Our actions and behaviors say a lot about the condition of our heart. As C. H. Spurgeon has said, “It is a rich sign of inward grace when the outward walk is changed and when ungodliness is put far from our actions.”
Jesus gives us a great illustration concerning our inmost heart and how it affects our outward behaviors: “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thorn bushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Luke 6:43-45).
When it comes to raising children, it’s tempting to work on behavior first. A total focus on behavior alone is where the discipline breaks down. After a while, a parent can discipline and teach a child good behavior yet also have a kid with deep anger and hatefulness in his heart. While the behavior may change temporarily due to fear of punishment or ridicule, eventually the results will break down, and the real feelings of the hurting angry child will come forth in his actions.
The beginning point in child rearing cannot be the behavior. It needs to be the heart. Surround a child with positive examples, encouragement toward the good, praise vs. constant ridicule, you will find that they will follow the positive. Correction doesn’t always have to be negative.
There may be more, but I have found that there are two influences that facilitate good behavior in a child: relationship and environment.
One of the best pathways to a child’s heart is not ridicule or condemnation, its relationship. Relationship unlocks a kid’s heart and opens it to the influence for good that comes from his parent. But what do I mean by relationship?
Relationship is patient, intentional, and timely.
It seeks to know the child. From this knowledge, a deliberate and patient discipline process is developed that will help the child move toward better behavior. However, the relationship does so much more than just correct a child’s actions. It creates a platform for continued instruction in wisdom and discernment.
Seeking the heart of the child’s negative behavior and then bringing the positive example to the table is not something done on the fly or in a hurry as the family runs out the door on various errands.
It takes attention – focused attention.
It takes slowing down, rearranging our schedules and hearing the child’s hurts, anger, wants and cares. It takes thinking about the right response and the best corrective approach that fits this child. It takes seeking wisdom from God and loving the child with His heart, not our unreliable emotions that rear their ugly head at the time of the incident.
For example, if a child is hitting his sibling, don’t just spout out and say, “Stop hitting your brother.” Instead, pull the child aside and take the time to find out why he hit his sibling. Seek to understand the child before making the rules understood. Reach the heart of the child by affirming their feelings and understanding their point of view concerning the situation. This affirmation doesn’t mean the child is right in his behavior, but it also doesn’t mean their feelings are wrong. When you take the time to understand, you earn a place of influence in the child’s heart.
Next soften the heart of the child by raising their sensitivity level for others. Point out the pain that his hitting caused. You might say, “Look at your brother’s eyes, not the toy he stole or the hurt he inflicted; instead, see how he feels.” Ask what those feelings might be. This type of evaluation causes the child to consider his feelings if another person hit him. It gets him in touch with his own heart.
As you expose the heart of the child with the effects of his bad behavior, point him to what repentance can do to a person. You might say, “Watch what happens to your brother’s eyes, when you say, I’m sorry.” In most cases the child will see the pain lift from his sibling’s eyes, and see his heart soften. A bonding between the two begins to form. Now, anger and hurt may still reside, but reconciliation begins to form. When two people begin that process of reconciling, their hearts get involved. Over time, this gentle approach to discipline creates a chord of love between the two children at odds. From the heart they demonstrate better behavior; it won’t be merely the consequences of breaking the rule that moves them.
Parents, it’s important that we provide the example of this positive behavior. We can instruct our children to live one way and then live the opposite. Sadly, this type of parenting confuses the child. Isn’t it true that a child will mimic what he sees long before following what he hears? Our behaviors, our words, our actions, and our responses teach our child how they should think, speak and do. We need to be careful not to be the bad example from which they walk.
The Psalmist says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2).
This scripture speaks of our environment.
Look at where our behaviors come. They can come from the advice of the wicked, the path of sinners, or a group of mockers…a.k.a. gossipers. They can also come from the Lord’s truth, His character, and His presence. They can come from being surrounded by the positive: what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Surround a child with good and you will see a different behavior. Saturate your kids with truth and they will spring forth the truth. Our environment and the examples displayed in our life often affect our behavior, and more importantly, they embed our heart.
What our children watch on T.V., what games they play, the friends they have and the influences we bring in the home can affect their behavior. The environment we allow and craft do shape the very heart and actions of our kids. As we delight in the Lord’s instruction and meditate on it day and night, our heart experiences that inward grace Spurgeon talked about; we end up leading the way for our children to follow.
Our relationship with our kids sets the stage for further influence. We can use that stage for good or for evil by the environment we intentionally create. It’s up to us.