The Heart of Your Child

It is vital that you train the heart of your children. However it is popular to ignore this essential process and give in to shallow alternatives. Since many young parents have not thought these issues through I am penning these notes as a guide to parents.

The Heart of the Matter

The most important part of your child’s development is the training of their heart. While we may not be aware of what is going on inside other people, including our children, the Bible tells us that God looks on the heart.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7

God’s prophet, Samuel, did what people naturally do. He looked on external things. God accurately accused men of taking notice of external things – “man looks on the outward appearance”. That is why people have to take ‘first impressions’ seriously and why image is such a big deal for worldly people. It should not be so for those who love and follow God, but sadly appearance and image is a major focus of some churches today.

Since God looks on your child’s heart it is essential that you make it a key focus on your attention.

The Heart of Your Child is Exposed by What Comes Out

Jesus had much to say about what comes out of the heart. He said that we are defiled by what comes out of us. He then listed a bunch of things that find their source in the human heart.

“The words which come out of the mouth come from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” Jesus Christ, Matthew 15:18-19

Jesus is pointing here to both the words people speak and the motivations that lead them to do evil things. So wise parents will be attentive to the spontaneous expressions from their children and also from the behaviour patterns the children display.

A winning smile on the face of a child can be deceptive. Sweet words of promise and nicety may be a cover for wrong intentions. In the same way that adults can be expert at this level of deception, some children know how to play up to their parents’ expectations.

Key Lessons For the Heart

The heart is troubled by the presence of foolishness, which Solomon warns us is bound in the heart of every child (Proverbs 22:15). So it is important for each parent to respect the particular process that God prescribes for removing that foolishness. The prescribed process is to use the rod of correction on the child.

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Solomon, Proverbs 22:15

Obedience is a key test of the child’s heart. If a child refuses to obey then they have foolishness. So getting the child to promptly obey the parent is a key heart training process. This involves them submitting to the parent’s authority. In that process they learn to fear the Lord, giving respect to God’s requirement that they obey their parents.

Games and Tricks Don’t Train the Heart

Some parents think that they are doing quite well if they get the desired action from the child. But it is not the action that is the most important. What is important, as we saw earlier, is the heart of the child. God does not look on the outward evidence but on the heart.

If you instruct a child to eat their food and the child is reluctant to obey, then a matter of the heart has been exposed. The child’s rebellious or independent attitude is a more serious matter than the nutritional value of the meal.

Many parents, however, become distracted with the external element, getting the food into the child. They can completely miss the much more serious issue of the child’s heart. Clever parents can resort to games to get the child to eat. “Let’s pretend that the spoon is a train and your mouth is a tunnel. Let the train into the tunnel.”

Such games may be fun, but they set the parent and child up for future pain. The child’s heart is left in a rebellious state, even though all the food is eaten.

The same is true when a parent tricks a child into doing the right thing, or fitting in with the parent’s plans. Games and fun, cute as they may be in the hands of clever parents, have no place in testing or training the child’s heart.

The most mature and complete heart training is evident when there is every reason to disobey or to get away with doing wrong, and yet the person insists and persists in doing what is right.

Tough Choices Make for Strong Character

When parents rescue their children from tough choices they undermine the child’s character. Tough choices make for strong character.

The child who must stand by his post, while others get to do fun things, or taunt him, or who is otherwise suffering in order to be there, will develop much stronger character than the child who is given every opportunity to cheat on their character.

False compassion can prompt some parents to remove the tough choices and hard situations from their child’s life. Such emotion is called ‘false’ compassion because it is not true love at all. It masquerades as compassion but it harms the child, so it cannot be real love.

You are Allowed to Play Games

Please note that I am not saying every moment of your child’s life should be a tough moment with tough choices. There is plenty of room for fun, games and play. You are welcome to play ‘aeroplanes’ and fly the food into your child’s mouth or to make cleaning up the room into a fun race against the clock.

The tough choices are made at strategic moments and are then built upon. But once the tough moment is past it is time for celebration and enjoyment of life. The problem will come when your child is never challenged to learn and their heart is not trained.

Insist that they Learn

Parents, be diligent to ensure that each of your children has learned to obey you, to submit to authority and to fear God. You will need to remain attentive to their heart, through what they say and how that is backed up by the attitudes and actions.

Insist that they learn the lessons. Don’t give in, just because they are crying, or complaining. There is much more at stake than their temporary responses.

Husbands help your Wife

In an earlier post I recommended the book Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo, and I also warned that I would post a word to husbands. I’m picking that up here. To get this in context you may wish to check the post this month on Baby Wise.

My daughter-in-law, Ruth, pointed out to me that many young mums get trapped in the application of practical guidelines. An insecure mum, for example, could follow a set of guidelines rigidly, even excessively, without thinking of them as ‘guidelines’ at all. This can be inappropriate and even absurd at times. I have seen older women at times try to suggest a change in routine to a younger mum, only to be met with the protest, “But the Dr said…” or “the health nurse told me to…” or “the book  I read it has to be done this way”. While there are some procedures which must be followed in detail, there are also many things which exist in principle, and the guidelines are simply that – ‘guidelines’.

