How can we help our children cope with disappointment?

I asked my writers’ club to weigh in on this article. The club only has three members: my two nine-year-old granddaughters and me. We meet once a month over hot chocolate or coffee. I buy.

“Would you like to write an article with me?” I asked. “The article is about helping third-graders deal with disappointment. I’ll see that you are included in the byline.” The whole club cheered in approval.

We started by drawing pictures of disappointment. What appeared on our worksheets were drawings of Earth fractured into two pieces, a sobbing heart, and a skull and crossbones.

Then we made up some synonyms. The club introduced me to sorpair (sorrow+dispair), desanguish (despair and anguish), and dishappy.

We talked about things that cause feelings of disappointment. The list started with frivolous items (e.g., when McDonald’s ice cream machine doesn’t work). But it soon turned to real disappointments (when I ask God to help me to stop worrying but he doesn’t; when I make a promise and can’t keep it; when I work hard and realize that I did something wrong or did it for nothing; when someone is mean to me).

“So what’s the best way to handle disappointment?” I asked. Their answers were insightful. Take some quiet time, they advised: “Curl up on your bed and eat ice cream or doughnuts. I go to my room and think. Watching videos can be good.”

Then the advice shifted to involving others: “Finding someone to give you hugs and kisses works.” I was glad to hear, “Don’t give up; try again.” Best of all I rejoiced that my granddaughters counseled, “Read the Bible. Pray to God. Sing hymns.”

I had been mulling a motto in the days before the club met. Often when disappointment strikes kids it’s because they encounter one of life’s many unfairnesses. “When you are disappointed,” I asked, “how helpful is this saying, ‘Life is unfair but God is there’?”

One club member answered, “It doesn’t exactly help me, especially when I’m worried.” Bless her for her honesty. But she also penned on her worksheet, “1 Thessalonians 5:18” (“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”). Bless her once more.

The other club member wrote a poem, “When life hands you some sadness And you know you’re falling fast, Remember that on Judgment Day God will take us home at last.”

How can we help our children or grandchildren deal with disappointment? Invite them to talk about it. They may end up encouraging you through your own disappointments.

Special guest authors Ellie Lambrecht and Cadence Learman joined contributing author James Aderman for this article. 

Let your child feel disappointed

One of the great challenges we face as parents is watching our children suffer or struggle. It is easy to want to make everything comfortable for them. Disappointment is a part of this life on earth. We have expectations. When reality doesn’t match up to our expectations, the discrepancy is disappointment.

I think the very first thing that we must do is let our children feel disappointed. We live in a culture that believes everything should feel good. Disappointment is a bad feeling. Often as parents, seeing our children uncomfortable makes us uncomfortable. We say things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Or “Look at the bright side.” The problem with this is that they don’t learn to live with or in the disappointment. We tell them to change their disappointment.

Jesus provided a beautiful example of sitting in disappointment when he wept for Jerusalem. He was very disappointed. He sat in the disappointment and cried. His Father didn’t come to him and say, “It’s okay, Jesus. I’ll make it better. Don’t feel that way.” His Father, our heavenly Father, let him cry.

So how do I teach my children to deal with disappointment? The first thing I do is model what it is like to deal with disappointment. If I am disappointed because something didn’t go my way or someone hurt me, I tell them how I am feeling. I don’t want to hide it from them. I want them to see that I get hurt. I want them to see that I pray in the midst of it. I ask them to pray for their momma as I struggle.

As challenging as it is, don’t try to fix their disappointment. Talk through it. We talk about the expectations and the reality of the situation. Were our expectations too high? Did someone not meet our expectation? Is this an opportunity to show forgiveness? Even if the expectation was unrealistic, the feeling of disappointment is very real. Teach children to put words to their feelings. Let them hear you say you are disappointed. Have them say out loud that they are disappointed.

Finally, let them grieve the situation. Let them be sad or hurt. Invite our God into the hurt and sadness. Let the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do the true healing.

 

Dealing with disappointment

“Disappointed” might be too weak a word. When my daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age nine, we were devastated.

Although a simple medication put her in remission, and we celebrated—God answers prayer!—the disease flared, and we nosedived again. Thus began the cycle: FLARE, med, side effects, med for the side effects, remission, remission, FLARE . . . new med, new side effects, new med for the new side effects . . . all playing against a backdrop of endlessly beeping machines and carpeted waiting rooms.

