I’ve been a mom for 10 years, and I’ve tried very hard to emphasize to my children the difference between right and wrong. However, I find myself getting discouraged because while they seem to listen to me I don’t see a lot of change in their behavior. How can I help my kids become doers and not just hearers?
An occupational hazard of being a parent is that you will experience generous amounts of discouragement. After more then 21 years of parenting we can tell you that, with God's help, it can get better. In James 1:22-23 we’re exhorted to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Sounds great, but what does that look like in real life? How do we as parents help our precious sons and daughters become doers and not just hearers? Instruction.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Moses reminds the people that there are two basic ways to teach their children. Parental instruction can be either formal or informal. In formal instruction we tell children the truth. With informal instruction we live or model the truth before them. Both are important but in this passage Moses emphasizes the importance of the informal or lifestyle.
The essential starting point is to realize that the greatest gift you can give your child is not only what you tell them, but also in who you are. Don't get us wrong, what you tell your kids is important. However, it’s easy to focus on their performance to the exclusion of their person. Andrew Murray says it well, “Not in what we say and teach, but in what we are and do, lies the power of training. Not as we think of an ideal for training our children, but as we live do we train them. It is not our wishes or our theory, but our will and our practice that really train. It is by living the Christ-life that we prove that we love it, that we have it; and thus will influence the young mind to love it and to have it, too.”
Start by asking yourself a few questions: What do your children see when they look at you? What do you model? Do they see a mom and dad or single parent who has a visible love for God and for His Word and His people? Do they see I Corinthians 13 in action? Do they know that your love for them is not based on their performance? Do they have healthy examples of problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills? Are they getting a clear idea of what it means to be a male or female who is made in God's image? Do you appreciate and promote their uniqueness? Do you model and encourage a healthy experience and expression of emotions?
We’ve learned that it doesn't take very much time or cost very much money to say I love you, to listen intently to what they are saying, to look them in the eyes when you talk to them, to apologize when you are wrong, to ask for their forgiveness, to touch them, to call them on the phone, to compliment, encourage, nourish, to pray for them, or share a prayer request with them.
Another way to help your kids move from being hearers to doers is to actually practice the application of Scripture with them. For example, how can we help our children learn what it looks like to “do” the fruit of the Spirit? One way many parents have found helpful is to get the family together on a Sunday and read Galatians 5:22-23 from several different translations. Starting with the first trait of love, read other scriptures where love is mentioned, look it up in the dictionary and write out your own “family” definition. Then brainstorm ways you can demonstrate love to each other in the coming week. Just for fun ask each person to keep track of some of the times they saw another family member demonstrating this trait.
When you meet together on the next Sunday discuss what the experience has been like for each person, what they have learned, and then move on to the next trait of joy, and so on. While some of the traits are more difficult than others those who have tried this little exercise tell us that the experience not only brought their families closer together, but also produced some meaningful changes in their behavior.