Teaching Your Kids About Balance In the Christian Life

Have you ever noticed the human tendency to go to extremes? If I’m not exercising at all, and decide that’s not a great choice, instead of exercising a few minutes a day….. I will have a multi-hour mega workout session. Or if I believe my parents were way too strict…. I raise my kids with no rules at all. Instead of finding the perfect – usually happy medium – our pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. Which means that while we may correct some of the problems at one end, we just exchange them for equally serious problems at the other end.

It’s important to help your kids avoid the pendulum swings and this constant exchange of serious negative consequences. God is stable and steady. He’s even referred to in scripture as a rock. God’s commands and principles keep us in that healthy, balanced area of life, attitudes and behaviors. The Christian life only seems extreme because the rest of the world is swinging between the extremes in life. In reality, the Christian life is lived in that stable, healthy, calm, balanced area of God’s wisdom informed obedience and decision making.

There’s a fun family devotional you can do to begin having conversations about balance and the Christian life. Take your kids outside. Create a balance beam out of a line made of chalk or a wooden board on the ground. Take turns walking, jumping and doing other things while staying balanced on the “beam” you have created. See who can stay balanced on one foot the longest as you take turns calling out things you all have to do while staying balanced on that one foot.

After you’ve had some fun, find a place to sit and talk. Ask your children to name some activities where it is important to have good balance – like riding a bike or walking a tightrope. Explain that there is a different kind of balance in life that is important to understand when we make choices. Read or tell them some of the stories of the life of Peter. You may want to start with John 13:1-10 and Peter’s rather extreme reaction to Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles. If your children know a lot of Bible stories, ask them to think of other times when Peter or other people in the Bible had an extreme over reaction to something. Discuss together what might have been a better, more balanced and more godly response to what happened.

The difficult part of this type of topic in a devotional is helping your children make the mental leap from the principle you are teaching to what it might look like in their own lives now and in the future. Remember, that these balanced, godly choices in life are not always about sinning versus not sinning (although they can be). Often, they are about making wise, godly choices that don’t start them down a road that might eventually tempt them to sin. For example, in our earlier example about exercising, under or over exercising is not necessarily a sin. Either extreme can become sinful, however, if it eventually tempts them to take illegal drugs to build muscle or lose weight or if they are not being good stewards of their health and the body God gave them.

Work with them to think of other examples in life when people tend to go to one extreme or the other when God’s wisdom would put them in the middle. Don’t forget with older children and teens to talk about extremes like Christians can’t have any fun (think Puritans) on one end and living a life centered on having fun on the other. Discuss how God’s wise center is not having fun doing sinful things in moderation, but finding lots of fun things to do that aren’t sinful. Point out that when they are confused about where that godly center is that they can find the commands and principles to help in scripture. Help them find some verses in Proverbs and other scriptures that give some great guidance in finding that perfect balance.

Afterwards, you may want to go outside and try some more balancing fun, like walking with a book balanced on your heads, playing Twister or having an old fashioned egg race or “floor is lava” game. Don’t forget, this is a topic you will need to re-visit multiple times as a topic of discussion and in the moment as you watch your children struggle with pendulum swing type decisions. Finding their balance in God’s wisdom can make it much easier for them to live the Christian life.

Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Respect

In many ways, a healthy parent/child relationship is built on respect. If children don’t respect their parents, they may rebel against every request or obey only to avoid consequences. (Parents need to show a different type of respect to their children, but that’s a conversation for another time.) For your children to have a healthy relationship with God, they have to show respect to Him. Did you know, the original Hebrew and Greek words for worship are basically defined as showing humble respect to God? If your children don’t respect God, not only are they likely to rebel against His commands, they won’t even be able to worship Him!

Unfortunately, our culture has weakened what the word “respect” means. To most people, respect means being polite or perhaps showing a slight humility towards – as one might slightly nod one’s head rather than bowing or curtsying to royalty. The biblical meaning is much stronger. Respect towards God is to honor Him and value Him highly. To fear Him (yes, in spite of what you may have been taught, fearing God is a biblical principle) in a way that indicates a deep respect. Respect in the Bible includes obeying God’s commands – even ones that are confusing or with which we disagree – and paying attention to what He says. Having a true, biblical respect for God means your children feel that respect to their core. They don’t just metaphorically salute God or bow and then go about their lives focused on what they want rather than what God wants.

