“Mom, I want…..” or “Dad, can I have….?” How many times does a Mother or Father hear those words throughout their child’s life? What parent hasn’t had to figure out what to give and what not to give? That is the question.
Whining, temper tantrums, the cold shoulder and slamming doors are all symbolic of the frustration kids feel when they don’t get what they want. When a “want” represents a value or perceived need that doesn’t get met, the emotional response is so painful that a dramatic demonstration of will should be expected. Helping kids process what they want, why it is so important to them and how they can handle NOT getting what they want is all part of child-rearing and faith formation.
To tackle these issues, understanding the issue with “God-first” thinking allows us to understand that“Mine” is a natural instinct. Kids and parents alike have a human nature which is programmed toward acquisition; made in God’s likeness, we see His propensity toward possession within ourselves as image-bearers. King David recognized God’s ownership of His creation in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”. In and of itself, neither wanting nor possessing is evil.
Recognizing that our internal drive to “have” is normal, but can go terribly wrong, requires self-awareness, and no one is naturally born with this quality. We are self-centered creatures by nature, but not self- aware ones. It is amazing to see what children will sacrifice in order to attain something they believe they really want. Danger: if children can not evaluate the true worth of something, they will possibly pass up the eternal or priceless for that which has little lasting or eternal significance.
To help children figure out if what they want is worth wanting, consider discussing with them the following questions:
- What do you want? Make sure children can clearly identify what it is they want. If you don’t really know what you want, then why are you howling for it? That’s a waste of emotional energy on everyone’s part!
- What do you think you will feel if you were to get what you want? Or How do you think your life will be better if you have it? These are alternative ways of asking the question, “why.” “Why” is too nebulous, too abstract a question for children and most adolescents. Finding ways for youth to consider how they feel and what they expect is key in their evaluative decision-making in determining whether what they want is truly worth having.
- What would you give up to get what you want? The idea that we can get what we want and never sacrifice anything for it or that we can keep acquiring without getting rid of something else are presumptions that easily lead to coveting and hoarding. To fight these sins, we must consider ourselves as givers, not just consumers.
- Can you think of any reason this would not be good for you or someone else? Having children consider the idea that getting what they want could hurt their character or cause problems for themselves or others helps children evaluate if what they want is something they should have. If children can say “no” to themselves, then they begin to exercise wisdom and grow in self-control, which are traits of a maturing faith and character.
Vanity Fair, a fictitious place in John Bunyan’s 1678 allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, and later used as the basis for W. Thakeray’s 1848 novel, has recently been described in contemporary media as, “a world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having.” If we’re not careful, we will do all the thinking and deciding for our children about what they have or do not have, and we lose the opportunities to grow them in their ability to make wise, godly decisions. Wasting a life pursuing that which is of not true consequence is a key value for a life well-lived that can be instilled in our children at very early ages and reinforced throughout their childhood and adolescence.
Dear Reader, easier is rarely better when it comes to growing our children spiritually. Taking the time to encourage them to think before they ask, to grow in self-awareness instead of self-centeredness, and to be able to say no to themselves are traits needed for their growing faith. What a blessed opportunity to live out Jim Elliot’s wise words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
May you enjoy encouraging your children to think with the mind of Christ! “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Blessings Overflowing to you!