Teachable Moments

Cultivating a Toddler’s Conscience is Like Tending Your Summer Garden

“I don’t want to!”
“You can’t make it!”
“They started it!”
“NNNOOOOOO! I don’t wanna go!”Have you ever enjoyed these tyrannical outcries from your toddler when they don’t get what they want or they have to do something they don’t want to do or _____? You fill in the blank; who knows why. Inevitably, if we’re being honest and not pretending we have perfect children, we can all say yes!   If ever there was an apologetic for the flesh (Romans 8:5), then just look at the toddler years. Trying to get a young child to do what they absolutely don’t want to do is as easy (or as difficult) as trying to herd a litter of cats for a family photo.

But does the flesh have to rule?  No, at least not all the time.  But can a toddler repent of their sin, turn to Christ, and be Spirit-filled and led?  Well, that’s a debate for another day. But suffice it to say, no matter where you stand on the issue of childhood regeneration (fancy name for children coming to faith or into the family of God), we can say with assurance that these beginning years are formative for the values they hold and their conscience which indeed can have a profound godly influence on their behavior and attitudes.

As a toddler is constantly learning and gathering new information from the world around them, they begin to form values.  Values are internal convictions that influence our choices and drive us through tough times. Our values are neutral; what we value may be godly and good, but on the other hand, we can’t depend on that.  Our values may need some tweaking. What can curb our values so we are lead by what is right more than what we want and what can curb our fleshly desires?  The answer – our conscience!

A conscience is an internal, rational ability that bears judgment on what we value.  Our conscience is our coach, our judge, and our teacher. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:15, ESV).  It is able to inform how we conduct ourselves.  We recognize our conscience most commonly through our emotions; it is felt by emotional discomfort when we are wrong and conversely, when our conscience informs our desire to do the right thing, we feel relief and pleasure.  This development of the conscience begins in the first three years of life. It develops as the toddler engages in a diverse range of social relationships and is a collaboration of their body, mind, heart, and soul, all developing together to produce the ability to know and feel what is right from wrong.  WARNING: The conscience in and of itself is not infallible. The conscience is only helpful when it is governed by God – His word and His Spirit. When the conscience is duly schooled in the things of God, it then can duly school us and conform our values and fleshly desires into godly places.

How do we help our toddlers build a God-ruled conscience?  Intentionally!  It is not something we leave up to chance, hoping by osmosis that they will pick up what is right from wrong and feel compelled to do what is right.  All disciplines of faith which mature spiritual formation such as prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, worship and service are activities afforded by God for the benefit of the believer and the expression of His glory. Modeling these and actively engaging the toddler in these activities go a long way to helping them create a conscience that will benefit them for years to come.

So on your to-do list this summer, just as you weed, fertilize and water your garden, make daily times to tend the fertile soil of your child’s conscience.  Here are some practical tips on how to do so:

  • Bible memory – songs as “The B-I-B-L-E” or videos you find online help children engage concretely with biblical truth (I loved Steve Green songs for my children when they were young, especially teaching them Philippians 2:14).  Whether you sing them yourselves or sing along, singing is an effective way to have little ones learn Bible verses and truths.
  • Playdates – getting them together with other children to play gives them opportunities to both succeed and fail when it comes to godly choices; an easy way to tell toddlers what is right and wrong is to have them do something and then praise them when they get it right and correct them when they get it wrong.  Training a toddler in righteousness takes practice which will require time and patience on the parent’s part.
  • Reading God’s Word and Bible Stories – get both a Children’s Bible with pictures and a children’s book that teaches biblical truth; it is never too early to encourage literacy by reading these books to them and allowing them to hold them, turn the pages and be engaged in simple bible stories and verses
  • Give testimony – God’s Word is necessary to guide your conscience; as you read your Bible, tell your toddler how much you love God, love His Word, how important it is to you.  Share in words they can understand, how it changes you. We as parents can only teach our children what we know (and live) ourselves!
  • Church – While vacations are fun, summer is no time to take a break from church.  If the things of God are important to us, then gathering together as the people of God will remain a constant, consistent activity in our lives.  Consider planning your time away around when the church gathers; telling your children, “Remaining faithful to hearing the Word of God taught (1 Peter 1:25) or serving in the body using your gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7)  or fellowshipping with other believers (Hebrews 10:25) are important disciplines”, is all fine and dandy, but if you miss several times in the summer months, then your child can likely get confused as to what is the real family priority – spiritual discipline or personal enjoyment?

Dear Reader, a conscience is a terrible thing to waste.  We don’t want to let these summertime days pass by without using every opportunity to train the little children among us in “the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6).  May your conscience be strengthened as you strengthen the conscience of your children.

Fondly yours with Blessings for a Spiritually Bountiful Summer – Elizabeth

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