Last week, I wrote about practical ways we can teach our children to be discerning without being judgmental. If you missed Part I, you can find it here. Now on with the second half of the list…
5. In discipline, focus even more on the heart than on behavior modification. This helps draw a dotted line between our own sin and our need for God’s grace. It also teaches that discernment can get a lot of practice in our own hearts! Rather than training my kids like Pavlov’s dogs to “just behave!”, I can ask questions that help them to increase their heart awareness.
Author Ginger Plowman suggests asking children about their hearts—whether, for example, they’re having self-control or are overreacting; whether they’re being unloving or loving; whether they are lying or being truthful. Then you might ask your kids what they think God’s Word says about this—what behavior and heart attitude they should “put off” in this situation, and what they should “put on.” When appropriate, pray with and for your child and his or her heart. (Plowman’s Wise Words for Moms is an affordable, calendar-style resource with handy Scripture references categorized by behavior.)
6. Ask good questions:
- “So what do you think about that?”
- “What do you think the Bible says about that?”
- “So why might that person have made that decision? What do you think he might have wanted inside that made him act like that?”
Help kids to see how our legitimate desires can become demands which we then meet in illegitimate, sinful ways. Without implying that these are excuses for wrongdoing, speak compassionately about the factors that can influence others’ behavior. Then kids can develop soft hearts of gratitude, patience, and understanding toward people who’ve received different grace than they: in their homes, their education, their opportunities, and their experiences.
7. Talk about what we don’t know—and acknowledge that God alone is judge of the heart! When your kids talk about others’ misdeeds, we don’t need to speak firmly about things we don’t know. (For example: “That girl just doesn’t respect her body.” “Those kids haven’t been taught how to respect adults”) Blanket statements don’t help us to see individuals and love them.
8. When praising your kids, praise heart attitudes—thanks to the Holy Spirit—far more than behavior. Again, this places the emphasis on cleanness on the inside and God’s grace to get there, rather than on appearances, shame, and evading people’s disapproval.
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!