Do you ever find that when your children come home from being somewhere that their heart is not in the same place as when they left? Though this can happen when we go out as a family, I have found this more likely to be when the kids go out by themselves. Unless we hide our children away in a hut in the bush there will be times when this happens.

They may go to

  • a friend’s birthday party
  • a sleepover
  • a playdate
  • an extended family event
  • a youth group activity
  • afterschool programmes (sport, drama, girl guides etc)

 

When my kids go to such activities I have already worked out that it isn’t a ‘bad’ place for them to go. That it is reasonable to expect my kids to behave in a way that would represent our family values while with these people. I respect the adults that are overseeing such activities. I haven’t abdicated my responsibilities towards my child by letting them go to these social situations by themselves. But that is not to say that my child’s heart is not going to be affected.

I remember when my kids were very young and we would go on a playdate. I would stay and visit with the other mother. These were a highlight of our week – fun time with friends. And yet there were some times where I knew (from past experience) that my children would come home with some attitudes that we would have to work on. Attitudes like being exclusive and choosing who you will play with instead of playing with all, a reluctance to share toys, hitting out, saying unkind words. To be honest, I don’t know if these behaviours were modelled by the other children or whether it was just the sin nature being tested! But when we got home from certain playdates we had stuff to deal with!

This has not changed as my children have grown older. There are friends who draw out the best in my children, and there are friends who draw out the worst! We would like our children to spend more time, obviously, with those who encourage them to good works but we can’t always cut other people from our lives.

Bad influences can be in our church family – in our extended family – in our family’s closest friend circle. And then if we want to be honest – siblings can be a bad influence as well and how do we isolate from that! I don’t believe the issue is to isolate.

What we can do, is nurture our children’s hearts so that their heart for God’s ways is stronger than the influence of others. This takes time.

There has to be training

  1. Train at home. My first priority is to teach and train my child’s heart to love God and desire His ways. This is more important than their social life. We have had times where we have stopped all social interaction outside of the home, for a short time, to target specific heart attitudes. How my children relate to each other has been a key indicator to see if my children are ready to relate to other people. If they can’t be best friends with their siblings, they don’t have the privilege of being friends with other people. Sibling relationships give plenty of opportunity to train our children’s heart towards ‘others’. There will be plenty of challenges as they tempt each other or push each other’s buttons, to give them practice at making godly choices during play time that will strengthen their ability to do this with others outside of their home.
  2. Slowly stretch their freedoms. As I said, our children’s playdates started with me staying with them. This gives them a physical reminder of the family standards. I am there to prompt and guide them when things get tricky with their friends. As I see them making wise choices when with their friends, I started leaving them at friends’ places by themselves. As they have grown older and shown themselves able to do the right thing they have been able to go to social situations by themselves. Initially they would only spend 1 hour with friends – now they can stay the night (in selected situations).

But regardless of the training, regardless of where I thought my children’s hearts were before the playdate or social situation there still remains this issue that they come home changed. What has become my practice is to set aside time, after such social interactions, to realign my family.

This has been such an important and valuable this practice in keeping my family’s heart and yet still being involved in other people’s lives (which is an important aspect of our family values).

There are two aspects to realigning my family – one is proactive, one is reactive.

Proactive Heart Training

On the proactive side, I know when certain social situations happen that my child’s heart will need realigning. I clear our diary so that we have time to reconnect. You see, having our children’s heart is so much about our relationship with our children. When they interact with others our connection gets watered down and our children start to think that their friends are the most important connection. This makes their friends the bigger influence. This attitude may only exist for 3 hours – but it is long enough to have a negative impact. We have to reconnect with our children’s hearts if we are to maintain the values we want to live by in our family.

When I clear our diary for ‘realigning our family’ purposes, I plan to spend fun, relaxing, and yet purposeful time as a whole family. (This doesn’t always include Pete as it mostly happens during the day when he is at work). When we spend relational time together it creates an opportunity for their wrong attitudes to come to the fore and because I have nothing pressing (outside commitments) I have the time to deal with it.

And deal with it I must – the first time that I see attitude I need to help my child see why that is not right and help them do the right thing istead. Speaking rudely to siblings, dawdling with responsibilities, absorbed by facebook, inconsiderate music choices etc – unfortunately I have seen all these things come from spending time with friends. It is no big deal, if we spend the time realigning our family straight away. In doing so we strengthen their understanding of our family values so that the next time they go out they are that little bit more confirmed that the family’s ways are their ways too. As they choose these values as their own they will be able to stand strong in the face of opposition from their friends.

Reactive Heart Training

On the reactive side – it looks much the same, except I am taken by surprise. I have let my children go to a social event not expecting them to come back with an attitude. The only thing that I can do when I am not happy with my child’s heart is to set aside time to realign it. And it has to happen straight away. But because I’m caught unawares it means that I do have outside commitments that I have had to cancel at the last minute. This has been hard sometimes, sometimes it is my own social life that I’ve had to cancel. I have to ask myself though – is recapturing my child’s heart, is realigning my family – important enough to me? When we are tempted to delay the realigning practice it gets harder and harder with each moment that an attitude remains in our child’s heart. Realigning needs to happen a.s.a.p.

Realigning the Heart

Realigning the family can take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 day (or more if you have let wrong attitudes stay for a while). It depends on the child, the circumstance, the heart. The challenge to us as parents is will we see that our child has returned with a bad attitude and will we be committed enough to do what it takes to get our kids heart (and actions) back to where it should be?

 

Further Reading:

The Negative Effects of Socialisation in a Positive Environment:  We can never get away from the negative effects of socialisation even in a positive environment because it is a heart issue.

What do I do with my Friend’s Child when they Misbehave? What do you do when your friend’s child misbehaves? We cannot change our friend’s parenting but we can act with love and grace.

Socialisation – Is it an Issue after all?:  We need to make sure that our children are growing in socialisation skills – not just swipe the S-word as not relevant.

 

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