Titus, my third son, was reacting to having to eat Adobo for lunch a few days ago. It was reported to me that he had a bad attitude about his food so I had a talk with him. I took him aside, away from his brothers and sisters, and asked him, “Do you love Jesus? Is he in your heart?” He nodded but he didn’t want to look me in the eye.
In the gentlest voice possible, I encouraged him to tell me what went wrong. I wanted to find out, from his perspective, why he wasn’t happy about his lunch. He was hesitant at first but I told him, “You can tell mommy anything,” and I took his face in my hands to look into his eyes.
I know Titus. He can seem strong-willed and stubborn but he is a sweet son inside. I trust in the work of the Lord in his heart when he seems difficult to reach. But it is important that I approach him with kindness in my tone. If I bear down on him with irritation or badger him, demanding that he explain himself, he will withdraw from me all the more.
All my kids have different needs when it comes to training and discipleship but I have noticed that it is easier to influence them towards right attitudes and behavior when I do the following:
- Assure them that they are loved no matter what.
- Listen to their perspective without criticizing it.
- Ask them questions about their perspective and how they can change for the better…Ex. Is it right or wrong to have that kind of attitude? Is it right or wrong to treat others that way? This allows them to come to their own conclusions and convictions about sin.
- Communicate to them that I believe in the good work that Christ is doing in their lives and the positive change that will ensue because they love Jesus.
- Hug and kiss them.
Fifteen minutes later, Titus was with me in the kitchen, eating his Adobo with a smile on his face. All he asked for was a little more sauce to be put on it and he didn’t resist being told to eat it.
The key to this process of correcting wrong attitudes and behavior in my kids is Jesus. I cannot have these sorts of dialogues with my children if they don’t know Jesus and do not have a relationship with him. So as early as 3 years old, Edric and I share the gospel to them. And afterwards, we continue instructing their hearts so they grow spiritually.
Although we are authoritative and set rules for our children, we aren’t tyrannical. We leave room for the Holy Spirit to operate and give our kids the opportunity to respond to him. When they don’t, then we know they don’t really have a personal relationship with Christ and we need to help them get to that point. Or they may claim to have one but they have to grow in the knowledge of him. It’s our responsibility to pass on this knowledge to them by encouraging them to read the Bible, having devotions as a family, praying for them and with them, and studying God’s word together.
When parents ask how Edric and I manage to parent 5 kids, we have nothing to boast about. It is the Lord’s work in the lives of our children. They have a personal relationship with him. This makes them receptive to instruction. We can only do what is within our control – love them, spend time with them, invest in their lives by being present during these tender years, model Christ-likeness and ask for forgiveness when we don’t. But, the grace to love God, to follow and obey him (and us) is ULTIMATELY the working of the Holy Spirit.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 NASB)