Rose asked a great question too that I thought we’d post today. To get the full context behind the question, be sure to read her whole comment. Now then, the question(s):

How do we go about equipping kids during their first eighteen years for the kinds of attacks they’ll face in the “real” world without overprotecting on the one hand and overwhelming on the other? How do we maintain the right balance between what is taught and what is caught? And do we need to use different approaches when dealing with a strong-willed child as opposed to a compliant child?



Filed under How Kids Think

11 responses to “Balance

  1. kim

    I am a psychotherapist and often speak to groups on the topic of building the foundation of their child’s testimony. I think a brief synopsis is the best way that I can answer this question.

    If you are a born-again Christian, consider when you accepted Jesus into your life, and then think about the circumstances that led up to that decision. Your home life, your family’s view on religion, life’s difficulties, are all factors that may have prepared you for the time that Christ knocked on the door of your heart.

    As parents, we can never make the decision to follow Christ for our children. We may be tempted to push them down the path, but ulitimately, the choice will be their own.

    We can, however, prepare them for the time that the Holy Spirit presents Himself, and build the foundation that will make accepting Jesus more natural.

    As a therapist, I have spent most of the past two decades working with children with abusive histories. Children who never knew the love of a parent, children who have suffered sexual abuse under the shadow of the cross, children who have such mistrust and shame, that they dont believe they are lovable.

    My job is a ministry, and it has been focused on preparing hearts, so that the soil is ready to allow a seed to grow. It involves pulling out thorns that can choke out the Word, tilling and softening the hearts, so that God can be accepted.

    I have shared, that my own son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2 1/2 and battled for nearly 4 years. Most of our time was spent on the cancer floor, where he was surrounded by little bald friends. Fragile children made for delicate circumstances, as many earned their angel wings….they had a light touch on this earth.

    It forced me to prepare my son for the fallen world, long before I had ever wanted to do so.

    Unlike the many abused children that I had cared for, I wanted my son to be protected, but it was not possible.

    Every child, whether in an extreme situation, or just from living on this earth, day to day, will experience sin and hardship. We can not protect them, and we must resist the urge to lie to them

    I believe that to give our children a Biblical perspective, is the healthiest thing that we can do, and helps to lay a foundation that is able to understand Jesus when He comes calling.

    Im not advocating immersing our children in evil, or not using good judgement regarding the influences we allow into their lives, but I am suggesting that we share Jesus with them in all things.

    For kids to understand early, that God loves them, and the devil doesnt, is important. It must be shared on a developmental level that is appropriate, but shielding them from the concept of evil does not protect them, it blinds them.

    To pray for your children, to infuse Christ and His Godly character traits into their daily lives, will teach them what is right. To instruct them that evil exists and about the armour of God, will prepare them for battle.

    Because as much as we may want to protect our children, this world is a battle. We fight against principalities, and they come to our children in many ways;

    Through immoral advertising and media, in schools that have removed God, in a society that loves things instead of people, and through day to day interaction with human beings who are sinful by nature. Our kids are not immune, they are in the battle, we must make sure that we equip them.

    Let’s not coddle our children, but instruct them to see the world through a Biblical view. I believe this is the best way to prepare them, so that their hearts and ready to accept the seed of Christ, and blossom and grow in their walk with Him

  2. Kevin

    I don’t know. This seems basic to me. Doctrine, philosophy, apologetics, polemics: study them and teach them.

    I think, however, we face several problems:
    1) We believe, for some reason, that we cannot teach these to children. Perhaps we think we need to make everything fun for kids. Perhaps we think they cannot manage it intellectually.

    2) There is a lack of materials written at appropriate age levels.

    3) I fear children’s Sunday schools fail to go beyond teaching Bible stories and morality. Also, they are age-based rather than based on spiritual maturity or individual needs.

    4) We have been lazy and have not studied these well ourselves.

    I don’t think “overprotecting” comes along with equipping. We may overwhelm, but I think that is avoided by discussion.

