Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Olivia and Kurt Bruner's new book, How to Mess up Your Child’s Life: Proven Strategies and Practical Tips (FaithWords, 2009).  

Christians have long recognized how much destruction the traditional seven deadly sins can bring into their lives. But the good news is, you can fight those sins in your kids’ lives by helping them develop corresponding virtues – virtues that will lead them to the abundant life God wants them to enjoy.

Here’s how you can help your kids fight deadly sins with life-giving virtues:

Be willing to work hard. Far too many parents don’t try hard to train their kids spiritually. The tragic result is kids who simply give into their sinful natures of selfishness and laziness – the default position for living in this fallen world. But parents who care enough to consistently devote their best effort to raising their kids faithfully usher God’s powerful transformation into their kids’ lives. Parents who are willing to work hard help their kids overcome their natural bent and grow to become the people God intends for them to be – complete with all the blessings that will bring into their lives.

Overcome pride. Pride is the lack of humility befitting a creature of God. You’ll end up nurturing enormous egos in your kids if you indulge their selfish impulses by saying “yes” to whatever they want. Instead, set healthy boundaries and stick to them. Whenever you praise your kids, be sure to attach that praise to good attitudes or behavior that they’ve shown recently. Rather than teaching them to admire themselves regardless of how bad they’ve been or how little they’ve accomplished, focus on praising their actual effort and character. Teach your kids the importance of working with others instead of expecting to live life on their terms all the time. Require them to help with household chores and other family responsibilities.

Don’t rescue them from failure; encourage them to learn from it. Stick to your convictions during conflicts with your kids rather than backing down. Help your kids learn why authority is important, and teach them to submit to it. Show them how to confess their sins and repent to God. Require them to treat other people with respect.

Overcome envy. Envy is jealousy of some other person’s happiness. Teach your kids to be content with what they have at any given time. Resist comparing what your family has to what others have – from a larger house or a newer car, to better grades or more talents. Don’t complain about your circumstances or nurture an attitude of resentment. Help your kids notice all the good that God is doing in your lives. Encourage them to thank God regularly for their blessings, and to thank other people who’ve done something valuable for them. Gratefulness will melt away envy.

Overcome anger. Sinful anger is unworthy irritation and lack of self-control. Anger in itself isn’t either good or bad; the key is in how you express it. Teach your kids that while getting angry at the right things (like injustices) and doing so in healthy ways that don’t harm others is fine, they need to control destructive anger. Do all you can to create an environment of peace and quiet – not tension – at home. Make sure your kids don’t have to walk on eggshells to try to keep family members from losing their tempers. Give them the security of knowing that you love them unconditionally and will always be willing to forgive them for their mistakes.

Whenever your kids do become angry for the right reasons, give them legitimate ways of expressing their frustration or resolving injustices instead of backing them into a corner. Provide a safe place for them to process offenses and let off steam in healthy ways. Teach your kids not to retaliate through revenge when someone hurts or wrongs them. Show them how to rely on God’s power to help them forgive. Help your kids continue to keep in mind that they’re accountable to God and others for what they say and do – both good and bad.

Overcome gluttony. Gluttony is the habit of eating or drinking too much. If you allow your kids to feed a voracious appetite, that appetite – instead of their faith – will end up controlling their lives. Help your kids accept and celebrate their bodies the way God made them. Teach your kids the importance of caring properly for their bodies through healthy eating habits and regular exercise. Show them how to make decisions with self-discipline rather than just indulging in whatever looks and feels good at the time. Train their palates to appreciate healthy foods by avoiding junk food (like sugary, fatty, processed meals and snacks) and making the effort to regularly prepare food with fresh, wholesome ingredients. Instead of just giving your kids whatever they want to eat and drink, keep helping them make healthy choices.

