Be nice to your brother!
Be kind at recess today.
Share your toys.
Say thank you at your friend’s house.
Does this sound like your mother talking? Or maybe your kids would say it sounds like their mother talking!
I imagine you are teaching your children these types of lesson plus all the other social skills needed for a smooth transition into the adult world someday. Rightly so. These lessons are a crucial part of parenting and being an adult role model.
But are you teaching your children that they cannot force any of this niceness on their own? Are you telling your children that social nuances only get them so far?
When one of your kids blurts out, “I hate you!” to a sibling or a playmate, do you say, “You shouldn’t hate people” … or, “That’s not true, you don’t hate your sister”? Will those authoritative statements change them? Did hearing them from your mother change you?
Like you, moms, I taught my kids to be nice and to say the right things when they were little, as I should have been doing. But I don’t remember specifically teaching them that they were incapable of loving on their own. And I should’ve been doing that, too.
Scolding with words like “You shouldn’t” or ignoring a child’s harmful words assuming (or hoping!) he will grow out of it, is much easier than taking the time to explain to your child the truth about his unredeemed heart. Children are born sinners—cute, squishy, snuggly, but sinners all the same.
Even more important than apt social skills, your job is to help your children see that they, too, need Jesus. One of my most frequent prayers for my kids was that they would recognize their need for a Savior. I wanted them to see they needed Jesus, to know their own brokenness, and to understand they couldn’t change their hearts on their own.
They need to understand that they need Jesus not just for entrance into heaven, but so they can experience His life-changing power to transform their sin-filled hearts, even today.
This may seem like deep theology for a young child, but we know that it is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth. He can and will do the same for your children. Believe that He will use the effort that you put in to bring to fruition what God is working in their little hearts.
Here are a two practical ways to work at it on your side of heaven.
1. When you experience God working miracles in your heart, share those stories with your children. Let your children see you depending on Him. Invite them to join you in the journey of discovering the supernatural work of God in human hearts. For example, let’s say you’re having a rough morning with your child getting ready for school. Her favorite shirt is dirty, her hair looks crooked, and her socks are too itchy.
Instead of walking out of the room to recollect yourself, invite your child into the recollecting. Pause right in the middle of her outburst to preempt yours before it starts. Tell your child, “Mommy is having a hard time choosing my patience and self-control. I’m going to stop and ask God to help us both right now.”
And then do it! Pray out loud to the Holy Spirit who is the only one who can help you actually pull off loving your child in that difficult moment. Your child may not like it, she might even cover her ears with her hands, but she’s watching. And then when you can continue readying your child in patience and love, tell her that it’s only because the Holy Spirit is working in your heart. Seeing God work encourages faith in everyone around you.
2. Model how to pray with your children. Teach them to be specific, just as you are learning to be specific. Our children don’t know how to do this on their own.
Sit with your child and ask him to pray your words after you, saying, “Here is how we talk to God about our hearts. ‘Jesus, I don’t love my brother right now. I’m angry because he said that about me, and I don’t want to love him. Will you help me want to love him? And then will you give me Your love because I can’t love on my own?’” If your children can learn to rely on the gift and power of the Holy Spirit while they are is young, what an advantage they’ll have as they grow.
Direct your children to ask God for His love for the bully at school, for the teacher that makes life miserable, and for their siblings. Help them learn to pray this way by both giving them cues to repeat after you, and also letting them pray out loud on their own with you listening and praying in agreement.
Teaching our children that they cannot pull off becoming a better person on their own may seem strange at first. Our culture tells us we can be anything, accomplish great feats, conquer the world! If our children grow up believing that, we’re only setting them up for inevitable disappointment.
We can, however, access to power of the Holy Spirit who wills and acts through us on God’s behalf for His glorious purposes. And that is the real way to conquer the world.