Helping Children to Listen to Their Conscience

481064169_03dc6507e6_mMy memory for this one winds back 58 years. The place was a parsonage in New Westminster, British Columbia.

Bobby, our first grader, and Donnie, our third grader, were settled in bed for the night. I went upstairs to their bedroom, as I often did when at home, and sat down on the braided rug between their beds for a few minutes before lights out.

It was a good time for reflection, and sometimes significant issues bubbled to the surface before sleep came.

How did the day go? I asked. Anything special happen for either of you? I then prayed with them and went downstairs, stopping in the kitchen for a glass of water. The house was quiet.

Breaking the stillness, I heard footsteps descending the stairs. Around the corner into the kitchen came Donnie. He had something he wanted to tell me.

“Remember the money you asked the people to give to the missionaries last Sunday?” he asked his pastor father. “Yes,” I said. “Well,” he explained, “I went to some neighbors and asked for money for the missionaries but I really was going to keep it for the bike I want.”

“Did you get any money?” I asked. He said Mrs. Bird had given him a quarter.

“Do you want me to go with you to take that money back and say you’re sorry?” I continued. He thought he could do it alone. With that he turned and I heard the sound of his bare feet mounting the stairs.

Almost immediately I again heard footsteps descending. Around the corner into the kitchen came Bobby. He too had something he wanted to tell me.

Apparently his first grade teacher had placed some attractive packets of blank paper for classroom use on a table near the classroom door. Upon leaving school in the afternoon Bobby had picked up two packets and brought them home.

“Do you still have them?” I asked. “And are they unopened?” To both questions the answer was yes.

I remember thinking to myself: it’s a pretty stiff assignment for a first grader to go on his own to his teacher and face his wrongdoing. So I asked if he would like me to go to the teacher with him. He replied that he could do it by himself.

I waited a couple of days and then phoned Mrs. Bird. She confirmed that Donnie had been to see her and had returned the quarter with an apology. I also phoned the teacher and learned that Bobby had carried out his assignment by returning the two packets and saying he was sorry.

A father’s interest in the daily experiences of two boys had moved each to own an otherwise concealed wrongdoing. Two developing consciences had been quickened. The offenses were never spoken of again during their childhood.

I recognize that one such encounter will not bring about the full ordering of a child’s conscience. There must be many prompts, given by at least one external authority on that child’s pathway, preferably a parent. This will encourage honesty and give positive stimulation to the child’s developing moral signals.

As well, there must also be many occasions when such authorities in a child’s life help the child to say “I’m sorry,” or, make amends. Saying I’m sorry is a factor in teaching growing children to know right from wrong, and to understand the principle of “consequences”.

Blessed is the growing child who has at least one parent to lead the way — a parent with a healthy conscience, warm but firm relationships with the child, and the will to persevere when the issues are clear.

Parents must be careful not to laugh at a developing child’s little deceptions or brush them off as cute. They are stuff to be directed toward character development.

Even the most careful cultivation of a clear sense of right and wrong in a child cannot promise with certainty to bring the right long term results. God has made us all with wills that can resist goodness. Yet the odds are very high that faithfulness in training will have its positive effect in character formation.

It’s a joy to us that, “Donnie”, now “Don”, is today a father, a grandfather, and a churchman. As an editor he has dedicated the whole of his vocational life to making words speak clearly and he is the owner of Bastian Publishing Services in Toronto.

To God be the glory!

And it is an equal joy that “Bobby”, now “Bob,” is an active Christian, a husband, parent, and laryngologist who owns and practices in the Bastian Voice Institute in Downers Grove, Illinois.

To God Be the Glory!

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Photo credit: Mandy Frediani (via


2 thoughts on “Helping Children to Listen to Their Conscience

  1. Thankyou Pastor Don,for sharing this uplifting experience from your family history.
    As you recall this event of nearly six decades ago,so vividly,I find it far greater than something cute or amusing.I find it deeply moving.

    For Bobby and Donnie it must have been a very serious thing indeed.
    I like the way ,in a quiet bedtime moment ,sat on the braided rug between their beds,you invited your sons to review their day. Then praying together .brought into the moment the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    I can easily imagine myself from both the parental perspective and from the boys perspective

    .I imagine,after you went downstairs,Bobby and Donnie,reflecting.After the prayers,the living Holy Spirit ,would be with them ,alerting their consciences.Maybe they discussed what was on their mind between themselves at that stage.

    Then Donnie found the courage to come downstairs and tell you something.I imagine it must have been awkward and embarrassing,though he was obviously confident in receiving an understanding hearing,knowing his father loved him.Indeed ,he found the courage to face Mrs Bird alone.

    Donnies uprightness obviously strengthened his brothers resolve to clear what was weighing on his conscience,too.Bobby then unburdened himself to his father.I think it was very brave of him to decide to face his teacher alone.

    Both boys must have grown through their difficult experiences,their consciences exercised.This must have been one step among many,along their path to maturity.

    If only every child could rely on the strength giving of a parentally active father.How satisfying that Don and Bob have rewarded your good parenting and their own courage in following their consciences ,owning up and putting things right.

    As you say pastor , glory goes of God and His workings through the Holy Spirit.Don and Bob are grown into being a credit and asset to their parents , to themselves and to their communities.And they now pass the good onto their own offspring.

    A heartwarming recollection for this season of Epiphany.

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