Tea Parties, Jiu Jitsu, and the Most Important Thing

Chris and Melissa SwainBy Chris and Melissa Swain11 Minutes

Excerpt Taken from Write It on Their Hearts: Practical Help for Discipling Your Kids by Chris and Melissa Swain.

Chapter 2
Show Them You Love Them

“Love your children—and let them know you love them. Children who experience love find it far easier to believe God loves them.” – Billy Graham

Hearing your child cry evokes so many emotions. You feel frustration as your child cries through a temper tantrum. You feel bittersweet joy as they shed tears at their wedding.

The tears of my son sparked surprising emotions from me one afternoon. We had parked in our garage and were heading into the house. Caedmon, my son, was four then and had been told many times not to run in the garage. The previous owners of the house had painted the garage floor and the paint combined with the water that dripped from our vehicles made the floor slippery. I heard Caedmon’s feet smacking the concrete as he rushed around the car. I watched helplessly when he hit a slick spot. His feet went flying and he slammed into the garage floor.

The tears were instant. I rushed over and picked up my son and held him close. I could have been mad; he had disobeyed. I could have been frustrated that someone thought it would be smart to paint a concrete garage floor. I could have felt smug since I’d warned Caedmon of this very outcome. But I didn’t feel any of those emotions at that moment. I simply felt the love I had for my son. Love overshadowed my desire to punish him or even say, “I told you so.”

The surprising emotions of that moment came from my realization that this is how Jesus loves me. Although I disobey, although I choose rebellion, Jesus loves me. And caught up in that moment, realizing how much Jesus loves me through my brokenness, I remembered his simple and clear command that we should love one another.

In discipling our children, we must start with love, rely on the Father’s love, and let love rule the process. Love is integral to effective biblical discipleship.

While the above scenario was a rare moment when I got it right, the truth is I often get it wrong. As my children get older, it gets easier to respond less with love first. Shouldn’t a teenager act more mature than a toddler? For sure, but that doesn’t mean my response shouldn’t come from a place of love. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for allowing kids to run wild (we will discuss that more later). I’m saying we need to remember that as our kids grow older, love must continue to rule our responses. This is how they will learn to love others and—someday—their own children. Writing love on the hearts of our children begins with being a loving parent.

As with each of the six elements we will discuss in discipling children (see the outline in the introduction), our walk must match our talk. Before we can instill any truth or biblical principle, we must ensure we are acting out of love. We must model love for our children if we want them to understand and practice loving God and others. Let’s look at two specific ways we can show love to our children and help them grow in love for God and others.


Time leads to transparency. The time we spend with our children today equals transparency tomorrow. When children spend more time with a parent, they talk more. The familiar presence of a father or mother is foundational for open communication. The opposite is also true, in that the less time you spend together, the less you’ll talk. Less conversation means less transparency. To build more open and transparent dialogue with your children, spend time with them.

John 15:15 provides insight on the power of transparency:

I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.

Jesus shared a meal with the disciples the evening before his death. In this moment he clarified their relationship. He had been transparent with them by making known everything he had heard from the Father. Remember, this is God in the flesh. He had every right to withhold information, but he chose to share. This transparency created a connection that moved these men from being disciples to being friends. Feel the weight of what Jesus was doing here. This is precisely how transparency as a parent grows the bond of love between you and your children. We may think that withholding information will be helpful, we want to protect our kids from the realities of life. But Jesus shows us that it is through transparency that we become friends.

The more transparent we are with our children, the more opportunity we have to grow in love for one another.

When my daughter was younger, she enjoyed setting up tea parties with her stuffed animals. She would occasionally invite me to the festivities. While it was a struggle to squeeze into the tiny furniture designed for stuffed animals and small children, I attended as many as possible. During these parties my daughter would open up and tell me all kinds of things. How her day was going. Her favorite stuffed animal. Which friend was being nice and which was being a “meany.” This allowed me to share in return. I told her about my day—what I was struggling with, and how I was feeling. Admittedly, the nature of a child’s tea party is light, we didn’t get too deep. But this is just one example of how time spent translates into transparency. It isn’t always easy, or even possible, but saying yes to these kinds of invitations from our children provides an avenue to be transparent.

Transparency is opening up to someone, letting them see the real you. It means being honest and sharing even the stuff we don’t want most people to know. It means telling them the truth, even when it hurts. This is so important for your children because the old adage is true: children do what we do, not what we say. The more transparent we are with our children, the more opportunity we have to grow in love for one another.


As we spend time with our children, our relationship deepens. This relational depth results in the child being known by the parent and vice versa. The power of intimacy cannot be overstated in the discipling relationship. Transparency allows for parent and child to know more about one another. Intimacy is “marked by a warm friendship developing through long association.” Transparency is making known, intimacy grows from that knowledge. 1 Corinthians 8:3 says,

But if anyone loves God, he is known by him.

What a powerful statement from Scripture. God knows us. This is what defines us as followers of Jesus, that we are known by God. Our identity is not based on who we know, but in who knows us.

My mother often drove me to school when I was a child. These trips were spent in silence at times, but more often we talked. Our conversations began fairly surface level, but over time they deepened. What started as transparency grew into intimacy as she began to know me, and I began to know her. There is no guarantee your conversations will go deep. But putting you and your child in an environment for greater intimacy increases the odds exponentially. Take the opportunity to get involved in the morning drive to school. If your schedule includes driving your children to school or sports practice or activities at church, these are a perfect opportunity to spend time together. The key is to be intentional with this time. Don’t focus on forcing lengthy discussions about deep theology. It is the natural, everyday conversations that spark intimacy. Deeper conversations will come over time. Don’t waste the time you spend with your child in the car; instead use it to be intentional with your conversations.

Order your copy of Write It on Their Hearts: Practical help for Discipling Your Kids by Chris and Melissa Swain