Rules are an important element of your parenting plan. We’ve talked before about having set family rules that are grounded in your family’s values. But rules alone are not enough. If you focus all your parenting energies on rule-following, you might be able to change your child’s outward behavior, but you will likely have little effect on the underlying condition of his heart. Furthermore, focusing only on the “do’s and don’ts” can lead to a legalistic family environment. As Christian parents, we need to go one step further by spending time engaging our children in training activities that will address their particular areas of weakness and struggle. Here are some things to consider as you seek to go beyond the rules in your home:
- Your training activities should aim to “flesh out” your posted family rules (here are some ideas for family rules). This will allow your children to get invaluable practice translating their head knowledge about a rule into a transformed heart attitude.
- Don’t focus on more than one rule-based training activity at a time.
- Training activities should be time-specific, task-oriented and (hopefully!) fun.
- Your training efforts should enhance your relationship with your child, not strain it.
Here are some examples:
#1) Surface problem: Child has difficulty sharing.
Underlying heart problem: Selfishness
Biblically-based value: Be generous with other people. “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” 1 Timothy 6:18
Corresponding rule: Do not grab things out of other people’s hands.
Training activity: Create a “giving jar” to help make giving more fun than taking. With your kids’ help, cut slips of paper and write down different ways to give to others during the day on each one (examples include: give someone a snack of their choice, give someone a hug or a kiss, give a toy to someone for the day, let someone go first, let someone have the bigger piece, etc). Each morning, everyone in the family picks a slip out of a jar that contains a task to be completed by the end of the day. At dinner time, everyone can share some details about their “giving event” and how those activities help to fulfill the command in 1 Timothy 6:18.
Also, you can check out another idea for an “other-oriented” family activity here.
#2) Surface problem: Child doesn’t listen the first time.
Underlying heart problem: Pride
Biblically- based value: Obey parents. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1
Corresponding rule: Obey the first time an instruction is given.
Training activities: Play Simon Says. Explain to your children that you can only win at Simon Says if you listen and do what the leader says. Doing your own thing or waiting to respond will cause you to be “out.” You can also explain that disobeying Mom and Dad, also causes children to be “out” of the circle of blessing.
Here’s another idea: make a simple cake together (one that you have made before). Instead of following the instructions, tell the kids that you are going to do what you want to do. Mix the ingredients out of order, substitute some ingredients or change the quantities. If your children object, ask them to point out the problems they see. Ask them why it matters. Bake the cake and see how it comes out. Taste it (if you dare!) and compare the flavor to previous cakes. Tie in the importance of following instructions as they are given and how the poor results of the cake “made my own way” demonstrate that obeying is always right (as in Ephesians 6:1).
After these training episodes on first time obedience, you can add this phrase to the instructions you give your child, “Now is a chance for you to practice obeying the first time.”
Christian parenting must go beyond just saying “no.” We need to address misbehaviors with consequences as they happen, but also we need to go one step further by incorporating training activities with our kids that will help make an impression as to the importance of that rule. When our children can see the rules in action, there is a special connection that happens in their hearts. And of course, every time we see our children demonstrating Christ-like behavior, we need to make an effort to point it out.