include an eighteen month old in a project serving an inner city ministry or engage a three or four year old on a mission trip? It’s not only possible, but you may already know families doing that very thing who can help you do what they did. Until you identify them, here are some tips to get you started.

  1. What things are your children capable of doing? Can they hand you items? Move things from one place to another? Clean? Paint? Code a computer program or app? Knowing your children’s capabilities can make it easier to involve them in ways that benefit both them and the ministry project.
  2. What tasks are required to complete the ministry project? Older children and teens may be capable of completing tasks independently, while toddlers may only be able to assist you with one part of a task. When our daughter was barely over a year old, she would put cans from our church pantry shelves into a box to transport them to the urban ministry. Yes, I still needed to neaten them a bit, but she took an active role.
  3. Teach them skills they can use to help. Relatively young children can help with tasks that are more advanced if they are taught how to do them and given practice. For things like sewing or computer coding, you can even pay someone to teach them skills that interest them, but you yourself don’t have.
  4. Allow extra time and build in time for regular meals and rest times. The biggest mistake groups make when involving children or teens in service and mission work is that they push them too hard. When young people are hungry or tired, the behavior problems begin to surface and the entire project can become a nightmare. It’s better to take an extra few hours or days to complete a project with everyone well fed on healthy food and well rested. The results will be much better – both on the project and in making an impact on your children.
  5. Let them help in the planning process. Families with young adult children actively engaged in ministry from childhood often report that their children can plan and execute sophisticated ministry projects as teens and young adults. Why? Because their parents involved them in the planning process as children. Start out by giving them two acceptable options between which they can decide and that are part of the plan for the project. As they grow older, give them more ownership of the planning process. By their teen years, most will be capable of planning and executing at least a simple service project if they have been involved in planning with you since childhood.
  6. Let them meet and get to know the people they are serving as much as possible. Relationships make serving others more meaningful. Meeting and growing to love the people your family serves can lead to your children developing a passion for ministry that children who only do service projects where they never meet the people they served never develop.
  7. Spend time in reflection with them after a ministry project. What went well? What would you do differently next time? Did you have the outcome you expected? Why or why not? How did you see God working within the project to change or modify it as you went? What additional opportunities did God give you? What roadblocks did you encounter? Were they from God or Satan? How do you know? What do you do in each situation? Reflection helps them understand the thought processes needed in enhancing ministry projects and accomplishing the goals God has for them.

Involving your children in your ministry projects takes extra time and effort, but it is worth it to raise children who are actively involved in serving others and sharing their faith as adults.

Fun Family Christmas Craft/Service Project

Someone at our congregation came up with a great idea that I think would also make a great service project for families. We were each given these supplies to create a Christmas ornament that features things that bring us joy – a show of gratitude. They will then be used to decorate the tree in our foyer.

Why not do something similar with your kids and decorate a table top tree for someone who needs a little joy in their life? You don’t have to use these supplies. You can even use paper if you prefer. Instead of ornaments about joy, why not expand the theme and make ornaments featuring all of the fruits of the Spirit? One side could be the name of the fruit and the other a verse or illustration of the fruit.

As you work, talk about the ideas you are using. Why are they called the fruit of the Spirit? How does having those qualities in our lives let others know we are Christians? How do we live each of them out in practical ways? How does the Holy Spirit help Christians have those qualities in different ways than those who aren’t Christians? What does it mean to fulfill the Great Commission and how does the fruit of the Spirit help us do that?

Hang your ornaments on a table top artificial, real or paper crafted tree and deliver it as a family. Don’t just drop it off and run, but spend a little time spreading holiday cheer to the recipient. You may find this becomes a favorite family tradition.