Changing Your Child’s Behavior Begins By Understanding His Heart

photo r osborne

As parents, we daily face challenges with our children and their behavior. The thought that usually occurs after witnessing our children do something that we find less than desirable— “How can I make this stop?”

While that thought may lead you to a good old-fashioned time out, grounding, or loss of a privilege, we need to remember not to miss something deeper—the motivation in your child’s heart.

The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In addition to providing a consequence for undesirable behavior, perhaps a more significant question to ask would be , “What does my child’s behavior say, regarding the condition of his heart?”

I specifically remember a moment where I needed to remind my three-year old daughter that she had a consequence from the day before: No TV. She listened to my words, and contemplatively decided what to say next, “Well, can Olivia watch TV?” She wasn’t being overly concerned with her sister’s desire to watch TV; she was concerned with getting what she wanted, and if Olivia got to watch TV, then she did too. Her heart needed some adjusting.

If my focus is always on the behavior, and I use methods to modify that behavior, my children will learn how to get what they want, and what they don’t want for that matter, but will they acquire a heart that seeks to do what is right? An internal motivation will serve them well throughout their lives and will teach them to have a heart more like Christ’s. It will reveal to them their brokenness and the need for a Savior. It will point them to the cross.

Should we lay aside behavioral interventions then? Definitely not. Behavior needs correcting, children need to be taught how to make a better choice. That better choice makes more sense when the child understands why it is important to make it.

Behavior is also a tool. It often is a signal of what is going on at a deeper level. It alerts us, much like a fever does in a sick child. We have learned over the years that treating a fever is just masking a symptom; the fever isn’t the problem, it is a response to the sickness occurring in the body. Much the same way, a behavior is the outward expression of a heart needing mending.

When parenting children, addressing the condition of their hearts will not leave you scrambling to find the next motivating reward or consequence, discipline, or technique to overcome the challenging behavior. It will provide you with a framework to go deeper and get to the root of the issue, and ultimately teach them the truth they need to navigate a world that needs Christ.

For helpful reading in this area check out Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp