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Nov 11, 2019 08:00am
Three Ways to Parent Your Child’s Heart
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I’m just a dad. 

I don’t have a PhD in parenting. I haven’t studied personality theory nor have I researched the effects of too much chocolate on toddlers. 

I’m just a dad with three daughters who I care about deeply, and desire to see them grow into godly young women. I want for them to love God and love people with every fiber of their being, and I realize God has given me a role to play in shaping their lives. 

There’s a lot riding on this dad thing.

I pray God will use my inadequacies, inefficiencies, and incompetencies to somehow steer their little lives toward spiritual maturity. Yes, there’s much responsibility on my end as earthly dad, but I’m confident that their lives are ultimately in the hands of their heavenly dad. 

Through nearly ten years of dad life, I can see how God is parenting me as I parent my daughters. He hasn’t left me alone to figure it out, but is walking beside me just as he walks beside them. 

So…

Here’s the big truth God is currently showing me: 

I must learn to parent their heart, not just their actions

When one of my daughters acts in a way that is contrary to acceptable behavior, I’m usually quick to respond with behavioral modification. I may say something like: 

  • “Don’t do that!” 
  • “Quit manipulating your sister!” 
  • “Stop crying!” 
  • “Eat your broccoli!” 

Let me be clear, children need parents to help shape their behavior and actions. But more importantly, we have a responsibility to shape their hearts.

If I can help steer my child’s heart in the right direction, she will learn to make better decisions, understand how her actions effect others, and ultimately desire, on her own, to to live a life that honors God. 

Sure, it’s much easier addressing behavioral issues rather than heart issues. I can easily see misplaced behavior. It’s more challenging to see a misplaced heart

Here are three things to consider when parenting your child’s heart: 

#1-Thoughtful Questions: 

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” 

As parents it’s our role to draw out the plans or desires of our child’s heart. One way to do this is by asking questions. 

I could make the statement, “I can’t believe you didn’t clean your room.” That’s a clear response to her actions. I could ask the question, “Why didn’t you clean your room?” Good, but still only addresses the behavior. A better question would be, “Why have you disobeyed your mom, by not cleaning your room?” 

This gives her the opportunity to think through her actions, and me the opportunity to parent her heart. I’m connecting her actions to disobedience, a heart issue. I want to teach her how to honor authority in her life, not just complete the given task. 

#2-Careful Discipline: 

I’m not going to claim any expertise on the area of discipline. Lot’s of books have been written on the subject. Here’s what Scripture says: 

“…the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24b). 

This doesn’t mean we enjoy disciplining our children. It means we are careful about the way we discipline our children. I must give careful thought to how and when I discipline my children. 

It’s very tempting to discipline out of anger or frustration. However, we must discipline out of a careful attention to our child’s heart. It’s the difference between reacting and responding. I could react to the behavior by saying, “Go to your room.” Or I could respond to the heart by saying, “I want you sit in your room for ten minutes and think about other ways you could have handled that situation.”  

Now, you’re giving yourself the opportunity in ten minutes to walk in and parent your child’s heart. We must discipline out of a careful attention to our child’s heart. It’s the difference between reacting and responding.

#3-Playful Connection: 

Your child is made to play. It’s how they learn to solve problems, develop skills, and discover how to interact with others. Play is a big part of your child’s life — especially when they are young, but even when they are teenagers. (Teenagers call it having fun!) 

If you want to parent your child’s heart, you need to engage your child’s heart. The best way to do that is through age-appropriate playful connection. Roll around on the floor with your toddler. Go swimming with your elementary child. Take your adolescent bowling. Shoot hoops with your teenager. 

Study your child. When you learn what your child loves, you’ve unlocked a door to his/her heart. You’re not too old, too out of shape, or too dignified to play with your kids. 

Playing with your children is not optional.

My relationship with God isn’t based merely on my behavioral conduct. If that were the case I’d never be able to approach His perfect presence. God desires my heart, my love, and my devotion. 

I want the same from my daughters. I don’t want them growing up under a performance based, legalistic relationship with their dad. I don’t want them worried about the next time dad “brings down the hammer.” I want their hearts. I want to steer their hearts toward the things of God. 

One day, Lord willing, they will move out of the house and start families of their own. I won’t have the privilege in fifteen years to always correct their behavior. But parenting their hearts, that’s something I can do until the day I die. 

Copyright © 2019 by Andy Comer @ https://www.andycomer.org. Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.