Help Along the Way: framework for formation

[1] This is the sixth lecture in the Great Courses series Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive. It is on methods for shaping behavior by Peter M. Vishton, but we’re going to expand the discussion to not only include behavior, but to include whole person formation.

While shaping behavior is a helpful thing in the check out line at Target, when your kid (ok, my kid) is losing her mind over a package of Skittles; what we really want is to shape our children to be people of the fruit of the Spirit.

We want our children to be people of love, people of joy, people of peace, people of gentleness…. You get the point. (If not take a gander at Galatians 5 beginning in verse 22.)

Behavior management is a short-term ambition. Further, it has the lasting power of Lucky Charms on race day. Still the insights Dr. Vishton offers us are helpful. They are part of the training of children.

In Dallas Willard’s book Renovation of Heart, he speaks specifically about intentional formation. In chapter five, he offers a framework that consists of three parts: Vision. Intention. Means.

Before we go any further, I’d like to extend an invitation to deeply think on Vision Intention and Means for your family. Get the book, read the whole thing or if you’re short on time, read chapter 5. Invest some time in conversation with the God of the universe about these matters. They determine everything.  

Vision Intention and Means at 30,000 feet-

Briefly: Vision is the big picture that holds us. It is what we know to be true about God and about ourselves. It is the message that you want your children to leave home knowing. When the chips are down and the processed grass and water (work with me here…) hits the fan- our vision holds true. No matter what it is.

Vision can look something like: “We are unceasing spiritual beings in whom God dwells and delights.” (A phrase Jim Smith uses in his book, The Good and Beautiful God.)

We are God’s beloved.

God longed us into existence and we are wired to long for God. God’s love is stronger than any of life’s difficulties and it is stronger than death. God is near and God is for us.

A God shaped Vision stirs up a hunger for Intention.

Intention looks like honoring the life God has given us. God has given every human person a kingdom. (See the blog on Kingdom and children here.) Within this kingdom, God honors our choices and our voices.

Intention is learning and leaning into our deepest desires and longings; it is finding our purpose in God’s great universe. It is choosing to unite our own kingdom with God’s Kingdom.

Intention can look like helping my kids actually know what they want.

We are bombarded with pressure to want what others want (peer pressure) or want what others want us to want (advertisement).

Intention can look like honoring my child’s choices (within reason) and the outcomes of those choices. It can look like helping my child find the unique way they connect with God. I’ve seen children who connect with God best by jumping on the trampoline and children who connect with God best when they are singing worship songs.

Which brings us to Means. Means, as Dallas Willard shared, are practices intended to mobilize grace. To be sure the Holy Spirit does the forming, Means aid in that process. For example: singing worship songs is a Means of spiritual formation used by the Holy Spirit to shape us.

If the Vision I have for my family is to come to understand that God is with us in the hard moments of life, in those hard moments we will seek God together. We will pray together, we might even lament together. We might mourn our losses; we might celebrate God’s provision. These are all formational. They shape the core of our being.

Vision Intention and Means at 2 inches-

Vision might look like sleep. Sleep is a God sanctioned gift. From the very beginning God modeled rest. Sleep reminds us that we are finite and that the world will go on very well without us. Sleep is a restorative and necessary act of trust. God’s great love for us is woven into our need for sleep.

We help shape our children’s Intention around sleep by our own relationship with sleep. If we do not honor it in our own lives, neither will they.

Means for sleep will look different in various seasons of our lives. It might look like establishing a bedtime routine when they are young. It might look like not allowing phones in the bedroom when they are teenagers. (Remember that our beliefs are more caught than taught. We adults must live by the rules we make.)

Which brings us to Dr. Vishton’s lecture. (Finally! Yes, I know!)

When Dr. Vishton is talking about behavior he is talking about Means. Tried, true and tested practices that flow from a Vision about children and life. His Vision is for children who thrive. Children whose bodies and minds are so well formed that they can live a full life.

So here are the Means he suggests around shaping behavior. (Each of these could be a blog post in themselves, so if you’d like more information, please get the series and listen to chapter 6.)

·      Spanking just doesn’t work. Friends, I know this is still a hot topic among some of us. I agree with Dr. Vishton on this one. Please check out these two resources for further information. Here. Here. And my own 3 part reflection, beginning here. 

·      So what can we do to shape behavior?

o   Notice the positive and loudly praise it. This is the biggest bang for our buck. However, shallow or superfluous praise is empty. Most kids have a well-tuned BS meter. It must be genuine and deserved.

For example: If part of your Vision for your family is to be a people of generosity. Cast that Vision by living it out yourself, in front of your kids. Be generous with time, with money, with love. On a regular basis acknowledge God’s generosity and celebrate it. A robust Vision will stir up Intention in your children. Help your child to step into his own generous way of being. What is your child’s unique way of being generous?  Mobilize grace by taking on practices of generosity with your family. Whenever you catch your child being generous, notice it and celebrate it.

o   Tell children why we do what we do. Take the time and explain what we want and why the consequence.  This is back to Vision and Intention. Long before we think children understand what we are saying… they understand what we are saying. (Says the mother whose child explained sex among chickens to her kindergarten Sunday school class- we thought she didn’t know what we were saying!?)

One last encouragement for parents: make some time this summer for conversation with God around Vision Intention and Means for your family.

We are learning together, 엄마와 아빠, Grandmothers and Grandfathers, Aunts and Uncles, 
hoa and teachers. 


[1] If you are just now tuning into this blog series, it is a conversation with the Great Courses series, Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Peter M. Vishton.