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Changing Children’s Hearts Instead of Behaviors

by Lee Ann Mancini


A vital aspect of effective parenting is understanding the process of transforming a sinful heart into one that is driven by a genuine desire to love and obey God. Rather than focusing solely on behavior modification, we strive to foster character development and authentic motivation in our children by grounding our parenting in prayer and biblical principles. Christian parents can use helpful tools such as Raising Children to Follow Christ as they navigate the journey of raising their children with a solid foundation in Christ.


Discern Childish Behavior from Foolishness

Before delving into effective strategies, we must distinguish between childish behavior and foolishness. Children naturally exhibit immature tendencies, but the shift to foolishness occurs when kids disobey clear instructions intentionally. The "Ten-Year Rule," proposed by Phil and Diane Comer, provides a valuable perspective by prompting parents to consider the long-term impact of a child's behavior. Guided by biblical wisdom, they emphasize the importance of training and instructing children in the ways of the Lord rather than relying on pharisaical laws.

Avert Entitlement

Entitlement poses an increasing problem for modern families. Instead of indulging children's desires without consideration, parents may encourage them to earn money through age-appropriate chores. Requiring an investment of effort instills a sense of responsibility and gratitude. The concept of balancing paid and unpaid chores within the family framework teaches valuable life lessons and contributes to character development.


Deal with Blaming and Tattling

Blaming and tattling can rattle the serenity of your household. But if we plan to use these incidents well, we can leverage the conflict toward character growth. Parents can use moments of friction as opportunities to teach children conflict resolution skills. By emphasizing the importance of working out disputes, parents empower their children to handle conflicts responsibly. We can apply Matthew 18:15 to help kids distinguish between tattling and sharing information that prevents harm.


Navigate Teasing and Bullying

Teasing and bullying continue to grow in prevalence for today’s children. Christians have an opportunity to respond with compassion. Parents can teach children to love their enemies, reflecting the transformative power of Jesus in their hearts. When a child learns to love the bully, it takes away the bully's ability to inflict harm and teaches children how to love unconditionally. This is a hard concept to grasp, but with patience and practice, it can be done.


Cultivate Forgiveness

Bitterness defines our natural human response to an offense, but resentment leaves us broken on the roadside. Encouraging children to forgive disarms negativity, which keeps them stuck. Forgiveness also frees us to return to our path of demonstrating Christ-like love. We can share Proverbs 25:21-22 with our kids as they wrestle with this concept. Noble character grows when we accept the truth that love covers a multitude of sins.


Teach Genuine Apology

Christ-honoring character development must include heartfelt repentance. Parents can teach their children the significance of acknowledging wrongdoing and seeking forgiveness. Genuine apologies involve both words and actions. Christian parents can raise kids to take responsibility for their actions, offer appropriate restitution, and understand the biblical concept of confessing sins and finding mercy (Proverbs 28:13).


Organically, day by day, instilling proper behavior early in a child's life sets them on a course toward lifelong integrity and Christ-honoring character and makes the parenting journey easier. By combining biblical principles with practical guidance, parents actively encourage heart sanctification in their children. The emphasis on transformative love, forgiveness, and responsibility lays the foundation for resilient and morally grounded individuals who follow the path of Christ and emulate Christ in a world that needs Him desperately.

Lee Ann is an adjunct professor and the founder of the nonprofit Raising Christian Kids and hosts the award-winning Raising Christian Kids podcast. She is the author of Raising Kids to Follow Christ: Instilling a Lifelong Trust in God. Lee Ann is the creator of Sea Kids books and animation series.


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