My 6-year-old daughter looks like Shirley Temple—she has naturally highlighted ringlets all over her head, sweet dimples, and big brown eyes that shine with every smile. And right now, she has the upbeat personality to match her face and hair.

But she hears how beautiful she is all the time. Of course, I love that people think my daughter is as adorable as I do, but I don’t want her to grow up thinking that the only value she holds is in her looks.

What happens if her curly blonde hair turns straight and black like mine? What if she gets chubby in junior high like so many young girls? What happens if she has an accident that disfigures her face, and all she’s heard her whole life is praise for her beauty?

Since before my children were born, I’ve prayed that God would save them and that He would have a personal relationship with them. I’ve never been concerned whether they are rich or poor or if they are popular at school. I know that if their hearts are right with God, they will follow the right path.

I’ve also begun to consider the struggles that my children may face in life from the pressure that society puts on them. What can I do—even at their young ages—to prepare them for the pressures and battles of life? How can I guide them to develop a heart that follows God?

I evaluated their environments and surroundings. They go to a private Christian school, so popularity will be important to them. Many wealthy families put their kids in this school, and that could tempt them to be pressured to pursue money.

I also studied my children’s personalities and paid attention to what they seem to struggle with. And I came up with a “game” that could be tailored for each child to help him or her build resistance to these temptations.

Questions for Katherine

For example, Katherine is beautiful, and she loves to play dress up and wear beautiful, elaborate clothes and accessories. When she was 4, she told me when she grew up she wanted to be “expensive.” (I was always telling her she couldn’t have something because it was too expensive.) She’s very popular at school because she’s so friendly and compassionate. She’s also extremely creative and an out-of-the-box thinker.

So this is how the game goes for Katherine. The first thing I ask her is, “What’s more important than being beautiful?” And from the time she could speak, she had to answer, “A heart that follows God.” And then I ask her a series of other questions tailored to fit the areas where I feel she might struggle:

“What’s more important than having friends?”

“What’s more important than having nice things?”

“What’s more important than being popular?”

“What’s more important than pleasing your teachers and friends?”

“What’s more important than being smart?”

And to each one, she has to answer, “A heart that follows God.”

Questions for Ben

My 8-year-old son, Ben, is always praised for his intelligence. He’s more of a driven introvert, always trying to figure out how things work or coming up with new inventions. He’s a perfectionist and gets out of sorts when things don’t go exactly as he wants them to. He’s also popular at school, but it’s because he’s clever, energetic, and he loves to laugh. So for Ben, I ask these questions:

“What’s more important than being smart?”

“What’s more important than making people laugh?”

“What’s more important than making good grades?”

“What’s more important than being successful?”

“What’s more important than making lots of money?”

And he has to answer the same thing: “A heart that follows God.”

It’s a simple idea, but it keeps reiterating the same thing—all the things that you keep getting praised for are good, but they aren’t the most important. If you have to choose between one or the other, choose to follow God. The list continues to morph as the children grow and change.

I also want the kids to use their strengths to advance the kingdom, so I ask them from time to time how they plan to use their gifts for God.

Since everyone tells Katherine how pretty she is, I will ask her, “Who are you going to be like when you grow up?” And she knows to answer, “Esther.” I’ve told her the story of how Esther was chosen to marry King Xerxes because she was so beautiful, and that God’s providence had her in that place of influence so she could save the Jewish people. Esther used her beauty for the work of God.

With Ben, when he tells me he wants to be an astronaut or a builder or scientist, I ask him, “And how could you use that gift for God? I know, how about … ?” And we proceed to brainstorm ways that he could use his dream job to advance the kingdom.

I know I can’t change the heart of a child. There’s nothing I can do to save their souls. Only God can do that. But I’m doing my best as a mom to show my kids that the best way of life is to have a heart that follows God.

Copyright © 2017 by Sabrina McDonald