There are several new books out about the things we “say” to ourselves and the impact those thoughts can have on our lives. Children are not always fully aware of these thoughts. Metacognition, or the recognition of these thoughts, is critical to a child being raised in a Christian home. Why? Because these thoughts have a huge impact on the choices your kids will make. Being aware of their thought processes will give them more awareness of their ability to control these thoughts and make better choices.
So where do all of these thoughts originate? Many of them actually begin with you. That is why it’s so important to refrain from saying things like, “You are so stupid!” or “You always make the worst possible decisions!” when you are frustrated with your kids. Words have an impact on thoughts. If you use inappropriate language when frustrated with your kids – especially repeatedly – their thoughts will continue to define themselves using your words. Which is sad, because often parents don’t really mean those hurtful words – they were spoken in the anger of the moment.
You can also put positive thoughts in your kids’ brains. Be realistic though. Studies are showing that unrealistically high self esteem also produces negative consequences. Think carefully about the positive messages you want your kids to hear about themselves in their own heads. Be intentional in using them regularly to make the “tape” especially strong. Don’t forget things like, “I will always love you!”, because those reassurances will be there when they need them, too.
Make sure to put some strong scripture “tapes” in their brains. Have a few verses you regularly quote or summarize. Encourage them to memorize scripture and use it regularly so it will be part of their long term memory “tape” collection when they need it. Help them have a balance of scriptures that encourage them to make good choices and verses that remind them of God’s love, power and presence.
While you are working to put helpful “tapes” in the brains of your kids, it is crucial to monitor another major source of negative thoughts in our brains – the words of siblings. Do not ignore it when siblings say ugly things to one another. Don’t excuse it as normal sibling teasing. Teasing or not, when a thin girl is told constantly by a sibling that she is fat, she begins to believe it. Insist that siblings use kind words when speaking to each other. Don’t let their youthful meanness put negative thought patterns in each other’s brains for life.
Want to know what tapes your kids have playing in their heads already? Ask them? If they don’t know, tell them to name a huge goal they have for their future and then pay close attention to what their brain “says” in response to it. If they are already having negative thoughts, teach them how to change them by substituting a better thought every time they realize they are beginning the harmful thought. It takes practice, but it can help them make better choices if they learn to make their inner dialogue helpful and holy.
Christian parenting has one main goal – your descendants spend eternity in Heaven and help lots of others get there, too. Below that are two important goals that will help your kids reach the over encompassing one. The first is helping your kids build a strong, unshakeable faith foundation. The second is to help them reach their godly potential.
So what exactly is godly potential? It’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible as such, but there are quite a few scriptures that allude to it. Among the most familiar are perhaps Luke 12:48 (“To whom much is given…”) Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents) and 1 Corinthians 12 (Functions of members of the Church), but there are many others.
In short, God gives each of us – each of your kids – a slightly or vastly different potential in several areas. Our focus is not to be on who may have the “better” potential, for everyone has the potential to serve God. Rather it should be on developing and using our – or in this case, your kids’ – full potential to serve God.
So what are some of the components of your kids’ godly potential?
Gifts and talents. Spiritual gifts are often difficult to understand and apply to kids and teens. Instead, focus on the more concrete talents with which God has blessed them. As your kids develop and use these gifts to serve God, the spiritual gifts will most likely become more evident. Don’t just focus on obvious talents like artistic ability or public speaking. Your kids’ may have gifts like organizational skills, the ability to easily engage people in conversation or other talents we may not automatically connect to serving God, but which God can use.
Opportunities. God will give each of your kids different opportunities to serve Him. Some of those opportunities may be exciting, while others will seem more mundane. A few of the opportunities will involve all of your kids, but most will be specifically designed for each child and may vary greatly. All, however, are good works that God planned specifically for each of your kids to do in service to Him. And some of those opportunities will begin appearing when your kids are very young. Teaching them to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities God gives them to serve Him will give their lives meaning and purpose.
Knowledge, wisdom and discernment. In order to reach their godly potential, your kids will need to learn and understand what is in the Bible. They will also need to discern how to apply God’s wisdom to their lives. If your kids are in school, you are probably already aware that different kids have different capacities for learning, comprehension and application. God understands that, but He also expects each of your kids to do their very best to learn, understand and use the things He wants them to know.
Personality, character traits and resisting temptation. Each of your kids has a slightly or incredibly different personality. That personality can impact how much they struggle consistently having the character traits God wants them to have. Their personality can also impact which things tempt them and how difficult it is to resist certain temptations. This does not, however, mean any child is incapable of having the character traits God wants them to have or will be unable to resist temptation. It just means certain aspects may be more difficult for some of your kids than for others. Those who struggle need to be encouraged to continue working towards becoming who God wants them to be.
When you look at this list, what is the potential you see in each of your kids? Be careful to avoid underestimating their potential. Remember, they are still growing and changing. God may have many plans for them, but helping them build that strong faith foundation and developing to their full godly potential will help them be ready for whatever God has in store.
Has one of your children ever said something like, “He made me mad!” We often ignore those types of statements in our attempts to get to an accurate description of the events that are causing our current parenting issue. In so doing though, we may be encouraging our kids to ignore the responsibility to manage their emotions.
Personal responsibility isn’t very popular in the secular world. Excuses, blame and other strategies are often used to allow people to escape responsibility for their actions. Christianity, on the other hand, is all about taking personal responsibility for your actions, attitudes and thoughts and repenting of them when they are ungodly or sinful.