A new mum’s best ally (at least in theory) is her husband. Then, of course, her mum, mother-in-law, friends and so on can all make wise contribution. Since dad is usually on hand, even in the wee small hours as mum struggles with some issue or other, the husband can be his wife’s greatest asset. You will note that I said “can be”, since many husbands are known for sleeping through their wife’s toughest hours, or being dismissive when their wife calls for their assistance. My dad called such people “knuckle-head” – I guess because the only way to get anything into the head is with some knuckles.

Anyway, in a perfect world, where husbands are actually useful, not the other kind, the husband can and should be his wife’s greatest ally. This is especially valuable when the husband cares enough about his wife to help her think through the issues. If a wife is getting caught up in the practice of a principle she may need to review the situation, with the help of ‘hubby’, to sort out the practice from the principle. If a mum is burdened by maintaining a particular routine, as if everything depends on her sacrificial diligence, this is a good place to review. She can be helped to understand the principle at stake, and to be reassured that the exact detail of the practice can be more flexible than she might expect, especially if the principle is still intact.

I have observed a tendency in women at times to be very faithful to the rules and regulations. Men tend to be more willing to test the rules. While this leads men to break the law more often, it also causes men to look for the principle, rather than the practical guidelines. A woman is more reliable in following instructions and is more faithful overall in getting things done (generally speaking). But a woman is also more prone to being caught in routine and inefficient patterns, without successfully thinking through the bigger picture issues or principles involved (generally speaking). The husband’s alternative way of looking at the wife’s challenges empowers him to bless her with re-tuning her thoughts and practice, so the principle is served but the pressure of the practical application is minimised.

OK, I know what some husbands are going to say. “What if she doesn’t want to listen?” Many a wife misses the blessing that is hers through her husband, because she feels put down by his advice. This can come both from her own pride and insecurity, or the husband’s arrogance and uncaring attitude. If both husband and wife are attentive to their own weaknesses, and work together as a God-given team there is much to be gained. If they pull against each other they will both suffer, and their whole family will suffer too.

Husbands – take up the challenge to be a blessing to your wife. Once you have navigated the aligator infested waters of your attitudes and her vulnerabilities, you can move toward a mutually rewarding cooperation that blesses you both.

Baby Wise – A Good Start

Getting off to a good start with a new baby will make all the difference in the months and years to follow. A contented baby in a good routine will make life so much easier for both mum and dad. If the baby is settled the whole household is able to get on with its various routines. If a baby is distressed and unsettled then the family is under constant pressure to settle the baby. That robs the parents of time they would otherwise apply to the house and family needs.

I recommend the book, Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. Having met the Ezzo’s in Australia, and been impressed by their practical application of Biblical wisdom I happily bought their Baby Wise book to share with friends. When my daughter-in-law, Ruth, presented me with my first grand-child I presented her with Baby Wise. She found it wonderfully helpful and has since ensured that her friends have the book to assist them.

I spoke with Ruth today, asking her thoughts about the book, now that she has five children. She advised that each of her friends who have used the book have all been happy with it and found it very helpful. She pointed out, however, that young mums can tend to be insecure. They then take up a principle and turn it into a rigid practice. This may account for some poeple who have not benefited as much from the book.

One of the key principles in the book is that of the Parents, not the Child, setting the tone and program within the home. The baby is welcomed into the parents’ world, rather than the parents becoming servants in the child’s world. The first practical expression of this principle is applied in the feeding routine of the baby. Wise parents set the feeding routine and settle the child into a rhythm that flows with the overall function of the home. As the child adapts and fits in, the first major hurdle in accommodating the baby has been crossed.

For a new-born baby a three-hour feeding pattern is common. Ruth applied the practical guidelines from the book with her first baby, Grace, and all worked well. Her second baby, however, ended up having colic. Upon investigation she discovered, after six weeks of an unhappy baby, that her son, Justus, only needed a feed every four hours. The principle had been confused with the practical guideline. The principle is that of parent-directed feeding. The guideline is that of a three-hour feed, since that is most common. However, in her case the practice of the principle needed to be four-hourly feeds.

Her third baby was also quite happy to operate by a four-hour feeding routine. Ruth by this time was quite relaxed about applying the principle and quickly adapted to the baby’s personal needs, yet maintaining her own overall control of the feeding routine. Her fourth baby was a hungry baby, and the three-hour feeds were back in full-swing again.

There’s an observation to be made there about learning principles, needing practical guidelines, then being able to separate the principle from the guidelines and act in wisdom about how the principle is applied. I might reflect on that further in a few days, since I think it is wise for husbands to help their wife in maintaining an effective distinction between the two – so look out for a post for Husbands some time soon.

So, if you are struggling with a baby, or have a friend or relative who is soon to have a baby, I suggest that you bless them with a copy of Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. The rest of the series, Child Wise books, etc, will also assist parents in the maturing challenge.