Goal-Setting for Children

Even though it’s only mid-December and the biggest event of the year is still ten days away, I find myself already looking toward the new year. I’m not big on making resolutions, but I do like to use the fresh year as a kicking-off-point for new habits or emphases. If you’re the same, you know it takes forethought and prayerful consideration to implement meaningful change—in ourselves and in our children.

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (which I also mentioned last week), Tedd Tripp offers guidance on how and why we, as parents, should set goals for our children. There’s no need to rehash that. Let’s look instead at what sort of goals we might set for our children.

In my parenting, I often come back to this one verse.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. -Luke 2:52

(I wrote about Luke 2:52 as a guide for prayer in the past.) When we think about the young Jesus, we know he didn’t grow up in a vacuum. Joseph, Mary, and others influenced his maturity. I’m a little jealous; that must have been the easiest parenting job ever! For the rest of us parents—the ones raising non-God-incarnate children—it’s even more important to intentionally influence every facet of our children’s maturation.

This verse provides us with four areas of growth. Applied to goal-setting, the short version looks like this:

1 achievement, 1 skill, 1 spiritual growth, 1 relationship

Let’s brainstorm some ideas.

Wisdom: intellectual development

music lessons (c) Carole Sparks

Set one goal related to their education, learning, or other thinking/mental skills. This could be a skill or an achievement. Some possibilities:

  • Learn to read chapter books.
  • Improve average grade (overall or in one subject) by one letter grade.
  • Attend a special class or camp that emphasizes an area of personal interest such as environmental sciences, computer coding, painting, soccer, etc.
  • Learn to play an instrument or, if they already play, learn a significantly more difficult piece.
  • Learn another language such as sign language or Spanish. Connect this with their social development by finding someone they would like to talk with.

Stature: physical development

gymnastics assist (c) Carole Sparks

There’s not much we or our children can do about their height or shoe size, but we can help them practice a healthy lifestyle or improve their fitness. Set one goal related to their physical development, also either a skill or an achievement. Something like…

  • Learn to ride a bike.
  • Learn a new sport.
  • Achieve a new level in their existing sport. For example, earn the next belt in karate or make the varsity team in his/her sport.
  • Accomplish a fitness goal such as running a 10-minute mile.
  • Learn to eat three new healthy foods.
  • Learn to cook something specific, learn a certain type of cooking, or learn how to do some household chore. (Don’t just say “learn to cook.” That’s too broad to measure.) Last year, my oldest learned to use the washer and dryer. This year, maybe we’ll focusing on cooking some simple dishes.

Favor with God: spiritual development

11-21 read Bible story (2)
(c) Carole Sparks

How can we help our children grow closer to God through the year? Consider one of these or something else that fits your child’s interests and current maturity level.

  • Become consistent in having a daily quiet time or personal devotion.
  • Memorize a certain number of Bible verses. (Personally, I’m planning to memorize twenty-four passages in 2017!)
  • Work on one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) such as kindness or self-control. This one will take some extra effort on your part, parent, to find actions and/or practices specifically targeting this one thing.
  • Begin paying attention and/or taking notes in “big church.” Start with once/month or five minutes/sermon.
  • Learn a certain number of Bible stories (great for younger children). Maybe one per month?
  • Improve upon one spiritual discipline such as meditation or generosity (great for older children).
  • Read a certain numbers of books related to spiritual growth. I’m challenging my teen to read one non-fiction book per month, mostly faith-based. John Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is a great one for thinking teens to start with.

Favor with Man: social development

kid spectators (c) Carole Sparks

Without a little encouragement, our children fall into relationship ruts just like we do. Talk with them about how they want to grow this coming year. Some options might be…

  • Intentionally make a new friend at school or church.
  • Reconcile with someone they don’t like or with whom they had a fight. This starts with praying for that person.
  • Learn how to make “small talk” with adults.
  • Compliment/encourage someone every day.
  • Learn another language so they can talk to someone in that person’s “heart language.” (See intellectual development above.)
  • Learn a technique for diffusing conflict—one they can practice with siblings.


As you look toward 2017, pray through what sort of goals God is leading you to set regarding your children. Ask Him to reveal areas where they need purposeful intervention, bringing them into the conversation at an appropriate level. For my older children, they fully participate in the process, but younger children may need more guidance from you.

