Training the heart of our children is one of the greatest opportunities to change the future a parent is given. When we leave this earth the only lasting thing we get to leave behind are our children. Think about it. All our personal property will be left to deteriorate, depreciate, and waste away. However, the lives we’ve birthed and raised have the opportunity to make historical contributions with lasting eternal value. You and I get to change the future by leaving behind the children we’ve raised in the past. We decide if we will leave behind children that will make productive contributions to the world or children who will sit idly by waiting on the world to feed them. I don’t know about you, but I want to leave behind a legacy that contributes to the good of the world.
So how do we carry out this task? When an athlete is in training for the Olympics, in order to accomplish great things, he practices while pursuing responsibility, self-discipline, and self-control even at times when he would rather give in or give up. If we want to raise children who will reach their goals and make a difference, our living legacy first starts with us. We have to practice these same principles as we daily train to become better parents. First, we must give ourselves grace when we blow it, get back up, and train some more. Next, we must embrace responsibility for our children. The Bible says children are a gift from the Lord. Embracing the gift and being fully responsible for their care, education, and training is up to us. This doesn’t mean that others can’t be involved, but those “others” must be fully vetted and carefully selected. The school they attend is accountable to the parent. What they teach must be examined by the parent. Schools were created to serve the family and not the other way around.
The practice of self-discipline and self-control are as simple as saying “yes.” As parents, we can say “yes” to good choices and then ask the Lord to strengthen us and help us to stay dedicated to those pursuits. Next, we have to teach our children to do the same. The idea is to train them to be self-controlled, self-disciplined, and loving enough to reach out and love others. They learn by watching our example. If we exhibit the characteristics in our own life we want to see in them, they will soak it up like a sponge and practice what they've seen modeled. Even the best of parents make mistakes and so do their children. That means we must model repentance when we blow it and ask forgiveness and admit our mistakes. We also have to practice forgiveness towards others when others wrong us, even if they never ask.
Next, we have to have a plan in place we can use when major issues arise and our children need our help. We must design a plan of action before a crisis comes to use when they make wrong choices that need correction. This may seem like an overwhelming task, but it’s not that difficult after all. By considering the definitions of some very important words and the Scriptures it becomes easy to know what direction to go when faced with training the heart of our children in the midst of a mistake.
What kind of discipline should be used when a child makes a wrong choice? There are two key words that come in to play in knowing what to do. They are childishness and foolishness. The meaning of childishness is "any behavior that is typical of a child marked by, or suggestive of, immaturity and a lack of knowledge or wisdom.” When a child makes a childish mistake, it's a teaching opportunity every time. For example, if a child is just learning how to outside alone, and they venture to far away or out of the yard, but they’ve never been taught specific guidelines, they are making a childish choice. A quick, clear lesson is required. We take them aside, teach them the guidelines and reasons for not wandering too far away from the house, making sure they fully understand the rules. Then we remind them of the rules each time they are go outside to play. This removes the childishness.
The definition of foolishness is a totally different thing. Foolishness is “the lack or failure to use wisdom in making proper, careful choices. In this sense, an act of foolishness is called folly.” Folly means "foolish or crazy behavior, implying that one knows better but chooses to take action any way." Using the same example, if a child knows the rules of playing outside and they understand what they should and should not do, but they do it anyway, they are being foolish.
Proverbs 22:15 says, "A youngster's heart is filled with foolishness, but the rod of discipline will drive it (foolishness) far away." There’s much controversy today over whether children should be spanked by their parents. That is the personal, private decision of the parents. However, this verse clearly instructs that discipline of some kind is required when our child chooses to behave foolishly. As in the example above, the foolishness of getting to far from home creates an opportunity for disaster. The Bible also warns that a parent who doesn't discipline doesn't love their child. We all love our children, but their health and well being is determined by our leadership when they are acting childishly or foolishly.
The key to good parenting is knowing the difference between foolishness and childishness. By asking a series of questions when something occurs we can determine whether the choices made by our child were childish or foolish. These are the three questions we can ask.
By having them answer these three questions they are learning to identify their own wrong choices, forcing them to take responsibility for the choices they have made. If they truly don’t know what they have done or why it was wrong, a teaching opportunity has arisen. Teach the answers to the questions, grant forgiveness, and move on. If the behavior arises in the future, it has moved from childishness to foolishness, requiring discipline.
The first guideline we use when a wrong choice is made is the solution should not be delayed. A lot of time shouldn't lapse between the action and the teaching or discipline or the opportunity to help them grow is lost. Next, if the behavior has caused a parent to get angry, they should send the child to their room until they are calm and can decide on the proper consequence. Next, the discipline should match the offense. For example, if an adult were to hit or hurt another person it would be considered a crime punishable by incarceration. If a child does something like hitting or hurting another person, then this behavior can be rewarded with isolated time in their room with no play allowed for several hours. If an adult steals something they are often fined and then given work duty. If a child takes something without asking, they should return it and given extra chores. If they use hurtful words, then they might be assigned to write a scripture about kindness many times over depending on the age of the child.
The last and most important step to training the heart of a child is forgiveness. The Bible says if we can't forgive others, we can't be forgiven. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, sometimes out of childishness and sometimes out of foolishness. No matter the reason for the mistake, forgiveness is the key to learning from mistakes and moving forward in a positive way. The Bible also says confession is the key to forgiveness. Once we have asked the three questions above and either disciplined or taught in the moment, the last thing we do is move into forgiveness by asking the child what they think they need to do to move forward. If given the chance, a child almost always recognizes their need to ask for forgiveness from the parent, and the person they've wronged, and then the Lord in prayer. By leading them to do this we give them the chance to learn from their mistakes, own the consequences, and move forward with a clean heart. If we follow this plan the outcome can be a legacy of a strong, self-controlled, self-disciplined, responsible adult who can love and forgive others and contribute to making the world a better place. That’s the greatest thing an parent can leave behind, and it all starts with training the heart of a child.