Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shepherding A Child's Heart

Last night we joined a small group at our church doing a study on the book "Shepherding A Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp. Actually, the group is doing the video series, but it covers the same information in the book. =D

A few years ago Leif and I started doing this study in a Sunday School class at E-Free, so we have the book and the workbook. At that time, though, we didn't actually have kids (nor were we even expecting), we were just trying to prepare ourselves in the event that we did someday have children. After about 3 weeks of the class, though, we realized that it was weird to be the only couple in a class of about 30 who didn't have kids, and our answers to the questions were all hypothetical instead of based on actual situations in our home. So... we quit the class and decided to wait until we did have kids to resume the study.

And here we are several years later, with a 2 1/2 year old whose parents could use a little more perspective and guidance in making sure we are raising her right!

Last night we talked about shaping influences and Godward orientation. One of the first things that struck me was just how STABLE an environment I grew up in. I lived in exactly one place before I moved into the dorm at college. And that dorm was 7 miles from the house I grew up in. My dad has always had the same job, from the time I was born to the present. My mom pretty much always taught at the school I attended, from the time my brother went to school until I graduated from high school. Security, stability. I'm pretty thankful they provided that for me.

We talked about how our priorities come across to our children and how they know what our priorities are. Leif and I started thinking about the things Eliana hears most out of our mouths. We are constantly instructing her in a few areas, and I'm guessing that those instructions are a pretty good representation of the things that are important to us...


We have made a point to try to teach her to clean up after herself, to know that everything has a place and should return to its place when you are finished with it. This is a lesson that I personally struggle with. I tend to get distracted and leave projects unfinished and, therefore, not returned to their home. But Leif has been working with Ellie on it, as have I, and hopefully she will have a better time of it as an adult than I do. =D When we come into the house, she knows where to put her boots and coat. When she changes clothes, she knows to put the dirty clothes in the laundry basket. When she makes a mess at the table, she knows to get a towel and clean it up (even if she doesn't do a perfect job), and we are working on teaching her to put her plate and cup in the sink when she is done eating.

Education is pretty important to both of us, and I think that gets passed on to Eliana. Add to that the fact that she picks things up quickly even when we are not working with her and we end up spending time working on education even when we aren't purposing to do so. It's just part of our interaction with her. She LOVES letters and numbers and words, so a lot of what we talk to her about includes letters and numbers. Leif actually sits down and plays educational games like Starfall with her, where my instruction comes mostly in the form of art. We do a lot of things with colors and shapes and different art projects. She is content to sit and color for 45 minutes, and then move to painting for 45 minutes, etc. She could do art for half a day if I kept the projects flowing! And, of course, I get to do art when she is doing art, so it's a win-win! I set up a little corner of the craft room just for her and we go down there and play for hours on end sometimes. =D

We have always wanted to have a polite child. I don't know why it is so important to both of us, but it is. So from the time she was very young we have worked on politeness with Eliana. It is not just about the words that are said, but the attitude with which they are said. Ellie is two, and that means we are getting a LOT of whining and fit-throwing. So we have been trying very hard to make sure that when she whines or throws a fit she does NOT get whatever it is that she wanted. And we ask her how she would like to ask for ___________ (whatever it is she wanted). Typically now, when we ask how she'd like to ask, her entire demeanor changes and she goes from irritating, whiny girl to a girl with a sweet little voice that says, "I would like ___________ please, Mommy." It's actually kind of funny to watch, but I hope she keeps up her understanding that polite is not just the words, it is the attitude as well.

Stewardship is pretty important to me. I'd say it's pretty important to Leif, too. We try to impart to Ellie the value of taking care of her things. We try to teach her not to make a mess of her clothes (being careful when she eats and drinks, for example) and to play nicely with her toys. This is a work in progress and probably always will be, especially as she learns to be a good steward of her time and her body. It's a lesson I am constantly trying to learn myself. But one area that she probably sees more than others right now is being a good steward of our energy (and ultimately, of our money, though she doesn't understand that part yet). She is learning to turn off the lights when she leaves the room, and to make sure the TV is turned off when she's finished watching it. Often, when we're getting ready to leave, she will say, "I need to go turn off the lights!" and will run downstairs to turn off the TV and lights if we have forgotten. I am hoping that if she learns to be a good steward of the little things, she will also learn to be a good steward of the big things.

I remember when Ellie was very little Leif said that he wanted our children to have attitudes of thankfulness. Thankfulness is more important, I think, even than politeness. Those with thankful hearts understand that what they have is a gift, and they have a right perspective towards it. If they are thankful for what they have, they will be better stewards of it. They will take better care of it, and their thankfulness towards the givers will result in politeness. I think a thankful heart is probably one of the most important things we can model for our daughter, and yet I tend to take things for granted. We are trying to teach Eliana how to accept compliments gracefully. When someone says they like her shirt, we are trying to teach her that the appropriate response is to say, "Thank you!" When someone shares a toy with her, the approprate response is to say, "Thank you!" and then demonstrate that thankfulness by playing nicely with the toy and, in turn, sharing it with others or giving it back after her turn is complete.

I often think that imparting these ideas to a toddler is difficult. I think, though, that it is more difficult to grasp them myself and put them into action. I want to be a perfect example for my daughter, and yet I know that I cannot be. I am a sinful human, and that means that I will mess up. Thankfully, though, there IS a perfect example I can point her to. And I can demonstrate for her the appropriate response when I do mess up. And I can demonstrate the appropriate response when she messes up. And that brings us to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is something we worked a lot on last year. I think we've slacked off in this area lately and I need to get back on track with it. I have not slacked off in forgiving Eliana, but I have slacked off in explaining the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. We used to have a routine... She would disobey and then be sent to timeout. Once her timeout was over, we would come together and talk. She would explain why she was sent to timeout; what it was she had done to deserve the punishment. Then she would look me in the eyes (this part often took a while, but was important because she was content to give me a flippant, "Sorry" without meaning unless she was looking in my eyes) and tell me she was sorry. I would tell her that I forgive her and that I love her, and we would share a hug. I would explain that the hug was part of the reconciliation (and yes, I did use the word reconciliation with my toddler!) and that we were okay now and she could go and play, but not to ________ (whatever the offense was) any more. I have become lax in the follow up after discipline lately, and I think that has caused her to lose some of the understanding of the whole process. But I think forgiveness is one of the most important things to impart, because she needs to understand it. She needs to understand forgiveness in order to really understand a relationship with God. She needs to understand forgiveness in order to have healthy relationships with people. And she needs to understand forgiveness in order to grow as a person, to forgive herself for the mistakes she has made after she has confessed them and been forgiven by God. Forgiveness, like politeness and thankfulness, is not about the words, but the attitude behind them.

So... over the next 13 weeks, we will be working on learning how to shepherd our daughter's heart. I have a feeling, though, that it means we will be being shepherded ourselves, as we examine our own hearts, and how they are impacting the way we raise our daughter. The series is a video series, and there is no weekly homework (for which I am thankful! I am good at mulling over lessons during the week, but not so good at sitting down and filling out workbooks!) but I might do some reading and question answering in the book and workbook on my own.

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