FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Winning the Hearts of Your Kids

with Reb Bradley | January 27, 2010
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You've heard it said that children aren't robots, yet we're always amazed when our kids break away from our family's norm. On today's broadcast, Reb Bradley, a father of six and the director of Family Ministries in Sheridan, CA, tells Dennis Rainey why parents shouldn't put their hope in their child-rearing methods, as he had done when his children were young, but in the Lord. Find out what happened when Reb's son broke out of the family mold and how that turn of events eventually led to closer family relationships.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • You've heard it said that children aren't robots, yet we're always amazed when our kids break away from our family's norm. On today's broadcast, Reb Bradley, a father of six and the director of Family Ministries in Sheridan, CA, tells Dennis Rainey why parents shouldn't put their hope in their child-rearing methods, as he had done when his children were young, but in the Lord. Find out what happened when Reb's son broke out of the family mold and how that turn of events eventually led to closer family relationships.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You’ve heard it said that children aren’t robots, yet we’re always amazed when our kids break away from our family’s norm.

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Winning the Hearts of Your Kids

With Reb Bradley
January 27, 2010
| Download Transcript PDF

Reb:  I had this picture of children who would grow up at home and go through this carefully orchestrated courtship process and one day be married, and he messed it all up, and I was greatly disappointed with him for ruining my dream.  Now I see the problem was my dreams for him were really about me.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 27th.   Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   Today Pastor and author Reb Bradley shares what he would do differently if he could do his parenting all over again. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  I think today’s program is going to be a challenging one for parents as we pull back and look at how we are doing and what we are doing.  We may need to make some adjustments in our parenting but before we dive into that we have been encouraging family’s to make some adjustments in their scheduling in 2010 by spending some time in God’s word as a couple or as a family.

Dennis:  We’ve tried to show how simple it is here by reading a single verse and talking about it a bit.  How you might interact around the passage as a couple.

Bob:  We’ve been taking a verse out of your book Moments With You because you begin each of your daily devotionals with a scripture before you and Barbara write the devotional.   So on the 27th of January what is the verse you have?

Dennis:  Jeremiah 7:3 says; thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel.  Amend your ways and your deeds and I will let you dwell in this place.

This is a statement by God to a group of people whose hearts had been hardened toward the Lord by their disobedience.  I think it’s a great passage to talk about as a couple or as a family.  Ask have we allowed anything to seep into our relationship with Christ or in our marriage where we are being disobedient to God?  Where we need to amend our ways or as the Bible would also exhort us to repent.  Turn from what you are doing and deal with it.  As a result I will let you dwell in peace.  I’ll let you enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your lives, marriage and in your family. 

Bob:  So you are encouraging couples to do a little inventory and say where do we need to do some amending today?

Dennis:  Yes.  Maybe it’s in the way you argue or speak to each other.  Perhaps for the men it is how you lead your wife or how you don’t lead your wife and your family spiritually. 

Bob:  If you have kids it may be how you are parenting them which ties in to what we are going to hear about today on the program.

Dennis:  Or it may be how your kids are responding to you.

Bob:  That’s right.

Dennis:  They may be…well, they may have a problem with their tudes.


They may have a little disrespect going on here.  This is what the scripture is talking about.  Amend your ways and your deeds and I will let you dwell in this place.

Bob:  Again if our listeners are interested in reading the daily devotional that you and Barbara wrote related to that passage of scripture they can sign up to receive the Moments With You devotional via e-mail by going to FamilyLife or they can order a copy of the book and have it available in their homes.  Again you can get information at our website as well.

Now we want to move on the subject of parenting and I’m going to start off by referring to something that I’ve heard you say over and over and over and over again. 

Dennis:  I've repeated myself.

Bob:  You have said children are not robots; that you can't type in the program and get the response out that you're looking for as parents.  And yet our parenting does influence the lives of our children.  So how do we separate the tension between the fact that we do have influence, and we're designed to influence, but we can't influence in a determinative way?  What do we do with that, as parents?

Dennis:  Well, I think we assume our responsibility that God has given us, and then we leave the results to God.  We perform our duty in the power of the Holy Spirit according to the Scriptures, and we allow God to ultimately move all the things we attempt to teach from the head to the heart.  For Him to make the 18-inch pathway down to the heart, and He has ways to do it that we don't, and we need to let Him do it and not take His place in our children's lives.

