5 Steps to Helping Your Kids Prevent Their Own Sinful Behavior

I think I spend about 85% of my waking hours asking my kids to stay in their seats at meal time. OK, that’s obviously not possible, but it accurately reflects the disproportionate annoyance I feel in dealing with the matter.

I recently reminded Alexa to stay seated, and told her that if she got up again, I was going to strap her into her booster seat. She gained the freedom of sitting in her seat without the straps recently, so losing that freedom is now a very dire consequence.

I left the dining room to prepare the rest of lunch. When I returned, Alexa had strapped herself into her seat.

“Alexa! You don’t have to strap yourself in. I was just saying that if you get down again, mommy will have to do that.”

She explained, “I strapped myself in because I wanted to get down again.”

What an insight from a two-year-old! She recognized she still had the desire to do something bad, so she took steps to prevent herself from the behavior. If only we all had such foresight!

We spend an enormous amount of time working to shape our kids’ hearts to desire a Christ-like life. But our Godly desires will never be perfected because we are sinful by nature. Alexa’s statement was a reminder to me that shaping our desires is only half of the battle. We also need to take precautions against behavior that comes from the sinful desires that inevitably remain in our heart.

We need to teach our kids that we will never be perfect, but that we can have a plan for managing our imperfections. I’ve been very intentional in working with Kenna on the issue of managing her frustration-induced anger lately. We’ve made a lot of progress in a short time! Here are five steps that have been working for us.

1. Get your child’s permission to address the issue together.

For this to be effective, your child has to agree that the issue is 1) indeed a problem, 2) something they want to change, and 3) something they want your help on. Be sure to have the conversation when you’re not in the middle of dealing with the issue.

Here’s roughly what I said to Kenna: “Honey, it seems you’ve been getting very frustrated lately, and then you end up so mad you’re screaming. Do you think that is how God wants us to act?” She said no. I asked her, “Do you want mommy to help you work on not doing that anymore?” She said yes.

Of course my job as a parent is to help her whether she agrees to it or not. But explicitly asking for permission takes away defensiveness and creates a feeling we are working together.

2.    Work with your child to identify triggers of the sinful behavior.

Help your child make a list of the situations – “triggers” – that most frequently lead to the behavior.

For Kenna, a major trigger is when she is unable to do something by herself. When she gets to a point where she realizes she’ll have to have help, she literally screams in anger because she desires independence so strongly.

3.    Eliminate the triggers or make an action plan.

Some triggers can be eliminated completely. Kenna has a couple of toys that are triggers. We agreed to put those toys away for a few weeks. Other triggers – like not being able to do things entirely by herself – are just part of life. For those, you need an action plan: what will you do when the situation arises but before you behave sinfully?

We discussed several things that will always require an adult’s help right now – for example, writing and brushing her teeth. We agreed that she will always ask for help on those things, but she can still try them on her own at first. Knowing in advance that she won’t complete these tasks on her own has made an amazing difference! She tries for a while and then simply asks for help.

4.    Explain your planned involvement.

Once you have your action plan, tell your child specifically how you will be helping when you see the situation arise. I told Kenna that I would remind her of what we talked about if I saw her frustration level rising too quickly before asking for help.

5.    Debrief.

Whether your action plan worked or didn’t work, have a talk after the trigger next arises. Kenna’s been asking for help much more quickly and nicely, and I always acknowledge that in light of our “plan.” The times when she ended up yelling, we talked about why and what we can do better next time…together.

What do you think of getting your child’s “permission” to help them? Have you tried to work with your kids on identifying triggers of sinful behavior before? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

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