Words by Rachel Williams // Image by Lauren Wagoner
When I think of children, I often think of smiles, laughter, joy, dirt, dress-up clothes, and toys. But that is not how it always goes; there are tears, tantrums, and bad dreams as well. Sometimes beneath the freedom displayed during playtime are deep questions and fears that should be addressed. I believe that a child’s growing-up years are extremely important. Just because children are young, that does not mean they do not have struggles or challenges. A parent has the power to shape a child’s belief system, worldview, self-image, and attitudes. While I am not a parent, from my experiences working with youth, I have heard and worked through the painful memories or lies introduced to them in childhood, and have observed some issues that tend to repeatedly appear. I hope you read over these areas with sensitivity and grace for the children in your life. You have such great influence and power to foster healthy emotions and relationships.
I think Jesus wanted the children to come to him because he had things to tell them, value to place on them, and love to give them. We can be Jesus to the children in our lives, and one way to do that is to meet our children where they are to help them with what they are facing. Let’s look at five of children’s common struggles: morality, parent relationships, self-concept, friendships, and education.
1. Morality and Self-Control
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (NIV). Scripture points out that there is something about the morals children grow up with and upbringing they have that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Your child’s values, brain, and development are being formed each day. Psychology affirms that children learn all about their world and what is right and wrong at a very young age. When your child is 7–11 years old, they are in the stages of developing morality. As they grow, they begin to wrestle with more complex issues. They probably know that stealing is wrong. That was a fine answer at seven, but now at ten, if someone steals medicine from the doctor to save their friend’s life, is stealing still wrong? This period of childhood is the opportune time to teach God’s Word to your child to aid their formation of ethics. Help your child explore right and wrong using Scriptures and biblical characters’ stories as examples.
This also supports the fact that finding a solid, biblical, and loving children’s ministry is very important for your child. Partner with the church as a family. You and the church partnering together can do more for your child than alone. Find a church that can support you as a parent and that you trust to teach your child. Raising a child is like building a house; you can build with fine craftsmanship (biblical values and morals) or sloppy construction (no morals or poor values). No matter how you build, the child will be raised either well or poorly.
Ephesians 6:4 says to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (NIV). If we look into the Greek meaning of these words, instruction can mean warning. Warn your child about potential pitfalls of their sin, give them good counsel, and let your advice to them include cautions. Training is equivalent to discipline, and the Bible has a lot to say about the benefits of discipline. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away” (NIV). If your child is having problems not only understanding morals but breaking them, discipline your child in the same way God disciplines us, in his overwhelming love and desire for our best interest. Having self-control and being able to delay self-gratification can be very challenging for children. Don’t be discouraged, but take these years to teach, discipline, and walk with your child in area of Bible-based morality.
2. Their Relationship with You
How does your child think you perceive them? Affirmation by you, their parent, has a great effect on the way they see themselves. Do you tend to criticize or tease your children? Do they know you love them? Do they know you like them? Help your child have a healthy self-image and build confidence in them. Let them know you are proud of them. They hear you more than you think they do. Make it clear in your actions and words how much you love them. Some children try their whole lives to just please their parents. Let them know they do not have to earn your love, and that you are here to help them, not size them up. Ephesians 6:4 says, “‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children”’ (NIV). In the Greek, exasperate means “to make angry.” Don’t build a resentful relationship with your child where they are only frustrated with you. Consider whether your expectations for them are consistent, clearly-communicated, and age-appropriate.
3. Forming a Self-Concept
Just as in moral development, ages 7–11 are a pivotal time in which children also reach a new level of self-awareness. The big idea here is comparison. Children compare themselves in appearance, schoolwork, humor, and popularity. Identity is being formed during this time. Help your child understand that their identity is in Christ. Teach them how to discern if what someone is saying about them is true, false, hurtful, or encouraging. If they struggle with sin and guilt, remind them of Colossians 1:13–14: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (NIV). If they are struggling with how they look, tell them to repeat Psalm 139:14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (NIV). If they are worried about their talents or future, remind them in Romans 12:6, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (NIV), and Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV).
4. Relationships with Friends
The social scene is alive around your child. Children develop their own groups and social codes. They are developing best friends, secrets, and deeper relationships as they age. Be sensitive to what kinds of friends your child is making, whether they are making friends, and how these friends are shaping your child through their time together. Forming friendships gives children an opportunity to practice emotional regulation. Now when they are upset with somebody, unlike a toddler, they should not cry, bite, or hit one another. They might be experiencing peer pressure for the first time. Prepare them for social settings they might encounter. This might be the first time they are bullied or see someone being bullied. If they are having problems making friends or feeling like they don’t belong, discuss those feelings with them and provide opportunities for them to develop their own friendships. When it comes to fostering friendships with your child, remember three things.
First, encourage them to have Christian friendships and to be wary of children who pressure them into doing things they shouldn’t be doing, for, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33 NIV).
Second, teach them how to be a loving and kind friend. Before they can have a friend, they should learn how to be one. 1 Corinthians 13:4–6 gives us guidelines on how to treat others: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (NIV).
Third, teach them that through their friendships with those who don’t go to church or don’t know Jesus, they can spread the Gospel. Help them see friendship as a powerful tool Jesus can use to spread his kingdom. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (NIV).
5. Succeeding in School
As mentioned earlier, comparison in academics can have a great impact on children. The pressures of homework, teachers, general rules, athletics, and the social scene have the potential to exert a lot of pressure. School and grades will continue to be a long-lasting part of your child’s life, so it is important to help them see education in a healthy way. Grades do not define them as a human being, and the most important thing in life is not how well they do on a project. However, this is also an opportunity to teach good work ethic, and to teach them Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (NIV). More important than their grade percentage is their heart, and the character behind the grade. If they get all A’s, but those A’s are their identity, then it is more failure than success.
I encourage you to discuss each of these five areas with your child to help them see each area the way God does!
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