As I reflect on these difficulties now, it’s easy to imagine that a well-meaning parent might unintentionally say things that twist God’s beautiful promises.

We might declare brusquely, “Well, God makes everything work out for good.” Although true, those words uttered too quickly, too formulaically, can be dismissive, even cruel. They can feel like a thoughtless pat on a dog’s head.

The same with, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That’s certainly true, but the wisdom is lost on a child who can’t see past her pain, who keeps hearing the echo of classmates snickering because her face is puffy with prednisone. The wisdom can be lost on a parent too. Many a night I pounded on God’s chest: Please. She’s just a child. Enough with the character building.

I asked my daughter if I’d said anything helpful to her in those early days and, lacking any confidence whatsoever, threw in: “Please say yes.”

She remembered praying together: “Let this medication work” and “Take away this stomachache before the softball game.”

She remembered me telling her that when others were unkind, it said more about them than about her. Usually some pain inside them caused them to project pain onto others.

She remembered hearing that God loved her and had a plan for her, but since we couldn’t read God’s mind, we couldn’t know for sure what it was. So she could simply focus on whatever he’d placed immediately in front of her. She could divide her life into those things she could act on and those beyond her control that she needed to surrender to him.

That’s what she remembers. What I remember is feeling utterly helpless much of the time. But we can’t protect our children from disappointment. We can’t walk their journeys for them. We can only accompany them in our shared vulnerability, be strong when we have to, rage and cry when we need to, and apply God’s promises like cool cloths on a fevered soul.

My daughter’s 25 now and in a prolonged remission. She sits in waiting rooms mostly by herself. She’s made the journey her own, and she’s also grown into the promises. She knows her strength is in Word, water, wine. She knows God answers prayer, but sometimes—often—the answer is no. She knows that peace is in surrender, not control. And I’m biased, but I think she’s also developed perseverance. And character. And hope.

And if she ever wonders, “Why would God allow this? Where is he in all this?” she knows the answer to that too. He’s right there in the thick of it. Jesus, her Friend and Brother—the one who wept at Lazarus’s funeral, the one whose heart went out to the widow of Nain—he sees her and sits next to her, arm around her shoulders, his sighs matching hers.

Teaching discernment in the digital age

It seems like yesterday when the Lord blessed my husband and me with our three sons, and we began the journey of parenthood in the digital age.

When our oldest was born in 1995, the Internet was brand new to everyone. Being a bit geeky, my husband and I explored tools and techniques for creating websites, which led us to bridging the miles between us and our family and friends, sharing each of our boys’ first-year baby milestones and photos via a website that we updated monthly.

Over time, as the boys grew, we continued to share monthly family news and photos using a “cutting-edge” blog platform to house our family website. Together with our sons, we’ve used the Internet to listen to family-friendly podcasts and free audio books, find geocaches and BreakoutEDU solutions, take care of our Webkinz pets, e-mail our favorite authors, learn to program, play games, create videos, design 3-D models, and so much more.

Now our boys are reaching adulthood, and we are fast approaching the empty-nest stage. As I reflect on the years of their childhood, I remember joys and challenges we encountered along the way in relation to technology. In this sinful world, it is impossible to keep our children 100 percent safe from the dangers the Internet invites into our homes. Here are some of the steps we took to guard their safety:

  • Engage with them—Before allowing our boys to visit a website, we tried it out ourselves or sought the opinions of others regarding it. (A great site for reviews of all types of children’s media is commonsensemedia.org.) As they used websites, we used them, too, guiding them along the way and explaining any areas of concern if they came up.
  • Help them create—We used the tools available on the Internet to excite our sons to use it for good and noble purposes. As they learned how to code video games, we encouraged them to expand the program’s capabilities. When their interest was piqued by podcasts, we started a weekly family podcast. Over the years we used our family blog to share the boys’ creative writing, stop-motion Lego movies, and Haiku poetry.
  • Block inappropriate content—Many software solutions for filtering inappropriate Internet content in the home are available. Something we’ve used for many years is OpenDNS, opendns.com/home-internet-security. The free Family Shield and Home plans include parental controls that protect every device in the home.

My husband and I did all of these things with an end goal in mind—giving our sons discerning hearts.

All too quickly our sons have grown up and ventured out into the world alone. Now they must rely on their own judgement regarding the appropriateness of Internet content, and now our prayer is that the lessons learned in their early years will stay with them.

