Reaching the Heart of Your Children
Trust and Obey
Read Ephesians 6:1-4
This verse is one that my older boys know very well, especially the part about children obeying their parents. I want to take you through this verse at the different age levels to see how it can be applied no matter what age your kiddos are.
Before I begin, I want to say that requiring obedience of your children is very important. When you teach them to obey you, you are preparing them to obey God when they are older. They will not question God or tell Him to wait, they will say, “Yes, God, right away!” With that being said, it is super important that you do not become legalistic about obedience. Be the mama that your children want to obey. Fill them with love every day and make it easy to obey you.
Toddler: Training Years
When my babies become toddlers, I call those the training years. Oh, they exercise their will. Oh, yes they do! My toddler triplets exercise their will most of the day. As an example, I have this little bookshelf in my kitchen that holds all my cookbooks. The little darlings make it their personal mission to remove all the cookbooks from the bookshelf every chance they get. It became so frustrating that I wrote a blog post about it with a creative idea! (I have a cute little video of them taking out my cookbooks on the post.)
Focus: Direct Obedience
Read Ephesians 6:1a
The focus of Ephesians 6:1 at the training stage is on complete obedience. Usually, the little ones aren’t asking “why” quite yet. Take that opportunity and run with it. What you are seeking from your child is their trust in you as their mama. You want them to know that they should follow you and obey when you ask them to no matter what. I have done this with each of my toddlers (and we continue to work on it).
During the training years, I am heavy on correction. Every act of disobedience is disciplined and corrected. I am shaping my little ones so that they can see their disobedience comes with consequences, just like our sin comes with consequences. If I let even one act go uncorrected, they are quick to assume that they do not need to obey in all circumstances. The main point in this stage is to show cause and effect.
Related Read: Speaking Truth
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a drill sergeant and I am not angry with my discipline. It is simply a correction to their disobedience. Most times, it is just a gentle reminder.
For instance, my youngest triplet is a wanderer. He likes to go where he wants to go and does not want to be held back. I fear for his safety when we are out and about. In the first few months of him walking, I would take him by the hand as we exited the minivan to walk into a store. He would quickly pull his hand away from mine and try running away. I held his hand tighter and told him that he needs to hold mama’s hand. I intensely trained him for 1 week. He was my focus of training on that one area for the entire week. After that week, he now holds my hand and I do not need to hold tightly to him. Now, his hand naturally finds mine as we exit the minivan. He knows what is expected of him and he does not try to fight it.
I apply this training ALL DAY LONG to my little ones so that they can understand their boundaries and know what is expected of them. It is exhausting but so necessary.
Preschool: Expecting Obedience while Allowing for Individuality
Read Ephesians 6:1
Once the little ones reach the preschool age, start to give them more freedom and independence. This stage is the climax of the time when the little ones want to do things “all by myself.” (It usually starts around 2 years old. In my daughter’s case, it started the day she was born!) The focus in this stage is to require obedience because it is the right thing to do. I am no longer focusing on blind obedience (although this is reinforced if necessary). Instead, focus on having your children obey when you ask because it is the right thing to do and because God commands this of children.
Related Read: Speaking Encouragement
I usually loosen up more here. These little blessings want to show their individuality and I want to let them! This is when I carefully pick my battles. Here is an example from my own life. One of my sons is so sweet but so stubborn. When he has his mind made up on something, it is very hard to convince him otherwise. When my son was three, he wanted to pick out his own clothes. He would come up with some very creative outfits that were usually not appropriate for the weather outside. After several battles to convince him of a more appropriate outfit, I made some changes to my approach.
My son simply wanted to have control over this part of his life. So, I hung up 10 shirts in his closet that coordinated with 10 pants in his drawer no matter what color-combination was put together. He got to pick out his shirt and pants for the day. I did not interfere with his choices at all. He was able to express his individuality and obey my instructions of asking him to get dressed. My only request is that I get to pick out the outfits for church, Christmas, and Easter and he will wear them with a cheerful heart.
Focus: Obeying Because It is the Right Thing to Do
By this stage, I am continuing my training of them, but I also start to introduce the concept of grace. I remember clearly the day I introduced grace to one of my sons. He was 4 years old. He had just disobeyed greatly. He already knew the consequence that was about to occur because we had already talked about it: he was not able to sleep over at Grandma’s house that night. He was crying because he knew he had done wrong and he knew that he was not going to sleep over at Grandma’s.
