I’ll be honest with you . . .
This post is one that you want to read as you snuggle into your couch with a hot cup of coffee and a few moments to yourself. It’s long, but, it needed to be. Of everything I have shared with you thus far, this is the one topic that I am most passionate about. This is the one topic that is so dear to my heart and that I wish every mama could hear. This post is about our kids. It is about those precious little people that God has called us to raise. It’s about what we need to be doing as a mama to help our kids discover the purposes God has for them. It’s about helping our kids discover their Best Yes assignments.
I believe that God has specific purposes for our kids. I believe that He has plans for how He wants to use them. But, I think, often as moms, we tend to focus on what we see as the end goal. We think about who our kids will be once they are all grown up, and we spend 18 years guiding and preparing them for that. God does have a plan for their lives once they go out on their own, but what He’s been challenging me to see, is that He also has a plan for them now. He has a purpose for them today. So, the questions I’ve been asking myself are:
Am I teaching my kids this?
Am I teaching my kids who God is, and how He desires for them to be living?
Am I teaching my kids how to make wise choices that will lead them down the path God has for them?
God has a purpose for each of my kids. How do I guide them in making wise decisions that will move them towards those assignments God has for them? Those assignments for their future . . . but also for today.
I think that we have to start at the beginning. For our kids to be able to fulfill the purposes that God has for them today, they need to know who He is. I reminded you last time that the responsibility of teaching our children about God and how He wants us to live cannot be placed solely on our churches or our schools. They can be a wonderful support, but this responsibility is ours as a parent. In Deuteronomy, we are instructed to:
“Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.” Deuteronomy 6:5-8 (MSG)
God asks us to do several things in these verses. First, He wants us to love Him, and desires for us to have a close relationship with Him.
We cannot teach our children to love and follow someone that we don’t know ourselves.
Can I ask you something? Do you know Him? Do you really know Him? Do you understand that when Jesus died on that cross over 2000 years ago, it was for you? When He took His final breath . . . it was for you. When He rose from the grave . . . it was for you. God’s greatest desire is for us to know Him and follow Him. All we have to do, is accept the gift Jesus gave us through His death and resurrection. Through Jesus, our sins are wiped clean. Through Jesus, we are promised that we will one day be with Him in heaven. But, we have to accept the gift. It’s the only way. Accept the gift, invite Jesus into your life, and then spend the remainder of your days living your life in a way that honors Him.
Secondly, Deuteronomy tells us to write the commandments He has given us on our hearts. How do we do that? We get into His Word. We get into the Scriptures. We read about how He wants us to live, we sing about how He wants us to live, we listen as others teach us how He wants to live, and then . . . we do it. We make the choice to live our lives as He has called us to do.
And as we are doing that, we share with our kids what we are learning.
Mamas, we need to be having conversations with our kids, even when they are very small, about who God is and how He has called us to live.
We need to be having conversations with our kids about those things we believe in and those things we value as a family. I can promise you that if we don’t talk to our kids about this, the world and Satan will. The world is going to try to dictate:
What they wear
What they eat and drink
What tv and movies they watch
What video games they play
What music they listen to
We have to intentionally be having conversations with our kids where we share our beliefs and our values. We have to teach them about who God is and how He wants us to be living our lives. If we don’t, the world will. Now, how do we do this?
First, we lead by example. Let your kids see your reading your bible. Let your kids hear you praying and singing His praises. Children learn by example, and your actions will speak louder than your words. Show them what a life following Jesus looks like.
Secondly, read and talk about God’s Word together as a family. You can do this in several different ways.
One easy way is through music. When my kids were young, we always had Veggie Tales, Go Fish, or Yancy playing in the car. Now that they are older it’s Hollyn, Toby Mac, or we tune into a local Christian radio station. As my kids listen and sing along, they are learning more about God and how He wants us to live.
Another way your family can get into God’s Word together is by taking time out of your day to read Scripture and talk about how it applies to your life. For our family, we read a brief devotional each morning during breakfast. Sometimes we read articles out of a Christian Kids magazine that we have a subscription to or watch a video through the RightNow Media app. Other times, we read from a family devotional or talk through a situation my kids have encountered at school. Regardless of what I choose to do with my kids in the morning, I am intentionally giving them an opportunity to hear God’s Word before they head out the door. I am reminding them of what we know to be true before they go out into a world that is determined to pull them the opposite way. It is so important that we do this, friend. It is so important that we are taking time out of our days to talk about God’s Word. Now, you might find that first thing in the morning doesn’t work for your family. Maybe for you, it would work better to do this during lunch or during dinner each night. Regardless of the time, be intentional about taking the time to read God’s Word together as a family and talk about how it applies to your lives.
