Teach Kids HOW, Not Just WHAT

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

Children often need more than firmness in order to change the tendencies of their hearts. They also need a vision for something better, in addition, a plan will help them do it. The most effective strategy for change is to work on the heart, not just the behavior. This involves more than pointing out a weakness. A good plan often requires a multi-faceted approach. Teaching is another key component.

Some children act out, not because of a decision, but because of habit. Those kids aren’t intending to be malicious. They need some work in the heart to develop character. They need to practice a new pattern of thinking and acting when faced with impulses.

When a habit develops, it bypasses the decision making center of the brain and often requires a strategy to form better habits in place of unhelpful ones. A practical, “how to” solution can bring the actions back into the decision making center of the brain so the child can become aware of impulses and choose a different response. That process requires teaching.

Some Kids Resist Change

Some kids don’t want to change, or the process of thinking differently requires too much work. In that case, firmness makes their current patterns of living more uncomfortable or increases structure and accountability to encourage character development. Vision provides hope for a better way, and teaching gives specific steps needed to move forward. Sometimes it’s necessary to provide the very words or actions for the child to use.

It’s one thing to tell your child to be more kind, do his chores without being reminded, or to be honest, but most children need more than that. They need to know how to relate to an obnoxious brother, clean up a messy room, and have courage to face the temptation to lie. This is where the word “training” has its most important application.

The conscience provides children with promptings, but knowing what to do with the prompt can be a challenge. As you sympathize with your child’s weakness you’ll be able to provide ideas, suggestions, and plans to overcome temptation. Whereas vision answers the question “why,” teaching answers the question “how.” Kids need concrete plans to manage their struggles. They need to know what to say to themselves and what to do differently when faced with the challenge. Teaching is an important part of heart work.

Teaching Propels Growth

The teaching component adds feet to your strategy and provides the traction necessary for progress to take place. In fact, it’s fascinating to watch kids change when they have specific strategies for moving forward. The four-year-old who continually interrupts needs to know how to handle his desires when others are in conversation. Mom may teach him that he needs to put his hand on her arm while she’s talking to a friend. She, in turn, will put her hand on his hand, acknowledging with a silent signal, as she continues the dialogue with her friend. After a few moments she stops and addresses her son. This technique provides a simple introductory approach for a child to learn sensitivity and an appropriate way to interrupt. The child responds well because he has a plan, not just words that say, “Stop interrupting.”

In order to develop the teaching part of your strategy, you’ll need to study your child a bit. Take some time to analyze patterns. What is the general problem you’d like to see changed? (I.e.: angry outbursts, leaving messes around the house or in the bedroom, or not turning assignments in at school) And, in what area would you like to work on this problem? (during homework, with siblings, during chores, etc.)

Then ask yourself, “What are some solutions that you, as a parent, use in your own life to handle a similar situation? (I.e.: Ways you keep your anger under control. How do you keep things neat? Or how you turn things in on time?)

Children at any age benefit from more teaching about the heart and it’s role in change. You don’t have to use words like sin, repentance, and forgiveness; your plan will embody these very things in practice. As you develop a plan for the specific challenge your child is facing, you’ll be equipping that child with solutions that will be used even into adulthood.

Charlie had a Habit of Lying

Doreen and Charles knew they had a problem with Charlie. He lied often. He would lie to get out of trouble, lie to get something he wanted, and he lied when retelling a story of something that happened, even when there seemed to be no benefit to the fabrication. They developed a multi-faceted plan to help their son build integrity. As in many of the difficult patterns children have, it’s not just one part of the plan that works. Rather, it’s a combination of approaches that bring about lasting change.

Their plan involved firmness by stopping him when he started to spin a story instead of arguing with him about the facts. It seemed that the arguing tended to generate more lies. So they simply said, “Stop talking. Either be quiet or start over.” They used visioning to point out the benefits of integrity that include trustworthiness, the privilege of privacy, and a clear conscience. They spent quite a bit of time on the teaching component, to help their son recognize what pressure was prompting the lie, how internal character could offset the temptation, and alternatives to lying that would build the inner connection necessary.

One of the things they did in the teaching component was to talk about how honesty always occurs under pressure. It takes a person with strength on the inside to bear up under that pressure. They created an award and put it on the wall, looking for times that truth won because their son was able to be strong on the inside even when tempted to lie.

Dishonesty is a very difficult problem to address in any child. The most effective strategies for change use heart work instead of behavior modification. Doreen and Charles saw signs of improvement in Charlie but it took a lot of work, much dialogue, and regular doses of prayer for both wisdom and for change for their son.

Consider these things when you work on the teaching component with your child. How does your child learn best? How much can you accomplish in one setting? How are you doing in your relationship together? Are you experiencing closeness? Some parents overdo the lecture approach or try to teach during correction times. Those approaches are often weaker than the ones that consider the child’s needs.

Proverbs 1:8-9 talks about the importance of children paying attention to the teaching of parents. So we can do our part to give those insights. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”

Teaching is an essential component of a good strategy. Spend some significant time here, study your child, plan to share helpful information, and equip your child to develop a plan for change and you’ll see progress take place.

The Seven Parenting Tools

There are seven tools in the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program used to bring about major changes in children. Each parent needs to adjust the recipe using the seven tools in order to reach a child’s heart. Seasoned and trained coaches are standing by to help you develop that recipe and implement it with your unique child. The fifth tool is TEACHING. The others are RELATIONSHIP, FIRMNESS, VISIONING, COACHING, PRAYER, and TRANSFERRING RESPONSIBILITY. Learn more about the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program here. 

Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN teach live parenting seminars around the country. They have written 15 books on parenting and have created five video training programs for parents. You may learn more at http://www.biblicalparenting.org. or www.thrivingkidsconnection.com

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