After you’ve set your goals, don’t just leave them at the level of ideas. Goals need action plans or steps toward fulfillment. Sit down with your kids and discuss the small steps that will lead to big growth in 2017. Look at your own life, too. We have to model before we can teach. This is why I’m signing up to learn twenty-four Bible passages this year. I need accountability for my own spiritual growth, and I want to model the importance of Scripture memory to my children.

And finally, follow up! Through the year, revisit the goals. Are you seeing growth? Do you need to adjust something? Are they experiencing the difference? Encourage them to stay faithful to the task…and you stay faithful, too. Jesus grew up at the same rate that our children do. He didn’t achieve wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man in one day or even one year. This is an eighteen-year process, parents!

Then celebrate at the end of 2017! Recognize your children’s achievements. Talk about how they’ve grown and what changes you’ve seen.

As you anticipate Intentional Parenting in 2017, I pray this brainstorming session helps you set significant, achievable goals for and with your children. If you’ve been encouraged, please share this post using the tweet below.

4 #IntentionalParenting goals to help our children grow in #2017.

What goals are you setting in 2017 for your children or for yourself as a parent? Join this brainstorming session (in the comments below), and you’ll be helping us all!

Discipline is Designed to Disciple

When my firstborn was toddling around—less than a year old—she once stuck her finger in an unguarded electrical outlet. (At someone else’s house. Of course, we had covers on our own outlets!) I grabbed her hand immediately. I got down where she could see my face. I looked her in the eye, and while squeezing her little hand just until I could see that it was hurting her, I said “no” in my most serious voice. If I remember correctly, I only had to do this twice before she learned not to put her fingers in electrical outlets. Yes, I hurt her just a little bit, but way less than if she’d been electrocuted. I thought of it like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. I squeezed so tightly for her own good.

Parental discipline is like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. (click to tweet)

I disciplined her in the only way her young mind could understand. It was an action/reaction concept: if I put my fingers here, then I hurt. The discipline was immediate and tangible because her brain wouldn’t have processed anything else. Why did I hurt her when she was so young?

  • I knew she was capable of understanding it. (The form of discipline matched her maturity level.)
  • I wanted to protect her in the future. I might not be watching so closely next time.
  • I loved her (still do) and didn’t want her to be seriously injured.
  • I wanted her to begin practicing self-control.

I did not squeeze her hand…

  • Because I was angry,
  • Because I wanted her to hurt,
  • Because she irritated, interrupted, or embarrassed me.

This is the difference between punishment and discipline.

Parental punishment is about me: my anger, my needs, my embarrassment, my convenience, my sense of entitlement or frustration with the situation.

Parental discipline is about my child’s physical well-being and spiritual growth. That’s all.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. -Proverbs 13:24

In Intentional Parenting, we teach our children in advance, but we also watch for opportunities to correct through discipline. There’s no love in pampering them, in hiding their sins and failures from them, in allowing them reckless “freedom” that ultimately enslaves them to their own desires. Discipline is something we do carefully and purposefully because we love our children.

My children have grown since the electrical outlet incident. They’re both in double-digits now, and squeezing hands isn’t the best option anymore. (Sometimes I wish it was. It was so much easier!) This week, however, I had a chance to practice some fairly serious discipline with one of my children.

At first, I was so angry that I had to just send him to his room. I felt like there was steam coming out of my ears, and I’m sure my face was red! I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to hurt. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve felt the same.) Because I was angry, I was in no state-of-mind to discipline properly. Once I calmed myself down, I went to him and told him I needed to talk with his dad about the discipline. I still didn’t trust myself, honestly. As we talked a little, I made sure he knew I loved him. The next morning, having talked with his dad, we sat down and discussed the situation calmly and arrived at some discipline that fit the situation and aligned with his maturity level. I’m praying it helps him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Some observations about discipline:

Good discipline comes out of love. We already talked about this one.

Good discipline comes out of humility. I do not present myself as better than my child but as another sinner learning how to please God throughout my life.

Good discipline comes out of obligation. As another Christ-follower, as one called to be his parent, it is my duty to correct my child when he fails. I’m helping him understand how to follow Christ more completely.