For a comprehensive list of websites to help parents keep their children safe online, visit https://forwardinchrist.net/online-safety-resources.

Sallie Draper and her husband, Kevin, have three sons and live in New Ulm, Minn.

Guiding children as they use the Internet

How many parents would take their two-year-olds to the pool for the first time and allow them to jump into the deep end? None, I hope! Being able to swim in the deep end is a process that requires lessons, practice, and experience, all guided by loving parents who want their children to enjoy swimming safely.

Staying safe on the Internet is not much different. If we want our teens to know how to enjoy using it safely, we must start the process much earlier. This can be done in the light of God’s Word and his commands.

Internet safety is a wide net, but most parents identify several areas in which they wish to keep their children safe online.

  • They are concerned with the addictive potential of games.
  • They share concern over the stumbling upon of offensive sites, such as pornography, as the kids discover what’s out there. This is often connected with the idea of sexting, which occurs as early as middle school.
  • Finally, parents fear the online social sites that encourage kids to talk with others, whether on gaming sites or social media sites that encourage kids to follow and be followed by others. These sites raise the concern of meeting strangers online who may not be who they portray and the opportunity for online bullying.

Unfortunately, many of us ignore these things until a problem arises. Being proactive in approaching these subjects really helps. Start early.

As parents, if we treat technology as a gift of God while training children to be aware of the dark side on the Internet, we can pray that they develop their Christian faith to assist them in making good and responsible choices. One way we can do that is by talking freely about the evil that is in the world that is now manifested online and can be found one click away. We can discuss this during devotions and in conversations with our children from the time they are in grade school and beyond.

The old model of keeping the desktop computer in an area of the home where mom and dad are walking through and can be aware of computer activity may seem outdated since we now deal with smart phones, tablets, Chromebooks, and laptops. I think it is still reasonable to expect grade school and middle school kids to use their technology in a common area of the home. It is legitimate for a parent to be made aware of musical playlists so that when headphones are used, parents know what is being consumed. As kids grow and schoolwork requires technology, a quiet place may be desirable, but it should still be understood that when homework is done on the computer, that is all that is happening, and parents may come by to see how it is going. Parents need to be vigilant.

At a time determined by parents, all mobile technology can be unplugged and kept in a specified spot. For example, maybe all family devices get plugged in at a common location for the night. Enforce the rules as you talk about why they are good for the family.

Parents can also make rules regarding time limits for game playing and can talk openly about gaming choices and their possible effects on those who play them. Conversations about learning to discern should be ongoing. Social gaming sites, perhaps, should not be allowed until an age that a parent feels the child can make competent choices in this regard. Parents will need to model good online behavior and set the tone for what is acceptable in the home. It should be a family effort.

The creation of the Internet brings many good things to us, but the reality is that it has created a whole other level of parenting. Parents must include applications regarding the misuse of the Internet as they teach their children to discern right from wrong in all facets of life. For example, what is learned in the home as far as how to treat one another in God-pleasing ways can help children be aware of the inappropriateness of bullying online, as an extension of bullying face to face. The idea of sexting as a practice can be addressed as veering outside of what God has commanded us regarding how to keep our bodies chaste. This is an extension of pre-Internet conversations with children that now need to be brought into the scope of what sins are possible through technology. We ask God to keep us from temptation in all we do, including our use of technology.

Parents have always taught their children about “stranger danger.” This same conversation now must be expanded to teach children about the very real dangers of social media sites with followers. Talking on those sites, or in online chat areas, should be discouraged. Stories of online predators and the attempt to catch them are heard often on the news, and you can discuss these news items at family gathering times to drive this point home.

We are blessed to have God’s Word as our handbook for parenting, and it is up to us as parents to continue to nurture our children in that Word as we make applications from the technology that is so ubiquitous in our culture today. May he bless our prayful efforts!

For a comprehensive list of websites to help parents keep their children safe online, visit https://forwardinchrist.net/online-safety-resources.

Gail Potratz and her husband, Phil, have three adult children and eight grandchildren. Gail has served as a teacher and technology coordinator for more than 30 years.

