Is “I don’t know” your children’s favorite phrase? How does a Christian parent deal with “I don’t know”? Join AMBrewster as he discusses five ways to respond when your kids don’t know.
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“TLP 207: Teach Your Children to Learn, Part 1 | God created us to learn”
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“TLP 210: Teach Your Children to Think | Carolyn Brewster interview, Part 1”
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Have you ever asked your children a simple question and received, “I don’t know”?
No doubt, some of you listening to my voice today are grieved by the fact that “I don’t know” has become your child’s go-to response, and you’re not sure how it happened, why it happened, or how to stop it from happening.
Well, that’s the topic of today’s show, and I pray that as we look into God’s Word, we’ll find the answers our families need today.
And, I kind of feel like mixing things up today. Instead of saving this for later, I’m going to share it now.
On our next episode we’re going to discuss “Concrete Family Talk | avoiding misunderstanding; encouraging true understanding.”
I know it’s a mouthful, but isn’t that the core issue of our family talk? We don’t speak to each other inside The Communication House, so rarely does anyone have a good idea what anyone else is trying to say, and so we related to each other based on our own interpretations of reality instead of grounding our relationships and communication on solid fact.
I hope you’ll join us for that next time.
And — of course — I want to encourage you to rate and review the show on iTunes, Facebook, and whatever other directory you use. And if you review us on iTunes or Facebook, I look forward to reading it on the show.
And don’t forget that we are a listener supported ministry. Even if it’s a one-time gift or $1 a month, we will do our best to steward it to God’s honor and glory as we serve families all over the world.
Okay, let’s talk about why your kids don’t seem to know anything these days.
As I often do, let me start by explaining what this episode is not about.
In II Corinthians 12:2, Paul says, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”
Psalm 26:1 commands us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
There are an infinite number of things we and our children don’t know.
When you ask them questions to which they don’t have an answer, you need to expect an “I don’t know” response.
That’s completely appropriate.
So, the larger question would be, “How do you avoid asking your children questions they can’t answer?” And that is a fantastic question.
Though that’s not the focus of today’s discussion, let me give you some pointers.
It is appropriate to have an understanding about what our kids know. Parents who have no idea what their kids understand are in danger of being absentee parents.
Most of you don’t have to ask your children anything to realize they have no understanding of astrophysics. There are many questions we don’t have to ask if we’re just paying attention and using our brains.
Hopefully, this will reduce the number of times we need to ask questions to understand our children’s knowledge base.
And generally — if we’re parenting well — we won’t be offended or annoyed if they say, “ I don’t know” to questions like that.
“How do you change a tire?”
“I don’t know.”
“Cool, let me show you.”
What bothers us is when they reply that they don’t know something, but we believe they do. For example: if last week I taught my daughter to change a tire, and this week she tells me she doesn’t know how . . . I’m going to struggle understanding that.
And that’s the main focus of today’s talk.
But — before we move on — most of us have to acknowledge that there have been very legitimate situations where we believed someone had an answer, they told us they didn’t know the answer, we felt annoyed or offended because we thought they were withholding the answer, and later we discovered that they legitimately didn’t have the answer, and our response was plain and sinful.
How do we keep from finding ourselves in situations like that? Two more pointers:
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I believe we parents need to help our children be honest, mature, and trustworthy. And this will often require us call our kids’ shenanigans. My prior observations weren’t given to say that we shouldn’t drive to know the truth, I was merely speaking to the attitude we should have while doing it.
Alright, now let’s jump into the meat of today’s topic. Here are five reasons kids say, “I don’t know”?
But since we rarely know which of those five reasons is the truth, I want to give you some practical ways of responding to your kids that will hopefully help them be less forgetful, careless, blind, and sinful.
1. If your children legitimately don’t know the answer, you can equip them to learn it.
In I Samuel 17:55-56 we read, “As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is this youth?’ And Abner said, ‘As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.’ 56 And the king said, ‘Inquire whose son the boy is.’”
