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How to Correct My Child's Attitude
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Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.
Hello, friends, and welcome to the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can be equipped to get the kids God has placed in your care, carefully evaluating every idea they encountered so that they can understand the truth of the Christian worldview. I'm Elizabeth Urbanowicz your host, and I'm so excited for today's episode.
The question we're going to dive into today is, how do you talk to children about God without being overbearing? Sometimes my five and seven year old will roll their eyes if I want to stop and pray with them before going somewhere. I feel like they get annoyed and think I'm pushing Jesus on situations. Now, this is such a great question because we know that there are so many things that we can do with the kids that God has placed in our care, and a lot of times the kids might not enjoy these things.
The first thing that I would encourage anybody who's in this situation to do is to try to discern why this is happening. Think of it kind of like a medical symptom. Anytime we have some symptom of something that's going on in our bodies, that symptom is pointing to a problem within. And if we want to know how to properly treat that symptom, we have to know what is the root cause of that, so that we can then treat the root cause, which will then help the symptom to go away. So, that's the first thing that I would recommend. Try to discern why this is happening.
And so here's a couple things to think through. First, are you presenting them with prayer and scripture reading and other activities that we're called to do in scripture in a way that's developmentally appropriate? Especially when I think of a five and a seven year old. If this question said, "My nine and 11 year old are rolling their eyes when I want to do that," that kind of attitude, even though it's not appropriate and it's something that we need to address, that type of attitude is a little bit more developmentally appropriate for ages nine on up, when we're talking about kids ages five and seven, rolling their eyes for prayer is not something that's really typical at that age. We want to think, "Okay, is what we're doing developmentally appropriate?"
Because if we're stopping and we're praying for 10 minutes out loud with them, a child's attention span on average is one minute for every year of their life. So, we can expect a five year old to be able to sustain attention for five minutes. We can expect a seven year old to sustain attention for seven minutes. So, if we're doing something that's really long and outside of that timeframe, then that's not developmentally appropriate. Also, we need to think through, okay, are we involving them in what we're doing? Because if we're doing all of the praying, or we're doing all of the scripture reading, or we're doing all of the talking, we're not actually involving them in this activity.
Especially when we're talking about little guys, we need to make sure that their bodies are involved. That we're intentional about when we pray, "Okay, let's fold our hands and close our eyes." There is nothing special about that. The Bible does not command us to fold our hands and to close our eyes. Why do we do that with little kids? Because it gets their bodies involved, folding their hands as a symbol of, "Okay, I'm not doing anything else with my hands right now that's going to distract me." Why do we encourage them to close their eyes? So that way we're not distracted by anything else that's going on around us? And that's something we can even explain to our little ones. We want to make sure that we're getting their bodies involved, that we're involving them in whatever activity we're going through, and that we're not doing it for a timeframe that isn't appropriate.
Now, when we think about the attention span of children, this is something that, especially in today's time and culture, we need to actually intentionally cultivate in our children, because think about screens and think about all that's going on. When a child watches a YouTube video, or even if they're just watching something like Sesame Street, everything designed for children is designed to switch frames every 10 to 30 seconds. So they're constantly getting new stimuli every 10 to 30 seconds. Think about how different this is than the old PBS show, Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers would speak slowly and calmly, and he would look in the camera, and he would have segments that went for way longer than 30 seconds, because what was he seeking to do? He was seeking to engage a child where they're at, through building relationship and getting them to stop and think. Mr. Rogers was not trying to entertain, he was trying to engage and then empower through different skills.
And so just with everything our kids are exposed to today, the people designing these shows are not thinking what's best for the child. They're thinking, "What are we going to need to do to get these dopamine hits so that the child wants to come back?" So if your child is exposed to screens when they're seven or under for more than 20 to 30 minutes a day, there's a lot of rewiring that's going to need to be done in your child's mind. So, you're going to need to build from the ground up this sustained attention span, because a five year child should be able to sit quietly and engage with something for five minutes, and I don't mean a screen, I mean a book or a conversation, or a game, or a toy. And same with a seven year old. They should be able to engage for seven minutes.
Now, if our kids are exposed to a lot of screens, this is going to take a lot of even chemical rewiring in the brain because they're going to be addicted to that dopamine, so what I recommend is just starting out with small steps. If your child does not have a very long attention span, if it's not even half of his or her age, start out with very small steps and say, "Okay, we're going to read a book today," or we're going to do coloring or some other activity that's kind of outside of the norm and say, "We're going to see, can we do this activity? Can we listen to this book for one minute? Okay, one minute."
And set your expectations. "Okay, when mommy or daddy, or auntie, or teacher," whoever it is, "reads this book, I expect your eyes to be on the picture. I expect your lips to be zipped. I expect your ears to be listening, and I expect your hands to be still." If that's too much for one time, you can just start with lip zipped and eyes focused. And then say, "Okay, do you think we can do this for a minute? I think we can." And set the timer for a minute and start reading. And then the minute your child does not meet the expectation, the minute your child stops looking at the book and looks away or starts talking, say, "Oh man, we have to stop the timer. You know what? We made it for 40 seconds. That was really close, but we didn't make it to a minute. What do you think? Can we try again? Can we try again and make it to a minute?" And make it like a game, and then every day just increase that time by 30 seconds?
