At no time in a kid’s life is their parents’ positive, godly influence more critical than their preteen and teenage years. Yet, often along this parenting journey well-meaning moms lose the hearts of their children.
And it usually happens somewhere between the time they get their braces and their high school graduation.
During these years, a child may pull away, begin to follow poor role models, or make choices that will lead to pain and difficulty. It can be heartbreaking to watch.
While your kids are still little, you want to take a good, hard look at your relationships with them and ask yourself, “Do I truly have the heart of each of my children?”
Right now, it’s easy for them to look at us and think we hung the moon. We may not have to put in a lot of effort for them to feel close to us.
But time plus affirmation over a long period equals influence. If we aren’t purposefully pursuing our kids in specific, tangible ways, they will eventually gravitate towards others who give them what they’re longing for most.
My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways. – Proverbs 23:26
Ideally, we want to win our kids’ hearts when they’re young and maintain closeness through their growing up years. That foundation you lay now will help your relationship weather any storm, even during those tumultuous tween years.
I know you’re thinking, “easier said than done”, right? But with intentionality, you can win and keep your children’s hearts for life! Here are 10 things I have done over the years with my own teenager and preteen.
1. Focus On The Heart, Instead of Compliance
If I just gave my kids a list of goals that dictated what their behavior should be, without consideration of their hearts, this would produce death instead of life in my relationship with them.
They would never flourish in this kind of relationship- always feeling like they could never please me. Seeing themselves as a disappointment, they’d eventually just give up.
Our goal needs to be to capture the hearts of our kids; not to always be right and the one with the power.
It’s pointless if our children have great behavior on the outside, but inside their hearts are hard and rebellious. Don’t just correct your child when needed, but use that time to teach them biblical principles related to their behavior.
Consequently, it is not in getting the rules right, or in defining all of the right ways to do everything, or believing perfect theology that will make our children want to serve God.
By seeing our love and experiencing a genuine closeness with us, they will more easily understand and receive His love, as it will already be familiar to their hearts and brains because they have seen it and experienced it every day.
2. Let Them Know You Love Them For Who They Are
The Bible teaches us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. He loves us unconditionally, and for who we are despite our many flaws.
So it is with parenting. It is imperative that our children know we love them because they were created in God’s image and given to us as a gift by God.
We may not like their behavior at times, but we must show them we always love them for who they are as individuals. One of the greatest ways of showing your love is to make your child feel accepted and special.
You can do this by leaving random notes telling her what you like about her. You can tell her you are thinking about her, just because. You could also make her favorite meal and plan a special one-on-one outing together, or surprise her with something she’s been wanting.
It’s important that our kids know how much we enjoy being around them!
3. Affirm Your Child Often
It’s far too easy to criticize and find fault with our children, instead of acknowledging the positives. But too much criticism and not enough praise depletes their love tanks.
Your child needs to know he pleases you. Your child needs to know he makes you proud.
As parents, we may never hear those needs and desires voiced, but they’re there.
Praise your child for his unique talents, gifts and abilities. Let him know how valuable he is to your family.
It’s important to verbally affirm our children, but the written word is powerful too. You can leave them random notes in their lunchboxes, by their beds, and on their desks. With older kids, you can even text them an encouraging note!
One of the greatest ways we can show honor to our kids is exemplified in how we speak to them, and about them (including posting on social media).
The book of James teaches that our speech with others should be filled with wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Our children are no exception.
4. Give Them Undivided Attention
One of the best ways to show your love for your child is by giving them your time. In fact, it’s the best thing we can spend on them!
Our children feel valued and respected when we put aside what we’re working on and focus on what they’re saying, undistracted. Most parents have the talking part of a relationship down pat, but it’s really important to listen to your children when they’ve got something to say.
If we neglect to listen to the small stuff when they’re young, we won’t be the first ones they’ll turn to later about the big issues.
When they’re speaking, pay attention to their tone as well as their expressions and don’t interrupt with questions or advice. When they’re finished, then ask probing questions and allow them to explain themselves and their feelings even when you think they are misguided.
James 1:19 says, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” Only through listening can you really understand their concerns and ultimately help them.
Actively listening to what our kids say and responding in the moment makes a huge difference in connection!
5. Show Your Child Affection
Even for kids whose primary love language isn’t physical touch, affection is important. My son has never been “touchy feely” and is less so now that he’s 13.
Still, I make a point of giving him a kiss on the cheek in the morning when he comes into the kitchen for breakfast, and at night before he goes to bed. When he needs my help on an assignment or shows me something he’s playing or working on, I’ll gently lay a hand on his back.
These are just simple points of contact throughout the day that communicate I love him and want to be around him, without overdoing it.
Showing your children affection doesn’t just mean physical touch; it can involve things like expressing your feelings for them through personal notes, or sitting close as you read them a story.