I sat him on our stairs and I sat next to him. I looked him in the eye and explained how his act of wrongdoing was called sin. He was already familiar with the concept and that sin separates us from God, who is holy. But, I took it another step further in the big picture of salvation. I told him that he deserved to receive his punishment of not going to Grandma’s. This is just like how when we sin, we deserve to be separated from God. However, God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take our punishment for us. There is nothing we can do to deserve that grace. It is freely given to us by God. As a small representation of that concept, but a big deal to my son, I showed him grace. I told him that he deserved to be punished, but that I was going to extend grace to him because God showed grace to me when I didn’t deserve it. His punishment was lifted and he was able to sleep over at Grandma’s house.
We prayed together and my son asked for forgiveness. This was a practical example of showing the Gospel in a practical way to my little one.
Early Elementary: Giving Responsibility and Encouragement
Read Proverbs 22:6
This is the last age group I am going to write about as this series is on raising littles. This is where you begin to see the fruit of all of your hard work through the training years. By this stage, your children have trust in your ability to follow through. They have trust that you have their best interest in mind. They know that you care about their heart. Continue down this path. Continue to expect obedience, and yet continue conversations of God’s grace.
In Proverbs 22:6, I, of course, want you to be instilling your faith in your children. But, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will not wander in their adult years. But, there is something to be said about creating a sense of core values for your family. In this early elementary stage, focus on pouring into your children with the Bible, but also help them to develop responsibility and being an important part of your family.
My kiddos begin chores very early on (like age 2-3). It is not that I work them hard, but I want them to feel included in our family and contributing to the way we function as a unit. I give 1 chore per year of age. When the kiddos turn five, I add a new component. They are given a room of the house to be responsible for. For my 7-year-old, he is responsible for the family room. I have a little checklist for him so he knows what is expected. He is to vacuum, wash windows, dust, and keep the room tidy. Even if he didn’t mess up the room, I want him to have a sense of responsibility. If there is a sibling that continues to leave messes in the room, my oldest practices confronting his sibling and letting him know how it affects him. This has really helped my 7-year-old develop communication skills during a conflict.
Expect more from your kiddos. They are capable of doing great things. Give them responsibility and you will see them fly.
Focus: Developing a Relationship of Trust
These early years are the years that you are your child’s hero. Treasure these years and take advantage of this special time. Be the calm and steady voice that your children need to hear. They are consistently exploring boundaries and trying to figure out how they fit into this world. Now is the time, mamas. Capture their hearts.
I love going on walks with my kiddos. When my husband gets home from work, I will take one of my children and we will go for a walk together. This is a time that we get to connect. I ask how things are going in their life? I ask what hard things are going on? I ask what I can be praying for them on. I talk about things going on in my own life that I could use prayer on (age-appropriate, of course!). This is a time to really develop your relationship with your kiddo. After the walk, I make sure to give my little one a big hug and tell him how much I love him.
If walks are not your thing, just sit out on the lawn together or share a cup of tea together at the kitchen table. Just make a special effort to get your kiddo alone to check in. Now is the time to develop this habit of connecting with your children. They have so many genuine questions. Be there for them. If you don’t know answers, find them out together. Pray together. Be the mama your kiddos need by just being there for them and taking a genuine interest in them.
You have been given a gift, Mama. Run with this opportunity. Teach obedience, allow for individuality, and teach responsibility. Direct the hearts of your children to the Father. It’s not about you. You do not need to require obedience for a smoother happier life (although that is nice!). It’s about obeying because the Lord says to. It’s about teaching your children to be comfortable in who God created them to be. It’s about teaching your children to do the right thing and take responsibility for contributing to the greater good. You’ve got this mama, and even if you don’t, God’s got this!
Katie White is a Christian modern-day homemaker who shares ideas on organizing, entertaining, raising little ones, and motherhood over on her website, Grace and Thanks. She has a love for hospitality and homemaking, but her greatest love is for her heavenly Father. God continues to be faithful and full of grace as she raises five beautiful children with her husband.