Before doing fun things to explore the idea of respect with your children, it’s important that you discuss the biblical meaning and standard for respect and what is the current definition for most people in the world. They may not thoroughly grasp the difference until you do some of the activities, but it’s a topic you should revisit periodically throughout their lives.

Once you’ve introduced the topic of respect, here are some fun things you can do to explore it in more depth.

  1. Check out some children’s books and read them together. There are children’s books about respect, but also look for books involving royalty or people in power over others. What are the various ways people showed respect towards those in power? Find books on customs in other cultures and see if you can find anything about how children might show respect to parents, older people, teachers, etc. You may want to keep a running list or compare and contrast time periods and cultures.
  2. Have a spot of tea. A part of showing respect is good manners – even if it is not the total definition of the word for our purposes. What is more fun than having a tea party or going to a tea room or “fancy” restaurant where they can practice their manners? Just remember to talk about how good manners can still be a hiding place for a disrespectful heart.
  3. Draw it out. Give your kids each a large sheet of paper. Have them divide it in half. On one side, they can draw or right words, attitudes and actions that are respectful, and on the other side things that are disrespectful. If they illustrate something they think you are doing that they believe is disrespectful, seriously reflect on their thoughts. You may need to apologize and make some changes yourself.
  4. Cookies for cops (or other authority figures). This activity can be with teachers, first responders, politicians, judges – even church elders… anyone who might have some sort of authority over your children. Work with your children to make them some cookies and thank you drawings or cards. Call ahead to find a good time to drop by and deliver your goodies, but also have a conversation with them. In what ways do people act towards them that make them feel respected? Disrespected? Why do they think respect from others makes it easier to do their job?
  5. R..E..S…P…E…C…T. You know the song. Encourage your children to take a familiar tune in the public domain (no copyrights, so most nursery songs) and write their own respect song or rap. You can even make a music video of the finished song.
  6. Have a heart. As mentioned early, respectful words and actions can hide an extremely rebellious and disrespectful heart. Have your children cut out a large heart. On it, they should draw or write the things they believe are part of having a respectful heart towards God. After discussing their drawings, have them flip the heart on the other side and draw or write the words or actions someone who respects God will exhibit. Encourage them to reflect on their hearts regularly.

Teaching your children to respect others is great. Teaching them to have a respectful heart towards God is crucial. Taking the time to help your children learn about respect can make living the Christian life much easier for them.

3 Things Your Kids Need to Live the Christian Life

Christian parenting is hard. It’s complex. It’s also crucial if you want your children to grow up to be faithful, productive Christians. What if there were a way to simplify it a bit and know what you needed to focus on the most? It’s possible, but first, we need to define the type of Christian we want our children to be.

Is your goal to have children who identify themselves as Christian, believe in God, are nice and attend worship service a few times a year? Is your goal for them to attend church most of the time as adults, give money to their church and help with one of the ministry chores in their congregation? Or is your goal to raise a child who passionately lives his or her faith as an adult – obeying God’s commands and principles, worshipping God at church and in life, fellowshipping with Christians, serving others and sharing their faith daily? I believe God wants your children to grow up to not just believe in Him and be nice people, but truly model their lives to be like the life of Jesus – daily worshipping, studying, praying, obeying, serving others and sharing their faith.

Sounds great, but how do we get there? Our minister’s message this week wasn’t about parenting, but I think his points also work well as we Christian parent our children. Your kids are going to be involved in spiritual warfare. In order to get to Heaven and take as many with them as possible (making the world a better place in the process), they will need you to help them in three basic areas.

  1. Preparation. They can’t live the life God wants them to live if they have no idea what that is. They can’t defeat Satan when tempted by quoting scripture (like Jesus did when tempted) if they don’t know any scripture. They can’t serve others and share their faith effectively if they don’t even know what they believe. Your job in this area is to prepare them as well as you possibly can. If you were sending your child into a dangerous situation and wanted them to return unharmed, you would do anything and everything possible to make sure they were prepared. The battle for their souls has eternal consequences and you should be just as passionate about making sure they are prepared for it.
  2. Purpose. Do your kids know their purpose on Earth? Many young people struggle because they have no sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is a good place to start. The New Testament is filled with commands and principles God gives Christians that help build an understanding of our meaning and purpose on Earth and how we are to think, speak and behave to be able to most fully reach those goals.
  3. People. The people with whom we spend the most time impact us in lots of ways. Your kids can’t isolate themselves from people who aren’t Christian or never sin, because they wouldn’t have anyone to spend time with during their lives. Especially when they are young, however, they should spend the majority of their time with people who encourage them to obey God – whether or not they have the same beliefs. They should look for friends who help them be the best that they can be. Your children will be kind to, serve and teach others who are struggling, but their faith isn’t strong enough to weather having those people as their best friends. Even as adults – when they may spend much of their day ministering to others, they still need to have a core group of friends who are strong Christians and will not only encourage them, but also hold them accountable.

