The phrase “unteachable heart” is often used to describe a person who is unwilling to learn or change their ways. When our child gets stuck on this attitude it makes family life very difficult. There are three specific character traits you can focus on to help your children change their hearts. Listen in as we talk about what an unteachable heart really is, what God says about it, and what you as a parent can do about it.
I had it in my mind that there was a scripture about having a teachable heart – I went looking for it and couldn’t find it. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a phrase that is well used though not a quote from the Bible.
dictionary.com defines teachable as:
- capable of being instructed, as a person; docile
- able and willing to learn: teachable youngsters
Docile – there’s a word we don’t use often, we may even see it as wishy-washy, namby-pamby! But how does the dictionary define it:
- easily managed or handled; tractable: a docile horse
- readily trained or taught; teachable
It seems to me that these are the very attitudes we want of our children.
(Side note: Teachable doesn’t mean gullible – we need to make sure our children have backbone and discernment as well. No one character trait overrides the need for another – they work together and we have to find that balance when teaching this to our kids.)
Teachable Heart or Unteachable Heart?
It makes sense – if they are to receive our instruction, they need to be capable of being instructed, being able and willing to learn, and ready to be taught. As Christian parents we want this to apply both as we give instruction – but also as our kids listen to God’s word that they have an attitude to receive instruction from God as well.
It is an attitude that we want of our children – but it is also a heart attitude that we need as adults – do we have a teachable heart? One that is ready to listen to, and receive instruction from God and others.
Though the Bible doesn’t use the phrase “unteachable heart” the instruction is there nonetheless.
As we read the Bible we can paint a picture of what unteachable means:
- The way of a fool is right in his own eyes. Proverbs 12:15
- The wise in heart will receive commandments, But a prating fool shall fall. Proverbs 10:8
- When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. Proverbs 10:19
- The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15
- A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke. Proverbs 13:1
These verses describe a person (child or adult) who thinks what they are doing is right, who thinks they are without sin, who won’t listen to instruction, who keeps talking (probably defending themselves and arguing), who makes fun of instruction; a person who simply won’t listen.
Do you recognise these things in your children? It may be a long-term attitude or it may have just popped up. I certainly had these attitudes in our home when we were trying to learn math or talk about life skills. Regardless of the personality of your kids – it pops up every so often. So what can we do?
Proverbs 21:2 says “Every way of a man (child) is right in his own eyes, but the Lord ponders the heart.”
God looks past the action and considers the heart (He doesn’t ignore the action, He just looks deeper). We tend to get annoyed at the action and react from that position. But we need to consider the heart.
What do Parents do when their child has an unteachable heart?
When our children are refusing to listen, what is going on in their heart and what can we do about it?
I often see either pride, self-righteousness, or arrogance as the heart attitude that doesn’t want to listen or learn from another.
We can tell our children to stop being self-righteous or arrogant – but our words have more impact when we tell them what to do instead. So though these attitudes grab our attention and we know something is not right, if we can pause to identify a good response that is missing then we know how to redirect or instruct their heart.
When our child has an ‘unteachable’ attitude then what I found was usually missing was either
- Humility – recognizing that I need other people in my life
- Honesty – being truthful about my need or attitude (heart)
- Meekness – acknowledging that I am still learning and growing as a person
And you can see how they counteract to pride, self-righteousness, and arrogance – but when we focus on the lack of humility, honesty, or meekness we create a context to help our children grow at a heart level – when they are ready.
So the best thing to do when our children get “wise in their own eyes’, when they refuse to listen to instruction, is to give them space to think about their heart – what’s going on, on the inside? They are sent to their room with the clear words – when your heart is ready to receive (or listen to) my words come and talk to me.
Of course, this in itself is an instruction – but if it is a normal practice to go and think about what is going on inside whenever our children have a bad attitude or make a poor choice, children will usually go to their bedroom – or whatever space you say, though it may take a while before they choose to consider their heart – and that is okay – let them sit there till they are ready.
While our kids have attitude – they won’t learn – they won’t learn at a heart level, and they won’t learn the physical or practical things we are trying to teach them.