I used to do this all the time when I was a teacher in school, because I needed my students to be able to sustain their reading for a while, because in third grade, there's a lot more reading. I needed my students to be able to read silently and to be able to focus on the book for at least 15 minutes. But some of them were used to not paying attention to anything. So, I would start off just with that one minute, and I would establish the expectations. "Okay, I expect you to have your eyes on your book to be focused on that, not to be looking around the classroom, not to be talking, not to be moving around for one minute, okay? And I'd set the timer and I'd have them go, and then I would just keep my eyes in the classroom, and the minute somebody took their eyes off of their book or started fidgeting, I would ring some bells and say, "Oh, we were so close. We made it 25 seconds. Oh, we didn't make it to our minute. What do you think? Can we try it again?"
And we tried it, every day we would increase it by a minute until eventually we'd get to 15 minutes. And then as the school year went on, we'd extend that until eventually they could read silently and sustain their focus for 30 minutes. And so this is just something that we have to be very intentional with, because something like prayer or Bible reading, it takes sustained attention. And if our kids can't focus on anything for more than 30 seconds, they're not going to be able to quiet their hearts and their minds before the Lord and communicate with him and read his word.
Second thing to think through is, if your kids are rolling their eyes when you're seeking to pray with them, I'm sure that this is not the only situation in which they're rolling their eyes or frustrated with something that you're doing, so my next question would be, do you intentionally seek to guide and correct their attitude throughout the day? Because one of the most difficult things in parenting, or in teaching, or just leading children in general, is being consistent with expectations and intentional with correction and discipline. It's so much easier to just sweep things under the rug and to wait until they've piled up so high and then explode out of anger. But what we need to do is we need to be consistent.
What is the expectation when our child or the children that God has placed in our care do not meet that expectation? How are we lovingly and compassionately redirecting them and correcting them? It takes a lot of work, but it's ultimately for their good. That our children should not be walking around rolling their eyes and breathing in deeply every time we ask them to do something that they don't want to do, because doing things that we don't feel like doing is a really important part of life. Our culture is going to constantly tell our kids, "Your heart, your feelings are always going to guide you in the right direction," where scripture teaches just the opposite. That our feelings, yes, they do come as part of being created in God's image, but this side post the fall, they often do not point us towards truth.
Think about yourself. How often do you not feel like reading scripture, or feel like praying? I know in my own life, the majority of the time, I don't feel like doing those things, because my heart is deceitful, and I'm constantly having to ask the Holy Spirit to reorient it, to draw my affections towards God, because they're not naturally pointed in that direction. So, make sure that we're being consistent in correcting and disciplining our children so that they know that these responses, rolling their eyes, or giving a real huffy breath, that is not what God's good design is. That does not honor him.
If you're wanting more information on this topic, I highly recommend you check out the Parenting series by Paul David Tripp called Getting to the Heart of Parenting. He does a great job of just walking through systematically how do we ask the kids that God has placed in our care good questions, to show them that the root of the matter is in their heart, and that's constantly pointing towards the need for God's grace. Then my final recommendation just would be treat this as you would any other healthy habit in your child's life. It's tempting with something like prayer or Bible reading. If our kids don't enjoy it, or if they have a bad attitude to just say, "Oh, we'll wait,"
But would you do that with healthy eating? Would you do that with sleep? Would you do that with exercise? If your child didn't like to eat vegetables, would you say, "Well, I guess you know, it's too early. We'll wait until he's a teenager." No. You know that eating vegetables is important, so you might try to modify the vegetables that you include in his diet, or you might try to do things like adding a little bit of salt or adding a little bit of honey to make it more palatable. But you're not going to say, "Oh, well, he doesn't need to eat vegetables." And so it's the same thing with prayer and scripture reading. You may consider, is there a better time during the day to do this? Is there a more developmentally appropriate way to do this? But you're not going to cut it out simply because your child doesn't enjoy it.
The same with sleep. If your child whines when she has to go to bed at 7:30 every night, you might discipline her for that whining, but you're not going to say, "Oh, you know what? It's fine. You can stay up till 9:00 PM," because as a five year old, your child needs at least 10 hours of sleep each night. And 12 is much better at that developmental stage. And same with exercise, we're not going to let our kids sit on the sofa all day and never get up and move, because we know that those things are important for them. And so it's the same thing with coming to the living water and the bread of life. We're not going to say, "Oh, well, you know what? It's just not the right time." No. We're going to continually bring our kids before the throne of grace and have them dive into God's word, even if it's not what they most want to do.
And as with anything, I would encourage you just to pray, pray, pray. Pray for your children. Pray that God would soften their hearts, pray that God would convict them of their sin, and show them of their need for a savior. Pray for yourself that God would give you wisdom in how to continue to guide these children that He's placed in your care towards the truth and the goodness, and the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, that's all for our episode today, but as always, as you leave this time, may God continue to bless you richly as you intentionally seek to disciple the children that he has placed in your care. I'll see you next time.
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