Preschoolers are great. They are not old enough to have developed the filters in their brains older children have. This means many of the thoughts in their heads pop quickly out of their mouths. The results are sometimes humorous and sometimes embarrassing. There is no doubt though that these little ones are speaking the truth as they see it.
Fast forward a few years and many older children have developed the opposite problem. They have been scolded for sharing thoughts adults feel should not be shared. Unfortunately, many children also learn an adult would rather hear the truth they want to hear rather than the actual truth. If you live in certain regions of the country, your children are told by society to refrain from ever saying anything negative about anyone or anything.
The problem is that in life there are important truths that need to be spoken. As Christians we should stand up against injustice and sin. The New Testament is full of examples when Jesus and the Apostles confronted people who were sinning and treating others poorly. Their words were always direct and yet there was an element of love and concern for the souls of others woven throughout the truth.
How can we train our children to speak necessary truths but in the loving ways of Jesus and the Apostles? How can we teach them what truths not only should be shared, but must be shared with others? It is not easy, but there are some basic principles to impart to your children.
- Study the Gospels, Acts and the other books of the NewTestament with your children. Focus on stories and passages where Jesus or a disciple had to confront someone about sin or injustice. How did they handle it? You may want to start by comparing Jesus and the woman at the well and Jesus cleansing the Temple. Do you begin to see patterns of behavior? When was Jesus particularly loving and gentle and when was he extremely firm and forceful? Why would he react those ways in those types of situations?
- Have “What if” conversations with your children. Make sure the conclusions your family makes follow Biblical principles. As your children mature, the dilemmas should become more sophisticated. With young ones, you may want to start with “tattling” scenarios. Even adults often confuse tattling and the effort to help someone. Older children can debate scenarios where telling someone a difficult truth would actually improve their quality of life or bring them closer to God.
- Teach your children the difference between judging and discerning. Discerning is scriptural while judging is not. In English the words are almost identical in meaning, but in practice they are very different. Judging is making a decision based on a person’s outward appearance or by hearsay or gossip whether or not the person “deserves” to be a Christian or go to Heaven. It is also holding non-Christians to Christian standards and then denying them the Gospel message because in the mind of the “judge” the person does not deserve salvation. Evaluating is assessing situations that may cause us to sin and helping our Christian brothers and sisters become closer to God. The New Testament letters are full of the Apostles discerning sinful behavior in Christians and correcting it.
- Have your children practice saying things in loving ways. Siblings are a perfect practice ground! Sibling battles often degenerate into name calling, yelling and more. Teach your children how to handle conflicts, disagreements and criticisms with loving words. The old business formula was “say something uplifting, voice the criticism in a calm way and then end with something positive about the person.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be that formal, but in general the person being criticized should feel the love from the critic as much or more than they feel the sting of the criticism.
- Teach your children how very valuable every soul is to God. People may act in horrid ways, but they still possess a soul God wants saved. Our children need to see us acting in loving ways to those around us. We don’t have to put ourselves continually in the paths of bullies and abusers, but at the very least we need to teach our children to pray for these people.
Learning to speak the truth in love is a difficult task even for experienced Christians. The more we work with our children actively on this though, the more likely we will be to raise a generation of Christians who are reaching others for God and helping Christians get closer to God.