Tips for Having Natural Spiritual Conversations With Your Kids

As a Christian parent, you would probably love to have meaningful spiritual conversations with your children. When you try, however, the conversations feel stilted and awkward. Or perhaps you find what you thought would be a great spiritual discussion spiraling into an argument. It seems that no matter how hard you try, you never feel like the conversations are helping your kids grow spiritually.

Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to make it more likely you are able to achieve your goals in these crucial conversations.

  1. Choose the time and place carefully – especially if you already know your children will disagree with what you have to say. Timing is half the battle. Try to have conversations when everyone is relaxed and well rested. Sometimes having them on a hike or other area away from home can make potentially tense conversations less so. What you want is for the atmosphere to be as relaxed and casual as possible.
  2. Try opening the conversation with a casual question. Godly Play promotes using “I wonder…” questions when having spiritual conversations with children. Asking a question changes a conversation from sounding like a sermon to a mutual discovery of what God wants from both you and your children. It also gives them a platform for feeling heard, making it more likely they will listen to your counsel.
  3. Give them space to ask questions and express doubts. We say it a lot, but it’s true. It’s not doubts that destroy faith, but doubts that aren’t addressed by Christians with godly, biblical answers. Leaving your children’s spiritual questions unanswered makes them vulnerable to whomever Satan sends their way to answer those questions.
  4. Use their real life experiences to point out God’s wisdom and/or commands on the topic. Combined with “I wonder” questions, this works well. So, for example, if your child comes home talking about how nobody likes Susie because she tells lies, then you can launch at least a mini conversation with, “Hmmm. I wonder if that is one of the reasons God hates lies…. (No one can trust us if we tell lies)?”
  5. Use the cover of their peers. Sometimes your child may be concerned about telling you about a doubt or concern. It can be easier if you frame the question about how people their age or their friends feel about the topic. Chances are at least one of their friends has the same concerns and they can answer your question honestly without having to openly admit they are having the same questions.
  6. Stay calm and listen carefully. What if your child launches a spiritual bombshell in the middle of a conversation? If the child is doing it to get a reaction from you, losing your cool plays right into their plan. Most kids and teens will shut down the minute a parent gets upset. They stop listening, get defensive or begin rebelling. Often staying cool and casually presenting the truth gives them a little time and space to feel like they came to the conclusion on their own instead of being forced into it by you. Bring up this topic again periodically to monitor how they are processing it and don’t gloat when they finally agree with you.
  7. Bring in a “neutral” third party. They may not listen to what they consider a sermon from you, but may read an apologetics book or watch a video. It removes the parenting dynamic from the equation and encourages them to deal with the actual topic without getting entangled with their feelings about your relationship.
  8. Practice authoritative parenting. If you practice an authoritarian parenting style, your kids are already primed for rebellion because you have harsh rules and consequences without a nurturing relationship. If you are a permissive parent, your kids are also primed for rebellion, because you have taught them they can do whatever they want without consequence. Authoritative parents with their nurturing parenting style can get away with being firm and even strict, because their kids know their parents are doing those things in their best interest. They may not always agree with you, but they are much less likely to rebel against you and/or God.
  9. Don’t be afraid to share spiritual truths, but mirror how Jesus did it. Sometimes your children may need to hear the harsh sounding truth that their choices are not making God happy. Making excuses for them or pretending like a sin isn’t a sin won’t help. Neither will pretending there is some mysterious third path where they can call themselves a Christian, but refuse to get baptized or even attempt to obey God’s commands but still go to Heaven. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for our children is to tell them a hard truth. But even harsh truths can be shared with love and showing them there is a path for forgiveness and grace.
  10. Don’t think addressing a spiritual topic once will settle the topic. As your children age, they will have more experiences that can raise additional questions or concerns. Bringing up important topics periodically can allow you to check in before they get too far down a spiritual rabbit hole.

Having spiritual conversations with your children doesn’t have to be difficult. The more often you have them, the more natural they will seem. And the more time you spend in personal Bible study, the more likely you will be able to handle whatever happens. Your kids desperately need you to have these conversations with them. Don’t let them down.

Are You Isolating Yourself From the Parenting Help You Need?

