There is an epidemic amongst young children that is spreading. This is the epidemic of irritability and frustration within toddlers that tends to carry on into the elementary stage. I see two prevalent reasons, 1) Parents who don’t give any or insufficient undivided time to their infants & toddlers, and 2) Parents who insist on reasoning with their children. Here I will simply approach the second issue.
These frustrated children are the results of parents who desire to train up children who can reason well in order to make good decisions. After all, isn’t life made up of various choices we will continuously have to make? Who doesn’t want their children to be able to make good choices in life? We need to equip our children well to have this skill, don’t we? As a mother of 7 children I would answer that question with a firm, “YES”! We absolutely need to teach our children to make good choices. But I would ask another vital question pertaining to the previous one. Is reasoning with your toddler the time to introduce this skill? Reasoning is a skill that is developed, not one that is merely acquired in the womb or instantaneously at birth. Attempting to have anyone handle a task, of any sort, without giving them the resources to help them handle the task is one way of teaching, but most times will end with a frustrated student or child when they have not been equipped.
God has designed children to be able to handle certain things at certain ages. In this day and age we try to push children to academic heights too early. This is for our good, our pleasure, to make us feel good that our children are doing critical thinking at an early age. But this does not fall in line with what God has done in them. We acknowledge that puberty is a time that God works to transform a child into an adult. We also see that as a child enters this pubescent stage, “argumentative stage” according to the classical approach of education, they are asking the question, “Why?”. So developmentally at this stage, which occurs around the middle school years (earlier for some, later for others), children start asking “Why?” about almost everything. This is when they start thinking critically and are naturally developing to think critically. This is when you pose difficult questions and let them reason through it and think through it. We don’t want to start our younger children, who have not reached this stage, reasoning through why they are doing what they are doing when we tell them to do something. They should obey authority. In the 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, you do it because mommy said so. And why does that matter, because God said so.
”Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1 NKJV https://www.bible.com/114/eph.6.1.nkjv
“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” Colossians 3:20 NKJV https://www.bible.com/114/col.3.20.nkjv
That is it, that is all they need to know at that stage. If you give them reasoning tools too soon, they are going to hurt themselves, or they will end up questioning everything you do because you have given them a right that should not YET be theirs. Emotionally and mentally, they are not able to handle it. Yet we are trying to make them into little adults. There is a place for reasoning with your children, but consider if there isn’t a time when your child has to obey simply because mommy or daddy said so.
Our goals in parenting need to line up with what God is doing in them, in their bodies - mind, heart & soul. Line up your objectives in parenting to what God is doing with them as they are growing and developing. The early stages of development are for laying foundations that can uphold reason. Obviously, parents should lay foundations that are in line with their worldview & beliefs. Children need a good strong foundation in order to have a solid sense of Identity (see blog on Identity & Belonging). Realize I am not saying you don’t introduce tough ideas or concepts. In the early stages you are teaching your children HOW to respond to you as their parent for their good. Without a doubt there are deeper issues of the heart of the parent that need to be addressed in parenting their children (see blog on The Heart of a Parent). But for the sake of this topic we will stick to the goals of parenting in the early years.
In the Elementary Stage (we define this stage as birth to about 6th grade) we are simply giving them information. They were created by God to absorb information at this stage. They take in & take in. In the first few years of our children's lives their growth is exponential, both physically & mentally (this assumes no developmental problems). They learn to turn over, sit up, crawl, pull themselves up and walk, not to mention, communicate, in a matter of months! It truly is amazing. Things slow down just a bit after the first year but they are still absorbing a tremendous amount of information over the next few years. This is the time to begin building a strong foundation. As Christian parents our main objective should be to define for our children not WHO they are, but WHOSE they are. We do this in our family by simply teaching our children:
• who made you
• who made all things
• why did He make you & all things
At this point we are not going into any deep conversations with our children. (There are some children that begin asking complex questions at an early age. Don't deny them an answer. Attempt to respond with clear words which they can understand even though they may not fully grasp the concept. The sooner they begin to hear the answers to these difficult questions the better) They are simply receiving information based on the word of God. This information will serve to begin a strong foundation that will be drawn upon later on in their development. We teach this by a simple method of questions & answers that are taught & memorized.
The problem of frustration that we are seeing in young children is due to parents giving choices and options to things too soon. Don’t place that burden on them. It is too much for them. They become frustrated, irritable or sullen when given too much to choose from, too soon. Those seemingly light burdens are yours to carry. Parent, you need to be making those decisions for them. The first few years 2-3 years, actually, 4-5 years, you make the decisions for them. You decide what they will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You decide what they will wear that day. You decide how their time will be spent, and with whom it will be spent. This is not limiting. This is empowering! Not only to your child, but to you as well! You wake up each day with a goal & a mission. You know where you are going. Your child draws confidence from you. They sense your resolve in your mission for the day, for their lives, and they want to follow you in it. They have peace in knowing they are being seen to. No heavy lifting too soon. They have peace!
When our children were younger we were often asked how did we get our children to be so peaceful, joyful, kind & obedient. There were several factors, but one overarching one is the fact that our children find peace in our loving leadership. They need to be parented. There is a time and a season for everything. We must give them a firm foundation upon which to stand. A time will come for them to explore, make decisions & choices on their own. We will carefully lead them in developing this skill. There is a time for a firm foundation to be built up. From this foundation they can then make decisions and choices.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 NKJV https://www.bible.com/114/pro.22.6.nkjv