Emotions, or at least the intensity and the resulting actions taken because of the emotion, can be controlled. Your kids choose to allow something to not only bother them, but make them angry or even enraged. That is a choice. They can just as easily decide to let the incident go with immediate forgiveness, which they have probably done under similar circumstances at other times.
As Christian parents, we need to constantly reinforce that while the initial emotional reaction may feel as if it cannot be controlled by us, the intensity and our reaction to those feelings absolutely can and must be controlled. Learning how to recognize and de-escalate a personal emotional state is an important part of self control. Taking responsibility for creating a more positive emotional reaction and/or forgiveness is a choice. Choosing positive, godly reactions to another’s words or behaviors that may have initially caused us to begin feeling a certain negative emotion is a choice that can be made.
It won’t be easy. You are probably still working on it in your own life. Acknowledge how difficult it can be, but also reinforce that because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t expect us to continue working on it. Share strategies that help you and encourage older kids to share strategies they find that help them (which may also help you). If you can get your kids to accept personal responsibility for their emotions, you will be helping them have greater self control and make better choices in negative emotional states. It’s definitely worth your time and effort.
Note: In some cases, children with certain special needs or mental health issues will need the additional help of a medical professional. This post is not intended to minimize those situations, but rather encourage parents to work with their children on managing their emotional states and actions within those states.
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.
Our world is full of evil. That’s not new. It’s been that way since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. A lot of different factors just make it appear more obvious and pervasive than ever. Your kids may already be asking why some of these evil things are happening. If not, you may want to initiate a conversation about evil.
There are some basic ideas you need to teach your kids about evil.
God’s original plan for the world was perfect. When Adam and Eve sinned, they introduced evil into the world. The rest of the Bible addresses God’s plan for us to receive forgiveness for our sins and live with Him in Heaven for eternity. The world being full of evil does not mean God is not a good God. He gave us free will – we are not His robots. He wants us to choose Him. Unfortunately, all of us – except Jesus when he was on earth – have sinned. To be part of that new perfection in Heaven, we have to follow God – which includes becoming a Christian and obeying God’s commands. Sin and evil are because of the poor, sinful choices people have made, not because God doesn’t love us.
Satan is alive and active in the world today. Satan is not a myth or a character in a fairy tale. Satan is very real. They also need to know Satan is doing what he can to encourage evil in the world.
Satan wants your children to reject God. Your kids need to thoroughly understand Satan is an enemy they are fighting. Satan doesn’t want their property. He wants them to reject God and live a selfish life full of sin.
Satan has a bag of tricks at his disposal. You might want your older kids to read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It does a great job of pointing out some of Satan’s favorite tricks. On a basic level for very young children, you can explain Satan tries to convince them to sin and he also tries to convince them not to do the good things God wants us to do.
Even though Satan is tricky, your children have 100% control over their actions. One of the biggest problems in society today is personal responsibility is a concept that is no longer embraced. Your children need to absolutely understand, although Satan is tricky, he does not make the final decision about what to do. Each of your children is entirely responsible for the choices they make. The idea of being “born” to sin is wrong. They may be born with a particular weak spot Satan can exploit (like addiction for example), but your child can still choose to protect that weak spot and not sin. Satan cannot force anyone to sin. It can help to teach them Bible verses that talk about our selfish desires (Philippians 2 and James 4) and how they make us more vulnerable to Satan’s temptations.
Each child has different weak spots that will be vulnerable to Satan’s tricks. Does one of your children anger easily? The emotion is not a sin, but the actions that happen after the emotion can be sinful. Satan will know that child has a hot temper and will do everything he can to feed your child’s anger in hopes your child will eventually sin. Your (hypothetical) angry child should receive lots of coaching from you about how to be aware of this weak spot and work on it, so he/she is not as vulnerable to Satan’s attack. Each of your kids will have different weak spots and some weak spots all of your children may have. They all need to be addressed and a plan established for how to avoid Satan’s attacks on these areas.
They need to ask for God’s help. Teach your children the power of prayer. If they have been baptized, teach them about how the Holy Spirit can help them avoid temptation. Satan can exhaust even the most spiritual person. We can’t successfully battle him for very long without God’s help. Your kids need to know they aren’t fighting the battle against Satan alone.
One way to lessen the amount of evil in the world to is teach people about Jesus and God’s plan for their lives. The world doesn’t understand that evil comes from disobeying God’s commands. They have a movable moral compass, which makes it hard to define and rid the world of evil. In theory, as more people become Christians, the amount of evil in the world should begin diminishing. Of course, this means we also need to encourage other Christians to be more godly (and work on being more godly ourselves).
Ultimately God wins. Revelation is a tough book to understand. The biggest lesson from it though is ultimately God wins and takes his people to Heaven. Satan will never be able to touch them in Heaven. Sometimes it seems there is so much evil in the world Satan must surely be winning the war of good v. evil. In reality, Satan is only winning a few battles. The winner of the war itself has never been in question. God will win and your kids need to be on the winning side.
Teaching your children to be watchful against Satan and his tricks, will make it easier for them to make godly choices. Satan will still win a battle or two against your children, but if you have trained them to be watchful he won’t win the war for their souls. That is what Christian parenting is ultimately about – preparing your children to win the war against Satan. Parents always say they just want their kids to be happy. Hopefully, Christian parents have an even more important goal – wanting their kids to spend eternity in Heaven.