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Helping Children Understand the Importance of the Heart

Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Parenting a child’s heart rather than just his behavior is the call of every Christian parent. Here we explore a fun activity you can do with your kids to help them understand the concept that outward behavior reflects inward attitudes.

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At Cornerstones for Parents, we believe that a child’s behavior is a reflection of what is inside her heart. While it is important to address the child’s behavior, it is essential that we address the underlying heart condition behind the behavior. There are many ways that you can do this. Today we will talk about an activity you can do with your children to help them begin to understand the biblical concept of “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” This activity is appropriate for most children ages 6 and up.

What you will need:

  • Small white plastic trash bags (4 gallon works well)
  • Colored permanent markers
  • Construction paper
  • Stickers
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Setting the stage:

Gather your children in the kitchen and introduce the activity. Tell them that you are all going to do an activity about the heart. Ask them some of the following questions: We have two hearts: physical and spiritual. When the Bible talks about our heart, is it talking our physical heart or our spiritual heart? What is the job of our physical heart? spiritual heart? Does anyone know a Bible verse that talks about the heart? Is our spiritual heart important to God? Why or why not?

Next, read the following two passages from the Bible (CEV translation):

Luke 6:45“Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words show what is in your heart.”

Matthew 23:27“You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You’re like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth.”

Now ask your children what they think of these words spoken by Jesus. Do they think that what is in our hearts is important to Jesus?

The Activity

Give each of your children a plastic trash bag. Put the decorating supplies in the middle of the table and have your children decorate their bags. They can draw pictures or simply decorate with cut outs or stickers. Once the bags are nicely decorated, have them each find a trashcan in the house. If it is full, have your children fill their bags with the trash (you may want to avoid the kitchen trash and offer them a hand!). If the trash cans are not full, have them place their plastic bags as liners in the empty wastepaper baskets to collect trash. You can continue with the activity once they are filled.

Once their decorated trash bags are full, tie them off with a knot or a twist tie.

The Follow-Up

Ask your children to identify the differences between the inside and the outside of the trash bags. Ask them how the trash bags are similar to Jesus’ admonition against the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Discuss the following questions: In what ways are we like those trash bags? Are there ways that we do “right” for the wrong reasons (being forced to, wanting praise for ourselves, etc.)? What are some signs that we are behaving like a decorated trash bag (grumbling to ourselves, upset when we don’t get recognition for doing good, judging others for not being like us, bragging about the good we do, etc.)? What is an example of something that looks good on the outside and is actually good on the inside (a good book, a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup, a treasure chest, etc.)?

How do we get our insides to match up with our outsides? The answer is Jesus. Jesus cleans and purifies our hearts. Without Him, even our very best deeds are nothing but “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We need to turn to Him, ask Him to forgive us and He will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The truth of the matter is that, even though our trash bags may fool others around us, Jesus can see right through them (Psalm 139:1-4).

Use Teachable Moments

Don’t stop your lesson about the heart with this activity – reference back to it in the future whenever you see a “decorated trash bag” at work. You can simply ask, “Are you being a decorated trash bag or a Cadbury Cream Egg right now?” Encourage your children to pray whenever they notice the Pharisaical mindset creeping into their hearts. Model this for them, by recognizing and confessing it when you see it in yourself.

Image by Linus Schütz from Pixabay
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and parents. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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