In Your Opinion, Was Buckie Treated Properly?

Angry childWhen Kathleen taught preschool she started each new group of children with a little exercise. Addressing one of them, she would say, “Betty, please pick up this piece of paper.” When Betty complied, Kathleen would lead the children in a round of applause saying in a musical voice, “Oh, Betty obeyed me!”

Soon afterwards she might say, “George, would you mind closing the door?” George would respond and the class would be led in another round of applause. This is how she taught the meaning of the word obedience.

One day she said with mild excitement, “Okay, everybody please stand up.” Four-year-old Buckie refused. She asked him three times to be sure he understood his own response. Each time, his response was, “No, I won’t.”

Recognizing this as a challenge, Kathleen picked him and his chair up together and moved them gently to the nearby wall. She explained, “Everyone in my class must obey me. If you can’t obey me then you can’t share in what the rest of the class is doing.”

Buckie’s face clouded. Even for a four-year-old isolation from the group can be unpleasant.

Needless to say Buckie soon relented and joined the class. He never balked at Kathleen’s instructions after that day. Children are pliable and learn quickly what does and doesn’t work.

Resistance to authority is an inborn trait and must be addressed, brought to consciousness, and appropriately restrained in the early years of life. Teaching a child to obey is actually the child’s first step toward freedom.

A significant number today might see Buckie’s treatment as controversial. “A little child should be allowed to assert himself,” some may say. Or “leave him alone and he will figure it out for himself.” Or even, “Humor him a bit.”

Christian parents, however, should see their children with Christian realism. Early in life every human being is prone to resist authority and we all must learn, as Buckie was learning, to obey the requests of parents and teachers and eventually managers, bosses and civic officers.

We take our tips on these things from the Scriptures. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Parents are to be the teachers, insisting on obedience.

Recall that, to raise the child, Jesus, God chose devout parents, who as pious Jews followed the requirements of the law toward him (Luke 2:39). “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). From such parenting, we are told that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

A recent rash of teenagers physical attacks on teachers in the classroom and vulgar hate songs against law officers in the streets should alert us that children left to grow up however they please makes for incivility and even violence as a way of life.

Picking a child up, chair and all, and isolating him for a brief moment is not a bad way to tell him in the earliest years that legitimate authority must be obeyed. The four-year-old learns early what is true throughout life: that we all face boundaries and comply with rules and we must be taught the art early.


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Photo credit: Mith Huang (via flickr.com)

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The Father’s Day Drama at the Kitchen Door

2901132111_0c8127ab04_mWhile pastoring in Western Canada in the second half of the 1950s I often went out in the afternoon to visit shut-ins, hospital patients, or newcomers to our growing church.

In 1956 our children were ages eight, five, three and one. Kathleen was home with the two younger children during the day and as the older two arrived home from school mid-afternoon she was there to receive them.

When my afternoon calls were coming to an end, and I was ready to start for home, I would use the nearest phone to tell Kathleen my approximate time of arrival.

For that arrival she had a ritual she practiced with the children. She would turn from the phone and say to them with excitement, “Daddy’s coming home! Daddy’s coming home!” The children would go into a dance of joy and be at the door to greet me when they heard the car in the driveway. Being treated with such enthusiasm was a father’s joy.

This tale is really a very thin slice of our family life. It may scarcely seem worth recalling, but in retrospect, with two of those four children now grandparents whose children are raising their own children. I get pleasure from reliving such a thin slice of life.

It seems to me that Kathleen’s ritual nourished in the minds of our young children respect and appreciation for their father. After all, children should get their first prompts on how they should feel about one parent from the other parent.

I know that life is much more complicated now than during the 1950s. For one thing mother may not be at home, and to get there she may have to leave from work and go first to the daycare to pick up the youngest child. And she may have to carry out this errand as a single parent.

Or a father may not have the luxury of coming home every day or at the same time every day. And when they do, both parents may arrive home frazzled and under pressure to meet the basic needs of a hungry child or two. What parent in such circumstances has time for the niceties?

But I recall that back then in the 1950s we too had our frazzled moments. Four young children are a handful in any home. In our case, the youngest had special needs that demanded great and constant attention.

Moreover, we lived next door to the church building and at times the parsonage could seem like an extension of the church. As well, both of us were greatly involved in the activities of church life. I worked many evening and weekend hours at pastoral tasks; my wife sang in the choir, taught Sunday School and often served meals to visiting speakers or other guests.

So Kathleen carried out this ritual greeting for my homecoming because it was too important to her to neglect. She and I both now think there was something in it that strengthened parent-child bonds on into adulthood, however slight the exercise might seem in the telling.