One of the most consistent frustrations of parents is the feeling that they are parenting in a vacuum. It wasn’t that way years ago. Extended families often lived close together and parents could depend upon relatives to help with raising their children. (Watch old episodes of The Waltons if you are unfamiliar with the concept.) Even the community would pitch in and help. Children knew if they did something wrong any adult had the freedom to correct them (the expectation of obedience to every adult was common) and parents would be informed if the infraction were serious enough. Even in my own childhood we would often spend the day or sometimes a couple of days and a night at the home of not only our friends, but relatives or very close family friends.

A highly mobile society has created an environment where extended family members are often hours away. We don’t necessarily know our neighbors or even the people at our church well enough to trust them with our children. Sleepovers are a potential landmine of allowing your children to spend an extended amount of time with a family whose values may encourage your children to break your rules or a family member could be a predator of some sort (at least in our minds).

Parents have often reduced their parenting support network to paid childcare workers and online communities. While there is nothing wrong with an amazing babysitter, she may not provide the same love and support a relative or close family friend (Aunties in our house) might. Chances are he or she is a teen and may not even be available very often.

This can leave you feeling exhausted, stressed and desperately searching for the expert parenting advice you need. I believe one of the many reasons God created the Church was to give Christians a supportive, like minded family who have similar godly ideals of character and attitude, as well as beliefs. That community was designed to support, encourage and hold accountable when necessary. It sounds like Christians were regularly in and out of each other’s homes, sharing meals and my guess would be, parenting support as well.

Unfortunately, COVID has robbed many Christians of the Church family as God designed it. Watching church online has become a habit for many. Others became disconnected emotionally during this time and haven’t done the work to reconnect. The news cycle is consistently negative, making the world seem even more dangerous than before. We have pulled our children into our homes as some sort of protective cocoon.

This cocoon is not good for you or your children in the long run. They need other loving supportive adults in their daily lives to encourage, nurture and hold them accountable. You need other adults your children love and respect reinforcing the things you are teaching them about God and what He wants for them and from them. They need opportunities to spread their wings a bit in another home that will still guide and protect them. You need experienced, godly moms to give you the parenting advice and encouragement God wants you to have.

It’s time to get the parenting help you need from your church family. Go back to in person worship every week. Volunteer to serve in some way. Enroll your children in Bible classes. Join Mom groups at your church, take Christian parenting classes or find a great experienced mom or two to mentor you. Practice hospitality with people who can become extended family members for you and your children. Take full advantage of the blessings your church family can provide. You were never meant to parent in isolation.

Family Fun With Bible Proverbs

Proverbs is a great book of the Bible to explore with children and teens. It has great, godly advice in easy to understand snippets. It has colorful and sometimes funny imagery. It even has thirty one chapters so each day of any month has a chapter to focus upon. Why not make studying Proverbs a fun family project?

Decide whether you want to read the proverbs aloud or independently. Although reading them to your kids is great, because Proverbs is a relatively easy book to understand, it also makes a good one to begin transitioning your kids to independent Bible study. If your kids haven’t been studying the Bible daily, you may want to start with covering only a few verses a day. Older children and strong readers may be able to process a chapter a day. Proverbs is packed with so much good information, that trying to focus on more than one chapter at a time can become overwhelming and undermine the possibility of specific proverbs taking root in the hearts and minds of your kids.

Regardless of how you decide to read the daily passage, choose a time of day when everyone can come together for at least a few minutes to discuss it. Attach the discussion to something you always do – like eating breakfast or a bedtime routine. The anchored habit will serve as a reminder to discuss the scriptures for the day.

When talking about each passage, focus on a few basic questions:

  1. What stood out to you in these verses?
  2. What do you think God wants you to learn from this passage?
  3. What is one thing you are going to change because of these verses?
  4. What is one thing you can share with your friends about these verses?

Notice that the questions are designed to encourage paying attention to the scripture, understanding the meaning of the scripture, putting it into action in their lives and sharing their faith with others.

On days when you have more time, do some fun activities based around the Proverbs. Make scripture art to display around your home. Find all of the fun imagery in Proverbs and explain why God might have used those vivid word pictures. Create a children’s book where each family member writes and illustrates a page or two about different Proverbs. Write and perform a puppet show for neighborhood or church children about Proverbs. Design and create tee shirts of a favorite Proverb. Make bookmarks with a proverb on them and give them away. Focus on living one Proverb each day and talk about what happened when you focused on living out that Proverb.

