By Cynthia Carrier
The dining area is empty. Mom has gone downstairs to put a meal in the freezer. The evening meal is cooling on the counter. What is it? Hmmm...quiche. Yummy! I just want to see it! Oh, and there's a basket of folded laundry right there next to the counter...it makes a perfect stool. If I push it over a little bit, I think I can JUST reach the counter! Yes! Oooooh, that looks GOOD! I'm just going to try a teeny bite. Yum! Maybe one more. Uh, oh! Here comes Mommy! Better run...
This is an actual scenario that I came upon when returning from the downstairs freezer one day. If I could have gotten inside the mind of my almost-two-year-old daughter, these might have been her thoughts. And, yes, I did punish her. Not just because she ate a piece of quiche. Why? Because she needs to grow in the area of self-control. The Bible tells us, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control" (Proverbs 25:28). If we are weak in self-control, we afford sin an opportunity to get the best of us. Self-control is protection, not punishment, and if we're going to raise spiritually fit kids, it's one of those character traits that we need to encourage.
When she's almost-two, the quiche incident is almost laughable. I did, in fact, get a good chuckle. I even took a picture of the "scene of the crime" and emailed it to my dad--because he enjoys hearing about the kids' shenanigans, too. But what about when she's twelve and it seems like a good idea to just "try" a sip of beer because one of her friends offers it to her? Oh, and it tastes pretty good and everyone else seems like they're having so much fun--might as well finish the whole can, right? You see where this could lead. This is just one of those potential moments where we can see the benefit of nurturing self-control in our children.
In essence, being a person of self-control means that we refuse our improper human appetites and choose to be led, instead, by the Spirit of God (Galatians 6:8). Self-indulgence may bring temporary pleasures, many of which God fully intends for us to experience at the proper time and under proper circumstances. However, failure to take control of our cravings for these pleasures can result in many unfortunate and often irreversible circumstances. The Holy Spirit helps us to subject our bodies to God's will, so that we can experience the many wonderful things that come from living his way rather than our own (see Galatians 5:22-25).
As in all things, our example as parents is important here. Not only should we "tell" our children how God wants them to behave--but we have to do our best to model that behavior ourselves.
Perhaps the most important area that we as parents can focus on when it comes to self-control is our speech. After all, the Bible does warn us that the tongue is the most difficult part of the body to control, and is in fact "set on fire by hell!" (see James 3:1-12). The words of our mouths, and the tone in which they are spoken, affect the atmosphere of our home and can carry into eternity--either because we hurt our children or because we lift them up in love.
When our children are young, there are many areas in which we are wise to help them develop greater degrees of self-control, and all for their long-term benefit: in their appetites, in their social interactions, in their impulses to anger, and in the expression of their selfish desires, to name just a few. These can be addressed through our own positive example, with proactive training, by establishing reasonable rules and expectations, and by capitalizing on everyday teachable moments.
As our children age, we also have to address the inevitable allures that accompany adolescence by openly discussing their challenges and some of the ways they can be dealt with. These topics include, but are not limited to, premarital sex, substance use and abuse, and even the company of friends that the Lord would have our children keep.
Maybe you've heard the expression, little kids, little problems--and it's certainly true that as children age, there is an increasing potential for temptation and trouble. Yet if we do our part to encourage them in self-control from a young age, they will be more likely to be strong in this area when they are faced with the greater challenges of adolescence.
So as a parent, do your part in being self-controlled, and be on the lookout for ways you can encourage your children in self-control on a day-to-day basis. In so doing, you'll raise spiritually fit children that mature into young adults who would rather serve the Lord than themselves. Isn't that what it's all about?
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