6. Be Fair and Reasonable With Discipline
One of the best ways to do this is to be consistent. It’s extremely confusing and unfair to our kids when we allow a behavior to slide over and over, and then punish them for it on occasion.
Also, we have to be careful to treat our children the same rather than being harsher with one than another, even if one child appears to require more discipline. We shouldn’t correct or discipline our children in front of others either, because it could embarrass them.
In Ephesians 6, Scripture makes a big deal about provoking your children to anger or wrath. The Apostle Paul knew that anger in the home has the potential to allow bitterness to enter the hearts of mothers, fathers, and children.
There is nothing more powerful in ripping a family apart or even separating a person from God the Father than anger and bitterness.
And, I’m not talking about short-term anger like being upset when children spill drinks on nice furniture, or even when they miss a curfew or fail a test. I’m talking about the kind of anger that develops into rage or violence or grudges or bitterness. This is the kind of anger that children hold onto.
This kind is produced when we continually yell, shame, or punish a child harshly because of their misbehavior. We need to be careful that in correcting our children, we don’t tear them down with our words or tone of voice, or spanking out of just sheer frustration.
7. Don’t Be Too Proud To Apologize
If you have been snippy or angry with them, as soon as you realize it, go back and apologize. God talks about forgiveness not just because it releases the wrong-doer, but also because it releases the one that is wronged.
Sometimes the only way forward is to humble yourself and say sorry for your reactions.
In parenting you’re going to mess up. It’s easy to over-react, get frustrated, and jump to conclusions. You aren’t going to handle every discipline and circumstances with perfect consistency, justice, the right measure of grace, and wisdom.
Fortunately, kids are very forgiving and willing to accept our apologies. If however, we treat them wrong repeatedly and don’t make it right, it will cause them to harbor hurt and bitterness, and that, in turn, will close their hearts to us.
Allowing anger and resentment to rise up and develop into a breach in the relationship will ultimately make it impossible to reach, disciple or mentor your child.
8. Get Involved With What They Love
We tend to live by our own schedules, and fit our kids in around our interests and activities. Sometimes we may unintentionally push them towards things that we enjoy but they have no passion for, because of some unresolved desire from our childhoods.
Instead, we need to discover what our children are interested in and encourage them to pursue those. This is one benefit of actively listening when our children talk! If possible, we should find ways to engage in these activities with them.
If your son loves to cook or bake, sign the both of you up for a creative cooking class. If your daughter is into acting, join a local production together. Get involved in your kids’ hobbies, sports, the books they’re reading and the music they’re listening to.
9. Be Spontaneous and Fun
It’s easy as an adult to be hyper-focused on all the work that has to be done, the bills that have to be paid, etc. As a result, laughter and fun can get squeezed out. But for our kids, being care-free comes with the territory.
Let’s face it, no one wants to be around someone who is irritable and stressed most of the time. We can’t expect our children to want a relationship with us when we push them away with disapproval because of our mood or our stress.
Your kids will start to approach you cautiously if they sense you’re moody, or stop opening up to you. They may even wonder if it would be better to avoid you altogether. It’s easy to get snippy and easily frustrated if we aren’t careful.
Make it a goal to try to laugh and do something fun or silly with your kids every day. Laughing and having fun together forms a bond, and it releases stress! Children need a relatable mom that’s fun and joyful, who’s not afraid to let her hair down.
10. Pray For Your Child Daily
It can seem like a given, but I can honestly think of times where I felt other, more pressing needs to pray for and my children didn’t make the list that day. As moms, one of the greatest ways we can grow closer to our kids is actually through praying about their hearts.
We must pray that they will come to know God intimately so they experience His true direction in their lives, and go His way instead of their own. We should also pray for God to reveal what’s inside our kids’ hearts, and for both wisdom and discernment on how best to raise each one.
And we should ask each child how we can specifically pray for them, whether they’re having trouble with a friend, or nervous about an upcoming test. When your kids know you care enough to pray for the things that concern them, they feel secure and comforted.
Winning your child’s heart is a big undertaking, one that involves a certain amount of sacrifice. Being a huge part of my kids’ lives means spending less money and time on myself.
I have to refuse to be a selfish parent… even when others encourage me to “focus on self”.
Every bit of that sacrifice of time, finances, and energy is well worth it, though. If we want to influence our children for Christ, we need to have a relationship with them that’s founded on love, trust, and security.
We can teach, lecture, and proclaim to our kids what we believe, but those lessons are absolutely futile if we don’t pack them with love, concern, dedication, and sacrifice.
It is in laying down our life for them, serving them, listening to them, giving them our time, loving who God made them within their limitations, and calling them to holiness as we model integrity and worship in front of them, that will secure in them a desire to love God with all of their hearts.
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