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.