James and Christian ran as fast as they could to the swing set. There were two swings available but they both liked to swing on the middle one best. At playtime every day, they both made a mad dash to be first on the prized swing. Many times when James, who is 3, didn’t “win” the prize, he would throw himself to the ground and make a fuss. Christian, 5, wondered if mom would make him give up the swing for the squeaky wheel.
Raising children is tough—especially in the toddler years. My ten-month-old is discovering his will, and it’s usually he wills not to take a nap, not to keep still during a diaper change, not to eat his bananas and not to stop splashing his hand in the toilet bowl (if he only had the knowledge of what really goes on in there). When mommy comes along—against his will—he then wills to throw a fit! The poor little guy probably can’t figure out why I’m always trying to ruin his fun. It wasn’t too long ago that he was content, cradled in my arms, as I stared at his innocent, sweet face. Gone are the days when he found pleasure in my arms doing nothing but eating and sleeping.
When children reach toddler years, we become their trainers to direct them down the path of sharing, obeying and practicing self-control. If they don’t learn it from us, they will never learn it at all.
So how do we handle two children that are fighting over the same possession? According to Ted Tripp in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, “His behavior—the things he says and does—reflects his heart” (p. 4). He notes that you must revert back to the child’s heart not just his behavior. His behavior is a mere reflection of something deeper. He is rightly so. Scripture tells us “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45). It’s from within we act and speak. We can’t blame the situations our children are in for their misconduct. They must be trained from within on how to handle disappointments on the outside.
When Jesus dealt with sin he always pointed back to the heart. Jesus’ disciples were discussing who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When we think of leadership material, we often think of someone who is proud, outspoken, powerful and overconfident; at least these are our standards of leadership. However, Jesus characterizes greatness in a different way with humility at the very top (Luke 22:26). Humility flows from a humble heart. In God’s eyes, this is leadership material. When our heart is humble we will prefer others before our self. We will look out for the other person’s best interest. Putting that mindset into practice qualifies one for honor. This is the point Jesus tried getting to the heart of his disciples.
When asked what the greatest commandments were, loving our neighbor as our self (scrip) was spoken. When we love another, we will treat them fairly or justly. Our sights will not be set only on our own ambitions, but the needs of those around us. It will flow naturally from a heart of love.
When James and Christian both ran after the same swing, they were revealing a selfish heart. It doesn’t matter who got their first. They were looking out only for themselves. This doesn’t mean your child is doomed. All children start out this way. But it is our job, as parents, to teach them why we shouldn’t treat others this way.
Tripp says we must help children understand the “why” of their behavior. Why did you respond that way in this situation? When they understand that sin is driving them to react selfishly, they can better understand their need for God’s grace through Jesus.
Why is it so important that we model our children after the word of God? Jesus says it beautifully in Matthew 6:35 “…and you will be sons of the Most High...” We reflect Christ to the world through our actions and words. When our hearts are dealt with correctly, everything else will fall into place. If we train our children’s hearts when they are young, they will reflect Christ when they are old (Proverbs 22:6).
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