That’s it. Christian parenting boils down to three basic areas – preparation, purpose and people. If you help your children well in those three areas, they will very likely be faithful, productive Christians as adults.

Encouraging Your Kids to Use Words That Help

The Bible tells us that the words that come out of our mouths are one of the hardest things for us to control. They are often the thing that hurts others and makes situations more negative and complex than they need to be. When coupled with the lack of general maturity and a pre-frontal cortex that isn’t fully developed, it’s no wonder your children struggle with using words that help rather than hurt a person or a situation.

Communication is necessary for your children to be healthy mentally, academically and spiritually. It’s an important part in having healthy relationships with family and friends. It can also help them get a better education or job or accomplish things that make the world a better place. So the solution is not to tell your kids to just be quiet all of the time. (Although the Bible does tell us to focus on listening more than talking – crucial advice for your children to master.)

If your children have developed bad speech habits – like whining, complaining, lying or cursing – just telling them to stop may work only to a point – if at all. Poor speech needs to have better communication habits ready with which to replace it. Helping your children practice these better communication options for common issues can help them make better choices of words in the moment.

Here are some great replacement types of words to use for common issues.

  1. Instead of curse words, use large “fluffy” words or appropriate idioms (not curse words) from another language. Cursing is often a quick way to show others a strong emotion or to communicate in such a way the speaker believes he or she will actually be heard. What’s more attention getting than a young child spouting a multi-syllabic word or a funny idiom from another language or time period? As an added benefit, they are improving their vocabularies, knowledge of history or another language and culture. Instead of cursing when angry, your kids can say they’re madder than a bear with a sore head or that it’s their bete noire! The ears of others will tune in to the strangeness of it.
  2. Instead of whining, ask what they can do to help change things and make them better for everyone. Whining usually happens when someone is unhappy that things aren’t going “right”. It can be from pure selfishness on the part of the whiner, but sometimes the “responsible” party would love to fix things, but just doesn’t have the resources. Offering to help can take stress off of that person and may also provide what the whiner initially wanted.
  3. Instead of complaining, list three things for which they are grateful or think of/do at least one thing to improve the situation. (Note: This is not about filing a formal complaint to get something fixed, but general non-productive complaining.) Complaining can come from a loss of perspective. Or an unwillingness to make changes to improve the situation. By listing blessings, perspective can be regained. By making a positive change like always placing their backpacks by the front door at night, they will no longer have to complain about not being able to find them in time.
  4. Instead of lying, tell the truth and accept responsibility. This is tough for many children. They know that telling certain truths means consequences will follow, so they lie to avoid those consequences. Help them see that the consequences for lying are much worse, by talking about how trust is destroyed by lies (and the consequences of that) and by giving stricter consequences for lying to avoid getting in trouble.
  5. Instead of saying something unkind, be an encourager and problem solver. Often unkind words (particularly between siblings) are often said out of frustration at something like “loud chewing” or crossing imaginary boundary lines. Instead of saying something hurtful to someone, teach your children to look for something positive to say to the person that will encourage him or her to focus on positive behaviors. Or if someone is annoying them with something like their loud chewing, find a solution, like asking if they can play background music at the table.
  6. Instead of criticizing, seek to know. We live in a critical world. Not critical thinking, but an unspoken belief that by criticizing others, we somehow look better. Often, the people we are criticizing are people we don’t know very well. It’s easy to assume the worst of others. Assuming the best doesn’t mean you are excusing the poor choices others may make, but rather you are seeking to better understand the person, his or her situation and why the person may have made the choice being criticized. Of course, the best antidote for criticism to teach your children is to seek to know others. Be curious. Don’t grill them like a police interrogator, but ask questions designed to help them better understand the person and to find areas of commonality. Those areas of commonality can become building blocks to serving others, sharing their faith and perhaps making a new life long friend.
  7. Instead of yelling angry words, resolve the conflict. Yelling angry words, may feel helpful, but they usually just worsen conflicts. Instead, teach your children a conflict resolution model and help them practice using it. Here is the conflict resolution model from our website.
  8. Instead of gossiping, change the subject. Gossip has a way of getting out of control and spreads lies about people from which they may have a hard time recovering. Your kids may not start the gossiping, but they can stop it by changing the topic of conversation. This allows them to stop it without lecturing their peers.

