How to really change your child’s behaviors and heart


Change their heart

When all my boys were little, their hearts seemed to be naturally tender and soft. They easily obeyed (for the most part) simply because we told them to. My boys are getting older. Obedience is now about more than following rules simply because they are told.

I’m beginning to rely more on scripture to direct them towards obedience than I have in the past. And the cool thing is that it works WAY better than anything else I’ve tried.

Really, at the end of the day, they need to desire to obey because of a deep love for God. They don’t need to obey because I tell them they should. They should love God enough to honor Him.

Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

When we have God’s Word memorized, we are more likely to obey. First, when we read His Word, we know Him better. When we know Him, we can’t help but love Him. Second, it makes us aware. Sometimes we are sinning and unaware of our sin. This is especially true for our kids. When they memorize God’s Word, His instruction is on their hearts.

I’m powerless to change their hearts. It is one of the areas of parenting where I’m seeing more and more each day how desperate I am for Christ. Only God has the power to truly change a heart, not just a behavior pattern.

I can change their behavior, but I can’t change their heart. God can change their heart, which changes their behavior.

One of my sons is in a pattern of negative thinking and critical speech. I cringe when some of his words leave his mouth, and I want to stuff them back in immediately and have him try again. But they come out, they cause damage, and the cycle continues.

It finally hit me. I can’t change him. I can’t change his thoughts or his heart. But while he is under my care, I can point him to Christ. So after about 5 ugly slips, I pulled out an index card and wrote at the top Psalm 19:14 and said, “Go look up this verse. Write it front and back on this card then copy it on blank paper. Then come see me.”

Psalm 19:14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I can’t conclude by saying he came back an angel, truly repentant, and a whole hearted shift. But he came back with God’s word tucked away. Now the Holy Spirit can use the Word of God to convict and guide him.

I’ve written before how I struggle to not be the Holy Spirit to my children. I often try to take God’s job from him. I fail miserably every time.

My primary mission field is the one I live in day in and day out. My greatest desire is that my children love God and serve him their whole lives. I can do everything “right” and still have children that follow their own path. The only thing I can do is point them daily to their Creator and their Savior.

Kids need to understand the why. My kids have reached an age where they want to know why I insist on a certain behavior or give a certain instruction. “Because I said so” infuriates my boys. They want to know why.

God’s Word is full of the why’s.

“Why do we have to memorize scripture?”

“Because God’s Word tells us when we hide His Word in our hearts we are less likely to sin against Him.”

“Why can’t I use that language?”

“Because God desires the words of our mouth and the thoughts in our hearts be pleasing to Him.”

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

I’m not writing this post from a position of having parented through this with a supply of verses ready to give you. But I would love you to join me on this road.

As I find verses that help me instruct my kids, I will share with you. Will you share yours with us too? They say it takes a village right? We have an online village of readers here. So let’s get busy building a toolbox of verses as we parent daily.

Feel free to download these graphics and use with your children!


Psalm 1914


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5 replies
  1. erin
    erin says:

    Dear Renee-
    I love this post and it has come at just the right time. I have a newborn son (3 months) and two step sons age 9 and 11. My step sons are with us one night a week and every other weekend. My husband and I struggle because we desire to instill Godly values into our two older ones, but unfortunately they spend most of their time away from us. I have often thought and said to my husband, “their hearts need to change” but would feel hopeless in our ability to do so. your post is a reminder that only the Holy Spirit can change their heart. I find that my simplest prayer is, “Please Jesus, pierce their souls and soften their hearts” At the same time, I do realize that we as parents need to guide our children. This is where I feel particularly lacking……God’s word isn’t ingrained in my heart. My husband and I were brought up Christian but reading the bible was not something we did. We are only now starting to really read the Word (but I fail at doing so often). So, scripture rarely, if ever, pops into my head when we need to have a teaching moment with our boys. And that leaves me feeling frustrated. I know I need to read more and memorize more, but am afraid that by the time I do that, it will be too late for the older two. I hope I will find useful verses via your blog 🙂 Thank you again, I love your blog.

  2. Renee
    Renee says:

    Erin, thank you for sharing this. You are not alone. Many of us struggle to memorize scripture ourselves. Life is busy and we have little time. But we are going to take baby steps together to get us there. Keep praying your prayers for Jesus to pierce and soften. In the meantime, tuck away a few verses for yourself you can begin to hide in your own heart. I’m really excited about this journey to have more intentional teaching moments using scripture with our kids. I’m glad you are along for the ride!

  3. Angie
    Angie says:

    A few years ago, my husband and I read “Don’t make me count to three!” By Ginger Plowman and it totally transformed our parenting from trying to control and change the behavior to shaping the hearts of our children. Ginger Plowman also offers a great tool … a chart called Wise Words for Moms … It lists unwanted behavior, gives examples of heart probing questions to ask your child, scripture about putting off that behavior, and scriptures about what behavior to put on. It hangs on the side of my fridge and is a great resource! Also, as a family, we memorize key scripture passages … one per month. Scripture is our guideline for disciplining our children and guidelines for us as a family. We have taught our children that everything we do, say and think should bring glory to God … referring to this helps our children evaluate their behavior. We are by no means perfect but are striving to be a family that shines brightly for God.

  4. Renee
    Renee says:

    I love that, Angie. Thank you for sharing! Teach them diligently is another great book. I read it many years ago and could probably benefit with a re-read.

  5. erin
    erin says:

    Thank you Angie and Renee I will look into both of those books. “Don’t make me count to three” sounds like exactly what we need to help us along.

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