The memory of that kitchen door greeting comes to mind because Father’s Day cards are being selected in the stores and great numbers of wives and children are wondering what sort of gift to buy for father as June 19 approaches. That search is all to the good. A well-chosen card or a little gift can speak volumes, too.

But Father’s Day is a good time to review the rituals we incorporate intentionally into family life to enrich relationships, quell storms, and reinforce with the vitamins of caring whatever family laws we have.

For the little ones, a ritual like the drama my wife enacted at the door made father’s home-coming both surprising and precious. Even such a simple spontaneous exercise can strengthen bonds between parents and growing children.

So, happy Father’s Day to all fathers who read this. If your children are young, may they greet you not only on Father’s Day but often at the door with a ritual family dance of joy! But, whatever the children’s age, may this day renew your precious family connections.

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Photo credit: Ryan McCullah (via flickr.com)

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 flickr.com)

What to do With a Screaming Child in a Busy Diner

On the news this morning, tucked between reports of world-shaking events both at home and abroad, a simple human interest story made it onto TV screens all across the country.

It was about a two-and-a-half year-old child’s behavior in a busy diner. To the dismay of all patrons, this little girl screamed incessantly for 40 minutes, without effective intervention from her parents.

The screaming, the reporter said, continued until the overwrought owner of the diner pounded her fists on the counter and shrieked, “This has got to stop.” The two-year-old went quiet.

The TV crew, who must have been nearby as this took place, made a feature story by interviewing the patrons one-by-one. Several gave forthright opinions about parenting strategies for such a situation.

One said “Ask the family to leave.” Another said: “Correct the parents, not the child;” another offered: “The manager should have stayed out of it.” No one advised, “Let the child scream.”

This morning’s television newscast reminded me of a lovely dinner my wife and I were a part of several years ago with young parents and their two children, ages four, and two-and-a-half. The setting was a scenic restaurant beside a river.

The younger child, a little girl, was at the same time delightful, precocious with language, and strong-willed, and she had a knack for trying to take command of a situation when its public setting put her parents in an awkward position. But they had figured out a strategy for managing such moments that we were able to witness.

Our host had made reservations by telephone for a table for six but had not said that two of the six would be children. They knew this information would have netted them a table out of sight of the river.

We arrived by car and walked a distance to the restaurant. The father, carrying the little girl in his arms, talked softly to her. He said quietly, “If you don’t do what Daddy says or if you make any fuss in here, I will carry you outside”. This was apparently not the first time he had said those words. He was repeating them quietly now as we walked toward the entrance.

We were hardly seated before the challenge began. My wife and I noticed that at the first contest of wills, long before anyone around us could possibly be disturbed, her father quietly picked the child up and headed for the door.

He told us later that his strategy, as she struggled and cried out of earshot of the diners, was to speak lovingly but firmly to her. When she quieted down, he would ask: “Are you ready to go back in?” To her nod he would say, “Okay, but what will happen if you don’t do what Daddy says? “Out,” she would reply.

He told us that this approach had allowed them to go out on occasion for more than fast food, and they were very careful that their children did not spoil anyone else’s evening.

After a while the two reentered, the little girl’s cheeks wet with tears. There were no further challenges at that meal. We enjoyed a quiet repast together, and it turned out to be a happy time, even for the little girl.

As we were leaving, patrons eating nearby commended our host and hostess for their well-behaved children. Our hosts told us later that on other such occasions, diners had said things like “How on earth do you do that?” Or, “When you arrived, we thought that our meal would be ruined!”

So, what should parents do with a screaming child in a busy restaurant?

Here’s how I see it. You can’t reason with a two-and-a half-year-old child in the midst of such an emotional storm. The child will have the high ground. But a warning in advance that a certain behavior is sure to bring a certain consequence and then a calm but certain carry-through makes for quick learning, even if the treatment has to be repeated several more times as the weeks go by.

Back to the performance in the diner featured on television: a couple of calm trips outside with the child in the father’s arms taken within seconds of the start or restart of the screaming could have worked wonders – for parents, for child, for neglected older brother, and for diner patrons.

Both while watching this incident and afterwards at home, we felt for the parents. And, what a waste of a wonderful teaching moment for the child in the diner. The message to her out of the event should have been that her parents loved her and for that reason couldn’t allow her even at that age to misbehave so as to intrude on other people.

Still, in our culture, there is no clear agreement on this matter. Opinions range from extreme permissiveness and lack of consideration for others in public settings to over-exacting sternness.

But, this much is clear to me at nearly 90 years of age: Parents who set loving boundaries, and children who have been taught to recognize them – even in a crowded diner – raise happier children who live in happier families.