Online safety resources

Safety Sites
Google
Google has a great collection of informational tips for individuals, students, teachers, and families for keeping people safe while online. Access by clicking the Digital Citizen button.
http://www.google.com/edu/tools-and-solutions/index.html#
https://www.google.com/safetycenter/ (Good one on this site – Protecting your family online)

Common Sense Media
You will need to create an account as a parent and/or teacher to be able to use the Digital Citizenship material in downloaded or e-book form. It is thorough and complete age appropriate Internet safety information. High quality material. As a teacher you can download an entire curriculum on Digital Citizenship. The individual lesson plans are excellent and full of constructivist ideas for teaching the topic.
https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
Specific to Internet Safety https://www.commonsensemedia.org/privacy-and-internet-safety

PTO today
This group produces material to help schools hold an Internet Safety Night at a PTO type setting. You must register your school to get the free kit, but it is free and the materials are very well done. Includes PR pieces, parent handouts, and many topics in the area of Internet Safety. Easy to download the free materials.
http://www.ptotoday.com/pen/

Pause Then Reflect
A blog that gives a great overview of the main ideas to remember to protect yourself online. Good basic information.

http://pausethenreflect.blogspot.com/2012/08/everyday-best-practices-to-stay-safe.html

GetNetWise
This website will be helpful to parents and families with the goal of internet safety for their families.
http://kids.getnetwise.org/

Homeland Security
Homeland Security has a program by which they provide resources to help families, teachers, and students stay safe. Their initiative is called Stop, Think, Connect, and it links to some downloadable resources to help educate parents at home, through a school group, etc.
http://www.dhs.gov/publication/stopthinkconnect-parent-and-educator-resources

Cyber Bullying Virus
This is a very creative video that portrays the evils of cyber bullying and its spread. Compares it to the spread of a physical virus.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5PZ_Bh-M6o

Welcome to the Web
An internet site with six areas to explore with students. Contains basic navigation information as well as internet safety practices. Good unit to to use in grades 4-6. It is written as a clue gathering game.
http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/welcome/start.htm

Langwitches Top Ten List for Educational Videos
Even though this is from 2007, the videos on internet protection/bullying themes are excellent. One seeks to point out the significance of your digital footprint and the danger when you post without thinking. Another illustrates how the internet allows people to say things to others that they would never think about saying face to face.
http://langwitches.org/blog/2007/12/26/top-ten-list-for-educational-video-clips/

Think B4U Respond
Google lesson on being safe while communicating online.
15 Resources for A Safer Internet Day: collection of great resources to teach about working together to make everyone safer online from Richard Bryne
http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/02/thinkb4u-web-safety-tutorials-from.html#.U6nI0_ldXTp

Facebook 101 for Schools
Cool Cat blogger, Vivki Davis, builds a terrific resource to use with kids and parents, as well as teachers, to promote safer use of Facebook by understanding with whom you are really sharing. Very well done.
http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/facebook-friending-101-for-schools.html?m=0

SafeMood
You Tube videos to follow-up the above post to help kids understand friending on Facebook and how to stay as safe as possible: Little Red Riding Mood – when you friend someone on Facebook, you invite them into your life, and other internet related issues – cartoon and fun version for middle school.
http://safemoods.com/

Fun hangman quiz
For follow up with young students talking about internet safety.
http://www.quia.com/hm/40647.html?AP_rand=115772178&playHTML=1

Digital Citizenship
Using Technology Appropriately
The nine elements of digital citizenship
http://digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html

Be a Digital Citizen
This is a great video that shows the wide range of areas involved in our technological world and why digital citizenship is important to practice. It demonstrates the far reaching nature of one’s digital footprint in less than 3 minutes.
http://youtu.be/FdEXijFXfD8

Teachthoughts
Definition of Digital Citizenship components – nice job of breaking down the categories and further defining them
http://www.teachthought.com/technology/the-definition-of-digital-citzenship/

Privacy Intro
It is a great video for students on what the digital footprint means and how they may already have one.
http://youtu.be/DinW62zlWcc

Digital footprints – Your New First Impression
This video shows how the digital footprint is being used in the workplace and by employers.
http://youtu.be/eZjmrJvL_eg

Digital citizenship guide from Edmodo
Join this group and get a nice little lesson on the topic with a descriptive and useful poster.
http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/09/a-digital-citizenship-guide-from-edmodo.html#.U6rNG_ldXTq

You and Your Property Online
Six Steps to Keeping Your Data Safe
The Geek Squad lists 6 basic steps which you will want to know as starting points and research further.
http://www.geeksquad.com/do-it-yourself/tech-tip/six-steps-to-keeping-your-data-safe.aspx

