It was Friday night…
We were having a family over for a cook out. We love to host and do so almost every Friday night, but on this particular day I knew my son would need some coaching. One of the children coming to play was older and my son always seemed to find himself in trouble when they played together. My husband and I had been working on coaching him to lead rather than just follow. So in the brief moments we had as we drove home from his weekly ninja class at the gym up the street to our home for the cook out, I prepped him: “You’re going to have to step up and lead. You can’t let your friend convince you do things that aren’t kind, polite, or respectful to others.” I coached.
Do you know what happened that night?
He was a follower and he got into trouble.
After the festivities were over and I was helping him clean his room, we talked about the evening and how he found himself in trouble yet again. During our conversation he said one thing that I struck me hard. “Mom, I tried. I tried to be good, but I just couldn’t.”
In that moment my heart broke for him. In that moment I heard myself standing before my heavenly parent saying the same thing. “I tried. I really did. But it just didn’t work.” I feel the sting of failure every day of my life. Do you know how God responds to me when I come to him in those moments? He repeats his law of love to me.
It goes something like this:
You are not innately good and you should not tell yourself you are or that you can be. The only thing that counts before Me is belief that My Son died for you and after that responding in love for Me and to each other. That love alone can transform you.
In the middle of the daily busy we want to make sure we handing our children the gospel and not morality. Morality says “be good for goodness sake”. The gospel says “You aren’t good. Only God is good and the only good that can come out of you is a response to My goodness for you.” I told my son to be “kind, polite and respectful”, in other words, “be good”. The one thing I asked him to do was the one thing he can’t. But, you can learn from my mistake. There is something else we can ask instead.
Learn from my mistake.
When you are overwhelmed and busy use this guide for what to say to your child instead of “be good”; It is broken down by age group, first toddler/preschooler age children , then elementary age children, and finally what to say to your middle/high school age children.
You can access the What to Say Instead of “Be Good’” printable cheat sheet in the Free Resource Library! You can sign up at the bottom of this post or click here!
Toddler or Preschool Age Children
In my opinion this is the hardest age to address the concept of sin. We are still in middle of what my mentor likes to call “the trenches of obedience training.” Toddler and preschool age children have a very limited vocabulary and understanding of the world around them. It’s important to note that children don’t even have an awareness of themselves as a person (that he or she is the same as the humans around them) till 18 months- 2 years old. As a parent of a 2 year old we use words like “no”, “stop”, “don’t” because these are simple words they can understand. The trick is to use simple words in the moment that we recognize the sin to help them start to understand God’s love for them. This could sound something like:
“We all have icky in our heart. But we have to know that God loves us and He wants us to love others.”
Elementary Age Children
Alright, so they have grown a bit and simultaneously become easier to communicate with and harder to talk to at the same time! They understand quite a bit about the world around them and because of this they have started to form opinions about the world. Often these opinions are loudly expressed as they are still learning emotional intelligence and how to express what they feel in an appropriate way. We can use a much more complicated vocabulary with them to help show them the sin in their hearts. This can sound something like:
“Remember, you are loved by an amazing God and the most important thing in our life is to always remember His love and show it to others.”
Middle and High School Age Children
Oh where have your babies gone? Hopefully, now you find yourself having full on conversations with your children. They have the ability to understand things you say without you having to simplify your vocabulary. Most of the time they have to ability to see the sin within their heart without your helping them come into contact with it. You have entered a true season of being more of a coach than a guide. Often children at this age want as few words as possible when you are guiding them. They feel like they’ve “got it” and often don’t need/want your help. So before they step out the door to their oh so busy and overwhelmed lives instead of saying “ be good”, simply say:
“Remember the law of love”
They may roll their eyes. They may act like they don’t care or they might ignore you. But have faith that God is planting seeds and you are handing them the gospel!
Giving our Children the Gospel, Not Morality
Being busy and overwhelmed we often default to statements like “be good” or “be polite, kind and respectful.” They are simple short and easy to remember. But this is teaching our kids morality. To be good for goodness sake. When we should be teaching them the gospel. That while we were still sinners Christ died for us. We can’t be good, but he loves us anyway and that is what what can transform us. Learn from my hard lesson. Learn what to say instead of “be good”.
Let’s parent well in them middle of busy!
If we haven’t met yet… hi, I’m Emily! Thank you so much for reading. I hope you found this helpful in the middle of your busy life. My goal is always to help encourage, inspire and equip you to cultivate your child’s heart in the middle of your daily hussle. Know my door (my inbox, rather) is always open if there is something you think I can help with! I’m on this busy parenting journey too! Also, if you know someone else that could gain something by reading this article, please feel free to share it with them .