A foundational belief of all Christians is that God inscribes his law upon each and every human heart. Within your heart lies the foundational desire for what is good and to avoid what is evil. It is also within your heart that you will make concrete judgments about your life. God connects with you in your heart. It is in your heart that you will come to know him and his plans for you.
If the heart is the place where God connects with you, then it is also the best place for you to connect with your children. Why? Because it is in the heart that you can partner with God in raising your children to do what is right. God counts on you to be “his hands” and “his heart” on earth. He connects with you in your child’s heart.
Virtue development is a form of authoritative parenting because it focuses on making changes at the “heart” level first and behavior second. The goal of both authoritative parenting and virtue development is to guide your child to personally commit to what is right and good. This personal commitment is made at your child’s heart level. Your child has to freely choose to make the heart change – you as a parent cannot force him or her to make the change.
This is why virtue development is such a different form of parenting. It doesn't rely on manipulation or force to change a child’s behavior. When parents try to change children’s behavior through manipulation or force they often find themselves painted into the corner of “if you do what I say I will give you what you want.” This type of parenting develops the child’s selfish tendencies instead of his or her commitment to do what is right. Changing the outside behavior of your child does not ensure that the heart of your child has followed. You know you can force your child to change his or her outside behavior, but you cannot force her to change her heart. This is why parenting through the virtues is harder to accomplish.
A change of heart lasts much longer than a forced behavior change. Internal changes are more significant and meaningful because your child has set his or her heart on it. He or she becomes strengthened by the change – more committed to the change. Once a change of heart has taken place, it is hard to undo it.
So what do you have to do to cultivate the virtues in your child’s heart? Here is a list of ideas.
Are you ready for some “heart work”? That is what cultivating virtues is all about. Virtue training involves working on the inside of the person – the heart – more even than changing the outside behaviors. Cultivating virtues means connecting with your children at their “heart” level.