Good discipline is a product of peace. I’m talking about Biblical shalom, that confidence in God’s sovereignty over His creation and the security of knowing He loves me. Anger dismisses His sovereignty. It says I deserve something or I have been wronged. With peace, I approach my child in the confidence of God’s economy.

Good discipline aligns with the child’s maturity level and spiritual state. The wise parent desires her child to learn from the error/sin through the discipline. Just like you don’t teach first graders calculus, it takes thoughtfulness (and sometimes wracking your brain) to provide discipline at each age. If the child has accepted Christ as Lord of his life, that significantly influences the way discipline is given.

Good discipline ends. What could be more miserable than to be repeatedly reminded of a failure from your past? Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart and lay aside the situation once the discipline is complete.

Good discipline is reserved for disobedience or danger and other clear acts of sin. Children will be foolish and forgetful. They’re ignorant of many things we take for granted as adults. Before enacting discipline, be sure the situation warrants it. Perhaps a good “talking to” (a Southern term) is all they need.

With older children…

There’s a reason discipline and disciple look so much like. Add these to the description of good discipline when your children are past the stage where physical things work best.

Good discipline is mutually-agreed-upon. We discuss ways for him to learn what is necessary. It’s important for him to understand why he must forfeit a privilege or spend time alone or do something extra. He doesn’t like it, but he understands the purpose. If he doesn’t understand why it’s happening, then he will not learn. That’s punishment, not discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. -Hebrews 12:11

Good discipline involves follow-up. After the discipline phase is completed, we come back to the subject at least once more to test what he’s learned. If it arises around the same time in a sermon, book, or other medium, we’ll mention it again. (See “Good Discipline Ends” above for the balance on this.)

Good discipline incorporates forgiveness. If I’ve personally been wronged, I must intentionally and specifically forgive my child. If my child has wronged someone else, he must clearly request forgiveness—including an explanation of how he now understands his behavior. He must also ask for God’s forgiveness. Never leave your child wondering if everything is “right” between the two of you afterward.

Good discipline renews trust. A follow-up time gives the parent an opportunity to talk about trust. Can you trust your child again? Do you need to see evidence of a changed heart first? Does there need to be a trial period? Make all this clear rather than leaving your child guessing.

The child who is disciplined in a Godly way will see the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1…and probably enjoy that the Bible calls someone “stupid.”

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

11 characteristics of good discipline for #IntentionalParenting. (click to tweet)


For further reading:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (more for younger kids)

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (for teenagers)

Yes, they are brothers. Both of these books offer excellent sections on Biblical discipline. If you’re struggling with this issue, I urge you to take a look at the appropriate one.

Five Reasons We Don’t ‘Do’ Santa

I thought we were past this. With both kids in double-digits now, I didn’t expect to be offering explanations about our stance on Santa Claus again. But the issue has already arisen this Christmas season.


Intentional parenting means that we, as parents, recognize when we’re making decisions and consider the long-term repercussions of those decisions. We don’t just ‘go with the flow’ of our culture, and we don’t parent for personal convenience or for appearances. In our case, that meant choosing not to lead our children to believe in Santa Claus. Before you label us as Mr. & Mrs. Grinch, consider these five reasons we don’t ‘do’ Santa at our house.

1. We refuse to lie to our children about anything.

12-07 St Nicholas morning 15
(c) Carole Sparks

In our present-day culture, truth is what you want it to be. People even say that something can be true for you and not true for me. As Christ-followers, however, we know there is Absolute Truth, and as parents, it’s our job to set the standard of truth in our homes. When our children reach the age of understanding and discover that we’ve been deceiving them about Santa for their entire lives, our admonition not to lie is rendered moot. At that same age, they begin to question our belief system. If we lied about Santa, maybe we’re lying about God, too (more on this below).


As all of us know when it comes to deception, it’s never one simple lie.  The existence of Santa leads to chimneys (or the absence thereof), and who ate the cookies, and multiple Santas in various locations, and why Santa didn’t bring the much-anticipated pony. Telling the truth is simple and easy to remember.


Then there’s the fact that, at some point, you do have to tell them the awkward truth. I’ve written before about those difficult conversations (sex, drug use, etc.). By removing Santa, we eliminated at least one of those ‘talks.’ Whew.

