Reaching a child’s heart is vital for awakening his conscience and morally training him to desire to make good choices, but structure also has a part to play in training the heart. This is a true story, and a new parenting lesson, of how to help a person understand the truths behind your teachings.
“Porter, I need you do go clean the main bathroom. Okay?” I said one afternoon to my 13-year-old son.
Now that my baby is 13, we do chores a bit differently than we used to. In years past we had chore systems for our family. Sometimes we listed daily tasks for each child, and sometimes each child had a weekly stewardship. After years of that kind of work, they are now self-governed enough to just do what needs to be done when it needs to be done most of the time. Sometimes they see it and do it, and sometimes I see it and give instructions. All the children know how to follow instructions and know when something needs to be cleaned or put away. They still have daily responsibilities. Additionally, they also know that no matter what it is, no matter when it’s said, they need to be ready to calmly and willingly say, “Okay” and jump into action for a household task when a parent gives an instruction. Sometimes the instruction is a full day of yard work. Some days the instructions are simple things like tidying up a room or unloading dishes.
On this particular day, my son said, “Okay” and walked off to clean the bathroom — just as he was instructed.
Part of following instructions is checking back, or reporting, to the person who gave the instruction.
In no time, literally a matter of a couple of minutes, my son was out of the bathroom and wandering around the house. He didn’t report back, and I was sure he didn’t do the chore correctly. There was no way the bathroom could be correctly cleaned in that time.
Porter had done a dishonest chore. Like many children, he had determined that he could probably get away with doing the least amount of work possible and still say he had done the task. But, in his heart, he knew he didn’t do it right, and he didn’t even think to do his usual check back.
At our home, when someone doesn’t do an honest chore I do a calm, consistent correction and they earn our pre-determined negative consequence for dishonesty — which is 30 minutes of work.
Porter had no problem with accepting his consequence. He knows that his actions and his consequences are his and that he’s responsible for his actions. But, even though he was totally fine with the structure and taking responsibility, and even though my heart was calm and loving during the interaction, I could tell that he would try slipping by again from time to time — if he thought he wouldn’t get caught. I had to make sure his heart learned the lesson it needed to become fully honest.
Touching His Heart
After Porter accepted his consequence I called him to me.
I was standing at the sink doing dishes when he arrived. “Yes, mom?” he asked as he stood beside me.
I looked into his eyes and into his heart and felt his goodness. To touch the right part of the heart, I know I have to feel it first. Each person has a part of his heart that wants to be good. Everyone wants to know they’re a good person, and have turned out well. That’s the part that will always hear the truth when it’s whispered to the person.
I say “whispered” because instinctively, when I feel this part of the person, I notice my voice becomes more soft than ever. I feel a reverence and love for that person that is deeper than usual. So, when I’m reaching toward that truth part of their heart I usually speak softly; almost in a whisper. And, I usually speak slowly.
Lectures don’t do any good when a heart needs to be touched. It’s always better to say less words, but choose them carefully. I actually choose them spiritually. I always enlist God’s help. He is the Father of all goodness. His truth is what the child really needs to have a change of heart, so I need the words He would say.
I looked deeply into my son’s heart and said:
“Porter, a few minutes ago, when you were instructed to clean the bathroom, you did the least amount of work possible and then hoped no one would check up on your work or notice you hadn’t really done the chore…”
He looked at me with a look that showed me he knew I understood his thoughts.
“…You did not do the right thing. It’s wrong to slip by in your work. Doing a chore isn’t really about cleaning a bathroom. It’s about practicing doing good work. When you know how to do good work, you will be happy and successful in life. Go do the chore again. But, this time use it as practice for all the future work you will do as a man.”
If I could have had a photo of the face he had at that moment, I would have framed it. It was so honest, so brave, so penitent, and so loving. My 13-year-old looked into my heart and said, “Okay, mom.” But, this time his “Okay” was filled with a deeper understanding of who he was, who he was becoming, who I was and how much we each loved and appreciated each other.
His heart learned a lifetime lesson that day.
Now, whenever Porter receives a standard correction for not following an instruction (because he isn’t perfect), then he will also remember the feeling he had during our short, heart-felt lesson the day he didn’t do his best work on the bathroom. This one lesson will keep on teaching him each time he’s corrected because his heart felt the truth that day. He learned a principle for his life: good work is part of becoming a good man.
I will give Porter heart lessons like this for other actions — or inactions — as well. On rare occasion, I may even remind him again of his duty to learn to do good work. But, I’m careful not to over do the deep teaching moments, or they won’t stick out in his mind. If I were to go to this same level every time he needed an instruction or got corrected for something, then he would take my heart-felt teaching for granted.
Instead, each day I lovingly and calmly correct him in the same predictable manner I always do, and then occasionally extend the teaching to a deeper lesson when I know it’s needed. This method helps him see that life is full of ordinary situations and instructions, and that he needs to carry on as usual. But that under all these ordinary situations there are real valuable, life changing, truths that he is learning and acting on.
The same is true for adults. We act daily. It often looks the same. The tasks are seemingly mundane. But, we read inspiring things and study and learn all we can in a few quiet moments daily. We know under all the seemingly mundane things there’s profound meaning and purpose for our lives. We’re living principles and truths as we serve, love, sacrifice and work daily. If nothing else, we know we’re acting as the hands of Someone who loves us all no matter how many times we fall.
Come learn how to teach your family self-government from Nicholeen at her next 3-day Parenting Mastery training