24/7 free time is not a healthy recipe. Children will create their own fun, which generally becomes no fun at all. Children thrive best with structure mixed with lots of rest and play.
24/7 FREE TIME
I would rather have my children make a big mess, even in front of others, and learn from it than model perfect outward behavior in front of others and have a deceitful heart that is cruel and lacking in self-control. I would rather have them get an F on an assignment and learn from their mistakes than be on the Honor Roll and walk-in entitlement or manipulation. Childhood is not the time to expect perfection but give them the skills and tools to live successful adult lives.
Teaching your child to confess their sin robs the enemy of his desire to wrap them in shame. Humility is taught, not to condemn but to FREE us from the sins of our flesh. It looks like this: There is conflict, and you ask, “Sweetie, what did you do wrong?” They tell you their part (confession), and then you help them ask for forgiveness. “Jesus, I hurt my brother. Would You please forgive me?” If they honestly can’t tell you what they did wrong, then YOU haven’t done your part as a parent to teach them what right living (righteousness) looks like in that situation. Teach and empower them in times of peace what right living looks like. Forgiveness isn’t a blank credit card for our sins. It is a GIFT that needs to be acknowledged, honored, and intentionally received. When children mess up, they carry the guilt, which can easily become shameful if not dealt with. Helping them confess brings peace to their heart.
I was at the mall one day and witnessed something that I wanted to speak into. A child was given a toy by her grandma while the adults shopped in a store. The child was happy and content. A few minutes later, the four-year-old wandered over to the table with perfume bottles and began to play with them. Grandma came and yanked the girl’s arm away, and the girl resisted. She went back to the perfume bottles again and was playing with them. Grandma returned only to scold the girl sharply. A power struggle broke out. I 100% agree that it is not wise for a four-year-old to be playing with perfume bottles BUT can we take a small tour into the world of a four-year-old? She was given a toy and that is okay, but finds something else to play with quietly and is yanked, scolded and reprimanded. How is she supposed to know at four what is and what is not okay to touch unless someone teaches her? What would it have looked like if Grandma understood she was just touching and playing because it was there and on her level of reach and in her mind she honestly did not know the value of the bottles or what could happen if they fell on the floor or worse yet sprayed in her face? How do you think the girl would have responded if Grandma got down on her level, gently held her hand, looked in her eyes, and said firmly, “No, no touch,” and began to train the little girl to honor her voice? Grabbing, yanking, scolding, and yelling, do nothing to teach a child what is and is not okay. It breaks connection and confuses a child. TRAIN them in self-control and responding to your verbal command.
How do you tell a strong-willed two-year-old no? Just like that, “NO.” When Lauren was still in her highchair, she would throw her Cheerios on the floor and then laugh watching me pick it up. She thought it was a game. How many of you know that getting mad at a clueless child is completely ineffective in creating change? If the behavior does not bring honor, respect, or peace, then I need to parent (verb) her in that area to HELP HER know what is and is not acceptable. Do I want her to go to a friend’s house and do that? Is it cute to throw food on the floor when she is four? This has little to do with food and everything to do with self-control and respect. I said in a loving, but firm tone, “Lauren, no-no throwing food on the floor.” If she did it again, I would repeat myself but squeeze her hand. It was done in an effort to get her attention, not create punishment or pain. No means no, and she is learning she does not have the freedom to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. She did it again, and I realized she needed more help. I cleaned up breakfast and then moved her booster seat to the floor and asked her to sit in it. I connected with her by laughing. I was not scolding, punishing, or upset with her. I was teaching a toddler how to be successful at the table. I put a Cheerio on her tray and role-played me picking it up and throwing it on the floor pretending to be her, but then said in a loving but firm tone, “No-no throwing food on the floor,” and I got her out of the booster and told her to pick it up. When she did, I praised her silly with a hug and positive reinforcement. The next time I sat her in the highchair, I said in a firm but loving tone, “No-no food on the floor” as a reminder and put a small amount of food on her tray. She decided to test how serious I was, so I immediately took off her tray, got her down and lovingly, but firmly told her to hand me the Cheerios. It only took two times for her to realize it is SO NOT FUN having to get down and pick them up. Before she had no concept of the reality of someone having to pick them up, but she learned and never did it again.
I am all about empowering children, as my ministry is based on equipping parents on how to empower their children. However, I do not believe in empowering them BEFORE the child has first learned to submit. If you are empowering your young child by offering them a choice with everything you are teaching them, they are the master of their own world, which ultimately is not entirely true. Yes, they alone control themselves, but that doesn’t mean they are not accountable to an authority greater than themselves. Some things need to be submitted to, such as our relationship with God, our desires, Holy Spirit’s leading, stop signs, not playing in the street, harming another human, moral compass, relationships, righteousness, and so forth. We may be free to do as we choose, but that does not mean we want to raise children who are only motivated to respond when they are in control. I see parents of little ones so eager to empower their children. Yet, they are missing out on the required seasons of laying the foundation of character training and intentionally teaching children to submit to their authority. This is raising children who are defiant and full of entitlement.
