Many efforts to train children are based on “behavior modification” techniques. These usually focus on symptoms rather than on the heart. The Bible teaches that the heart is the control center for all of life. A person’s conduct mirrors what is going on in his or her heart. Proverbs 4:23 summarizes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life.” Ted Tripp explains further, “The heart is a well from which all the issues of life gush forth. This theme is restated elsewhere in the Bible. The behavior a person exhibits is an expression of the overflow of the heart.”
Dr. Scott Turansky writes, “Too often parents and teachers focus only on behavior, getting the right actions down, but they don’t address the heart. Jesus criticized the Pharisees, saying that they looked good on the outside but their hearts were still not changed. He said, ‘First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean’ (Matthew 23:26).
“Focusing on behavior change is not enough. Many parents work hard to help their children look good on the outside. Inadvertently, these parents teach their children ‘image management’ the ability to appear good, clean, and nice. A change of heart is what children really need though.
“Unfortunately, you can’t force children to change their hearts. But we can do a lot to motivate them to make the necessary changes. We’ve identified several tools that, when used properly, address the heart. First, use sorrow instead of anger in the discipline process. Parents who misuse this technique often lay a guilt trip on their children. The key is to be genuine. If you, as a parent, look past your anger for a moment you will see that you truly are sad about what your child has done because you know the long-term consequences of such behavior. Reflect it in a gentle way. It’s amazing to see how children will respond.
“Another way to influence a child’s heart is to use the scriptures. The Bible has an amazing quality, the ability to pierce through to the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Don’t use the Bible in a harsh way. Instead reveal what the Bible has to say about being kind or respectful or obedient. There’s a lot of wisdom and conviction that comes through the scriptures.
“Be sure to talk about the heart during times of correction. ‘I can see you’re angry because I said no, you need to take a break for a bit and settle your heart down and when you’re ready, come back and we’ll talk about it.’ It’ll take work and a child may need some long times to settle down at first, but a change of heart is worth it in the end. Resolve the tension by having a positive conclusion together. Talk about what went wrong and why it was wrong. Address heart issues, not just behavior and help children see things from a deeper perspective.
“You may think of some other ideas but whatever you do, don’t rely on simple behavior modification techniques. They don’t go deep enough and often don’t address the real issues.”1
5 Heart-Changing Keys
Barbara Curtis encourages, “When you have identified an ongoing problem, spend time preparing for a special talk with your child. Ask God for wisdom, guidance and strength. Ask Him, through you, to touch the heart of the child He loves.”
- Describe the problem.
- Discuss the moral basis.
- Outline the consequences.
- Ask for a commitment to change.
- End with encouragement (personal experience) and prayer. 2
By focusing first on the heart—then on the behavior, you will train your children to face their problems squarely and to take responsibility for their actions.
Remind your kids that the Lord will assist them in building Christ-centered character that will guide them for life. Christians serve a God who wants to transform us from the inside-out.
Your kids can experience lifelong heart-change as they achieve balanced growth in Bible knowledge, Christ-like character, and faithful conduct. These DiscipleLand resources can help:
- Nursery curriculum: for infants, toddlers, and two-year-olds
- Preschoolers (ages 3-5): kids discover what God is like through 200 different Bible stories
- Kindergarten children (ages 5-6): kids meet 48 Bible heroes and heroines
- Elementary curriculum (grades 1-6): helps children establish solid foundations, experience victorious living, and build essential life-skills. Choose from these options:
1: Dr. Scott Turansky. Parenting Tip. Web. 2012.
2: Barbars Curtis. Reaching Your Child’s Heart. Web. 2012.