Consistently addressing the behavior of our children can become frustrating. All the commands we’re repeating wear us down bringing discouragement. When their behavior is corrected, we enjoy a slight reprieve, but who are we kidding? Five minutes later, they are at it again. Can you relate?
I was a Behaviorist in the early years of my parenting. Behaviorism is, as Tedd Tripp explains in, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” an attempt to control or constrain behavior through offering negative or positive consequences. This method only scratches the surface of the problem. I’ve since grown into the parental shepherd, who shows them their need for a Savior.
I’ve come to the realization, that although their behavior needs to be rectified, most likely immediately, I need to dig a little deeper into the soil of their hearts. For their behavior is rooted in this soil which is contaminated with our sin. Of course, the fruit from their behavior is going to reflect their struggle. The Bible clearly states, our words and actions express what’s in our heart.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
“A person’s life is the reflection of his heart.” ~ Tedd Tripp
We can conclude then, the behavior we see our children demonstrating is a reflection of their heart. To achieve lasting change we need to cultivate the soil of their hearts. Managing or controlling their actions is not sufficient, and this is why we struggle.
“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23
If our goal is to only change their negative responses, when called to do so, there is a possibility we may raise Pharisee’s. The Pharisee’s honored Jesus with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him. (Matthew 15:9). This is a recipe for rebellion. Instead, we’d like our children to honor us with their hearts, not just give us lip service, while resenting the boundaries or discipline within our families. Most of all, they need to own their own faith in Christ, desiring to give Him their all.
So how can we cultivate the soils of their hearts then? Once their behavior has been tackled with, we could consider the following:
Asking our children questions that’ll expose the attitude of their heart that resulted in the negative behavior.
- Explain how this attitude/sin reflects a heart that is far from God.
- Explain their need for Jesus and the sacrifice He made for them.
- Once the attitude has been uncovered, replace it with a good character quality. For example, replace hatred with love. (1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 16:14).
- From scripture, read a story where hatred was expressed, and the consequences that ensued. In this case, you could read the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:8. Hatred was motivated by jealousy and resulted in murder. Other stories that illustrate hatred are Esau and Jacob (Genesis 27:41), and Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37).
- We can ask our children to memorize a scripture. For instance, “Hatred stirs up strife; but love covers all sins,” (Proverbs 10:12), or “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
- Consider spending a month of consistent teaching on an attitude that is often dealt with. This will uproot the bad habit and form a new one. A great resource I’ve used is the, “Write upon My Heart,” series by Keepers of the Faith.
- Pray together with your child, asking God to create a new heart of love within them.
- Encourage the little improvements you notice, and they’ll naturally want to please you.
We need to know scripture well in order to apply it to our parenting in discipleship and discipline. Consider making a notebook with all the bad attitudes and corresponding good character qualities with scripture references and related Bible stories. A great resource is, “For Instruction in Righteousness,” by Pam Forster. It’s a topical reference guide for child training. All the research has been done for you. I realize this book is expensive, it took me a while to purchase it, but I was not disappointed. It’s worth it’s weight in gold.
We can try to manage our children’s behavior until we are red in the face and exhausted, but it’s not going to bring the lasting transformation we long for. Only accessing their hearts, and leading them to the cross where the Holy Spirit can mold them will bring peace to our homes. Cultivate and plant the seeds of Gods Word within them, and leave the rest to Him.
May the Lord give you discernment as you seek to dig a little deeper into their hearts, and may the Holy Spirit be your inspiration as you shepherd your children.
How else can we cultivate their hearts? I’d love to hear your ideas.