Overcome greed. Greed is too great a desire for money or worldly goods. Combat greed by helping your kids develop into generous people. Don’t focus on stuff like so many others in our culture do. Rather than simply buying your kids whatever they want, intentionally limit the amount of stuff they have to instill character in them. When they want something extra, try to have them earn the money to buy it themselves so they can connect the dots between value and effort. Model a simple lifestyle for them through your own buying choices. Teach your kids the vital difference between focusing on what they can get in this world (as consumers) and what they can give in this world (as contributors).

Whenever you’re confronted with an opportunity to help poor people, let your kids see you respond faithfully rather than with excuses. Let them see you treat people in need with love instead of criticizing them. Encourage your kids to give sacrificially rather than placing arbitrary limits on their giving.

Overcome sloth. Sloth is laziness that keeps us from doing our duty to God and humanity. Teach your kids to work hard, pursue wisdom, and invest their lives in what matters most. Help them lay aside immediate gratification for the long-term rewards of diligence. Assign your kids chores and other regular responsibilities. Resist procrastination by encouraging them to do their most difficult tasks first so they can reap the fruit of that discipline later. Take a hard look at their schedules and consider whether they’re busy with activities that are truly important, or are merely spending lots of time on unimportant leisure activities. Limit the time they spend watching TV, surfing the Internet, and engaging in other non-productive tasks. Redirect them to activities that will accomplish better purposes in their lives.

Don’t back down when your kids try to avoid work they need to do – from doing their homework to cleaning their rooms. Require them to do their work before they do whatever fun activity they’d rather do, no matter how much hassle you may have to go through in the process. Even though it’s often easier to do tasks for your kids yourself rather than convince them to do it and follow through to make sure it’s done, resist the urge to do for your kids what they really should be doing for themselves. Whenever your kids give into self-pity about the amount of work they have to do, give them a pep talk and urge them to get moving. Don’t accept mediocrity in your kids; demand excellence by encouraging them to do their best at whatever tasks they do. Teach your kids how to effectively budget the limited amount of time and energy they have everyday so they’ll learn how to set the right priorities.

Overcome lust. Lust is impure and unworthy desires for something evil. Instead of condoning sensual gratification, help your kids develop the virtue of chastity. Don’t expect your kids to fail to be sexually pure. Teach them to say “no” to sex rather than just asking them to try to “be safe” while having sex because you expect them to follow the crowd. Trust that God will give your kids the power to resist sexual temptation – especially if you regularly pray for them and talk with them openly and honestly about the challenges they face in that area. Be sure to have plenty of planned and purposeful discussions about sex with your kids instead of just reacting to surprise questions they ask or unexpected situations in which they find themselves.

Don’t overreact when talking about sex with your kids, so they don’t get the idea that sex is bad, dirty, or shameful. But don’t underreact to the very real dangers of sexuality that’s expressed in unhealthy ways. Do all you can to protect your kids from those dangers, such as by installing Web-filtering software to prevent pornography on your home computer, encouraging your teen daughter to dress modestly, and teaching your teen son how to properly respect the girls he knows.

Instill faith. The most important investment you can make into your kids’ lives is to nurture their faith in purposeful ways. Don’t just outsource your kids’ spiritual growth to church leaders. Personally teach them about faith and model faith in action for them. Rather than just occasionally attending church, participate fully in a congregation so you and your kids can grow beyond surface faith to deep transformation. Don’t be haphazard about living out your own faith in front of your kids; seek and follow God’s guidance in every part of your life, every day. Show your kids how exciting it can be to live out adventures in a close relationship with Jesus – and encourage them to do the same.

Published April 3, 2009.

Adapted from How to Mess up Your Child’s Life: Proven Strategies and Practical Tips, copyright 2009 by Olivia and Kurt Bruner. Published by FaithWords, Nashville, Tn., www.faithwords.com.  

Olivia and Kurt Bruner live in Colorado Springs, where they write and speak for Focus on the Family. Kurt is Vice President of Focus on the Family Resource Group. They are the proud parents of three sons.