Let me share an example: My daughter, who is a naturally born confident leader, went to babysit for a family. She returned and declared she would never do that again because the kids never listened to her. I encouraged another attempt. She again came through the door and stated the same thing. Not so eager to let her miss this golden opportunity to grow in her capacity to lead, I made her do it one more time. But this time, she came through the door and was most upset. I honestly could not figure out what was happening because this was a wonderful family. Shortly after, the mom asked me for a playdate, and we met at the park. Her toddler made a mess, and she asked, “Do you want a spanking now or a time out when we get home?” Instantly, I knew the problem my daughter was facing. When we got home, I asked her if she gave the kids a choice of when to go to bed. I asked if she gave them a choice of PJs. If she empowered them to decide if they wanted to brush their teeth or read their book first. My daughter was frustrated and said, “No, I just did what the mom told me to do with them, and they wouldn’t listen to a single thing I said.”
The problem was that she didn’t offer them choices, and the only way the child knew how to respond to authority was if they were in complete control of the option. This only works if, everywhere they go, people offer them choices to feel powerful, but that is not how the world is set up. Ultimately this is not true empowerment; this is entitlement. It is overwhelming to a small child who doesn’t even have the total brain capacity to always be in the driver’s seat. They are not orphans, but children set in families with parents who make healthy choices on their behalf.
A child must endure some training at home that establishes authority and how to surrender their will by trusting those God has given to care for them. The toddler years are when this is established and skipping this season and jumping right to empowerment will reap the fruit that will give parents a run for their money down the road. The definition of empowering means to give (someone) the authority or power to do something. If you give children something they do not know how to use properly, it is like giving a baby food before they know how to chew or a car before they know how to drive. We set our children up for messy accidents when we empower them before they are ready.
Do I believe in giving children space to make choices? YES! Do I believe in doing it before they have been first taught to trust your leadership? Not at all. Perhaps we can move away from the ‘do as I say’ control-based parenting and yet not swing so far to the other side where we skip some of the crucial character development that comes with being able to carry the weight of being truly empowered.
Empowering children to obey fully and completely the first time (Deuteronomy 28:1). Expose your child to horses, whether that be taking a field trip to a horse farm, simply pulling off the side of the road near one, getting a video from the library, or finding them on the Internet. They are so beautiful and powerful. Talk about how a horse is powerful on their own, but when the bridle is in its mouth, they are trained to obey the rider right away. All the rider needs to do is gently move the reigns to the left or right, and the horse automatically goes in that direction. They are not stubborn or demanding of their own way; they simply follow the rider’s commands. Explain to your child that God wants us to respond this way to His instructions. He doesn’t just want us to obey in the end but wants us to do so fully and completely right away.
In the days ahead, when you need your child to follow your instructions, remind them of the character of a horse. Often when my children were younger and not following the instructions I had given them, I would simply say, “Mama needs you to be a horse right now,” and they all knew that meant they were behaving in a way that was the opposite of what I had instructed. It was an excellent tool for when we were in public as it spared them the embarrassment of being called out in front of others.
Children might be world changers in training, but they still have childlike immaturity that needs to be cultivated so that they can endure the assignments God wants to give them to change the world around them for a lifetime. Character is a stone in their foundation that must be laid in childhood.
Character Counts is a downloadable digital resource that we created to give parents the How-To in equipping their children with godly character. We provide you with fun and engaging activities to do with your child to empower good character.
If you do not teach and train your child what it looks like to control themselves when they are younger, they will have a much harder time when they are older. There is something God built into toddlers that makes the training process of learning self-control EASIER (and perhaps a little less painful) than when they are older. Parents, it is an act of LOVE to teach your child how to learn to control themselves. Want to learn HOW? We have created this downloadable parenting magazine with oodles of ways to implement character training with your little ones.
As a mom of four, I had my grocery trips down to a science. I had my toddler in the front, my baby in the carrier of the cart, and my four-year-old twins holding onto each side of the cart. There was peace and joy when we went to the store. Until the day they all outgrew their places, and they were running around playing tag while I attempted to shop. I rationalized that they were fine because they were being joyful, but the joy broke out into the next aisle, where they zoomed up and down the rows of food. Finally, they rounded the corner and nearly plowed over an elderly lady with a walker! I realized my previous system was no longer effective. I had to go home and call another family meeting where I taught them what going to the store looked like in this new stage. This is the process of building them with age-appropriate character throughout their childhood years.