How do you help your children develop a strong moral conscience when your ex-spouse exposes them to things that are contrary to your values?
Eight-year old Sally comes bounding in from her weekend with her other parent and tells you about the video she saw. As she describes certain scenes, you can feel the hair on the back of your neck standing up. You never would’ve allowed your child to see this video because of its immoral content. But the other parent sees nothing wrong with this, and you feel helpless to do anything about it. This is a nightmare for a parent who’s trying to instill good values in his or her children.
As much as they’d like to, parents can’t completely protect their children from all negative influences. 1 Nor are there any guarantees that children will choose the right path in life. However, there are ways that a parent can help a child develop a strong moral conscience in spite of value differences with the other parent.
The starting point in nurturing your child’s conscience is to model morality. It’s not so much what parents tell their children about how to live, but what parents do that makes the most significant impact on them. Be the kind of person you want your children to be. Live a Christ-centered life — a life of truth, love, and trust in God ( 1 Peter 2:21 , 1 Corinthians 11:1 ; Titus 2:6-8 ). And when you fall short of these standards, don’t be too proud to ask your child for forgiveness. Kids often learn more from a parent’s asking for forgiveness than from a parent’s attempts to be “perfect.”
As you try to be a good example for your children, also prepare them to handle future circumstances they may face in the other parent’s home. Acknowledge that these situations are opportunities for growth and building good character. For example help your children see how some secular videos fail to support biblical values such as love, purity, and responsibility. Avoid lecturing them and bad-mouthing the other parent, but patiently help your children think through the issues they will face and the choices they may have to make in the years to come ( Proverbs 22:6 , 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ).
Not only is it important to proactively prepare your children for future situations, it is equally important to use teachable moments in everyday life to reinforce appropriate behavior. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Ordinary moments with your children such as having dinner, doing yard work, or reading a bedtime story can present opportunities to instill the right values in your children.
Setting age-appropriate rules and consequences in your own home will reinforce good values. Explain the reasons behind the rules (based on biblical values) and make clear the consequences of wrong behavior. For example, lying should not be overlooked. It should be addressed and appropriate consequences enforced. By experiencing the consequences of his actions, a child realizes he needs to change his behavior or attitude. This ongoing training will continue to instill moral values in his conscience ( Proverbs 13:24 ).
Parents should not only point out when children do wrong, but they should also acknowledge and praise children for making right choices ( Proverbs 12:25 ). Applauding your child’s positive behavior strengthens a sense of right and wrong and motivates him to continue doing the right thing.
Nurture a healthy relationship with your children by spending time with them and listening to them. Parents who take time to sincerely hear their children give them a sense of value. It tells them they are loved and that their thoughts and feelings are important. Children pick up the values of the people whose love they feel. Jesus affirmed spending time with children when He said to His disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” ( Matthew 19:14 ).
Although ex-spouses may have completely different values, when you model a Christ-centered life and teach through love and discipline, your child will see a significant difference between your home and the other parent’s home. Pray earnestly that over time, the child will see the benefits of living a moral life.
- This article is not addressing cases of child abuse, such as sexual or physical abuse or exposing children to pornography. It is a parent’s responsibility to report such damaging and illegal activities to the police or local children’s protective services. Back To Article