Joy of the Month Excerpt (September)
Obedience and Decisions
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6.)
Child example: Romping out of the candy store, our four-year-old Saren, just learning to count money, discovered she had been given change for fifty cents rather than a quarter. Initial excitement: "I've got more money than when I came, and the candy." Then conscience: "I'd better give it back to the man." Then the real joy as she came back out of the store: "Daddy, he said he wishes everyone was honest like me!" There is true joy in simple, voluntary obedience to moral law.
That story reminds me of another time, another store, another child -- Saren's father . . . me! I was eight years old and buying my first bicycle. I had twenty-five dollars, saved up from Grandma's gifts and from collecting and returning coat hangers and pop bottles. In the store were two used bikes for twenty-five dollars, one a red Schwinn and one a silver Silver-chief. I couldn't choose. First I wanted one, then the other. My wise father took me back out to the car, found a large, white sheet of paper, and drew a line down the center. "Let's list the reason for the red bike in one column and the reasons for the silver bike in the other," he said. I did. I remember the thrill of thinking in a way I had never thought before. When the list was done, the silver bike was selected. (After all, no one had one like it.) I kept that bike for ten years, and the memory of the joy of deciding on it never dimmed.)
There is tremendous joy and satisfaction in learning that things are governed by laws. Psychologists tell us that small children usually believe that their desires control circumstances and cause things to happen. The time when a three or four year old realizes that this is not the case, that things happen independently of his wants, can be very traumatic. Or, if he is being taught about laws in a positive, constructive way, it can be a time of real awakening joy.
Obedience to law actually gives freedom by rescuing us from the natural consequences and confinements of broken laws. Children, even small ones, can grasp these truths -- sometimes more easily than adults can. Children need to be given the latitude to make their own decisions. They will make some wrong ones, but will learn, with our help, from the consequences. While they are young, the decisions and their consequences will not be weighty enough to do permanent damage. And by the time decisions become important, they will know how to make them.
Adult example: I have a good friend who likes to talk about decisions. He says: "Laws make so many of our decisions for us. They tell us what to do. When there is no law involved, there is the fun of analyzing the alternatives."
This friend relishes decisions. He loves to lay out the alternatives, to think things through, to get advice and then to decide. I see two consistent joys in him: the joy of obedience (in the instances when laws apply) and the joy of decisions (in non-law situations where analysis and advice can be applied).
I asked my friend once where he learned to think as he does. He said, "As a child in family discussions and in private talks with my father."
A. Design frequent opportunities to make decisions
- Have two kinds of colors of juice to choose from
- Let the children draw pictures, choosing only three colors to use.
- Let the children choose only one tool to work with in sculpting clay or whipped soap flakes.
- Let the children choose the bedtime story.
- Set up a treasure hunt where a series of correct decisions leads to a surprise or treasure.
- Let the children choose what clothes to wear. Help them think it through: "Is it warm?" "Will I get dirty today?"
- Let the children choose what to spend their nickel or dime on -- or whatever to save it.
- Make family decisions in a family council. (What kind of tree should we plant in the front yard? What should we do this Saturday?)
B. Discipline. Parents must make their own decisions about the methods of discipline, but certain principles always apply.
- Children should be disciplined in private rather than in public.
- Children will repeat the activities that attract the greatest attention. The key, therefore, is to give more attention for doing something right than for doing something wrong. Give lavish, open praise for the right, and quiet, automatic discipline for the wrong.
- Children should know the reasons for the laws they are expected to keep and should think of obedience in terms of observing laws, not in terms of obeying people.
- Children find great security in consistent, predictable discipline.
- Discipline should be thought of as a way of teaching truth.
- Punishments should be administered only when laws are broken. When children make wrong decisions in areas not governed by law, their punishment should come through the natural consequences of those wrong choices. (If a child forgets his coat, he gets cold and needs no other punishment.)
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