Bob:  It is easy for parents to fall into the way of thinking, though, that if I do these things …

Dennis:  A + B will certainly equal C, and it doesn't happen that way.  We have a guest today on our broadcast who agrees with us.  Reb Bradley joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Reb welcome all the way across the country to our broadcast all the way from Sacramento.

Reb:  It's wonderful to be here.

Dennis:  Reb is a former pastor.  In fact, he was in the pastorate for more than 25 years; had his own radio talk show.  He and his wife, Beverly, have six children and, Reb, I wrote down, as a way to introduce you, I think you'll like this, I said, "He is a reformed home-school advocate," right?

Reb:  Now, that could confuse some people.

Dennis:  That could.

Reb:  Theologically?

Dennis:  Yeah, sure.

Reb: Or just reformed in homeschooling.

Dennis:  Actually, you really are for homeschooling, but there have been some lights go on in your life where you've uncovered some things where you feel like homeschoolers and home school parents need to be challenged, right?

Reb:  Absolutely.  Well, you know, my first book was called Child Training TipsWhat I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young, but the subtitle is the key.  What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young that was my first book.  You see, I'm not one of those guys who does everything right.  I make mistakes.  I document them.  It's like I fall in a hole, the Lord shows me the way out and I document the nature of the hole and how to avoid it and documenting and helping.

Dennis:  But what you're really putting your finger on is much broader than some mistake homeschoolers make parents who teach their children at home.  This is a trap that any parent can call into, and that's putting their hope and their methods and in all the prescribed equation of A + B =C, as we were talking about earlier.

Reb:  Absolutely.  Parents in this age I mean, Christian parents want their children to turn out great who doesn't?  The problem is that when you've dedicated your life maybe you're a mom, you've given up your career; you've set aside your life and time.  That means you've made incredible sacrifice.  You expect that there is going to be fruit of it, and then you think of the text in Proverbs that says, "Train up a child the way he should go and when he's old, he won't depart from it," so you're thinking, "Okay, I'm giving myself to the training.  I can be guaranteed this outcome." 

And then you fall into studying the books, listening to the tapes, going to conferences saying, "What are all the things I must do to ensure that my kids are going to turn out right?"  So you become, how could I say, "process-oriented, ingredient-oriented," and you lose the relationship with the kids along the way, but the problem is a preoccupation with the ultimate goal, which is perfect kids.

Bob:  Were you a process-oriented parent?

Reb:  Oh, I was incredibly a process-oriented parent.  I was always listening to tapes.  I wrote my own book years ago, and yet people would see me at other people's conferences and say, "Why are you here?"  And I'd say "I never can learn enough," because I wanted more ingredients if I had blind spots, but I was preoccupied with ingredients. 

My wife and I would learn something new, we'd come home and say, "All right, kids, things are different now," and then we would change the thing.  It didn't matter what their response was.  They became, if you will, non-human.  Their response was insignificant to us.

Dennis:  Back to the robot deal?

Reb:  It was.  We were treating our children almost as if they were robots.  "We're going to foist a process upon you," and, in fact, they were like inanimate objects, like chemicals a scientist might mix in a lab.  "We'll mix these ingredients together, and then when it all comes out" in fact, I thought of it this way.  We'll mix these ingredients together, we'll do homeschooling, intense sheltering, great control, and we'll mix it all into this bowl and set the timer.  When you're 18, ding, the timer is going to go off.  We'll have perfect angel food kids.  And I've seen thousands now, of parents, just like me.

Dennis:  You know, that's a recipe, but that's a recipe for something different.  There is what's called "devil's food" cake.

Reb:  Yes.

Dennis:  When children are over-controlled by parents who want to make them look good, well, I'm reminded, and this is mixing our metaphors here from our cake recipes, but I'm reminded of the great theologian, Erma Bombeck, who said, "If you want a guarantee in life, buy a Sears die-hard battery."  If you want to have kids, though, there are no guarantees, and it defies all the formulas, doesn't it?

Bob:  Well, what do we do with passages in Proverbs, though, that say "if you train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it?"  Do we scratch that from our Bible and say that's not true?

Reb:  Oh, no.  I had to come to an awakening of what God meant by that, but I actually heard a preacher on the radio say something to the effect that Proverbs is full not so much of promises but of statements of wisdom of general outcomes.  He went through multiple texts and showed how each one was really a general statement.  We interpret them as an exact promise, and his point was, as Solomon put that text in there, that, generally speaking, you can expect that when you devote yourself to your children, they will stay with the faith, and even if they have a time of rebellion, they'll come back, they will return, generally speaking, it's a wise statement that should be the general outcome.

