Day in and day out I try to ask my three-year-old the same series of questions after he has done something wrong: “Was that nice?”, “Why did you do it?”, “Do you think it made God (or Mommy, or Daddy, brother, friend) happy?” Teaching our children to reflect on their actions sounds like a daunting task but it is easier than you may think, especially if you are consistent.
Simple questions can be foundational to the way we help our children understand their actions. Telling your child to “be kind” without explaining to them what that actually means will not leave the impact we desire as parents. However, bringing their sinful motives to the surface and explaining why something was wrong can make all the difference between simple behavior modification and real heart change.
“How was it a sin against mommy?” “ How was it a sin against God?” “ What can we do different next time?”
With young children, the issues are relatively black and white: hitting = bad, sharing = good, frowning at mommy = bad, obeying right away = good. As they get older and issues become more complex, we will be thankful that we began this routine when our children are young. We will have been quietly ingraining these questions into our child’s thinking for years. Picture your child at fifteen years old. The difference between a clueless Christian youth who does things without a second thought and a mindful one who thinks about his actions could begin right here right now.
An example can be drawn from Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Here it is clear that we are responsible for our actions and called to live peaceably with others. Use this next time you go through some reflective questions and find that your child has justified their sin because “Brother did it first!”; use the opportunity to remind them that God tells them to live peaceably, no matter what others are doing.
As parents, we know how much our kids absorb; even our young ones know the theme song to 5 different tv shows and have at least 10 phrases from Moana or Toy Story memorized. If they can latch onto silly things like that, then we should definitely help them latch onto better, more lasting things. These reflective questions aren’t meant to stand alone but after we help our child to think about the what, why, and how of their actions, we must remember to tell them the most important part. There is forgiveness, love and help in Jesus. If we ask Him, He can change our hearts and help us to do what is right.
Asking your young child these types of deeper questions may seem like a joke at first (I can almost guarantee they will shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t know” the first 100 times), but if you are consistent, they will learn to think through their actions. This is one of the main goals of Christian parenting: unteaching bad, sinful habits and reteaching good, new, gospel thinking . With consistency and patience, you will begin to see behavior modifications but much more importantly, you might also see real heart change in the life of your child.
And as always, a child’s heart has a way of mirroring the deeper things going on in ours. Our struggle with sin is no more noble or grown-up than theirs, though we like to pretend otherwise. Lord willing, as we teach our children to go from hindsight evaluation to thinking before they act, God will grow us as Mommies and Daddies in this area, too.
by Valerie Cleveland