In our Mama Heart Like Jesus series we are studying how Jesus discipled His followers as a model for discipling our own children.
Last month we focused on Jesus’ approach to protecting His disciples from evil, teaching them to be in the world but not of the world, and we discussed protecting our kids from the lies of the enemy.
Now we will discuss how to teach our kids to be loving and kind to others.
“ My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13 (NIV)
1. Know God’s Love
Before our kids can love others as Jesus does, they need to experience Jesus’ love for themselves. In John 15 above, Jesus commanded His disciples to love others as He first loved them. How can our children truly experience God’s love?
Our kids first get a glimpse of God’s love through us. When we love our kids through God’s Spirit working in us, our children will experience a taste of God’s love for them. For more on how to love our kids well, check out my blogs on how to love your kids through quality time, words of life, and restoring relationships.
More importantly our children need to know and understand God’s love through a relationship with God. There are plenty of books on God’s love to help younger kids understand how much He loves them. Check out 7 Children’s Books to Teach God’s Love.
Reading the Bible (or children’s Bible) with our kids will help them understand God’s love. Talk about where you see God’s love as you read through stories in the Bible. For a list of verses on God’s love, click here.
We can also teach our children to pray and ask God how He sees them and have them journal what comes to their minds. John 10:27 says “My sheep hear my voice, they know me and they follow me.” My kids have heard the Lord call them things like “special,” “loved,” “brave,” and “encourager.” Pray with your kids at first to make sure what comes to their minds aligns with scripture, and you can affirm it is true. When our kids hear directly from the Lord, they are learning to find their true value and acceptance in God’s perfect love.
There are also plenty of books for middle to older kids that help them understand who they are in Christ and that they are loved through allegorical fiction. Check out Mindy Hite’s book, Light Bearers, for older teens.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (NIV)
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31 (NIV)
2. Showing Love and Kindness to Others
We see here from scripture (see above) that our children must first learn to love God more than people, for it is the greatest commandment to love Him with our whole hearts. Then the second greatest commandment is to love others. It is important for our children to love God first and then show love to others. This can look like spending time with God before having a playdate, going to church rather than a birthday party, or following God’s ways even if it means disappointing a friend.
Because love and kindness are such broad terms, there are specific skills we can teach our kids so they will know how to be loving and kind to others. Luke 6:31 is a great verse to teach about kindness. We can ask our kids questions like, “Would you want someone to roll their eyes at you?” “Would you want someone to talk that way to you?” after explaining the verse. These types of questions will make them think and will teach them empathy.
We can also break down kindness into different skills…
- Facial expressions: Some kids naturally smile and give eye contact more than others. When we teach our kids who struggle with these skills that smiling and eye contact show love and kindness to others, then they will understand why it is important and be more apt to work on it. Remind them before they go to church or an event to smile and make eye contact with people. Then ask them how it went and what they need to work on for next time.
- Tone: Some kids get very passionate in their tone, and this can be good and bad. Let your kids know when their tone doesn’t sound pleasant and how it makes people feel, especially to sensitive siblings. When they get worked up, stop them and ask if they sounded kind when they just spoke. When our children become aware of their tones, they can work on making sure they use a pleasant tone to show kindness to others.
- Actions: Some kids are huggers and more physical than others. For children that struggle to show kindness by physical touch, talk about ways they can show love to others in this way. Whether that’s giving grandma and grandpa a hug, a handshake to an adult at church, or a fist bump to a friend at school, they can learn to show love and kindness. Holding doors, getting guests a drink, and making cookies for neighbors are other examples of doing things with our hands to show love and kindness.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Matthew 5:43-47 (NIV)
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28 (NIV)
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:20 (NIV)
3. Loving Your Enemies
Jesus talks a lot about loving our enemies and probably for good reason. He explains that even pagans can love their friends, but loving our enemies is a whole different story. What about bullies? Irritating classmates? Annoying siblings? Kids who act differently than they do? Our kids are all going to struggle with this principle from time to time. So how can we help them?
In Matthew 5 and Luke 6, we see that Jesus tells His disciples and other followers to pray for their enemies. Have your children pray for the kids that bully them at school or the annoying students that won’t stop talking. When our kids ask God to help them see their “enemies” as He sees them, He can work in their hearts to help them love their “enemies” as He does.
Jesus goes on to say in Luke 6 to “do good,” and “bless” your enemies. This step will take an extra measure of grace, but we can encourage our kids to practice this skill when situations arise! A friend of mine has been dealing with a situation where her son has been bullied lately. As she prayed about what to do and talked to her son, they decided that any time this boy says something mean, her son will tell the boy “Jesus loves you.” She discussed how this boy may not have anyone showing him love, so her son can show God’s love in this way, even when he is being persecuted.
When our kids learn to know and receive God’s love for themselves, show kindness in practical ways to others, and even love their enemies, they are becoming more and more like Jesus. People will see that our kids are different, and we can share where this love comes from – that it comes from Jesus!