But for an individual to think that the child will never have a time of rebellion, that's what God meant by that statement, I think, is a great mistake.

Bob:  If somebody picked up a copy of your book, What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young today, would you tell them, "Read this book.  It's a good book.  It will help you as a parent," or would you say, "No, wait until I get the revised edition out before you read this."

Reb:  What I tell people is this that book is about shaping and influencing behavior.  Some of my newer teachings are about influencing hearts.  Because, you see, many people read that book, and they are helped immeasurably.  But if you have an imbalance in your heart, that's where the problem comes in.  If you tend to be drill sergeant and formulaic-driven I'm going to do these things and if I just follow these biblical prescriptions Reb has recorded here, then I'll be assured of an outcome.  That's where you get in trouble.

Dennis:  Reb, I want to ask you a very personal question at this point, and you may not be able to answer it.

Reb:  All right.

Dennis:  Because of the public nature of radio.  Was there something that occurred among your six children where ultimately you realized where your hope was being placed?  In other words, was there a wake-up call through the behavior and lives of one of your children or more than one of them that ultimately got your attention?

Reb:  Absolutely.  My oldest son, who is 27 now, he's a cop, upstanding guy, been married for about five years, but when he was around 17 I was stunned to see he wasn't cooperating with the mold.  I was stunned to see that I didn't have the control I had.  He was an individual.  By the time he was 18, I actually had to have him leave my home.

Dennis:  So you kicked him out?

Reb:  I kicked him out.  He was out of our home for four months.

Dennis:  For what?

Reb:  For speaking disrespectfully.

Dennis:  What did he say to you?

Reb:  He would say, "But, Dad," and he would start talking back.

Dennis:  And so you jerked his chain and put him on the street?

Reb:  I gave him three weeks.  I said, "Son, you must correct this.”  You must say, "Dad, can we speak," instead of just start talking back.  You're modeling bad things for the little ones.  So that was what was going on in our home.

Dennis:  On the day you kicked him out …

Reb:  Yes?

Dennis:  What did he say to you that time and what exactly did you say to him and what happened?

Reb:  You know, I don't remember the exact words that came down.  I just saw that after a few weeks, he was not motivated to change.  And so I said, "All right, son, we're getting your stuff, we're going to put it on the front porch," and he started weeping.  He started pleading with me, "No, please," but I'd given him three weeks. 

So I said, "You can call a buddy and come pick you up, whatever you want, but you cannot live here.  I gave you three weeks to change this."  It was dramatic.  My wife and I wept for an hour probably every day for the next month. 

It was just heartbreaking for us mostly because we were so intensely committed to shaping him, protecting him from movies, now we're realizing that here he was, exposed to all the junk we tried to shelter him from, and he finally rented a room.  He slept on people's floors, he rented a room …

Dennis:  Did he have any wheels?

Reb:  He did have a little car my parents had actually given him just weeks before this whole thing occurred.

Dennis:  So here he is, alone on his own, has wheels, no parental control …

Reb:  The first thing he did was go buy himself a video player from the pawn shop, a video player/TV combination to watch the movies we forbade him from watching all those years, and he started doing all the things we'd prohibited him from.

But after four months, we saw him again.  I actually took a sabbatical after that.  I went away for several months to a cabin at Lake Tahoe.

Dennis:  You were a pastor at the time?

Reb:  I was a pastor, and I went away on a sabbatical and just take some time off with the family, and we invited him up.  He visited us, and that weekend his heart was renewed with the Lord with us.  We were restored, and so rather than move with us, he said, "You know what?  I developed bad friends while I was away.  I don't want to go back home, if it's okay." 

So we arranged another place for him to live up at Lake Tahoe for the church we'd connected with up there.  So he was away for a year, and then he came back and eventually got married, and that was my introduction to this whole experience that children are beyond the control of parents.

Bob:  You made a statement to him in the midst of that when he was speaking disrespectfully that later you reflected on that unearthed wrong thinking in your own heart, right?

Reb:  I looked at him at one point and said, "Son, you've ruined my dreams."  As I look back on it, I realize what I was saying was I had dreams that you, someone outside myself, were going to fulfill.  Now I see the problem was my dreams for him were really about me. 

I had this picture of children who would grow up at home and go through this carefully orchestrated courtship process and one day be married, and he messed it all up, and I was greatly disappointed with him for ruining my dream.  I didn't even know we had a broken relationship.  I since realize that even when children go their own way, it's not nature.  There is a broken relationship at the time; I just thought I had a rebellious son.  It never occurred to me that rebellion is partly because of a broken relationship.

