How often as a parent do we crack down on our kids for their behavior, finally wrangling a resentfully-spoken “I’m sorry” from this small person with crossed arms and a scowl? “Don’t hit your sister! Why did you sneak that candy?! Say THANK YOU!” We have a joke in our home about sounding like the teacher on the animated Peanuts cartoons, “Wah-wah-wah-wahwah-wah.” I’m pretty sure that’s what our kids hear when their hearts and faces are set like flint against one another and we hold forth on the parenting soapbox about kindness and goodness.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “…the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Actions speak louder than words, and actions come from attitude. It is often tempting as a busy parent to focus too much on our children’s behavior and less on their heart (read that as their motivation)… but if we ignore the heart, we will lose the behavior down the road. We need to be the keepers of our kids’ hearts, especially during early childhood. We have to build and maintain strong ties between their hearts and our own, diligently guarding that sweetness of spirit, and expecting it, looking for it.
If we spend effort looking for and commenting on the good attitudes and evidence of positive characteristics in our kids, pointing out to them (and to others in their hearing) these evidences, then we give our kids a vision of themselves that is positive and seeking good. They realize good consequences for good behavior. Alternately, if we focus more on trying to curb their poor attitudes and behavior, pointing those out to them more frequently than we notice their good, they will begin to see themselves as constantly “messing up” and failing to meet our standards.
Children’s hearts crush easily. It is so easy for a parent to come down on a child with harsh words and condemnation for unacceptable behavior… we so often expect better behavior from our children than we do of ourselves, and this with two, three or four decades of life experience behind us! If we can partner with our kids to enjoy them, bringing them up in the way they should go, it’s an entirely different mindset and response than an authoritative “because I said so, that’s why” parenting style. It will keep their little hearts healthy, and probably keep our parental blood pressure in check as well!