“It’s mine, Katherine!”
“But I was playing with it!”
The sounds of this exchange come out of my son’s room, down the hall, into the den, and vibrate my eardrums with an intensity that cause me to immediately stand, and walk with purpose in the direction from whence the sounds are coming. Upon reaching the room, I see that both my children are sitting on the bed clutching the same toy with an urgency that shows both determination and frustration. My first instinct is to quickly put an end to this by asking the time-honored, dispute-resolving question, “Who had it first?”
I have heard this phrase uttered many times in my childhood, and have certainly seen it employed by many parents in a manner that certainly seemed successful. It usually results in the child who had it first winning the day and the dispute is over. Quiet ensues and peace is achieved. Or is it?
So often as parents we are willing to take the easy road and do whatever we can to end the dispute, stop the temper tantrum, dry the tears and avoid any public embarrassment. But the methods that we choose accomplish only that. They are simply behavior modifications, and often times they can actually feed the sin at its root – in our child’s heart.
Let’s look at my opening illustration with my kids. If I play the, “who-had-it-first” game, am I teaching my children about loving one another, about serving each other, about honoring each other? Am I teaching them to be peaceful, to have patience, to be kind, about having self-control? Certainly not. I am teaching them to look out for themselves. If they want something, they better just make sure they get to it first. Every man for himself.
What if I bargain with them? If I offer my daughter something in return for being kind to her brother, what am I teaching her? I’m teaching her that suppressing your sin in certain situations can be beneficial – especially if you exhibit the sin in plain sight of Mommy and Daddy in order to instigate the bargaining process.
Our children are sinful. Yours are, mine are. Their behaviors are simply the manifestations of the sin that resides within them. It is our job to show them their sin and make them aware of their need for a Redeemer. While their behaviors must certainly have consequences, i.e. discipline, we cannot stop there. We must show our children their need for a Savior, and point them to Jesus Christ.
We must be mindful as parents of small children. If we do not get to the heart issues of our children’s sin but are merely addressing behaviors, then we are like a man that cuts down a thorn bush. After cutting the plant back to the ground, he leaves the roots intact. He walks away, hoping that a flower garden will grow back in its place. Now anyone who witnessed this would know that the only thing that will grow back is more thorns. If he truly wants to grow a flower garden, he must dig the roots of the thorn bush up and plant new flowers. We must teach our children where the roots are and introduce them to the gardener.