I had it in my mind that there was a scripture about having a teachable heart – I went looking for it and couldn’t find it. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a phrase that is well used though not a quote from the Bible.
dictionary.com defines teachable as:
- capable of being instructed, as a person; docile
- able and willing to learn: teachable youngsters
Docile – there’s a word we don’t use often, we may even see it as wishy-washy, namby-pamby! But how does the dictionary define it:
- easily managed or handled; tractable: a docile horse
- readily trained or taught; teachable
It seems to me that these are the very attitudes we want of our children.
(Side note: Teachable doesn’t mean gullible – we need to make sure our children have backbone and discernment as well. No one character trait over-rides the need for another – they work together and we have to find the balance when teaching our kids.)
Teachable Heart or Unteachable Heart?
It makes sense – if they are to receive our instruction, they need to be capable of being instructed, able and willing to learn, readily trained or taught. This then leads to the idea that they will be able to receive instruction etc from God’s Word too (as we need to be).
Though the Bible doesn’t use the phrase “unteachable heart” the instruction is there none the less. The Bible paints these pictures:
- The way of a fool is right in his own eyes – Proverbs 12:15
- All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weighs the spirits – Proverbs 16:2
- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes; but the Lord ponders the hearts – Proverbs21:2
- The wise in heart will receive commandments; But a prating fool shall fall – Proverbs 10:8
- When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise– Proverbs 10:19
- The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice – Proverbs 12:15
- A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke – Proverbs 13:1
These verses describe a person (child or adult) who thinks what they are doing is right, who thinks they are without sin, who won’t listen to instruction, who keeps talking (probably defending themselves and arguing), who makes fun of instruction; a person who simply won’t listen.
Do you recognise these things in your children? It maybe a long term attitude or it may be only occasional. I’ve had these attitudes in our home when we are trying to learn math, or talk about life skills. It pops up every so often. What to do?
Proverbs 21:2 says “Every way of a man (child) is right in his own eyes; but the Lord ponders the heart.” God looks past the action and considers the heart (He doesn’t ignore the action, He just looks deeper). We tend to get annoyed at the action and react from that position. We need to consider the heart.
What do Parents do when their child has an unteachable heart?
When our children are refusing to listen, what is going on in their heart and what can we do about it?
I often see these three traits at the heart of their attitude:
- Self Righteousness
Whenever we see negative responses in the heart, we know there is something missing. I always have found it helpful to identify what’s missing as it is more helpful as a parent to put into our children’s hearts than just demand that they stop doing something. When our children have an ‘unteachable’ attitude I often find one of these three traits missing:
- Humility – recognizing that I need other people in my life
- Honesty – being truthful about my need or attitude (heart)
- Meekness – yielding to others, submitting myself to another
I have found the best thing to do when my children get “wise in their own eyes’, when they refuse to listen to instruction, is to give them space to think about their heart. They are sent to their rooms with the clear words – when your heart is ready to receive my words come and talk to me.
[Tweet “While our kids have attitude – they won’t learn.”]
Pearls before swine is the image that comes to mind when I stand there and keep talking to them – nothing is going in, nothing is being received and I am just getting cross and frustrated, which builds into anger real quick (and now I have an issue to deal with in my own heart!) For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20) Getting angry with our children will not produce a change of heart.
When our children put up an unteachable attitude they need to have a change of heart. You can’t make that happen – but you can create the space or opportunity to do so.
A quick overview of what happens in our house when the unteachable attitude shows up:
- It starts with a stubborn refusal to listen or apply what has been said
- I send my child to their room to consider their heart. Of course this in itself is an instruction – but if it is a normal practice to go and think about what is going on inside of them, children will usually go to their bedroom, though it may take a while before they choose to consider their heart – and that is okay – let them sit there till they are ready.
- Occasionally, and if they are still learning this process, I would go to them and see if they need help to focus on the issue. But I don’t push it – their heart issues can only be dealt with on their time.
- When they are ready to talk about it we have a discussion about their wrong attitude (unteachable or pride or whatever they have identified) why it was wrong, and then we talk about what would the right attitude be.
- I then ask them if they are ready to go back and make good choices. Often they would apologise to me for their attitude, and we would go back to the situation we were originally in and try again.
This process can take hours!
Over to you:
What do you find works when your kids don’t want to hear your instruction?
(Let me know in the comments)
My go-to consequence is a timeout where children can consider their heart and prepare to go back and do the right thing.
When your Kids Struggle with Things You Find Easy: 7 tips to help us when our kids struggle with the things that we find easy. We must find a way to be accepting and encouraging.
Heart Conversations Take Time out of your Day: It takes time to have meaningful heart conversations with our children – so we must make room in our day so we aren’t always feeling rushed when our kids need our attention.
Our Children will need to be Told More Than Once: Our children will need to be told more than once – it’s a fact! Parents need to adjust their attitude and focus on the training that needs to happen.