    As for teaching and catching – think disciple making. You teach and then you catch. The heart cannot be given to what the mind does not know. What the mind knows has little impact until the heart is given to it. Address the mind; let the Spirit address the heart.

    I don’t understand the mention of strong-willed versus compliant children. That has to do with obedience. Aren’t we talking about teaching? You aren’t commanding your children to believe something – you are persuading them through word and deed.

    Book suggestion – Love Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland.

  3. Rose Bexar

    Kevin, my question re: strong-willed children has to do with the problem of authority. There are children who will ask hard questions because they’re genuinely curious (“Mommy? How do we know 2+2=4? I mean, I know it is, but why?”), and there are children who ask hard questions as a means of defiance (“Oh, yeah? Well, how do we *know* 2+2=4?” *smug grin*). I don’t know how to deal with the second kind of child; I’m not a rebel, and I don’t understand them or how to persuade them.

  4. Kevin

    Ah, I see. I guess one must distinguish, then, when a question is being asked in a spirit of inquisitiveness and when it is asked in a spirit of defiance. If the latter, there is little point in responding, unless you can change their attitude around.

    My parents called me a little lawyer and said I’d even argue with the devil. I guess that puts me in the category of strong-willed. My 8 yr old daughter takes after me. I won’t let her take focus away from her obedience to a command by playing word games, though she’ll try. You can’t win arguments with someone who isn’t going to be reasonable.

  5. Actually my inclination would be that the strong-willed child is easier to equip for the battle, because they are more able to stick to something once they *have* chosen it, and more comfortable in opposition to prevailing winds.

    The key is, don’t just tell them what to think. Give them a chance to think for themselves. If they love to pick everything apart, give them the stuff from the other side to pick apart. Some of us are just born contrarians; give us the right stuff to contradict.

    I’m not talking about basic obedience here, but about ideas. How do we know that? Why do we do such-and-so? This is a *good* sign.

    Personally, I’m a lot more worried about how to raise compliant children who find it easier to go with the flow than to challenge conventional thinking. That’s a dangerous mindset once they’re out on their own.

  6. Rose should be encouraged that they understood the Monty Python sketch. That’s a step in the right direction! I think her concern is a common one among college professors, especially (unfortunately) at Christian colleges.
    Here are a few thoughts from my experience with my own kids and from working with college students.

    First, kids can sense fear in adults from a mile away. So you have to pit all your fears against the gospel and see that Jesus is bigger than your fears. Like in the hymn–“the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Paul talks in Phillipians 1 about not being afraid of anything in your opponents. So don’t “freak out” when you realize your child has encountered something that opposes the gospel. Stay calm. Don’t fear your friends, your enemies, your parents, your future, etc. OK, I feel like singing “My God is so Big”. I’ll leave it at that. Jesus is bigger than what I am scared of.

    Second, use the big ideas of the Bible in little places. I can’t keep alot of counseling techniques in my head, but I can keep track of the biggies of Creation, Fall, Redemption. Those cover many of the kids’ questions. There are probably a variety of explanations for Rose’s students not understanding the notion of “trial by what is contrary”. One might be that they have never learned what the contrary is, b/c they don’t really know the gospel (she didn’t say anything about the students’ backgrounds). They don’t know what THEY believe, so they don’t know what OPPOSES what they believe. So, read Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. What is Paul talking about? Who are those who oppose him? What are the false teachers teaching? What is it that he is so passionate about?

    Also, I try to teach my own kids and youth/college kids in my church to try to find common ground with whoever they perceive to be their opponents. They can always find common ground b/c everybody is made in God’s image and retains part of that image, even in their broken, fallen state. Nick explained this well in his comment on the previous post, so I won’t repeat it. But I really think fear is the biggest factor. Her students probably have not engaged the contrary position b/c they are scared of it.

    As to her question about strong willed and complaint children….Ahhh, many of us are fortunate enough to have one of each! It’s important to teach them that they can either trust Jesus or themselves. There isn’t another place to place your trust. If my trust is not in Christ, it’s in me. It is possible to trust in rules instead of God whether you are keeping the rules or breaking the rules. You can be self righteous about your compliance, or you can be self righteous about your flouting the rules and making your own rules. But you are still trusting in yourself. In that sense, compliance and rebellion are flip sides of the same coin, not different ways of behaving. So I try to tell them every chance I get, there isn’t anyplace else to go (John 6 and Hebrews help with this idea). You need Jesus for salvation and you need him for your life everyday.

    That’s all I can think of for now.

  7. mama2tlc

    Obedience is a good place to start- in the toddler years. Obedience must be mastered in the toddler years and continued to be practiced. My 2 year old says, ‘Yes mama’ when I give her a command. If she doesn’t do what I have asked, I say, ‘Say yes mama’ She does, and then she does what I have asked. It is because I have taught her to obey.
    As she gets older, this won’t be an issue because she has already learned it.
    Now when she is a child, I will be able to teach her what I believe, as Kevin said, it is very basic. She will receive moral training as a child- learing right from wrong based on my Christian Worldview.
    You see these are the building blocks to her success.
    As she matures to adolescence and adulthood, she will know the importance of obeying authority and she will understand the basics to living the life God has purposed for her. It will be up to her to make choices and solve problems based on all her life experiences thus far. In adolescence we will guide her in making choices based on biblical principles, so that as an adult, she won’t have to turn to us, but she can turn to the Bible.
    Along the way, we rely COMPLETELY on the Lord to show us the way.

    The problem and questions I have is how do we morally train our children in an immoral world? How do we keep the lines of communication open in the teen years so that we know the issues she is facing and so we can address them in an appropriate way?

    Lastly, Am I in some sort of sad denial to believe that it is this basic?

  8. I was asked a similar question to this in the interview for my church. It’s a great question, though I think I would have split this up into several posts (i.e., one for each of the three questions posed in the last paragraph). I won’t address them in order.

    First, I think compliant vs. strong-willed is somewhat irrelevant. Strength of will does not stand against love, godliness, or true longsuffering patience, and these are the primary issues at hand here. (There is plenty of information that speaks well to the question of parenting strong-willed children, but to a degree that digresses away from this question.)

    As for caught vs. taught: it is 100% of both. Think of this in the same way you do the responsibility of man vs. the sovereignty of God– you can’t really understand it, but you know that there is more of each that you could be doing/understanding/living and aren’t. In my view, if we must err to one or the other, err on the side of relying on “caught” instead of “taught”– lest we fall into such hypocrisy that our children believe nothing that we tell them.

    The last part of my answer (addressing the first part of your questions) is much more complex. Forgive my lack of brevity.

    I agree with the above posters who offer critical thinking skills as among the best tools we can teach our children. Without discernment, they won’t be able to make head nor tail of anything they encounter, and will be “tossed about by every wind of teaching and by waves of deceitful scheming.” This can come in the formal teaching forms of logic, rhetoric, apologetics, ethics, and philosophy/theology; it can also come in more informal means, by games and riddles and puzzles that challenge the mind, as well as other things (more in a moment).

    I’m also very concerned about biblical literacy in our children (and in us!). The biggest problem I had/have with the “WWJD” movement was that we simply are not biblically literate enough, generally speaking, to be able to answer the question once it is posed. Perhaps the best gift we can offer our children in terms of preparing them to engage the opposition they will face is to teach them the content of the Scriptures.

    Beyond this, fundamentals of theology will go a long way to answering the confusion of religious ideas for them. My friend Les Newsom (RUF campus pastor at Old Miss) once suggested that better than 95% of the problems he faces in dealing with students– both Christians and non-Christians– can be summed up as a misunderstanding of justification, sanctification, and the relationship and differences thereof. If you teach your children sound biblical doctrine (as mentioned above, again) they will have many of the answers they seek when faced with discernment issues.

    Finally, wrestle with them through discernment problems in real-time and about real life. Don’t wait until they are 18 to begin the dialog of “how should we think about this?” Presumably, parents are already wrestling through questions of their own– don’t you have concepts and ideas that you have to think through? Learn to be more open with your children about the fact that you don’t have all the answers, that you struggle to discern as well. Give them permission to come to different conclusions, also. This will bring several results: first, it will underscore the genuineness of your faith (furthering the “caught” part); next, it will give them real ideas to engage their minds about, instead of hollow constructions from an equivalent to a “situation ethics” textbook (thus, informal puzzles as mentioned above); third, it will model for them what living out their faith is really like, showing them how real adults face real issues with a real faith.

    For example: a friend’s 12-year old daughter wanted to listen to so-and-so’s new album, but my friend knew that it wasn’t appropriate for her. A more protectionist approach would have simply been to say, “no, you can’t listen to that,” while an overly permissive approach (perhaps justified by saying, “we must engage culture, not separate from it”) might casually permit it. My friend’s solution was admirable, I thought: he asked her to find out what were the most popular songs on the album, and he downloaded them from iTunes. He also found the lyrics online. They listened to them together, and talked about how this artist was describing, in veiled terms, sexual acts that were degrading to women and out of context of any sort of committed relationship. Her response? “That’s gross, daddy– why would he talk about that?” and they dialoged about it for the next 30 minutes.

    She trusted his input, because he had lived a genuine and earnest faith; she had discernment herself, because they had taught her how to think about things; she could converse about what the scripture teaches, because she is biblically literate; and (don’t underestimate the hugeness of the last one) she was comfortable talking openly with him about something like sex in pop culture, even though she was 12(!!!), because they had established a pattern of thinking through things together.

  9. Build a strong foundation and communicate! When you protect your children from exposure to different views, and all things worldly, you don’t educate them about them. Think about it. If you avoid quicksand, and never talk about how harmful it is, when your child stumbles across it, they will not know of the danger.

    I believe you need to help your children build a strong foundation of faith, and knowlege of the Word of God, so when they are exposed to things of the world, they have the ability to discern right from wrong, and stand strong in their beliefs. My children get exposed to worldly things, and we discuss them, and compare them about what God says.

  10. Ed explained well what I meant when I said I try to use the big truths of Scripture in little places. I wasn’t going to bring up RUF, but since he did, I’ll comment further. RUF is indispensable. Les’s statement is right on. Confusing justification and sanctification is an epidemic problem among college students. I feel like I owe my life’s service to the PCA for what God taught me through my RUF ministers (more than one). And it didn’t just help me, it changed my parenting. I teach my kids the way I do b/c of what I learned in RUF. I truly think that my children and others whose parents were in RUF have a fuller (age appropriate) understanding of justification and sanctification than their peers do. We have not yet seen the full fruit of it b/c RUF is relatively young. I hope that does not come off as snobbish to say. I mean to sound profoundly THANKFUL. I tend to lack for words when the topic comes up.

  11. kim

    Mama2tlc, you asked if you were naive in believing that that it begins with teaching obedience.

    I happen to agree with you in theory, but I had to laugh when you said,

    “My 2 year old says, ‘Yes mama’ when I give her a command. If she doesn’t do what I have asked, I say, ‘Say yes mama’ She does, and then she does what I have asked. It is because I have taught her to obey.
    As she gets older, this won’t be an issue because she has already learned it.”

    While she may have mastered obedience at 2, as she grows and becomes more and more independent, obedience becomes a lot more difficult (which is why as adults, we all struggle with obedience to God.) With more options, abilities and freedoms, as well as that sinful nature that is ingrained, I wouldnt say that it wont be an issue in the future, just because she learned obedience at 2….but, I wish you well 🙂

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