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Getting to the Heart of Your Children's Behavior

  • Ginger Plowman Author, Don't Make Me Count to Three
  • Published Jan 08, 2008
Getting to the Heart of Your Children's Behavior

Do you find yourself threatening, repeating your instructions, or raising your voice in an attempt to get your children to obey? Do you feel guilty because you know you should be faithfully training and instructing your children in righteousness but you're not sure how? Are you frustrated because it seems you just can't reach the heart of your child?

Good news - the Bible provides a treasure chest of wisdom for parents that will richly bless their child-training efforts. God has saturated His Word with nuggets of gold. A wise parent will dig out those valuable nuggets and invest them in the lives of their children.

Unfortunately, many parents today focus only on the outward behavior of their children, having assumed the philosophy that by getting their children to act right (to behave), they are raising them the right way. Yet parenting involves more than getting children to "act" right. As parents, we must get them to "think" right and to be motivated out of a love of virtue rather than a fear of punishment.

We do this by training them in righteousness. Righteous training can only come from the Word of God. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). God has provided us with everything we need for effective parenting. The key is learning how to "flesh out" the Scriptures in the everyday struggles our children face.

When children sinfully express themselves by disobeying, throwing temper tantrums, talking back, lying, etc., they are drawing from what is in their hearts. Parents need to realize the importance of reaching past the outward behavior and pulling out the issues of the heart. Pastor Al Jackson says, "The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart." The heart is the well from which all of the responses to life gush forth. "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The behavior a child exhibits is an expression of the child's heart. To put it simply...the heart determines behavior.

Probe their Hearts. "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out" (Proverbs 20:5). Jesus set the ultimate example for how to probe the heart of another in order to draw out what lies within. When dealing with sinners, Jesus did not shake his finger at their faces and tell them what they were doing wrong. Instead, He would ask thought-provoking questions in such a way that the person to whom he was talking had to take his focus off of the circumstances around him and onto the sin in his own heart. Heart-probing questions cause people to evaluate themselves.

When parents merely tell a child what his problem is and what he ought to do about it, they are hindering him from learning how to "think" like a Christian. This child will become handicapped in the area of discerning matters of his own heart. When children learn to evaluate their own hearts and biblically deal with the sin found there, they learn to govern their own behavior. This is how they grow in wisdom and character.

Penetrate their Hearts. Parents can correct and instruct their children repeatedly, but they cannot reach their children's hearts with their own wisdom. It is God's wisdom from God's Word that will truly penetrate the hearts of children. "The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double- edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

You're probably thinking, "How do I go about locating the right passages of Scripture for the different issues with which my children are struggling?" Fear not! A tool created just for this purpose is available to you. Wise Words for Moms is a quick-reference flip chart to aid parents in using the appropriate Scriptures for specific struggles that children deal with on a day-to-day basis (See resources at bottom of article).

Provide a Means of Escape. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, God explains that when His children are tempted, He always provides a means of escape. God ordains parents as the authority over their children to put His plan into action. We must follow through with His plan by providing our children with a means of escape. We do this by training them in how to replace wrong behavior with right behavior.

It is never enough to simply rebuke sinful behavior. Rebuking sinful behavior without teaching godly behavior can exasperate children and provoke them to anger. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).

It is important that children learn to put off sinfulness. However, it is equally important, if not more important, that they learn to put on righteousness (Ephesians 4:22-24). The means of escape is found in their choice to replace what is wrong with what is right.

Resources for Biblical Parenting

• Wise Words for Moms by Ginger Plowman
Don't Make Me Count to Three! by Ginger Plowman

Ginger Plowman is the author of "Don't Make Me Count to Three" and "Heaven at Home" and speaks at women's events, parenting conferences and home school conventions across the country. Visit her website at