Ten Ways to Keep your Personal Data Safe from Online Snoopers
The term “web” for the internet is not so far off when we think of webs that are commonly used for catching prey. Beware of online predators looking for your information.
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/16/10-ways-keep-personal-data-safe

Google – Prevent Identity Theft
Keep your name safe online.
http://www.google.com/intl/us-en/goodtoknow/online-safety/identity-theft/

20 Ways to Keep your Identity Safe from Hackers
The Guardian gives some practical ways to guard our online presence.
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/may/12/20-ways-keep-internet-identity-safe

Creative Commons Licensing
How do you protect your created work online, whether images, photos, written work? Creative Commons (CC) is a way to help creators protect their property, but also allow usage to others in levels or to selected groups. Anyone can license their work this way, and it is free.
http://creativecommons.org/

Creative Commons Search Resource
To help find material free to use and reuse online
http://search.creativecommons.org/

Faith and Technology – Practically Speaking; Honoring on Another’s Work
This article by Rob Jacklin gives our rationale for wanting to be aware of copyright law and licensing and model the faithful use of this in our own personal and educational lives. He goes on to give practical information regarding the topic.
http://www.mtmproject.org/archives/210

Overview: Teaching Copyright
Unit all laid out on how to approach this in a classroom.
http://www.teachingcopyright.org/curriculum/hs

10 Resources for Teaching and Learning About Copyright & Fair Use by Dr. Bernard Bull
This blog post is rich in information that will assist in learning more and teaching more about the subject of copyright. What is fair use anyway? Find out.
http://etale.org/main/2014/03/17/10-resources-for-teaching-and-learning-about-copyright-fair-use/

Fair Use and How it Works for Images
Covers ground all teachers and professionals should be aware of to help them be honest in their use of images online.
http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/

These resources were compiled by Gail Potratz.

Being authentic about sin and grace

No effort is more worthwhile than raising our children to love and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And there is no other parenting task that makes us realize how much we need Jesus. Children learn primarily by example, and they’re always watching us. I never feel my sin so keenly as when I hear my ungracious words and sharp tone of voice mimicked from my children’s mouths. That is not what I wanted to teach them, but that is what they learned from me.

Showing children the right way to act is only half the battle. It’s just as important that we show them unwavering Christlike love when they fail, just as God shows us. To help our children understand this concept of law and gospel, we must be honest about our own sinfulness. One of the most meaningful examples of law and gospel we can show to our children is being willing to acknowledge our own faults when we sin against our children and ask them to forgive us.

But that hurts our pride. We don’t want to admit to our children when we’re wrong. We want them to think that we’re strong and unflappable and that we don’t make mistakes. But that’s not true. We’re sinners, just like they are. We need God’s grace and forgiveness every day of our lives, just like they do.

When we’re authentic with our children about our sinfulness and weakness and our need for a Savior, we give them a powerful lesson about what it means to live as a Christian.

Our children are sinners too, and we need to expect that they are going to sin—and often against us! When they do, we must be careful not to make matters worse by adding our own sin to the mix with responses that

• take their sin personally (“How could you do this to ME?”),

• overreact (“You’re grounded for life!”),

• heap excessive guilt on them (“Do you realize just how badly you behaved?”), and

• shame them (“You’re so stupid! What’s wrong with you?”).

We simply show them their sin, encourage repentance, guide them to better choices and actions, and assure them of their forgiveness. Younger children may not fully understand what’s happening in this process, and older children may not appreciate what the process involves, but the consistent example we set for them will be powerful.

But above all, we LOVE them—not just when they’re easy to love but especially when it’s difficult. Just as God loves us unconditionally, we reflect that same love to our children, not because they deserve it, but because “he first loved us.” Our children are our youngest brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are walking together along the narrow path to heaven. We want our children to know not only how much we love them but also how much God loves them.

When we’ve taught them that, we’ve taught them what’s most important.

Emily Gresens Strey and her husband, Johnold, have four children ranging in age from 2 to 13.

Using law and gospel in everyday situations

What a privilege it is for us as parents to use God’s law and gospel with our kids. It’s a blessing that the Holy Spirit has called us to faith and given us the motivation to delight in God’s law and look for ways to demonstrate our love and thanks. Law versus gospel . . . what a balance as we parent our children at any age!

