It’s easy to tell kids what to do. You could encourage them, force them, threaten them, bribe them…
However, well-behaved children do not necessarily guarantee growth into powerful, spirit-filled adults.
In my 11 years of youth ministry, I have watched the most excellent Christian parents be in complete bewilderment as to why their children do not follow in their footsteps as they grow up. These children could have gone to all the retreats and memorized all the Bible verses, and yet, they still rebel and resort to worldly vices. Behavior modification and maintenance can be so deceiving to a parent. It looks good and feels good for the moment. However, the force of college and real-world pressures will always be a mammoth of a rival to all the childhood habits taught by mommy and daddy.
As a young Christian mother of four, I realized that there’s something harder than getting my kids to do the right thing — getting them to believe the right thing.
My first is the perfect first child, responsible and wise beyond her years. My second is still a work in progress in this area of his life. There are times when my firstborn talks down to my second. When I first heard her harshly rebuke or criticize my son, I made it a point to correct her and make her apologize to him at once. It seemed simple enough to me. I thought if I didn’t tolerate her faults and commanded her not to do something, then surely I would get the right results. And for a while, I thought I got the job done. Until one day, I heard her speaking to him in the same manner behind closed doors. They thought they were alone.
I couldn’t believe it! I realized that she had learned to just display the right behavior for the right audience. It was behavior modification at best. It was not inner transformation.
After this incident, I realized that it’s not enough for me to just tell them what to do. Rather, I had to ask them, “What do you think is the right thing to do here?” When you do this, young children will oftentimes tell you the truth. It’s usually something along the lines of, “Well, he pushed me first,” or “It’s mine, so I don’t want to share,” or “I don’t want to clean up.” In those moments, wouldn’t it just be so much easier to tell them to be quiet and do the right thing? But what may seem easier in the beginning will make it harder for you in the end.
Complicated conversations need to be had. The concept of grace, forgiveness, generosity, and sacrifice are all very abstract for little children. It cannot be simplified into one command of what to do or what not to do. You need to first ask questions to give them the opportunity to explore what they believe. Then, you start to impart an understanding and revelation for them to begin their own journey of belief.
If parents only tell their kids what to choose, then their children will not know how to steward the freedom of choice when it comes their way. Instead of settling with that one minute of behavior modification, choose to take the 15 minutes of conversation of the “why” and the “how.” Ask them what they believe. Teach them what is right. Then, empower them to make the choice according to their newfound belief.
When your, “So, what do you think you should do?” is given the right response, you’re encouraging them to execute that belief. They may not be completely convinced after one conversation and will likely need reminders and a few more conversations to follow. However, the most important thing is to give them the grace to properly walk through the journey of gaining a genuine understanding of what goes on behind the right behaviors.
Parents must not be shy to correct, but they must have the determination to do much more than that. It’s hard work, and I guarantee you that you won’t get it right all the time. We need God’s grace in the process just as much as our children do.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
“Start children off on the way they should go,and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)