This list isn’t all inclusive, but you get the idea. For any negative speech you believe is ungodly or hurting them in some way, help them find a replacement speech that accomplishes their goals in a more productive way. In fact, some of those good speech habits, they may want to incorporate more even when not needing a substitute for poor word choices. Help your kids listen well and speak so people want to listen to them.

Fun Family Service Activity That Grows Character As Well

As I write this, much of the country is being blanketed with snow and ice. The rest of us are just really cold! Spring may seem far away, but for some areas, in just a few weeks, the early Spring blooms will appear. It’s a great time to start a family service activity that will help your children work on their character as well.

You will need to gather a few supplies before starting. You will want some containers you can use as temporary pots. Have some fun recycling containers around your house like those for drink or food. You will also need some soil. While you can use the dirt in your yard, for best results you may want to purchase a small bag of soil that already has some fertilizer mixed in. Finally, if you cook using fresh fruits and vegetables, you may already have what you need, but if not, you will need a few grocery items listed below.

Start by talking to your kids about the various times in the Bible when people didn’t have enough food. Discuss the various ways people found food – usually by traveling to a place that had more food, by sharing with others, by a miracle or some combination of factors. If you want to focus on a specific story, Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17:7-24 is a good one to use.

Explain that even today, some people have problems finding enough food to eat. Some children live in families where their parents don’t give them very much food and the only food they get is when they are at school. It is important to help children who are hungry have enough food to be healthy. It is also a great way to serve them to teach them how to grow their own free food when they aren’t able to purchase it.

Explain that when we cook, we often throw away things that could be planted and grow us free food for the future. It takes a little while at first, but if you regularly plant these things when you use them, you will soon have a steady supply of free food. If you don’t have land to plant a garden or it is cold outside, many of these things can be grown in containers and indoors. (FYI: Home Depot sells great Meyer lemon and key lime trees that produce fruit in pots indoors.)

Here’s a partial list of some of the things you and your children can plant to grow free food. Please note that seeds in some hybrid fruits and vegetables will not produce plants or plants that produce fruit. If you have access to a farmers’ market, their produce often works best. For plants where you plant roots, most grocery store items will work fine.

  1. Onions – plant roots you chop off
  2. Celery – plant bottom you chop off (it’s a root)
  3. Garlic – plant a clove and get a bulb of cloves eventually
  4. Romaine lettuce – plant the bottom you chop off
  5. Ginger – plant a small section, preferably with a “knot” on it
  6. Herbs – place a stem of the herb in a glass of water in sunlight, once roots grow, plant in dirt
  7. Potato – let grow “eyes” then plant each eye
  8. Sweet potato – place toothpicks and put bottom off in water in a glass in sunlight, planting in dirt once a vine grows
  9. Carrots – plant the leafy green top you chop off
  10. Beets and other similar root vegetables – plant leafy top you chop off
  11. Pineapple – chop off leafy top with a bit of fruit and plant (I’ve gotten a beautiful plant, but no fruit although some people also get fruit)
  12. Seeds from things like tomatoes. Note that this process takes much longer and can be hampered if the seeds are from a hybrid.

If you really enjoy the project, there are more extensive lists and instructions online. Your family may also want to explore hydroponic gardening. Some missionaries in food deprived areas also teach a type of gardening that is combined with raising fish that is really fascinating.

Growing food from kitchen scraps can teach your children patience, perseverance, responsibility, a strong work ethic, generosity, a servant heart and other godly character traits. It also teaches them a practical life skill that will help them have free food should they ever need it, and allows them to empower those without sufficient food to grow their own food, too. It’s a great family project for any time of the year!