Parenting your sinful child in helping them cope with other sinful children
Although I am not a new dad (now with three children), I find myself (as well as my wife) in new circumstances and situations with my children. Recently we moved in with the in-laws after the sell of our house to wait until we transition into a new ministry context. My in-laws live in an established neighborhood in a cul-de-sac where there are numerous children, children of all ages. My five year old (Caleb), who turns six tomorrow loves playing with others no matter what age they are.
Knowing my son, I know he can be aggressive at times, as well as take upon himself a more dominating leadership style with others (meaning—telling them what to do). He has learned very quick that his aggressiveness and dominating leadership style has not worked so well acquainting him to an already established ban of friends. Caleb has experienced the closed networks, and the difficulty of other children accepting outsiders in their circle. There has been a few times Caleb has retaliated by attempting to damage something they were trying to build; other times, he has come home crying and heart-broken because of their rejection. All of this is hard and heart-breaking for a parent.
So, how does a parent help their sinful child cope with other sinful children? I say “sinful child” intentionally because one thing that I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind (something that many parents tend to neglect) is that I know that my child is not “a perfect angel.” In fact, I know that my child, just like all other human beings on the face of the planet, is marred by sin. Therefore, I help Caleb cope with this age-appropriate difficultly and storm (in his life) by constantly drawing him back to Jesus. I am drawing him back to Jesus in a few ways. First, I draw him to Jesus through affirmation and support—through my words and time I attempt to spend with him doing the things he wants to do (baseball, Wii, etc.). In addition, I am drawing him back to Jesus through encouragement and exhortation and using this as a teaching time, teaching him: that he must learn from this and be aware of others who in the future may be treated like he is today, and that Jesus would have you befriend and play with them.
Another way that I have attempted to draw them to Jesus is through story time at night. About every other night I make up a bed-time story to share with the kids. Last night I told them the story from the kid from another world. I told them that this kid from another world came to live here in our world for a time. During his stay on earth, this kid had common features as all other kids, but he was quite distinct from all others, and that this distinction was very noticeable. But given his distinction he befriended Caleb and Ellie. He learned that Caleb loved Cars, both movies, the toys, and the Wii game; he also learned that Ellie loved princesses, ponies, and a Unicorn named Unigornio (whatever that name is or means).
This kid from another world was very kind to Caleb and Ellie, as well as other children. He played with them, and was generous in sharing his things. You could tell this kid loved Caleb and Ellie by the time he spent with them, encouraged them, as well as shared with them. Caleb and Ellie would ask this kid why he was not like all the other kids? He responded and said that he reflected the love and grace of his father, which he would be returning to shortly, and that he wanted to show other kids the way they should show love and grace to others. I continued to share that this kid from another world went back home with his father; but, prior to returning home, he told Caleb and Ellie that if they believed in his father and in him, and sharing his love and grace with the world and others, they too, when they pass away from this world would be present in the other (world) with the kid and his father. This future made them very happy, because they greatly enjoyed the relationship they had with him.
After concluding this story, Caleb said, “This is a story about God.” I said you are absolutely right! And Jesus was the kid in the story who has showed us how to treat others. Jesus has displayed for us the love and grace and kindness we are to show other kids, even kids that are mean to us.
I share this story because this is how I am trying to help Caleb cope with other sinful kids. Rather than trying to focus explicitly on the sinful actions of kids, I am trying to get him to focus on the goodness and grace of Jesus. I believe with all my heart it is the goodness and grace and love of Christ that helps us cope with the sinfulness/fallenness of the world. Whether the dissemination of the gospel through these ways will have an immediate impact on Caleb’s life will be determined; but what I know is that, as Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the frowth” (1 Cor 3:6). Joannie and I know that we cannot control life; we cannot control kids behaviors and actions towards our own. Trust is, we cannot control what are children do; all we can do is respond in either praise and adoration or disapproval and discipline. But what we can control is the planting of the gospel in the life of our children. Our prayer and desire is that God will grow that gospel seek in their hearts and lives, and as they grow the gospel will blossom them into gospel-centered people who mimic and imitate their friend from another world who reflects the love, grace, and kindness of his Father.
I know this blog is lengthy; but let me say an additional word to parents. It seems that the parents in the cul-de-sac where we reside are clueless about what their children are doing, and how their children are treating others. It is important, especially for believing parents (which some of them are), to teach our children to have an open network that can accommodate new children and friends. If we do not groom this in our (prayerfully) future believing kids, they will grow up, integrating themselves into a local church with a mindset of a closed network. This is not a missional posture, a posture that should befitting of Christian families. Parents can train their little children to be missionaries by teaching their children to have open networks that befriend new children and that treat them with love, grace, kindness, and respect. All of this leads to teaching sinful children how to cope and treat other sinful children. In the end, God uses our efforts for gospel and missional living to slowly conform our sinful behavior into the image of our glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.