Pearls before swine is the image that comes to mind when I stand there and keep talking to them – nothing is going in, nothing is being received and I am just getting cross and frustrated, which builds into anger real quick (and now I have an issue to deal with in my own heart!) For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20) Getting angry with our children will not produce a change of heart.
When our children put up an unteachable attitude they need to have a change of heart. You can’t make that happen – but you can create the space or opportunity to do so which is why we hit pause on the activity and send them to a quiet spot to think and reflect and do the heart work necessary for an attitude change.
Heart-focused Action Step
I think one of the best strategies parents can learn is to think about things at a time when they aren’t in the middle of the parenting moment. This is good for big-picture direction for the family as well as these hard parenting moments we have with our kids.
So the heart-focused action step for this week is to think about the times when your children are not listening, don’t want to listen, and yet have meltdowns because things aren’t working for them. These kids have an unteachable heart.
Or they may be constantly doing the wrong thing, and even saying sorry for it – and yet nothing is changing – that is an indicator of an unteachable heart.
Another indicator would be they think they know it all and don’t need anyone else’s input – be it instruction or ideas or encouragement.
Now that we’ve raised this idea that refusing to listen or thinking they know best is not a godly character trait we want in our kids – we need to be prepared to deal with it when we see it happening.
You might need to teach your children what a teachable heart looks like, and why it is important so that when they don’t have a teachable heart you have something to point your children towards.
This really is an opportunity for you as a parent to think about what you believe about a child receiving instruction and growing in wisdom and character. And then it is about you teaching that to your children.
What does it mean, and what does it look like to be humble, honest with yourself, and meek? We need to teach our kids these values, or character traits, and then hold them accountable to making choices consistent with those values.
This process can take hours – but don’t give up – if they have a bad attitude in their heart it has to be dealt with – whatever it is – before life can go on.
3 Steps towards Taking Responsibility for your Attitude and Actions
Self-regulation starts with knowing what is right, and having the ability to self-reflect.
The reason we teach our children what is right, why it is right, and what it looks like in action is to help them live well.
We need to teach them internal skills as well as how to make right choices (act/behave).
These things help our children grow into healthy humans who can engage in community with others.
Do you teach your children to reflect on what is going on in their heart? Where do you send them to reflect?
The wrong way to deal with bad attitude Is to tell your child to ‘just.stop.it!’ We can’t make our child change their attitude – but we can give them the time, space and tools to do so.
When we teach our children to process their choices and what they feel, know, believe we give them the tools to process the inner turmoil and make right choices. Heart-focused parenting not only teaches values, but also teaches that we need to self-reflect and take ownership of our actions based on those values.
An attitude – whether it is expressed in emotions or actions – is a matter of the heart and it needs to be dealt with in the same way as an outright action.
Some examples of attitudes we often are intimidated by: Stubbornness, Arrogance, Know-it-all, Resistance, Sneakiness.
These attitudes will then be expressed in actions. If we don’t get to the heart of the matter then the actions will be repeated.
It takes time as you point out what you are seeing, and what the fruit of their attitude is. It takes time for them to see that it is not a right choice and that they need to change. We have to give them that time and help to reflect on what is going on in the inside that is making them choose to do the wrong thing.
What would you add to my list of attitudes?
Heart Conversations Take Time Out of Your Day: Heart conversations are time consuming but it is the only way to make lasting change and inner growth – so we must make time for them.
How to make Training a part of your Heart-focused Parenting: Christian parents are told to train up a child in the way he should go – but what does it mean to train?
Following Instructions is an Important Life Skill: Yes, our children need to learn to follow instructions – but we need to learn to give good instructions. – it goes both ways.
Why the Heart is so Important for the Christian Parent: Knowing what it means to parent the heart changed my parenting forever. Hear my story in the Heart Focused Parenting Podcast 1st episode
Hi there! I'm Belinda and I'm glad you are here!
I am a family life coach and help parents to raise their kids with faith, values and life skills in a way that is intentional, relational and heart-focused. Read more on the About page
You can email me here.
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I also offer one-to-one coaching. Your first coaching call, JumpStart, is free - and we spend time getting to know each other, as well as discussing the things you are finding hard so that we can clarify the key step forward. At the end of the call, you will have a heart-focused action step to work on. You can then decide if you want to book a Moving Forward call and then later continue with an Accountability call.