Dennis:  But what if you can't repair the relationship?  There are parents who have pursued their children repeatedly throughout the teenage years, and the child refuses to love back.

Reb:  Well, you have to keep a standard for your home.  You have to say, "Here are the rules for our home, and if you cannot keep them, you cannot live here."

Dennis:  So if you had it to do all over again, back to that day when you asked him to leave your home.

Reb:  Now that I understand relationship, I would have sat down for some really heart-to-heart talk to him.  The kinds I've had since he's gone.  I've gone out with each of my adult children now that my eyes have been opened, and had luncheon appointments with them, and coffees with them.  Each time I'd discover something new, I'd go meet with one of my adult children and say, "Here is what God has shown me, and here is what I wish I'd done in my parenting, and I realize I didn't do with you.

Bob:  As you look back, you'd say the fundamental thing that you let slide was the cultivation of a relationship with your children.

Reb:  Yes, we had so much affection in our home even my adult son, to this day, he's six-five, about 350 pounds, a huge guy; makes a very dangerous cop, but I could sit across the table from him …


Really, everybody he never cuffs anybody, he says, "Put these cuffs on."

Dennis:  I'm going to watch my speed when I go through town, I promise you.


Reb:  He's a very sweet guy.  But I can reach over and put my hand on his hand while we talk, and he doesn't even think about it.  There is so much touching, warmth, and affection, still to this day.  So we had all this affection and I thought that meant having their hearts.  I didn't know there a difference between just having affection and actually having your children's hearts.

So I looked back if I were to do it again back to your original question, I would make spend some time with him to repair the broken relationship, because he had given up trying to please us years earlier, and I see that now.

Bob:  Now, you're going to explain this to me, because you're saying there was a lot of affection in the home, but there weren't good relationships.  You typically think if there's a lot of affection, there has to be good relationship, doesn't there?

Reb:  You would think that.  At our home, though, there was warmth, there was touching, there was hugging, but bottom line is that was not the dominant force in the home.  It was my wife's and my authority and intimidation.  My children had learned to obey chiefly out of fear of consequence.

Dennis:  Give me an illustration of your authority and intimidation, because I’m looking across the table, I can kind of picture it I'm sorry, Reb, I know you're a reformed home school advocate.

Bob:  We think you could be a cop, too.


Dennis:  You wouldn't want to be pulled over by Reb, either, folks.  But, seriously, what's an illustration of how you would be intimidating or controlling as a dad?

Reb:   Here it is.  This actually happened.  Years ago, my wife and I looked at our older children when they were young, and we said this I said, "Kids, your mom and I have to work on a project all through the night, and we're going to be up late.  So in the morning, you don't dare wake us up."  In other words, we relied on threat of consequence "Don't you dare wake us up.  You get a video, you watch a family parent-approved video, and you go out there, and you watch it until you see us, but don't make any noise.  Do I make myself clear?"  So this was my manner was to threat of consequence.

Dennis:  Clint Eastwood parenting, huh?

Reb:   Make my day.

Dennis:  Was that what it was like, seriously?

Reb:  Well, it was just simply always "here is the consequence."  And consequences were the chief motivator.  Whereas now, my younger three, who I have cultivated relationship with, who presently are 16, 13, and 12, but when they were younger even, we understood relationship.  So it would be like this "Kids, your mom and I have to work through the night.  We need our rest.  Be ask quiet as possible in the morning," and we'd tell them what to do.

But we wouldn't have the threat of consequence.  We'd look at them in their eyes based on relationship.  And so with our older kids, our threats wouldn't work, and the next morning they'd forgotten the threat, and they would wake us up with fussing and making noise.

Now, our younger ones, we've made this appeal out of love, well, they still wake us up.  They wake us up doing this "Quiet! Don't wake up Mom and Dad!" so they're all motivated.  I said don't wake up Mom and Dad!  So they're motivated to, they want to keep us asleep.  So that's the difference. 

A threat and intimidation style of parenting only knows, "here is the consequence."  When you have relationship, you can look at them in love and say, "But you love me.  I love you.  I expect this of you," and they, in their hearts say, "Yes, that's right."

Bob:  As I hear you tell that story, I think there are parents who would say, "We have got to help our children understand respect for authority and obedience, and this is key to our child training."  And if they do that without the context of love and relationship, they are fostering rebellion in the heart of a child, aren't they?

