Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
As kids return to school and the “honeymoon stage” of the first month of a new school year wears off, we can anticipate that they will face challenges to their faith and may be tempted by their peers to engage in unhealthy behaviors.
How can grandparents encourage their grandchildren to practice faithfulness and self-control? How can we help them overcome the many ways they may be encouraged to be faithless or engage in behaviors that are not consistent with the will of God?
Well, it starts with prayer and ends with exposing grandchildren to God’s many resources in our world. These resources take kids away from worldly resources that tend to lure them into unhealthy choices.
Prayer is an obvious but often underused resource for encouraging faithfulness and self-control in our grandchildren.
Specifically, we want to pray that God would place friends and other adults in our grandchildren’s lives. Those that know the Lord, will connect well with them, acknowledge and reward their good choices, and be there to talk through poor choices.
We also need to pray that when they fail- and they will, sometimes many times- God will use failure as an opportunity to build humility in them and help them to become more dependent on Him.
Finally, it is important to pray that God would allow opportunities for us to have open and honest communications with our grandchildren. So we can talk with them about their choices and help them when they struggle to maintain important peer relationships while also staying faithful to God and practicing good self-control.
Seek Healthy Activities
Beyond prayer, be mindful of the things that tend to send our grandchildren toward a crisis in faith and unhealthy behavior.
First and foremost, kids are generally healthy, active beings who need to keep busy to stay out of trouble. They need physical activity every day. Additionally, they need to learn how to play with others or entertain themselves with other self-directed, healthy activities.
Some examples are reading, doing arts and crafts, building things, playing board games, playing musical instruments, helping with chores, having a part-time job, and spending time on a personal (and healthy) passion.
So, get down on the floor and play with your youngest grandchildren, read to them and play back and forth games with them.
If all of their needs have been met but they are crying in order to be held for endless hours, let them cry alone in their crib or bed for a while. Give them a blanket or a toy so they can learn to use these to soothe themselves. This is actually a first, very early lesson in self-control.
Avoid Unhealthy Time Fillers
There are several things that interfere with seeking out healthy activities.
First and foremost, kids don’t like to feel bored so they look for things to fill their time and often gravitate to whatever takes the least amount of effort. Here, we see that boredom and laziness go hand in hand.
The worst time fillers are those pesky electronic devices. Encourage your children to keep those out of the hands of little ones for as long as they can. Then urge them to set firm limits on their use when they become necessary, as in the case of computers needed for school.
Our devices provide access to nearly every good and bad piece of information that can be consumed in the world. While some screen time is ok and probably required to be a part of the modern world, that time should be limited to a few hours per day at the most.
Social media should have limitations as well because it’s been shown to contribute to a widespread dramatic increase in depression and anxiety among older children, preteens, teens, and young adults. It is also known to encourage addictive viewing behavior in much the same way that alcohol and drug use may develop into addictions.
Grandparents don’t usually have the ability to set those appropriate limits on their grandchildren but their children do. Therefore, as a grandparent, I encourage you to tactfully and discretely provide some good information to your children about the effects of screen time.
Research has shown many negative effects of screen time on the developing brain, and we also know that too much screen time contributes to childhood obesity which is a risk factor for a number of other health conditions.
When you think about buying a gift for a grandchild, consider board games, books, building sets, arts and crafts supplies, or gift certificates for fun experiences rather than electronic devices. You might want to make your own gift certificates for fun activities you can do in the great outdoors with your grandchildren if you live near them or if you are planning a visit.
Enjoy God’s Creation
One of the best ways to encourage faith development in children is to expose them to the beauty of God’s creations in the natural world.
The land, sky and water, trees, plants, and animals provide evidence of a world that could only have been created by a super-intelligent being that we know as God.
Interacting with the natural world also offers an opportunity to talk about self-control as they learn about what we should and shouldn’t do in order to care for the world God has given us. Conversations about throwing trash away instead of leaving it to pollute God’s creation can lead to discussions about how we also need to care for our bodies, minds, and spirits in a way that shows our gratitude for what God has given us.
Ultimately, the purpose of practicing good self-control comes down to honoring God by respecting and protecting our bodies, resisting temptations that are not aligned with his will, and avoiding engagement in practices that have a lot of negative consequences.
Share Personal Examples
Finally, with age appropriateness in mind, talk openly with your grandchildren about your own struggles with faith and mistakes regarding self-control.
Be sure to let them know how you came through those experiences and how God used them to help you to be a stronger, more mature Christian.
You can show your grandkids, through your behavior, how you practice faithfulness and self-control in your own life.