Have fun with it, but make sure your kids know, understand and live Proverbs. It’s a great way to instill Christian character traits and attitudes in a fun, easy to understand way.

5 Benefits of Family Chores

Chores in many families are often an individual effort. Each person has a list they need to accomplish over a specific period of time. Chores are a great way to teach your children a great work ethic and responsibility (as well as some life skills), but can often get side tracked by a myriad of issues. One way to short circuit many of these intrinsic issues is to switch up the model to one of family chores.

So what are family chores? Each family member may still have individual tasks to perform, but doing chores is presented as a family effort. So instead of having a child on “dish duty”, present it as “we are all going to work together to clean the kitchen after dinner”. The same child may still be responsible for loading the dishwasher, but everyone in the family has a task at the same time in the same area. This has the benefit of having a more deeply cleaned kitchen, while minimizing the “Cinderella effect” solo chores can have on children. (I’m stuck loading the dishwasher while my sibling is playing video games. Sure, the sibling had an earlier chore while the dish loader was playing video games, but that’s quickly forgotten!)

Or crank up some fun music and work together to clean the house every Saturday morning. You may be separated throughout the house cleaning different rooms, but the music ties everyone together. Or offer to help your child with a chore – like going on a walk with your son as he walks the dog.

What are the potential benefits of family chores?

  1. Gives you more opportunities for teaching and training your kids how to do certain tasks. It’s much easier on everyone if you are working with your child and see her put in a dish the wrong direction to make a quick correction than it is to call the child back to the chore after every dish has been placed incorrectly and must be replaced.
  2. Promotes the idea of your family as a team that works together for the good of all. Too many families are groups of individuals sharing a living space rather than an actual family. Family chores reinforce working together and helping each other reach goals and do things for the good of everyone.
  3. Gives your children the attention and time with you they crave. It’s amazing how much children open up when helping a parent cook dinner or clean a garage. They have your mostly undivided attention and can relax in that space and begin sharing their lives and hearts with you.
  4. Models the way churches should work. Too often dysfunctional churches are merely reflecting the dysfunctional families that attend them. Having a healthy family dynamic can provide an example for the members of your church and for your kids of how Christians should work together to accomplish the good works God has for them to do.
  5. Adds a bit of fun to boring tasks. Let’s be honest. Chores aren’t fun or they would call them hobbies! Working together to music, laughing, telling stories and jokes while you work can make something that’s boring seem more fun and help the time pass more quickly.

Try family chores for a while and see what happens. You may just find they solve a lot of your issues with chores.

Top Tips for Evaluating Christian Parenting Books

Let’s be honest. There is no “Panel of Experts” that evaluates those claiming to be experts in parenting or their books. Anyone who can write well and has an interesting twist on parenting can proclaim themselves a parenting expert and make a ton of money peddling their “wisdom” to parents looking for guidance. As a parent, you may not know for years whether the advice had short term benefits, but caused long term problems for your children. By then it may be too late to undo the damage caused by faulty parenting advice.

So when you are choosing what parenting books to buy or read, you can’t always go by reader reviews. They may be based on how well the author writes or whether or not the points reflect what the reader wanted to hear. Or they may reflect short term benefits with no knowledge of the long term impact. It’s difficult enough for secular parents, but for Christians you are perhaps gambling your kids’ faith foundation on advice that may sound like wisdom, but is really foolishness.

So how can you tell whether or not a Christian parenting book is worth reading or following? Here are some factors to consider.