In addition to our morning routine, our family also takes time to get into God’s Word as part of our bedtime routine. When our kids were small, we read to them from a children’s bible each evening. Due to their short attention spans at those ages, we kept these stories short and always ended them with a quick prayer. As they got older, we transitioned into devotionals. Typically, there is a reading for each day of the year that has a portion of Scripture to focus on followed by a short story that ties into that Scripture. They often close with a few questions to reflect on and then a prayer that can be said together. Each of my kids have their own devotional book that we are working through right now, and we read with each child individually most nights. We do this because my kids are all transitioning into different seasons of life right now. My oldest is starting to move towards the teen years, and needs guidance on how to handle some of the peer pressure he’s been facing. My daughter is a preteen and needed a devotional specifically for girls that focuses on relationships with other girls and peer pressure. My youngest, now that he is reading better, is currently learning how to look up Scripture in his Bible. His devotional is more general for elementary aged kids. Taking time to get into God’s Word with our kids is important. I encourage you to find the time to start doing this within your own families.
Another way that we can teach our kids about God and how He wants us to be living our lives is to look for teachable moments in each day. Remember, teachable moments are those times throughout the day when God gives you an opportunity to teach your child something about Him. These moments can be found as you take a walk outside and remind your child that God created everything you see. These moments can be found in the midst of your child’s temper tantrum as you remind him that God gave him to you to raise and that he is to be obedient. These moments can be found in the quiet of your car after your daughter tearfully shares how she was picked on once again that day. God gives us so many opportunities throughout our days to teach our kids more about Him. Look for those moments, and when one is found, take the time and effort to share with your child what we can learn from it. For our kids to make good decisions that lead them towards those assignments God has for them today, they need to understand who He is and how He wants them to be living their lives. Mamas, this is where we start.
What else do we need to do to help our kids make wise decisions? We need to know our kids well. To be able to guide our kids well, we have to know our kids well. A great way to do this is by scheduling one-on-one time with your child. This can help you gain a better understanding of your child, his gifts, his interests, and his abilities and gives you the opportunity to focus solely on that child without distraction. One-on-one time also encourages communication between the two of you. What is one way we can get some one-on-one time with our kids? Schedule a date night! Let him pick what you will do on that date (within reason) and enjoy spending time together. Your child will love the individual attention, and you will love the time getting to know your child better. Dates do not have to cost a lot of money. For many kids, just going to the park to swing alone with mommy is a thrill.
My daughter and I just had one of these on Sunday evening. My husband took our boys to a hockey game, and she and I spent time at home doing girly things. We painted our nails, did facials, and soaked our feet in a bubble bath. We talked about some of the questions she has about growing up and ended the night with milkshakes. It was a lot of fun, and as I tucked her into bed that night, she told me it was one of the best nights of her life.
Schedule some time with each of your kids. If you take the time to get to know your child well, when a tough decision comes along, you will be better equipped to guide him in making that decision.
After we lay the foundation, it’s important to actually teach our children how to make wise decisions. If you remember from last time, I shared that our child’s prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until they are 25. Until that age, they need our guidance and support when it comes to making decisions. They also need the opportunity to practice.
Begin by modeling for your kids how to make a wise decision. Use the everyday decisions you make for your family as your examples, and involve your kids in the process. For example, you might ask your child, “Should we go get groceries today or tomorrow? If we go today, we won’t have an opportunity to go to the playground. But, if we wait and go tomorrow, we won’t have milk for breakfast.” After you present the decision to be made, walk your child through the steps you take to make that decision. Identify the resources needed to say yes to that decision, think about potential consequences, good and bad, that may come with that decision, and think about how the decision will affect others. After you have considered all of this, then confidently make the decision.
Once a decision is made, we then teach our kids two things. First, we teach our kids that once we make a decision, we choose to trust God with the results. Secondly, we teach our kids that once a decision has been made, it’s important to take time to reflect on the decision and ask ourselves if anything can be learned from it. By modeling decision making for your child and involving him in the process, your child will not only gain a better understanding of the steps needed to make a wise decision, but will also feel as though he is a valued, contributing member of your family.
It’s also important to give your child practice at making his own decisions. This builds a child’s sense of independence and responsibility and gives him more confidence in his decision making skills. As you give your child practice, it is important to remember a few things.
First, make sure the choices you are giving your child are age appropriate. Just as children grow and develop physically, children also grow and develop in their abilities to make good choices. It’s important that the choices you offer them are appropriate for their stage of development.
Young children, ages 0-2, are very me-centered and make their decisions based upon their limited point of view. Because of this, you as the parent need to make most of the decisions for your child. However, you can give young children a choice when it comes to which snack they would prefer, which book they would like read to them, or which toy they want to take to the park.
By the time a child reaches preschool age, ages 3-4, his personality is firmly taking shape and having the opportunity to make simple choices is important to him. Children at this age make most of their decisions based on their strong preferences for one thing over another. But, even though they have strong preferences, you will still see some children at this age that are hesitant to make a decision on their own. They will observe their environment and often make choices based on what their peers choose to do. All three of my kids were observers out in public. At home however, it was a different story! For children in this age range, you may offer them a choice of which drink they’d like with their snack or which clothes they would like to wear. Do set boundaries when you offer these choices, however. Even though your child may strongly prefer to wear shorts and flip flops to the grocery store, doing so during the winter would not be wise.
