"Don't Throw Sand!" And Other Wrong Messages

The four year olds cleared their tables as quickly as they could, stacking papers, cramming nubby crayons into their boxes, and sitting up straight like  good soldiers.

“The penguin table can line up.”

“The polar bears can line up.”

“The rhinos still need to wipe down their table a little more, and then they can line up.”

One by one, the children hurried to the line that led to an outdoor paradise of sand toys, jungle gyms, and footballs. They shuffled from one worn sneaker to the other in anticipation. And then the teacher said it:

“When we go outside we are NOT going to:

Throw Sand.

Push People.

Run On The Cement.

Hit Each Other.

Or,

Steal The Balls From One Another.”

And all I could do was think about throwing sand, pushing people, running on the cement, hitting, and stealing balls from one another. 

I wondered, If I as an adult now have all those devious possibilities in mind, how much more so must these 4-year-olds with immature brains? If I were them, I might just go ahead and throw sand. Of course,I understand that each person is responsible for their own actions, but I bet it would help if we avoided planting these ideas in their heads in the first place. She was well-meaning, but she was sending the wrong message.

I like to take a different approach, because I know it works. For example, whenever we get in the car, I take a few minutes to pray aloud with my boys. It usually sounds something like this:

“Dear Father, thank You for our wonderful and comfortable car that we get to drive in. Please keep Your protection around us as we drive. Thank You for Oliver who I know is going to have a kind spirit towards every child in his classroom today and thank You that Oliver listens and obeys. Thank You for Quinn who I know has a sharing heart and who will give to others. Thank You for Oakley who says kind words to his brother, like 'You are a great helper.' And thank You for this day that You have made for us to be an example to others. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen!”

A quick glance in the rearview mirror and all three have happy little smiles on their faces, ready to prove me right.

Let's be realistic. They are kids. Sinful at heart just like you and me. They will have bad days, and certain issues that need careful attention and prayer. But for the most part, we can do a lot of good for our children by believing the best of them, speaking about the actions and attitudes we want to see more than what we don't want to see, and breathing life into their hearts.

Last week, I picked my 4 year old up from his two and half our Bible study class. His teacher came right up to me to tell me that Quinn was an exceptional sharer that day and that he was given a special sticker for his kindness to the other kids. Wouldn't you know it? We had prayed and talked specifically about sharing on the drive to the class.

On the days we talk about helping the teacher and asking if there is anything they can do to serve their class? The teachers tell me what amazing helpers they were that day. The days we discuss how we can give sincere encouragement with our words to our friends? Their teachers tell me what nice things my kids say to others.

My husband and I witness this over and over again. I'm not interested in getting kudos as a mom or manipulating my kids into having good behavior for the sake of outward appearances. Our conversations always involve the reason why we do this-to be an example of how Christ loves us, to obey His Word, and to be a light to others that we may honor and love God and people.

There is a time and a place to tell kids not to throw sand. Certainly it's important to lay out rules for safety and everyone's well-being. But I am also convinced that we often undermine ourselves with a list of “dont's” instead of modeling and expressing the “do's”.

Try it for a while. Put on a Philippians 4:8 mentality towards your kids and your spouse:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.”

Talk with them about the Fruit of The Spirit you want to see from their hearts and equip them with the Truth to live it out. Be their biggest cheerleader, advocate, prayer warrior, and model.

Line em up and straighten em out. But please, let's fill the minds of our children with nobility, purity, and whatever is praiseworthy, as they head out our doors. Before we know it they will be leaving our homes as adults into the world at large. Plant a seed of trust and water it with words of admiration while they are young and I dare say that when they are grown, they will flourish into what we believed they were all along. And they won't just be good citizens, they will be lights on a hill because they learned how to shine on the playground. 

YOUR TURN! I think we all respond better to positive words than negative ones don't you? Share an example of your own of how either positive or negative words has affected you or your family.   

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Amber Lia

A former high school English teacher, Amber is a work-at-home mom of 4 little boys under the age of 10. She is the best-selling author of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, say Something New. She and her husband Guy own Storehouse Media Group, a faith-friendly and family-friendly TV and Film production company in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not building sand castles with her boys on the beach, or searching for Nerf darts all over her house, you can find Amber writing to encourage families on her blog at Mother of Knights (www.motherofknights.com).