It’s Not Natural – part 2

Children, obey your
parents in the Lord, for this is right
. Ephesians 6:1

It seems that there is actually one more post in this series
of communicating the Gospel to your children. Heather, one of our readers,
raised an important question about the last post. Here is her comment:

You mention that
"Heather has been given only one option." Is it ever appropriate to
offer a choice? For instance, "Honey, you can either give the train to
your brother and find another toy, or you can play with the train with
him." Or should these options be explained at a point when there is “not”
a squabble going on (i.e. "here are some ways you can share and act kindly
in the future")?

Let’s look carefully at what Heather, the 4-year-old
daughter is being asked to do. Remember,
in this scenario, Mom knows that her daughter is struggling with giving up the
toy. So Mom enters the situation to put
things on course. My point in the previous post was to say that clear,
unambiguous direction is needed. In the question posed above, this child is
asked to make a choice between giving the toy up completely and playing with
the toy along her younger sibling. In
short, the older daughter is being asked to make a challenging ethical decision
when her own motives are already conflicted—a choice that requires wisdom and
skill. Mom is trying to train her
daughter to be kind and think of her younger sibling first. Mom wants her to
put her brother’s needs before her own. Adults often stumble over this one.

I recall seeing my own children attempt to keep on
with a toy by saying that they will play with the toy together with
younger brother or sister. They knew
that preferring others was the goal. However, the offer to share
actually meant
that they would keep playing while the younger one would  watch. This,
of course, did not go over well with the younger one, who was
supposed to be content with the opportunity to watch the older one play.

Wisdom is a skill to be learned. Making wise choices that
prefer others over our own desires is one of the most challenging parts of life;
wisdom requires us to deny ourselves and choose God’s way. When you give options
to young children, they will by nature tend to choose the one that pleases
them. In fact, isn’t this the very reason that we think we need to give them a
choice? Making a choice gives us a sense that they are in control—that they can have what they want. We think, “If they
get to choose something, they’ll think they’re getting their own way, and they
won’t whine and complain.” But having to submit to mom’s direction takes away
that sense of self-determination.  Human
nature immediately rebels, saying, “No! I want to choose for myself!” And isn’t
it the essence of sin to want our own way instead of God’s way?

The time for making choices comes soon enough. Be aware of
your ultimate goal: To train your
children to make wise choices that honor God. Be aware of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they must acquire to do
so. During the ages of 0 to 5 you want to provide them with a solid foundation
of wisdom and authority so that they will be prepared to make those choices as
they become older. During those years you must train them to think of others
first. These years require constant, vigilant parenting. By God’s grace, you
are working to set a course for the rest of your child’s life, a course that is
opposite to their natural inclination. It’s wiser to wait until this foundation
is well laid before giving children the responsibility of choices and decision
making. Generally, this  would come in
the 5-12 year-old range.

Young children need clear direction. They need to understand
that they are accountable to God. This
direction should be well-informed. For Mom to give wise direction, she must be
aware of the different personalities of her children. She should factor in
things like fatigue and health of the children. She will be aware of the nature
of previous squabbles. She should be alert that the younger child may be taking
advantage of appearing to be the smaller, helpless victim, or that the older
child may be lording it over her sibling. All of these things and more will
factor into the direction that Mom gives. But in the end, the kindest thing for the child is to be given clear,
confident and pleasant instruction. This is what will lead to wisdom in the
children as they grow. Early on in life the most important thing to grasp is
that God is in charge; it is his world.

Am I saying that you should never give your child a choice
before age 5? No. A principle is not a rule; you always have to work to apply
principles with wisdom and discernment. The principle is that submission to God
must be learned first, before a child will make unselfish choices. As the
parent, you are in the best position to evaluate your child’s progress, and you
must apply the principles.

I am saying that you should be aware of what is involved in
giving choices. If you are simply giving your child a way to preserve her
perception of independence and avoid the humility of submission, then giving
choices is not wise. On the other hand, if you think your child genuinely has a
good attitude and is struggling to work with a difficult sibling, you might
help her work out a problem by offering a couple of options.

Please let me know if this addresses the concern raised by
the question Heather asked. Thanks again, to all of you for your participation
in this blog! Your thoughts and comments are valuable and appreciated.

Shepherd Press