Since we have a two year old and a new baby, we're in the middle of those years where our main focus is teaching our children and training them to be the kind of people they should be as adults. Over the past few years, we've read several books and listened to many, many sermons on raising little ones in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
But of course once you're "in the trenches" of the day-to-day of teaching your two-year old how to be polite and self-controlled (and praying that they wind up more self-controlled than I am), it's easy to lose focus of what you're really trying to do. Sometimes when I am disciplining Hazel for the 5th time in the same day for the same problem or when she pitches a fit in the store, it's easy to lose sight of what I'm trying to do and get frustrated. So I have been very blessed to have a couple of occasions of encouragement in the past two weeks.
Last night Jason and I went to a Bible study aimed at parents of young children. It was a tremendous encouragement and blessing to hear a wise man who has several children of his own talking about what our goals should be, some specific ways to work with our children, and what we should be teaching them. I just wanted to post some thoughts from what we talked about to encourage other young parents out there and maybe get others thinking about their goals for their children.
Above all, it's about who you are as a person and who you love and who you want to be like. Christ Jesus. It's not so much about what you do every day (though that is important), but more about who you are in your daily life and what follows from that, who they emulate. Whenever I instruct Hazel and Klaas, it should always be in the context of the Psalms and who the Lord is (that following, who I want to be like). Psalm 86:15 says "But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth."
We want to hold our children accountable for things that are under their control, but not provoke them to wrath and frustration by disciplining them for things that they can't control. But at the same time, if it's in God's word, it's non-negotiable for obedience.
We talked about some different stages that little ones go through as they become more aware and more able to control themselves. When they are very young (under one year), when they're just along for the ride, we should be showing the baby who his people are and who his God is by talking to him constantly and loving on him. We want them to know from day one that his parents (especially their father) are good examples of who the Lord is. After all, when God is described as our Father, what sort of picture does this paint for the child? It should be a father and mother who heap adoration on them and overfill their cup with love.
When children become mobile and have some control over where they go (crawling, etc...), we can start to teach them to heed their parents by small rules. Some examples would be making a small area a "no touch" spot, or not to touch their spoon while eating, or something that works for your family. We are to teach them how to respond to Mom and Dad: with obedience.
We went on to discuss Sundays and how to encourage involvement and participation in the church service as much as possible depending on their age. (At our church, we keep the children in service with us as they are a part of the family and should be part of the worship of the Lord. If you are interested, you can check out a paper Jason wrote while in school on this topic here.)
Also we talked about how to make Sundays the best day of the week and how to "fill up their cup" with love throughout the service and day. How can we communicate to our children during the service that we love them? We want to constantly be loving on our kids and talking to them about what we're doing at that moment in church and what it means. Can God hear us when we pray? What are we singing about?
And as far as the topic of discipline, we discussed the importance of having a set routine for discipline and teaching our kids the importance of keeping short accounts. Once an issue has been dealt with, we pray and ask God for forgiveness for whatever the problem was. Then we hug and love on them and tell them that we forgive them and that everything is ok. The Lord keeps short accounts and does not remember our sins once we ask forgiveness; we need to let our kids know this through our actions in disciplining their sin. Also let them know when we sin and ask for their forgiveness; we aren't perfect people and we need to let them know that we also are under God's law and need to pray for forgiveness when we sin against each other and against the Lord.
Above all, we are to think long-term. What end goal do we want for our children? Who do we want them to be as adults? We want them to be self-controlled, God-honoring, hard-working people who finish what they start, obedient to God's word, loving and generous, and about a thousand other things. Our goal is honor God in everything, including the disciplining of our children.
So I just wanted to share these thoughts with you all out there, and encourage you to keep studying up on how to raise your children, praying for faithfulness and consistency from God, and asking God to give you the ability to show His love to the little ones, through discipline and affection.