When it comes to intentional parenting everything comes back to the heart. The heart is the inner part of us that makes us tick: the heart drives or motivates every choice we make.
According to the Bible the heart is:
- the inner place where we hold beliefs
- the place where we process moral truth
- the place where we understand, think, process and know
- the place where we determine what we will do
- the place where we feel – the emotions and passions
When the Bible says – Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Prov 4:23 NIV) – we start to see how central teaching our child’s heart must really be.
As intentional parents we need to teach so that our children have beliefs, so they know right from wrong, so they can think, they can make wise choices, and so they control or express their emotions and passions appropriately.
These aren’t just good things to teach our kids – but rather these lessons shape their heart and will motivate and direct every choice they make.
So when our children sit quietly what motivates them?
Fear, or a bribe, or a value of respect?
When our children do well at sports or music what motivates them?
Competition and a desire for praise? Or a recognition of the skill God has given them?
When our children read their Bible what motivates them?
A habit that was established early on, or a love of God’s word?
The beliefs and values that are in the heart will be what is directing our children’s choices.
How do We Intentionally Parent the Heart?
Teaching the heart starts with us knowing what beliefs and values we want to teach our children. This needs to be a very intentional thought process because we rarely articulate what we believe and why to ourselves let alone to our children.
We kind of hope that our kids will get it by osmosis – by living in our family and by just doing the things that we do. And that can look as if it is working – but it is only training the externals.
Our children need to know not only what to do, but why that is the right thing – and this is parenting the heart.
Too often parents think that teaching the heart is about a faith in God. It is and it isn’t. Every person – whether they know God or not – has a “heart”.
Every person has beliefs and values that motivate their choices and actions. So parenting the heart is more than discipling a faith.
As people of faith, our understanding of who God is will shape our own beliefs about life. The beliefs we need to teach our children cover the deep issues of life: beliefs about God, who I am, the world, and the people in it.
3 key ways to teach the heart:
To teach something is to impart knowledge or skill. The end result of a lesson being taught is that the student understand and can do the appropriate action without the teacher.
This is our end goal as a parent but we must remember that it is a journey – it will take time.
1–Be Proactive and Reactive:
There is a four step process in teaching anything: we first model it, then we teach and instruct, then we allow time to practice what we’ve taught – and then, only then, will the student be able to do it on their own.
This is a good model to keep in mind when we are teaching our child’s heart.
We can teach beliefs and values proactively by just talking about things throughout the day. It might be around the dinner table, in the car, or during a family night event.
Family Devotion time is such a proactive heart-teaching moment in our family life. We are not addressing a particular issue, but we are depositing truths in their heart.
But we can also teach re-actively. This is when a child does something that contradicts the values you hold to.
By discussing the beliefs and values that are in their heart and what should be in their heart – you give a child the opportunity to redirect their choices and at the same time, remind them of the beliefs and values you want for for them.
(Belinda has prepared a worksheet to help you work through this process of thinking about what might be motivating your child’s behaviour and how you can move forward. Keep reading to the end to get that download.)
2–Talk about it in Daily Life.
Beliefs and values are hard to talk about and understand without concrete examples in front of you. So talking about people who are making choices consistent with the beliefs and values you hold to, is a good way to help your children see beliefs in action.
Your own example: Telling our kids our own stories is a great way to impart value to the things we want them to understand. It not only gives a good story, which builds relational connection with our kids, but it also helps them see us as people who have made mistakes, and worked through the consequences and learnt not to repeat that choice.
Story examples: Our world is full of stories – both fiction and non fiction, in movies and in books that can help us talk about the motivations in the heart and the consequences of the characters’ choices (good or bad).
People in your Community: Every community – be it our extended family or the community at large has rich examples of people making good or poor choices. We have to make sure though that anything we point out is an example that is strong enough without falling prey to gossip.
3–Praise the Heart Choices
Parenting the heart is about building and strengthening the inner part of our child. So often when we give praise to our kids we praise their actions. This is an external expression, which we have already seen is motivated by the internal – what is in the heart.
So the third way to teach our children’s heart is give praise for the heart choices they make.
For example – instead of praising for a high mark in a test, praise for the heart-choice of diligence and focus during preparation for that exam.
A child who got 50% on a test may well have been diligent in preparation – so you can affirm them for their heart choices. A smart child may have got 90% through simple ability and maybe didn’t show diligence at all.
Praising the score, or the outcome, misses the heart.
A child who picks up their toys has chosen to be orderly.
A child who helps their sister after a fall has chosen to be kind.
A child who has gone out of their way to talk to the new kid has been compassionate.
A child who has participated when they found it hard has been enthusiastic or brave.
What are the values motivating your child’s actions? Praise their choice, not the outcome of their actions.
When we do this we consolidate that value in their heart.
Parenting the Heart is Hard Work
It is much easier to just tell our children what to do. And then to tell them off for not doing it. But this is just parenting their actions – once again, the externals.
Parenting the heart is much harder because you have to think and own the beliefs yourself, and then you have to communicate them to your kids in a way they understand, and then you have to help them match their actions with the beliefs. It takes time.
It takes time to teach, to correct and to encourage your children while talking about beliefs and virtues. But it is the only way to teach their heart – which will give them the ability to make good choices in the days ahead.
When you teach the heart you will be able to remind your children of God’s word: Guard your heart (guard your beliefs and virtues, and choices) because everything you will do flows from what is in your heart.
1.Think about why you do what you do? As you start to think about your why, you will be able to communicate that to your children, and build up their heart.
**Why do you read the Bible?
**Why do you have family time?
**Why do you want your kids to get along?
**Why do your kids do chores?
2. What is one belief/value that you hold to that you really want to talk about to your kids?
**How are you going to do that?
**When are you going to do that?
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A special thank you to today’s sponsor YWAM Publishing!
YWAM Publishing – publisher of the best-selling Christian Heroes: Then & Now series and the Heroes of History series, the biography series that are overwhelmingly recommended by families and schools. Written in gripping adventure style, the Heroes series offer all ages an exciting, firsthand view of missionaries and leaders who have profoundly shaped history.
Belinda Letchford writes at www.livelifewithyourkids.com where she encourages families to be intentional and relational in their family life: that every issue faced by family can be addressed in a heart focused way. Belinda is married to Peter and lives on a farm on the outskirts of a remote Australian outback town. They have four adult children, whom they homeschooled from prep to year 12. (The youngest is in his last year this year!) As a family we enjoy playing board games, having parties, watching movies and camping (though we don’t do it often enough).