As a tiny boat overloaded with a gaggle of kids careened along, a girl cried out, “Tu mama! Tu mama!” to avoid hitting me. I felt surprisingly welcome.
Now as a school volunteer, I am getting to know these children with all their individual virtues, hurts, joys and cares. This week they are preparing a virtues Haka and cheer for the next assembly. The music of their laughter rings out as they tap into their creativity, the boys vying with the girls for the most captivating moves.
Children’s first teachers are the ones at home. They have one of the most important jobs on earth – raising good children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”Here are three spiritual parenting tips to help you train and encourage your children:
- In the many teachable moments that occur each day, instead of shaming, start naming virtues, the true lesson plans of a good life. To correct a child effectively, avoid calling them names that embitter and discourage. Children live up or down to the way we see them and the words we say about them. It is their only measure of self-worth. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me,” is utterly false. Names can break a spirit. So, don’t put them down. Lift them up. Correct them by telling them what you DO want, not what you don’t. Instead of “You’re so lazy,” say “You need to be helpful now.” Instead of “Don’t be a bully or I’ll bully you!” tell them, “Use your peacefulness.” Instead of “Stupid”, say, “Listen respectfully. Then you’ll understand.” This is what I call “a virtues translation.” When some of the boys were laughing after doing a funny virtues skit, some girls got up to recite a virtues poem they had written. Instead of telling the boys to stop talking, I asked, “What virtue do we need to practice when someone is presenting?” They yelled in unison, “Respect!” I gave them a thumbs-up and they immediately turned their respectful attention to the girls.
- Speak the Language of Virtues to appreciate. When you see it, say it! Catch them in the act of committing a virtue. When a child (or an adult for that matter) improves even a little bit, notice that small change and they will keep improving. “Thanks for your orderliness today. You lined your shoes up neatly at the door.” Don’t be surprised if they go out and straighten everyone’s shoes. Avoid any add-ons, like “Why can’t you make your bed too?” Just let the virtues acknowledgment stand.
- Be a model. Virtue is more caught than taught. Children do what you DO, not what you say. I saw a little 17 month old boy kicking and hitting an even smaller girl. The adults around him immediately threatened to give him a hiding. What he needed in that moment was someone to say, “Be gentle,” or “Be friendly”, taking his hand and touching the other child gently. Threats or hits tell him hitting is okay and if you’re bigger, you win. If those raising him use their self-discipline to teach instead of to hit, he will learn to use it too.
A six year old whose family recently started picking Virtues Cards in their morning devotions asked for the Caring card, “so Daddy won’t yell or hit us.” That week both the father and the child started changing. The boy stopped growling and hitting his little brother and even offered him the use of his bike when his brother’s broke. His mother thanked him for his generosity. As Isaiah 11:6 says, “A little child shall lead them.” You will be amazed at the effect these simple steps can have on the joy and peace in your family or your classroom. Model the virtues, and speak the virtues to appreciate, correct and thank. You will reap an ample harvest -- the fruits of the spirit.