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Raising Wholesome Children

tumblr_mcgll0TL1N1rt0kevo1_1280(Not necessarily brilliant, handsome, or talented, and certainly not perfect, but wholesome.)

In 1950 the Gallup organization gave a questionnaire to a large sampling of high school seniors. To the question: “Are you a very important person?” 12 percent said yes.

In 2005 Gallup administered the same question to another large sampling of high school seniors: 80 percent said yes.

The large increase in percentage may seem remarkable to some. Others will quickly relate the upsurge to the great increase in narcissism in our culture.

Remember Narcissus? He was the handsome young man of Greek mythology who gazed at the reflection of his image in a pool and fell in love with himself.

Narcissists are self-absorbed. They betray a sense of grandiosity and self-importance. They have a need for praise, and often show an explosive anger when their fragile sense of self-importance is in any way met with reserve or disbelief.

(Anyone who wants to know more will find a great deal of information by googling not only “narcissism,” but also terms such as “narcissistic injury,” and “narcissistic supply.”)

My understanding is that a majority of teenagers show narcissistic traits (as our generations before them did). But for most, the wear and tear of fighting their way into adulthood rubs away these traits or reduces them greatly.

Also, people of any age may have narcissistic moments or blind spots, but only a small percentage reach adulthood with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Some experts suggest one percent.

What resources can Christian parents draw upon to assure that their children grow up with a wholesome sense of self-respect and at the same time a proper interest in and respect for others?

Perhaps a key insight is given us by Jesus when he said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is apparently a proper sense of self-love — perhaps called self esteem. So parents should be concerned that children develop appropriate self-esteem but also neighbor-love. To encourage the development of a healthy sense of both, what practices should parents attempt to follow?

To begin with, we must recognize that children are a gift from God and that they bear God’s image. Therefore they are to be treated with respect even when we are correcting them. Sometimes we need to sit down and prayerfully review our child’s value to God so as to check and amend our own vexation over their slips.

At the same time, Christians believe their children (and they too) are members of a fallen race. So early in their lives they will show a “bent to evil” and this will manifest itself early and require parental alertness as well as readiness to instruct, restrain, and discipline.

Parents will be alert and respond in a correcting, teaching way, for example, to their child’s first intentional untruth, the first conscious disobedience, and the first unkindness to others or selfishness.

Parents will want to provide a home where there is lots of warmth, love, and laughter but never lose sight of the fact that moral instruction and Gospel claims are serious tasks.

The tendency to romanticize human nature, strong as it is in our culture, may cloud the minds of Christian parents, making them overlook or see as cute or charming the sinful conduct in the developing child. This laxity could easily plant early seeds for narcissism.

Countering the tendency for our children to be narcissistic calls for a 24/7 alertness so that we can show appropriate but not overblown approval when growing children do what’s right, and appropriate and pointed correction when selfishness creates trouble.

By these means parents help children to form a realistic sense of themselves — that they bear God’s image and have gracious gifts from Him, and at the same time along with all of humankind, they have a sin nature.

At the same time, the deepest remedy for curbing narcissistic tendencies is the embrace of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That must mean true repentance — a turning away from sin; and faith — a deep turning to Jesus Christ, declaring him Lord and Savior.

Nothing short of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ can begin life’s transformation at the center.

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Image credit: John William Waterhouse

A Baby’s Dedication in a Baptist Church

Block-Party-9Yesterday morning Kathleen and I attended a Baptist church in the neighborhood called the Beaches on the east side of Toronto close to Lake Ontario. The occasion was to witness a dedication service for our ten-month-old great grandson, Lane.

The dedication was part of a Sunday morning worship service and the building it was held in was a big and old but well-kept edifice. It had character.

The sanctuary itself had a faded splendor. Attendance was sparse, perhaps 80 or so in a sanctuary that would seat 250. We were delighted that our grandchildren, Ian and Chloe, were eager to present Lane to the Lord in this manner and the pastor made the dedication ritual personal and meaningful.

He noted clearly at the outset that this dedication would not be a salvation event; that neither the parents nor the church could save this child; that Lane would have to respond to the Gospel himself when his understanding was adequate to know in some measure that he had a personal need for a Savior.

Nevertheless, the pastor went on to commend the importance parents acknowledge when dedicating a child to God in this fashion, noting that they along with family and church would be expected to carry out faithfully the teaching and training pledged in this dedication. Together they would instruct Lane in the admonitions of the Lord.

The pastor’s message was titled: How to Raise Children to Know God. It was fully outlined in the bulletin and delivered clearly and with personal warmth, mainly in a teaching mode. The flock listened attentively from their places scattered here and there in the sanctuary.