I have to admit that my natural tendency is a more law-based parenting approach. I thought I’d never use the line, “Because I’m your father and I said so,” but I have. Whenever I get to that point in a conversation with one of my kids, I stop and ask myself if what I am requiring is because of my own selfish desire to have things a certain way or if I am really providing a way for my kids to demonstrate their thankfulness for Christ.

Here’s an example. As a child, I grew up eating at the kitchen table with my family for every meal. When my kids wanted to eat in the family room together, I had a litany of responses.

“No. We eat at the kitchen table because that’s where people eat.”

“No, we’ll spill and stain the carpet.”

Then after these and other responses didn’t seem to satisfy anyone, I pulled out, “Because I’m your father and I said so”—as if that response instantly created satisfaction. It was more like forced obedience.

Obeying parents is a great way for children to show their love for God. I have also found that too many moments like this can frustrate kids, and their delight in the law can fade.

Let’s face it. Eating at the kitchen table is really my own desire to do things the way I did in the past. Can we eat together in the family room? Yes, of course—and we now do. Sometimes we even eat outside on the patio. Where we eat is no longer the requirement, but my kids understand that what I appreciate is the time together. Being together is a way they can demonstrate their love for me and for God. The rule itself is gone, but their understanding of the motivation behind the rule is what brings me joy.

My natural law-way-of-thinking can easily show itself in my parenting. Teaching responsibility quickly can become another selfish rule on my part and cloud the opportunity for gospel-motivated behavior.

As a parent of two awesome kids, I rely on the example of how my parents balanced the law and gospel with me when I was a child. You may recall a previous article when I shared a story from my childhood about driving our new garden tractor into a clothes pole. The grace-filled reaction of my father was imprinted on me. I recently had the opportunity to pay that forward.

My 14-year-old daughter asked if she could pull our car into the garage. It was literally only 15 feet. What could go wrong in 15 feet?

After a complete lesson on driving safety and the rules of “right pedal is go; left pedal is stop,” she sat in the driver’s seat and slowly moved the car forward. Just at the point where the pedal on the left should be used, the pedal on the right was selected instead. Thankfully she only hit the gas slightly, and the car managed to stop after crushing our garbage cans against the front wall.

My first inclination was to get angry. I just told her which pedals to use! However, I knew she was scared. I knew she felt bad. What she needed right then was not a healthy dose of the law and a stern reaction from her dad. It was a mistake; it was not intentional; she was sorry. My reaction was the same as my dad’s reaction when I was her age—nothing but encouragement. The law part of my parenting was done already. Now it was time for the gospel.

Are the muddy boot prints tracked along the kitchen floor an accidental act of a child on her way to an emergency bathroom trip? Or are they an intentional expression of disobedience that expresses an attitude that she doesn’t care about the rules in the house? Each has its own opportunity for the parent to emphasize the law in one case or the gospel in another.

Here’s my personal formula for balance:

1. Remember my natural tendency. I know I lean more heavily on the law, and I know I don’t always put the best construction on an act. Because I know this about myself, I hit my STOP button so I don’t get angry right away.

2. Communicate. After I pause, it’s time to find the facts. It’s time to communicate with my child and find out what happened.

3. Law. Is the particular situation in need of a more law-focused approach? Reinforce the rule? Time for a consequence? Do I need to emphasize the law to have a better appreciation of the next step?

4. Gospel. Is the particular situation prime for a grace response? Perhaps the child already knows she is wrong and already knows consequences will be coming, but she just needs to know you still love her and is forgiven because Christ forgave us.

5. Repent. The last step is to ask God for forgiveness when I skip one of the other steps above and blow it! When I miss the chance God gives me to demonstrate law and gospel in my parenting, I remember the undeserved act of love he showed me by sending his Son to satisfy the requirements of the law for me and by giving me the free and perfect gift of grace.

Let’s delight in our opportunity as parents to demonstrate our love for God by using the law and gospel as we handle everyday situations in our home.

We are helping our children understand the need for their Savior and bringing them the assurance of their salvation and the knowledge that they are loved by us and their heavenly Father.

Shaping responsible behavior takes time

Shaping responsible, Christ-like behavior in children takes time.

