While walking through a big-box store, I was suddenly accosted by a small child with a Styrofoam sword. He looked to be about 5 and growled as he repeatedly struck me with this toy he had found in a nearby aisle.
I glanced around for a parent as I tried to walk away. Sir Swashbuckler followed swiftly and continued with his attack. I glanced around again. Slowly, a woman came around the corner and saw her son striking me the sword. She said nothing to him, but smiled at me. “What can you do?” she began. “He is just spirited.” A final whomp to my waist and off he went to find a new victim. I stood stock-still, mouth open in shock.There is only so much you can do!
As a mom to four, I am well-acquainted with the reality of a “spirited child.” While my children may look well-behaved when out and about, this is not the way they came. It is, instead, what they have been taught. And when the teaching is difficult, which it often is, I remind myself that helping them learn to behave is actually a gift to them that will open doors and build connections as they grow into the life that will be their own. Don’t ever let yourself believe that there is nothing you can do. Your voice, your lessons and your discipline are building into your children and helping them to learn to navigate the world around them.
As parents, we must find small ways to raise the bar. Society may tell us that the effort is futile and that children will misbehave, but we must keep our eyes on a broader scope. All children have moments where their endless energy will win the war, but if we are offering appropriate locations for this to occur, we are teaching our kids to channel that enthusiasm to places where it can be expressed. Because the truth is, there is nothing wrong with a foam sword battle. What a perfect activity for a backyard or basement! But attacking strangers with toy weapons in public is nothing for us to accept. Choose to set limits that teach respect for others.
We need to offer fewer excuses and help our children grow into the behavior and skills that they will need for a life of faith in the future. It is not always easy. All children will not learn in the same way. But we have been entrusted with these little lives and with the job of preparing them for what is to come. You are the perfect parent for your child. All of the work you do today will prepare them for the place they will play in the Kingdom. The discipline you are offering will help them to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit that is developing in their young lives.
What would our parenting look like if we focused on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and helped our children to develop these qualities a bit at a time? What if we required them to show love, to choose joy, to spread peace, to act with patience, to shower kindness, to embrace goodness, to seek faithfulness, to exhibit gentleness and to act with self-control? How would this change our home life? How would this impact behavior? How would this affect their time away at school? These qualities are available to us through the Holy Spirit. They are available to our children, too.
Trying to parent without a manual can leave us feeling overwhelmed. God does not leave us alone in our struggles his Spirit equips us for the challenges that we face. God also blesses us with his church to come alongside us and care for us through difficulties.
As we invest in calling out bad behavior and holding our children to a godly standard, we will draw them close to the one who loves them best and will help them grow in grace and faith and there is nothing futile about that.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster