My goal as a Christian parent was to raise children who loved God, loved others and who were able to make wise choices as they lived in their community using their passions and talents to be a blessing to others.  Sounds good on paper – but how do we raise our kids to do the right thing – to even know what the right thing is and then to have the strength of character to do it?  In this episode I talk about 4 practical things we can do that will help our children do the right thing.  When you start adding these heart-focused parenting strategies to your parenting toolbox you are laying the groundwork for your kids to be able to step up with integrity and responsibility.

How To Help Your Children Do The Right Thing 

If I was to ask you – What do you want your kids to be like when they reach 18 years old?  What would your answers be?  

Our minister asked us in his sermon a few weeks back – What is the goal of parenting?  He went on to preach on the story of Jesus calling the little children to Him (I’m sure you are familiar with the story when the disciples tried to shuffle them away).  His conclusion was the goal of parenting is to bring our children to Jesus.

And I agree – we want our kids to meet Jesus. To me, this is our first and priority goal.  

 

Second to that, we are also to help them grow their moral, emotional, social, intellectual, and physical capacities. We are to guide our children from childhood to adulthood in their whole being.  As a Christian parent though all those other capacities are influenced by the Lordship of Jesus in our lives, and hopefully, prayerfully our children’s lives too.  

I wanted my kids to grow into strong and capable individuals in every area of their life: that they loved God, and loved others.  That they were morally mature adults who were willing and able to self-govern and live life with responsibility and passion.

The question is – how do we get them from where they are today (if the are still under 18), to where we’d like them to be at 18 – ready to live a productive and healthy adult life?

Today I’m sharing 4 things we can do as parents to help our children do well right where they are at today.  They may be struggling to have the self-control to do the right thing, they may still be learning, but we can do things as the parent that will support their learning and growing into what we are aiming for.  

These 4 things are

  1. Boundaries and limitations
  2. Prompts and encouragements
  3. A way of escape
  4. Be a parent with a good attitude

Heart-focused Parenting Strategies

I am going to look at each one of those in a bit of depth.  Let me just mention here that if you would like to talk about one of these in a deeper way, or talk about how it would apply in your child’s life or your family situation, book a coaching call and I can help you help your kids move forward.

 

Set up Boundaries and Limitations

We can see boundaries as something that stops you from doing something – or we can see them as something that keeps us within our ability to succeed.  If my toddler can’t play nicely with someone, or their playmate can’t play nicely with my toddler, I make my toddler play close by.  This is a boundary.  Not to limit their fun – but to put them in a place where they will have fun, and more importantly in this situation – safety.   If my teenager can’t use technology wisely, then I place guidelines and limitations around them – not to hinder them, not to be mean to them, but to help them keep safe and help them do well while they learn the skills and desires to do the right thing when it comes to technology.

We can have boundaries that are permanent daily fixtures usually for a season because as our kids grow older and more capable their boundaries expand.  But for a season we may simply decide – this is something that our kids can’t do.  One example would be movies.  When our kids are 8 they are not watching M15 movies for example.  The decision is made once and for all – this is a boundary that we set for our kids for this season – though it will change as they get older; but for now this is the limitation, the boundary that we live within as a family. 

We can also have boundaries that are appropriate for a situation.  Today, for this moment, this is what is going to happen.  I remember driving home from town with three very tired out-of-sorts kids (this often happened as we headed home at rest / nap time) and I would get my kids to sit on their hands.  This was a boundary, a limitation.  They were not capable of using their hands lovingly or kindly at that particular moment in time so they lost the freedom of using their hands altogether – they sat on them till we got home.  They weren’t in trouble – they just had a limitation on the use of their hands because they didn’t have the self-control to be able to use their hands well in that situation, in that moment!  We have to be creative at times.

Setting boundaries with our kids takes our time and effort.  First we have to think about what our kids can do, and do well.  What can they do well morally, emotionally, intellectually, socially, physically?  We need to make sure that we are giving them plenty of opportunity to grow and be responsible for the things that they can do and do well.  Our goal is that they don’t need us to limit them, they will know their own limits and set their own boundaries.  This is when they become self-governing.  But they are probably not there right now – though they will be moving towards that in times to come.

We also need to think about the issues they’ll have trouble with.  Will they be rough in play?  Will they be safe climbing the tree?  Can they drive and have friends in the car?  When there is something that they are not able to be self-governing in we need to think about how we can help them.  Setting boundaries and limitations helps them stay within the confines of where they can do life well.  But always with the understanding that we are helping them grow and expand their abilties and their world towards the goal of becoming self-governing.

I have actually done a whole podcast on how boundaries keep our children safe – you can find the link in the description of this episode on your podcast app if you want to think more about how you can use boundaries in your parenting.

 

Give your Children Prompts and Encouragements

When our children face situations that they aren’t ready to handle on their own they need us on the sidelines, teaching, prompting and encouraging.  

Remember we are talking about kids are who not able to make wise choices on their own in a particular situation.  We need to remember, this is not a bad thing – this is normal.  Every child is in this situation – in every part of their life – at some stage.  Not having the skills or the desire to do the right thing is not the issue – it is a part of growing up.  The issue is when we expect them to do the right thing without giving them time to learn to make wise choices.  We can’t just expect them -it is a growing thing, its a journey, it’s a process.

It doesn’t matter how old our kids are, or how many times we’ve told them – if they are not able to do the right thing on their own, they need more teaching and training and guiding and encouraging.

 I think we all know that when our kids aren’t able to do the right thing it is up to us to give them instructions.  They need to be taught and they need to understand what is right, why it is right and what right looks like in action in their lives.  

But what we often don’t do is give prompts and encouragements. We tend to have a tell-you-once-and-I’m-done type of attitude.  But teaching our children will never be done with one set of instructions.  They need to be taught what is right, why it is right and how to do right in every situation they face – and this takes repetition – it takes time.

So first up we have the teaching – giving them understanding of what is right, why it is right and how to do right.

Then there is prompts – this is when you know they know but they haven’t established the moral muscle yet.  You can prompt them, remind them, ask them quesitons to make them think about their next step.  This is how we gradually transfer responsibility and self-governance to them.  We have to make them think, and give them opportunity to make the choice to do the right thing.  This of course happens after we have well and truly taught, and have them practiced doing what is right.

Key:  We ask the questions to make them think about their choices; giving them the space to think about what they know is right.

The other thing we can do is give encouragement – actually, we must give our kids encouragements when we see them making choices that shows they have both the desire and skills to do the right thing – when they make choices to do the right thing they have overcome temptation to do the easy, selfish, thing – and instead do what is right.  They need to be commended.  We need to catch our children doing well and give them praise for that.

So don’t just teach your kids what to do and why that is the right thing to do – but encourage them, and prompt them, make them think and help them take responsibility for their choices in life.  But remember it is a gradual process – its not a one and done type of deal.

 

 

Give them an Escape

Sometimes life is just too hard – the expectations are too high – the idea of success is just not going to happen – not today.  The toddler may lose it or the teen may react angrily – each child will have their own expression of ‘this just ain’t gunna happen today!’  We need to give our children a way to escape when expectations and life become too much.

At times like this we need to remind ourselves of the goal:  Our goal is to have morally mature children, children who can make wise choices throughout their day.  Our goal is not to have children perform making it look like our family has it all sorted – that is performance-based parenting and pleasing others and it will only damage our kids hearts.  We need to recognise the signs – that with all the boundaries, all the encouragement and tall he help we can offer, right now, today, in this situation, this child is not going to do well.  I need to do something now. We need to be ready to make that call.

  • We might need to go home
  • We might need to give them some space to themselves
  • We might need to rearrange our day and plan different activities
  • We might need to change what we were doing so we can spend some time connecting with them.
  • We might need to plan some more intentional training in a particular area of their life

At this point though we cannot let our child – regardless of their age – keep going the way he is.  They are headed for meltdown or a major fit and there will be a rift in our relationship: things are going south! Parental intervention is necessary!!  This doesn’t mean we need to tell the child off, it doesn’t mean the child needs a consequence – it does mean the child has reached the end of their ability to succeed and we need to be the parent and make a decision – how are we going to help them?

So much of our parenting is done by observing our children.  When they’ve reached their limits teaching and training is not what is needed in that moment – instead they need a way of escape.  Escape from the situation, escape from the pressure to do the right thing in that moment.  Mum and Dad need to step in and rescue them.  This isn’t a failure, this is a sign that everyone is human and has a limited capacity and at times we reach the end – it is also a sign that we are on a learning journey and what we can cope with today will grow and we’ll be able to cope better in the future.  That is why we have to step in so they can grow and be in a better place in time ahead with better skills and understanding of what is right..

 

Two ways we can teach a way of escape.  First we need to know where our kids are at emotionally and be ready to step in and rescue them.  I’m sure we know the difference between a child able to redirect their choices and a child who has reached their end.  It isn’t a failure on their behalf or on your behalf if you have to fold up and go home to a quiet space.  That is caring for your child.

The second way is to teach your child to be self-aware and know when they are escalating and when they need help and to know how to ask for help.    

I taught one of our children a little sign that they were to use when they knew they needed help.  This sign would signal to me that they needed my attention NOW.  I gave them the commitment that I would be quick to give them 100% of my attention to help them. 

The ability to ask for help comes with a degree of self-awareness but before our kids have that sense of self-awareness that is where we step in and have to be aware for them – and help and guide them to a safe place to process.

 

As our children grew older and had more opportunities to be away from the family on their own with other people, they were always able to phone or text “help” if they found themselves in a situation that was bigger than their ability to handle.  We were committed to being there to help them as quickly as we could.  That is what parents do!!  This doesn’t have to be ‘big’ issues like drugs or parties out of hand – but our kids can feel overwhelmed in many situations – and if we have established the pattern of being there to help them in their young years – they will turn to us for help – be it intervention, or most likely just help and support – a way of escape – when they are older.

 

Be a Parent with a Good Attitude

So much parenting is actually about me, the parent, not my kids at all, so it is good to have regular heart checks.  Here’s a good time to just remind us all that when I talk about the heart I am talking about what you believe, think, value and feel – as these things direct your choices.  So when you have a heart check – you are checking in with yourself to see that how you are behaving as a parent is consistent with what you believe and value.  

 

If it isn’t – then you need an adjustment – just like our kids do when their heart is out of whack with what is true and right.  

 

When our kids consistently make the wrong choices if they are young I look at what moral value is missing in their actions? That helps me see what virtue I need to teach into to. If they are older and able I get them to consider that for themselves. 

Key question:  What is the moral value missing in their actions?

I might look at the circumstances and see what I think is contributing to them not being able to do the right thing.  Maybe they are struggling with change, or disappointment or too many late nights.  These are circumstances, that when I understand what is going on I can address.

I might also look at relationships – or connection.  Where are they at with their relationship with God, their relationship with me and other significant people in their life?  Relationships often affect what we believe about ourselves – and this affects choices or behaviour.

 

It is the same for me.  When my heart is out of whack with my values then I need to consider where my relationships are at – my relationship with God, my spouse.  I look at my emotions – is something upsetting me, am I processing something, has something been triggered or ignored.  I look at my circumstances – is there something going on that isn’t helping me do life well?  I look at my choices, what moral values am I ignoring in my life?  All of these things create tension in my heart and when that tension gets too much I will snap!  

By looking at the different areas of my life and seeing how the things that are out of whack is coming out in my attitude towards my children or my actions towards them – I can see the things that need to change.  Remember how I said I wanted my children to live self-governing lives – well that is my goal for myself too.  I am responsible for me – and you are responsible for you. 

So when my attitude is not right I need to do something about it.  It is my responsibility. 

When I’m doing well as a person, as a healthy person, that will be reflected in how I engage with my kids.  And that is what we need.

 

 

Heart-focused Parenting Action Step

Obviously the action step for this week is to look at how you are doing in these four areas.

  1. Boundaries and limitations
  2. Prompts and encouragements
  3. A way of escape
  4. Be a parent with a good attitude

It is all too easy to just jump on our kids’ behaviour – but we need to look at what we are doing as the parent first.  

Remember that parenting is a journey – that both you as a parent are learning and you have never dealt with your child at this age and stage before.  So be gracious to yourself, be honest and realistic, but be intentional.   And your child is also on a journey – a journey of growing up – they are a child right now, but they will gradually become able to be self-governing and morally mature – that is what you are working towards.

Over the years I’ve worked on a definition of parenting – and this is what I’ve come up with – you take every situation a child is in and help them make wise choices so that they grow in ability and desire to do the right thing.

If you keep that in mind as you deal with all the things that happen in your family in the coming weeks – then you are being an intentional, relational and heart focused parent!

 

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Further Reading:

How to Help your Child do the Right Thing – Part 2Discover practical strategies for Christian parents to nurture moral development in their children, fostering relationships and strong values.

How to be Calm, Gentle and Positive Towards your Children Every Day: When you change your beliefs you change your actions. You can be a gentle and positive parent. Sharing 5 key mindsets for parents.

Parents, Step up and Establish Safe Boundaries for your Kids: Parents need to set boundaries to keep their children safe and to help them grow up.

10 Ways Parents Make Parenting Hard – Harder than it has to be!  We get caught up in habits that makes our parenting harder – but we can learn to respond differently.

Choose your Words Carefully and Speak Life Throughout the Day: We have 5 different opportunities every day to build up our children’s hearts.

 

 

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