  1. How old are the author’s children? Someone with small children has no idea whether or not the advice they are giving helps their children long term. They may be absolutely right or they may be terribly wrong. I read a parenting book recently where the author was extolling the “wisdom” of allowing children to decide when they went to bed, when they woke up and how many hours of sleep they got each night. Of course it worked okay for her. She had only a preschooler who had no real demands of her during the day and could sleep whenever she wanted. If you’ve raised older children and teens you know not having guidelines for sleeping is setting your children (and you) up for disaster.
  2. If the author’s children are adults, how have they turned out? Are they living active, productive Christian lives or does the author make excuses for his/her children’s rejection of God? No parent is perfect, but parents with strong Christian children probably have learned and practiced healthy parenting techniques.
  3. Are the author’s children perfect? Okay, I will admit this is a trick question. As a parenting author, I have to admit that the children of parenting experts don’t necessarily want their entire childhood experiences used as examples for other parents – especially when they are certain ages. Often we will use the examples of other children or a composite of children to protect our own children’s privacy.
  4. What are the author’s credentials? This can be tricky, but helps at times. Those with a background in education, for example, have usually worked with lots of children over a long period of time and have a solid idea of how to manage a classroom full of them so they can learn large amounts of academic content. Education or career, however, doesn’t guarantee the advice is good. Someone who is a phenomenal Christian parent, but who only has a high school education can give better advice than someone with a PhD.
  5. Does the author’s advice line up with scripture? There aren’t a ton of specific parenting verses in scripture, but there are some and certainly lots of examples of parenting – both bad and good. There are also a lot of commands and principles that should be reflected in any good Christian parenting book. So, for example, if a book suggests allowing children to miss worship services for sports or allowing kids to tell “little white lies”, it’s not giving you godly advice.
  6. What informs the author’s conclusions? Did the author look at academic research studies? Interview other parents? Base it on anecdotal observations or personal experience? All can provide accurate conclusions, but the best books often use a combination of sources to make conclusions. If an author is basing conclusions only on personal experience or from observing a handful of families, there may be weak conclusions that are made.
  7. Are the author’s conclusions based on the concept that “ancient” practice or “popularity in other countries/cultures” is always the best advice? There is a subset of parenting “experts” that assumes if something was done in ancient parenting, it is automatically better than current parenting. They often base this on their personal understanding (or lack thereof) about how these children turned out as adults. Just because a time period did not appear to have the same issues as today doesn’t mean they weren’t there or that equally bad, but different problems existed. The same holds true for the concept of promoting ideas based on their popularity in other cultures – often based on the same misunderstandings as those of a historical time period.
  8. Does the author have a bias against certain groups? I recently read a book that rejected any advice immediately if it were given by doctors or people running orphanages. The advice may indeed have been poor, but she was rejecting it merely based on their occupation not on the advice itself. This can also hold true for authors automatically rejecting parenting advice given by anyone the age of their parents or grandparents.
  9. Is the advice promoting authoritarian, permissive or authoritative parenting styles? Multiple studies have shown that the authoritative parenting style produces the best results. The other styles can be appealing to people based on their personal experiences and may appear to have short term positive results, but they are problematic long term.
  10. Does the author promise easy solutions to major problems? The truth is that children don’t develop serious problems overnight (in most cases). They’ve developed poor habits that will need to be broken and replaced with better habits. This is not easy or fun for the parent or the child. It’s entirely possible, and one method may yield better results more quickly than another, but major change will still require consistent hard work over a period of time.
  11. Do the methods suggested reflect how God parents us? If God is our father as the Bible says, He is the perfect parent. So for example, a parenting method that recommends not having boundaries or enforcing them consistently with consequences for rebellion, does not reflect how God parents us.
  12. Is the book honest about how much time and effort parents need to put into the spiritual teaching and coaching they need to do to raise strong, productive Christians? Studies have shown that children need an average of 14 hours a week of exposure and interaction with God through Church, Bible classes, home and independent Bible study, prayer, character training, conversations about God, scripture, etc. Christian schools can add a handful of hours a week, but math is still math and can’t be counted as religious content. Any author that makes it seem like a couple of hours at Church a week or attendance at a Christian school will give your kids everything they need spiritually is sadly mistaken.
  13. Does the author seem more focused on selling you other things than imparting as much information as possible in one volume? Authors have to pay bills like anyone else. Too often though, those wanting to make a lot of money often repackage the same material in multiple ways to sell additional products. It doesn’t necessarily mean the original content was poor, but you won’t necessarily get a lot of added value from buying additional products.
  14. What is the author’s definition of parenting success? Is it the child’s happiness? Easier parenting in the moment? If the top priority is not helping your kids get to Heaven by building a strong faith foundation and helping them reach their full God given potential, the advice given may not help you reach that critical goal.

Just like there are no perfect parents, there are no perfect parenting books. Separating the useless ones from the helpful ones can save you and your kids time and heartache.