Somehow my father added several hours to his already busy day to drive me around to selected classmates’ homes. The trips were made so I could render apologies to them and their parents. I had shared something inappropriate with several students and been caught. Part of making the situation right involved my dad giving up his valuable time to make sure I followed through on my tour of atonement. Later that night I gave the eighth-grade valedictory speech at my grade school. I’m pretty sure I had a red face as I shared “The value of a Christian education.”

This is only one example of how my parents were tasked with trying to raise children who would behave responsibly. There were five of us, but I’m pretty sure I gave them the most practice.

No matter how hectic the pace of their daily lives, they not only addressed irresponsible behavior but gave us opportunities to foster responsibility. There was an assumption that we were competent beyond our own expectations—and most of the time we lived up to them.

Take three city buses to get to school? You can do it! And we did.

Go to college and pay for it yourself? Sure, why not?

Travel abroad on your own dime and come home in one piece? Piece of cake!

Shaping responsible behavior takes the kind of faith that realizes our children are just on loan to us from their true Father.

My own children were tasked with daily chores that were part of their preparation for real life. Self-esteem starts with knowing you are a child of God, and conquering skills is an important addition.

Responsible behavior grows when responsibility is given to a child. In my years in the classroom I observed well-meaning parents cripple their children’s growth by assuming responsibilities that could have been given to their children. I was reminded of this myself when I was about to pick up my grandchild’s breakfast dish. My son said kindly, “Never do for a toddler what a toddler can do for herself.”

Follow-through on responsibilities is important. Very early on our children knew that bringing needed books home from school was their responsibility. The first time our daughter forgot a book she knew that even though we lived next door and had a key to the school, we weren’t going to go and get that book for her. It was a hard pill for all of us to swallow but one that would help achieve the desired effect.

At one of the Lutheran schools in which I taught, a very basic lunch was provided for children who forgot theirs. We knew something about the parents when we saw a child pick up that unglamorous lunch without a request to call home. And we saw the growth in responsible behavior as that same child remembered to bring his own lunch in the future.

The motivation for this never-ending job of raising responsible children is simple, powerful, and comes with a promise. Children in our care are a gift from God, and they actually come with instructions: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

“Response-able” kids

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14).

My mom will laugh when she sees that I’m writing an article on parenting responsible kids. I don’t think a single school day went by when I could find both of my shoes before mom was in the car backing out of the driveway. I wasn’t known as a very responsible kid in the traditional sense of the word. She used to joke that if my head weren’t attached I would probably lose it. And she was probably right.

But I once heard that being responsible really means that one is able to respond. You might think of it as being spelled response-able. I like this definition. This is, after all, what I really want for my kids. I don’t just want them to know where their shoes are, and, someday, where their keys and wallets are (though it would be nice if they were more responsible than I was . . . okay . . . am). But what I really want for them is to be able to respond to situations they find themselves in throughout their lives in a God-pleasing way.

I want my kids to be able to respond to God’s law and own up to their sin and their mistakes when the mirror of the law exposes them for the sinners that they are. I want them to be able to respond with genuine contrition and repentance. And I think that ability is fostered the more they come to know and believe and appreciate the gospel. They can own up to their sin knowing that Jesus will forgive it and erase it every time.

I want my kids to be able to respond to the consequences of their actions. I want them to know that God isn’t punishing them for their sin—he already punished Jesus in their place. But I want them to know that God (and sometimes their mom and I) allow or send such consequences to teach them to make a better choice next time they are faced with similar temptations.

But most of all I want my kids to be able to respond to the gospel as they rejoice in the full and free forgiveness that is theirs through Christ. He offered his life for them and then rose up again in victory for them and for the world. I want them to be able to respond to that gospel victory by letting it fill their hearts and minds with peace as they put their trust in Jesus more and more. No matter what the situation in which they find themselves, I want them to be able to respond by living lives that are pleasing to him in their attitudes and in their actions, in the way they treat others, and in the way they look to serve those around them.

To me, this is the kind of responsibility I really want for my kids—even if they can’t find their shoes or leave their backpack at school or leave a coat out in the rain. This kind of responsibility will last—not just for a lifetime but for eternity.

What can I do to foster such responsibility in my kids? I can model it and be responsible myself as I respond to the law and gospel in the way God desires. I’ll make both a part of my life every day and strive to be more and more responsible to God’s Word. Finally, I’ll pray that God works this responsibility in me and in my kids, because neither can happen without him. With his help and blessing, our family will be responsible in all that we do.