For children between the ages of five and six, providing them with the opportunity to make even the smallest decisions builds a tremendous amount of confidence and self-esteem. Children at this age are more aware of how their choices can affect others and like the idea of being able to decide for themselves. But, with this ability to decide for themselves also comes uncertainty. Children at this age will ponder for a great amount of time over the smallest decision. It is important to provide children at this age plenty of time and support as they work through a decision. (Even if it’s a decision between wearing a yellow shirt or a green shirt.) Examples of choices to offer are smilier to those for three to four year olds. Five and six year olds can choose which snack they’d like to eat, which fruit they would like bought at the grocery store, or which clothes they would like to wear. Once again, it is important to set very clear parameters when you offer them a choice as they are still learning how to make decisions that are in their best interest.
As children grow older and improve in their decision making, it’s important to gradually expand the number of choices offered and also provide them with choices that are of increasing importance. For example, by the time a child is 12 years old, he can choose his own bedtime, which after school activities he’d like to participate in, or decide if he wants to accompany the family as they run errands. Children at this age are much more independent, but it is still important to set boundaries as needed. Always consider the maturity level of you child and their level of responsibility when offering decisions.
Secondly, as your children begin to practice making decisions, it’s important to limit the options you give them. Research has shown that if we are given too many choices, we can quickly get overwhelmed. This is why I love shopping at Costco. At Costco, if I want to buy toothpaste, I have one option and one option only. However if I go to Walmart, I have an abundance of choices. There’s Crest or Colgate. Aqua-fresh or Tom’s. There’s mint, cool mint, bubble gum, or strawberry. There is toothpaste with mouthwash in it, or toothpaste that is supposed to protect your teeth better against cavities. I have so many choices, and those choices can sometimes become overwhelming. The same thing can happen to our kids. Our kids can quickly get overwhelmed if they are given too many choices. Give your child limited options as they practice their decision making. Give them a choice between goldfish or pretzels. Give them a choice between wearing the blue shirt or the green shirt. Give them options, but keep them limited.
It is also important to note that we must be careful not offer our child an option when in fact there isn’t one. For example, if your child has been playing outside in the mud, it is important that they wash their hands before eating their snack. They do not have an option. But how many times do we say, “Can you wash your hands before eating your snack” instead of simply saying, “Wash your hands before you eat your snack”? I’ve done this a million times. In my mind, my child does not have an option. Yet, when I place it in the form of a question, my child sees that as me providing him with a choice. Be careful not to offer your child a choice when in reality there isn’t one.
Another area to consider when it comes to teaching your child how to make decisions is what we will call “sizing it up”. As children are learning how to make decisions, they often are unable to discern the difference between small and big decisions. They will become stuck when it comes to making simple decisions because to them, every decision is a big deal. It is important to model and give your children opportunities to make small decisions. These decisions are made quickly and have little to no significant negative consequence. For example, give your child the choice of eating grapes or eating strawberries with their lunch. This is a small decision that can be made quickly and with both options being healthy, there are no negative consequences. For decisions that are bigger and that have potential negative consequences that accompany them, it is important to guide your child through these carefully. These types of decisions require that more time and consideration be given to them. Choosing a musical instrument or a sport to pursue would be examples of a bigger decision. Give your child practice discerning the difference between small and big decisions.
Lastly, allow your child to make poor decisions. Unless your child’s health or safety is at risk, it is important that they be allowed to make some poor decisions and to make mistakes. Why is this important? Think about what happens when you make a mistake or what happens when you make a poor decision. Often, mistakes and poor decisions lead to negative consequences. And, those negative consequences give us an opportunity to learn what a better choice might have been. We can learn from our mistakes. We can learn from the poor decisions we make. Our kids need the same opportunities. When our kids make a mistake, it gives us an opportunity to teach them how to reflect on the poor decision made and the consequences that came from it. It gives us an opportunity to teach them how to make better choices in the future. Now, I know that it’s hard as a mama to let your kids fail. I get it. It breaks my heart to see my kids hurting. But, I’d rather my kids make their worst mistakes now while I am here to help support and guide them. I’d rather they mess up now so that I can teach them how to make better decisions. Now, it’s important to note one thing here. When your child makes a poor decision, they need to experience the negative consequences that come from that decision. Sometimes, I feel that we try to shelter our kids from the negative consequences that come with poor decisions. But let me ask you this. What is that teaching them? It teaches them that they can make poor decisions repeatedly. It teaches them that they will never have to suffer negative consequences despite how poor a decision is. It teaches them that they are not responsible for their actions even if their actions hurt someone else. Our children need to learn that negative consequences come when we make poor decisions and that we are responsible for our actions. Our children need to experience this reality.
As parents, we need to teach our children how to make decisions. We need to teach our children how to make decisions that are wise and lead them towards those assignments that God has for them. Lay the foundation now. Show them what a life following Jesus looks like. I read a quote from a blogger that I’d like to close with. She said,
“It is more important than ever to teach our kids to be Jesus-followers, not just in name, but in everything we do.”
“Not just in name, but in everything we do.” What kind of example are you setting for your kids? Do they see a Jesus-follower? Do they see a woman who makes wise decisions? Do they see a woman who is open to the Best Yes assignments God has for her? I encourage you to be that woman. Be that woman whose heart is undeniably after His.