2. We don’t want our children to lie to us.

This goes back to that age of understanding. You and I both remember that year (or years) when we knew Santa wasn’t real but we still wanted all the gifts, so we pretended to believe. That’s deception. If it’s not okay in everyday life, it’s not okay for Christmas.

3. We refuse to bribe our children for good behavior.

12-07 St Nicholas morning 07
(c) Carole Sparks

A child’s behavior reveals the condition of his or her heart. (See Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp for more on this.) By rewarding a child for good behavior, we feed the inborn selfishness of that child’s heart. We don’t want our children to be good because they will get something; we want them to act honorably because their hearts are pure, desiring to bless God and those around them. We set the expectations for year-round behavior, and that doesn’t change because it’s the holidays.


Furthermore, no one actually follows through on the naughty/nice list. Even if a child is terribly behaved leading up to Christmas, she will still find a stocking (or more) full of new toys on Christmas morning. By not carrying out the discipline, the parent models to the child that her behavior doesn’t matter and that Mom or Dad’s commands can be ignored.

And finally, on the naughty/nice thing…what about the impoverished child? Santa Claus brings gifts to “all the good boys and girls” so he tried really hard to be good for a whole month. Yet on Christmas morning, he gets nothing because his parents can’t even put food on the table. What undeserved disappointment!

4. It’s too easy to misplace the meaning of Christmas.

I have a hard time keeping my focus on Jesus during the holiday season, and I know most of you do too. Think how much more difficult it must be for our children, who don’t have years of experience and a history of God’s faithfulness on which to fall back! Between the songs about Santa and the Christmas-morning pile of gifts to anticipate, our children’s thoughts will—understandably—be consumed by the clutter of consumerism. (Oohh-nice alliteration! I’ll have to use that again.)

5. God is God and Santa is not.

I don’t buy into all that ‘Santa is misspelled Satan’ junk, but undoubtedly, we need to be careful here. Just think about it; both God and Santa:

  • Are unseen
  • See everything
  • Give good gifts
  • Typically have white beards
  • Have mythical powers
  • Come at Christmas (via Jesus)
  • Influence behavior
  • Have naughty/nice lists (Lambs Book of Life, separating sheep and goats)

It’s enough to confuse a little kid! That child may then start to think God also rewards obedience, but we know it’s not the good kids who go to heaven. It’s the saved kids…and adults. What is more, when the child discovers that Santa isn’t real, he may unconsciously put God in the same category.


So What Do We Do Instead?

When changing one’s lifestyle or habits, we all know it doesn’t work just

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story… by Julie Stiegemeyer

to remove. You have to replace. We replaced the whole Santa Claus thing with a celebration of Saint Nicholas’ Day. When the children awake on December 6th, they find a small stocking of gifts—a reminder of Nicholas’ generosity, which is why we also do something charitable on/around that day. We read a book we have about St. Nicholas, and we have a nice dinner together. So they do still get gifts, and because they come in a stocking, they have an answer for all those well-meaning adults who later ask, “Was Santa good to you this year?” The gifts are small, but I try to make them special. The focus, however, is on giving/helping others.



Logistically, this works great for us.

  • It gives the children a chance to enjoy their gifts without the stress of rushing off to this or that relative’s house. In the past few years, we’ve given only St. Nicholas’ Day gifts because we travel later in the month.
  • Because we travel, St. Nicholas’ Day is our family’s private observance of Christmas—something I treasure.
  • It marks the beginning of the Christmas season for us. Although this year we’re observing Advent (an effort to keep our focus centered, as I wrote above), there’s still something about the stockings and the story that say “Christmas is here!”
  • It’s easy to find a charity to help. In the past, we’ve donated money, but now I’m trying to make the giving more of a hands-on experience.


People argue that, without Santa, children miss out on the magic of Christmas. The “magic,” if you want to call it that…the astonishing thing…is that God voluntarily became a human being—a baby!—and came to live with people on earth.


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  –John 1:14


By removing the distraction of Santa Claus, my children have a better chance of catching the real “magic.”



further reading:

From 2013, John Piper says “no way” to Santa in a Christian family’s home on Desiring God.

By Elizabeth Maddrey, one family’s story of keeping Santa in the “make-believe” category, posted at The Glorious Table.