Spiritual Equipping: Raising Kids to Be Discerning

Mike served eleven years in prison. He comes from a family of ten children, and at one time, six of his family members were locked away. Collectively, they have given America’s prisons nearly 100 years of their lives. Mike has learned a lot because of his hardships, and he draws strong connections between his personal pain, his family’s devastation, and his lack of a father to teach him about the world.

The penal system is full of men who didn’t have a father while growing up, and who cringe when they think of what could have been. To develop in a healthy way, our children need an anchor, a role model, a hero. If that role model is their father, their chances of thriving are even better.

This blog finishes our series on the 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers, and the 7th secret is Spiritual Equipping. (Once again, we have a new tool to help you assess your own fathering in these 7 areas: our online profile and master class right here.)

Equipping our kids morally and spiritually may be the most important thing we do as fathers.

You may disagree if faith and spiritual matters aren’t a big part of your life. But Mike and many others like him are strong evidence that children need guidance about right and wrong and why it matters. As children mature, they hear various philosophies and begin to ask deeper questions like:

Why am I here?
Is there a God?
Should it matter to me?

You and the dad next to you will probably answer those questions in somewhat different ways, but the bigger question to consider is, Do your kids know what you believe and why? They need the benefit of your experiences and wisdom as they consider options and think through possible consequences of their choices.

A big part of the task is teaching your children to be discerning—able to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, and to appreciate and live according to the values that are most important to you: humility, honesty, selflessness, generosity, and so on. When they don’t have discernment, they’re much more likely to drift into destructive habits, have friends who encourage negative behaviors, and … well, just ask Mike.

As dads, it’s our job to equip our kids to be discerning as they face tough choices. We want them to be confident sifting through opinions and facts, and then evaluating the information to form a sound conclusion, which then drives their decisions and actions.

How can we do this? It’s really an all-encompassing enterprise—and well worth our investments of time and resources. Here are a few suggestions for starters:

Commit to Teaching them Truth

Of course, this begins with having a good grasp on what you believe. Is truth objective and unchanging, or dependent on personal experiences and interpretation? What is the source of truth? There’s a wide spectrum of faith traditions and non-faith traditions, deep convictions about God and the Bible and steadfast commitments to non-church beliefs.

Wherever you are, it’s vital that you’re firmly grounded in what you believe and then find ways to make those principles and values a big part of your family life. Read books and stories with your kids. Talk about it in day-to-day life and look for teachable moments that come along. (They really are there if you’re looking for them.) Encourage your kids to participate in youth activities and groups that reinforce those important truths. Keep finding new ways to build a spiritual connection with them.

Model It

Is your faith real? Are you really committed to the values you talk about? Do you truly believe, even in difficult times? Your children are watching you, and they can tell. It shows up in your actions. This doesn’t mean you’re perfect or your never fall short; but even in times of personal weakness and failure, your transparency will also send a powerful message to them.

Your life should reveal what’s important to you. And as you strive to be an example of humility, self-control, and grace in action, your children will see notice and will be more likely to choose a similar path.

Your actions speak louder than your words. And if your actions contradict your words, it can do major damage to your teaching efforts with your kids. Remind yourself of this regularly, if not daily.

Allow Consequences to Teach

This may seem like a departure from moral and spiritual concerns, but the ways you help to shape your children through everyday challenges will influence their growth in those deeper areas. And life will help you in that process if you let it.

So often, natural consequences will teach your kids even more effectively than a lecture or long talk. Some kids need to learn by making mistakes, and all kids will make mistakes that will help shape them and help them grow. It’s wise to even want your kids to make mistakes when they are at home, the consequences are still pretty cheap, and you’re there to help them through it. If they can learn big lessons that way early in life, it will probably save them a lot of trouble as adults, when the consequences get much bigger.

That also means you have to be discerning about the day-to-day challenges and failures your kids go through as part of growing up. If you step in and bail them out of difficulties and results of their bad choices, that could actually hurt them more in the long run since they’re missing out on a chance to learn and grow. On the other hand, we dads are also protectors, and there are times when it’s appropriate to get involved. Those aren’t easy parenting decisions.

What are your goals for your kids’ future in moral and spiritual matters? Interact with other dads on this and other topics at our Facebook page.

Reminder: You can get feedback on your own fathering related to Spiritual Equipping and other important areas using our free online Profile and Master Class. Get started here.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • Tell your kids about people you know whose lives took a tragic turn because of their poor decisions.
  • Where do you stand on how important it is to train your kids in moral and spiritual issues?
  • What values do you most want your kids to learn about and live by?
  • Read a book that challenges or deepens your beliefs in some way, and tell your kids about what you’re learning.
  • Make efforts to get to know your kids’ friends better when they’re at your house or at a school or sports event.
  • Ask your child lots of questions that start with, “What do you think of …?” or, “What would you do if …?”

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.