The community surrounding this church building was long-established; houses were close together but well kept in repair and in some cases refurbished. This narrow street and many streets throughout the community were lined on one side with cars. Their owners had parked to go to the beaches, or the shops in the area.

Because there was no available parking at the church our daughter and her husband, who had brought us, found a parking space about six blocks away and then walked back to the church.

It was clear from the bulletin that this church was actively attempting to reach beyond its physical boundaries to offer ministry in the area. According to the bulletin, there also seemed to be an active church prayer life.

I admired the pastor, a man of 45 or so, for his optimism and courage in ministering in this context. This Beaches area was a slice of the modern city. As would be true in most urban areas, there would be great need for the Gospel in the tightly spaced surrounding community. In its midst, to a remnant of Christian city dwellers, the pastor ministered gently and positively.

Before entering the church, I had scanned the densely packed dwellings of this middle class community. Remembering my pastoral experiences, with so many homes intact on the outside but reeling on the inside, I felt the brokenness of our world.

And I felt a little sobered to realize that here was a church building that had once served a robust congregation. Christian influence at that time was accepted and widely recognized. Now the throngs were in the shops or on the beaches nearby while this facility was challenged for its existence.

But the faithful ministry to our grandchildren and great grandchild reminded me that whatever state society chooses, whether postmodern or secular, God will continue to challenge chosen men and women to take up the task of preaching the Gospel and ministering faithfully to needy people

There is no pastoral ministry more challenging than to gather in young couples and aid them in establishing Christian homes. This may not seize public attention or fill church pews quickly. But it’s long range results are immeasurable. The dedication of a baby in the presence of the congregation is at the center of that task.

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Photo credit: waverleyroadbaptist.ca

Resisting the Plague of Narcissism

640px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissism has been much in the news during this past week. I heard about it from the media in full detail three times.

Narcissus was a mythological figure known for his beauty who, it is said, looked into a pool, saw a reflection of himself, and fell in love with what he saw.

So Narcissism is the term used of people who are self-absorbed and pre-occupied with their own imagined superiority. They may come across as strong and self-assured but when that self assurance isn’t honored as they expect they are likely to react in a surge of punishing anger or even violence. The so-called big ego turns out to be amazingly fragile.

Narcissism has been on the rise in western youth in recent years. It often is manifested by a strong sense of entitlement. “I’m special and I deserve special treatment.” “I’ll not take just any job.” So why is this in the news especially this week?

A study on Narcissism has been released that gives a fresh understanding of the cause of this dominating state of mind. Co-authored by Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, the study surveyed 565 children ages 7 through 11 and 415 mothers and 290 fathers.

Narcissism, the study shows, can be traced to parents who “overvalue” their children during the developmental stage of their lives. Children between 6 and 8 are especially sensitive to parental influence. This inflated self-image of the Narcissist can be buried deep in the psyche.

If during those years children are told in one way or another they are superior, they are more than special, they do things better than others, and they are thus put on a pedestal, they internalize an undeserved view of their superiority. And other people come not to matter.

It used to be believed that Narcissism shows itself in children who are shown little parental warmth. The new insight from this study pointing to “overvaluing” supplants that understanding.

One might assume from the findings of the study that the condition is planted by parents who have a need to reach some personal star achievement of their own in their children. “My child can do no wrong; my child is unusual in every respect; my child deserves special attention from kindergarten on.” These can be damaging assumptions.

The felt need to foster self-esteem in their child is an entirely different matter. Self-esteem develops when children are helped to internalize within themselves the sense that they are valuable individuals but not superior to the extent that they can do no wrong. In the raising of them they will get the appropriate amount of teaching, correcting, disciplining, and such otherwise character-shaping treatment as needed, all within the context of warm adult parental love. It is “overvaluing” that does the damage.

Christian parents may foster Narcissism in their children if they adopt certain cultural modes of parenting rather than taking their teaching from the Scriptures and Judeo-Christian understandings of humanity.

Christian parents believe that children are not a possession; they are a trust from God and must be raised with that in mind. Valuable as we are to God and one another we are all flawed and that fact should be kept in sight as we raise children.

We should not be surprised when we catch a child in the first lie, or see the first tantrum, or discover the first amazing deception. Dealing with these with love and firmness is important.

Christian parents will affirm their children’s achievements to a degree appropriate to their ages and commensurate with the actual achievement. When a four-year-old makes his bed or a seven-year-old sets the table they are thanked, but not raved over as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever done. And when they do wrong, the call to account should be real.

Christian parents pray daily with their children and in this setting where the Christian view of human nature is shared children can be helped to face their failures as well as their successes. The early teaching of a developing child to worship God who is majestic and holy and far above them, is a first line against the development of Narcissism.

 

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