I like how Saul wasn’t offended our annoyed. He merely instructed Abner to do whatever it took to find the answer.
Now, there are some situations where our children won’t have an answer, and we won’t want or need to give them one. For example: from time to time the boys who live at my home at Victory Academy may say something inappropriate in the hearing of my children.
I may then pull my kids aside and ask if they heard what was said. If they tell me, “No,” I say, “Good,” and move on.
Most of the time though, if our kids don’t have the answer, let’s give it to them.
2. If your children should have known the answer, but they forgot, you need to remind them.
There are a couple ways of doing this. It will depend on the situation, your relationship with your child, their age, the context of their forgetfulness, etc.
Let me give you a couple examples and a bonus thought:
A. In John 14:5-7, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’’”
Now, we know from Scripture that Jesus had taught his disciples these truths in many ways over many days. They knew the answer, but had — once again — forgotten. And we see that Jesus didn’t get annoyed, He merely retaught them.
“6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”
We see Jesus reteaching them, but He also reminds them that this is something they should have known and that they have no excuse to forget in the future.
However, there’s another way to address our children’s forgetfulness.
B. In Matthew 23:21-27 we read, “And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’ 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.””
Don’t let this illustration with the scribes and elders confuse us. It’s true, they had nefarious goals, and one could argue they were merely lying. However, this situation is akin to struggles our children have.
These priests and elders knew a lot, but they were uncertain which answer was the best. This is a version of forgetfulness where they choose to not remember the best answer. This happens when our kids find themselves with a number of seemingly good answers, but no clear grasp of which is the best.
Instead of exerting some brain sweat, it’s easier to claim ignorance. But look how Jesus responds: “And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Sometimes it’s okay to provide our children the answer they should have remembered, and sometimes it’s appropriate to require them to figure it out on their own.
I do this when I’m homeschooling my children. I’ll teach a concept, if they forget the next day, I’ll review it. But if that keeps happening, at some point I’m going to require the child to go back into the book and relearn it.
Now, here’s the bonus point: when my child was taught something, and forgot it, it’s not honest to say they don’t know.
It’s appropriate to say, “I forgot,” but to say “I don’t know,” is actually false.
Now, this may seem like splitting hairs and straining at gnats, but — as we’ll discuss on our next episode — we need concrete Family Talk in our homes. We need words that clearly and intelligibly communicate the reality of our hearts and lives.
If I allow my children to excuse their forgetfulness by speaking as if they were never taught the material in the first place, I’ve basically given them permission to redefine reality.
And, I think you’ll agree, that the communication styles in our world today are full of redefinitions and delusions.
But — like I said — I plan to discuss this in far more detail when we talk about children and lying.
Moving on . . .
We looked at what to do when our children legitimately don’t know the answer.
And we just discussed a couple ways of handling forgetfulness.
3. If your children carelessly say they don’t have the answer, you need to admonish them and discover the root of their habit.
In Matthew 12:34-37 Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.””
This is a huge doctrine that applies to a scary amount of the things our children say.
This is why we must admonish them. To admonish is to instruct via warning. We talked about the Bible’s usage of this word in episode 4, “Don’t Lose Your Influence.” And we extrapolated the ideas even more in my interview with Heath Lambert in episode 53 called, “Counseling and Parenting.” I would suggest you listen to those in chronological order.
So, if our children have fallen into the mindless habit of saying, “I don’t know,” we need to admonish their careless speech because they will be held accountable for it, but we also need to dig down to the root of the issue.
In this context, carelessness grows from building a habit, but what motivated the habit in the first place?
The answer will be one of the remaining four reasons kids say “I don’t know.” Perhaps people frequently asked them questions to which they didn’t have the answers and they built the habit of saying “I don’t know,” because they rarely did and — by saying it — they found themselves off the hook.
Perhaps they were very forgetful and built the habit that way.
Maybe their spiritual blindness laid the foundation for their careless speech.
And maybe they found themselves in a never-ending stream of lies that became a brainless response.
Either way, we need to work to discover the root so we can parent it.
This ties into our discussion of the Merest Christianity which started in episode 95 and helps us answer the question “Why do our children do what they do and say what they say?”
We cannot glorify God in our parenting by being superficial. We have to dig down to the roots in order to understand our children and help them mature in Christ.
And this ties into our next point which is . . .
4. If your children are spiritually blind to the answer, you need to introduce them to Christ.
This point deals only with spiritual matters.
In Romans 8:5-8 we read, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
And Proverbs 4:19 teaches us that “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.”
Can a lost person graduate with honors, start a business, get married, become a millionaire, and live a seemingly peaceful life? Sure. But they will do so as an enemy of God. And nothing they do will ultimately please Him.
What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?
Evangelism parenting is something about which we talk a lot on this show. I work with boys every year who either know they’re unsaved or believe they’re followers of Christ when they’re actually not. This is the largest and most important foundation stone of what I do with the at-risk boys here at Victory.
And it’s also the biggest thing we need to do with our own children.
As I said, we have many episodes that address this. If you know or are concerned that one or more of your children are unsaved, I want to point you to episode 45, “The Second Most Important Question to Ask Your Child” and then encourage you to listen to The Four Children series that starts with episode 55.
Your children will never be able to truly know or understand spiritual Truth until they have a relationship with Christ and are in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus teaches us the importance of the Holy Spirit in John 14:26. He says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
And whether our children are born again or not, sometimes they say they don’t know because they’re lying. This is always a spiritual problem. So . . .
5. If your children lies about not knowing the answer, you need to admonish them and attempt to discover the truth.
I saved this one for last because it’s the harder one. And now we’ve made full circle. At the beginning we discussed the fact that we are limited people who often have no idea what people know and don’t know.
Therefore, whether you think your children may be lying or your have conclusive evidence that they’re lying, we must be certain that our motivation is God’s glory. Like we discussed two episodes ago, our responses to such situations must achieve the purpose of God. If we get all offended, we’re sinning just as much as our children are.
So, what do we do when our kids are lying?
Well, there are many options. Here are the most common:
A. If you already know the truth, you can make it easier for them to tell the Truth by exposing the fact that you already know it.
Let’s look at the first child to ever lie by saying, “I don’t know.”
In Genesis 4:9-11 we read, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.”
Notice that God knew the answer, and though He knew Cain was lying, yet He didn’t get frustrated. He simply continued on as if He and Cain both knew the truth . . . because they did.
As foolish as Cain was, at least he stopped lying about what happened to Able. He didn’t try to deny that he killed him because Cain knew he was caught.
Now, we have to be careful with this one. Again, in our arrogance, it’s so easy to believe we know exactly what happened.
When I say “irrefutable evidence,” I’m talking about video and audio recording type of evidence.
There is a lot to be said about the validity of two or more witnesses as well.
My point is, I’ve encountered many children who would lie as they saw themselves on video.
At that point, the reality is that they and you both know what the truth is and you can move on to the consequences for the original sin as well as the lie.
B. If you don’t know the truth, but you suspect your child is lying, you need to admonish them and let them know that you are going to work to discover the truth.
In situations like these — where I’m fairly certain I know what happened — I’ll start with something like this: “Listen, what I’m about to ask you is going to be hard. You’re going to be tempted to lie because you’re afraid of the consequences. But you need to remember what God says about lying. Why would you take one bad choice and the potential consequences and make it worse by adding more?”
That’s the admonishment.
If the child lies, I then let them know that I’m going to try to discover the truth. There are a number of important steps to this:
Now, they may be spiritually blind and not care about the Primary Consequences as long as they aren’t grounded when it’s all said and done.
And that means we may need to revolve our priorities to Evangelism Parenting.
I will have all of these points neatly laid out for you on our blog, Taking Back the Family. You can find the link in the description.
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God wants us to parent our children as He would. Therefore, we need to be careful that we’re not ignoring a much deeper issue in our children when they constantly revert to “I don’t know.”
So, we’ll keep mining God’s Truth from God’s Word next time.
See you then.
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