Once I was shopping at the grocery store. An eager four-year-old started to wander off from her mother. The mother spoke to her child in a calm but icy voice. She said something like this, “I knew it was a mistake to bring you shopping. If you don’t come here right now, I’ll never take you shopping again.” The little girl sadly turned back to her mother with her head down. She was being treated as her mother thought she deserved. Mom seemed pleased that her power play worked. Often this tactic does not work, but for this little girl, earning her mom’s approval was all that mattered.
For her part, Mom had no idea of the devastating impact of her words and attitude upon her child. This little girl was living for the approval of her mother. As she grows older, she will likely seek to win the approval of other people. Her security will be connected to making other people like her. Mom may have thought that she was teaching her child to obey. In reality, she was teaching her daughter to become a slave to the desires of other people.
Living for the approval of others means that you live for something other than God. Psalm 103 teaches us that God does not treat us as our sins deserve. The gospel means that no one can “earn” God’s approval, except Christ. So, living for the approval of others only drives people away from the saving grace of God offered in the gospel.
So, what about responding to the wandering four-year -old? How can mom respond biblically and positively? The first step is to plan ahead. Mom knows that the items on the store shelves will be a distraction. So, before they leave the house, Mom goes over what is to be expected at the store. She covers what behavior she expects and the appropriate consequences for not following directions. Mom prays for God’s strength to obey and has her daughter do the same. Then, while at the store, Mom consciously keeps her daughter close, not letting her wander at all. This not only holds down the drama, but is a practical means of keeping her child safe. This routine happens every time they go shopping together. It is practiced, predictable and effective.
Mother and child alike are in constant need of the mercy and grace of God. Shame and condescension will not make Christ attractive to your children. Help your children to see that true obedience is a response to the goodness of God. God’s favor cannot be earned by obedience. A child who embraces this truth will not be driven to live for the approval of people. Rather she will find joy and acceptance in living for the honor of her Savior.