Reb:  Often.  In our home, we only knew consequence, and I say it this way my wife and I had intimated our children into subjection but failed to within their hearts into submission.  We had intimidated them into subjection.  They would not cross us.  It was, "Yes, Mom," "Yes, Dad," they did everything we said.  By the time they were teenagers, we had no idea their hearts were far from us, because outwardly it was always compliance and obedience.

Dennis:  I'm reminded of the story of the little boy whose parents told him to sit down three times.  Have you heard this story?  And, finally, the father pushed him down in the chair, and he looked back up at him and said, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside."  And that's what you're saying was occurring with your kids.

Reb:  Except for my children would sit down, and they wouldn't say that.  They would sit down because they were intimidated to do anything else, but in their hearts they were standing up, they just wouldn't hint it verbally outwardly.

Bob:  And they were planning for the day when again, not consciously, but in the back of their mind they were thinking, "Someday, I'll be able to stand up if I want to, and on that day, I will do what I want to do."

Reb:  Exactly.

Dennis:  "I'm going to go buy a video a recorder and TV and go watch all the movies that Dad and Mom won't let me watch."

Bob:  The very fact that that's kind of the first thing, once your son is kicked out of the home is an indicator that he's saying, "I'm going to call the shots one day."

Reb:  Well, that was my son.  My next child, my daughter, didn't feel quite so strongly.  We had her heart by the time she was probably 17.

Bob:  Although when it came to the area of courtship, which is something that you have taught on, written books on, you had your vision of what her courtship experience would be like, and it wasn't exactly your experience.

Reb:  Well, it was pretty close.  It was my two sons who had their own versions.  That's a whole other show.

Dennis:  Well, that's what I was wondering.

Bob:  Maybe we'll open that can of worms …

Dennis: I'll think we'll pull the can opener out maybe on FamilyLife Today another day.  But you know what you're talking about, Reb, is not just in the home school movement.  This can be among parents who are churchgoing people who think that outward conformity is the goal of Christian parenting.  I like the way you've put it.  In fact, I like the wording, you said, "I have to win my child's heart," and it's the picture of God's pursuit of His children. 

What is this Book?  From Genesis to Revelation the story of the hound of heaven chasing down his pups.  And I’m one of them.  That's how He got me.  His love turned my life around and, for a number of years I rejected Christianity or a form of Christianity because it looked like rules, regulations, and consequences the very thing you're talking about, Reb.

But it was the relationship that I finally understood from the Book of Romans that God in heaven loved me, and He died for me.  And He pursues me in His Resurrection love.  He pursues a relationship with me desperately, and it was that love that turned my life around, and that's what you're saying we need to do as parents with our kids our hearts need to be connected to our kids.

Bob: And I think we've got to recognize that their hearts are our target as parents.  We don't simply want to try to get the outward conformity, the obedience on the outside without touching their heart.

I'm thinking of the book that our friend, Tedd Tripp, has written, the excellent book, Shepherding a Child's Heart, which, by the way, has been revised and updated, and there is now a parenting handbook that goes along with it.  We've got both of these resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I think if there was one book that I would point parents to that kind of provides this over-arching parenting philosophy that we've been talking about today, it's Tedd's book. 

Again, it's called Shepherding a Child's Heart.  There is information about both the book and the parenting handbook in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go to our website at and get more information about these resources. 

You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY, that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word TODAY and someone on our team can get you information on how you can have the resources you need sent out to you.

I want to take a minute today before we are done and say a special word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today especially those of you who are legacy partners.  In each of the cities where FamilyLife Today is heard there are handful and we would hope that handful might grow into a couple of fists full of families who help support the ministry by making a monthly contribution to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

They become legacy partners and when you sign on to do that we send you a welcome kit that has resources to help strengthen your marriage and family.  Throughout the year as you make donations to help support the ministry we continue to provide you with updated resources that we think are going to strengthen you in your relationships.  Or resources you can pass on to others you know who might be struggling with a particular issue. 

If you sign up to become a legacy partner and you allow us to receive your donation through a monthly credit card or check draft we are going to send you as a thank you gift we are going to send you a certificate for you and your spouse or friends of yours to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember® Marriage Conference. 

Find out more about want it means to be a legacy partner by going online at or simply call 1-800-FL-TODAY.

Now tomorrow we are going to continue talking about the issue of parenting and getting to the heart of your child.  We’re going to find out how Reb Bradley responded the day his son came home with a tattoo.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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