“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Before my husband and I had our first child, we narrowed our child-training to 2 basic goals: To strive to raise children who 1. Love God and 2. Love Others.
Both of those goals have been the guidelines for all our our child-training choices.
We home-school, because that gives us the greatest opportunity to pour Christ into our children…especially on a very small budget.
We memorize Scripture as a family and for school, we teach our children hymns, we point them to God’s grace when we need to discipline them.
I buy books that will help them fall in love with Jesus more and more. Books by C.S. Lewis are particularly amazing in that way.
We encourage our children to have older friends to help mentor them and encourage them in their faith.
We talk about God, we read Scripture.
My oldest child just started youth group. And we have told her, that we are allowing her to attend because we believe it will help her grow in her love for God by hearing more about Him and developing relationships with other people who love Him. But we also told her that if we find it is becoming just a social event and that we are not seeing good fruit coming from her time at youth group. We will pull her out, at least for a season. Even youth-group, which many parents don’t give much thought about, must serve the purpose of helping our children learn love God and others.
I do not like the word “indoctrinate” because that connotates the idea of forceful education. I want my children to grab onto the amazement of God on their own. I only provide a feast of opportunity for them to learn about Him and be amazed.
Teaching my children to love others is a bit more practical and incorporates a lot of habit training.
When my children were very little, I worked with them to be quiet and still in church. I know a lot of parents would not bother, but I would tell them things like: “Do not talk to mommy. Mommy is trying to listen and that is unkind.” or “Do not be so loud. You will bother the people around you.”
I think a lot of folks would say that they are just little and such strictness is not necessary. But I do not expect people to accommodate my children. I expected my children to accommodate other people.
If we go for a play-date with friends, I insists my children put away what they have gotten out. I might tell them on the way over. “After you play, I want you to pick up. You would not like it if someone came to our house and left their mess for you to pick up. So don’t leave your mess for others.” That is something my children understand well, because they have had to pick up often after their friends leave.
I expect good behavior when we visit other people. If my children are naughty. I do not give excuses for them. I never tell others, “He is just tired.” or “This is the result of too much sugar.” or even, “I think she isn’t feeling well.” I believe that giving excuses for my children’s bad behavior is not only a lack of respect to those I am with, but terribly wrong teaching for my child who will learn that it is “ok” not be unkind or grumpy if I don’t feel good.
I hold high expectations of my children because I am not raising children. I am raising adults. If a behavior such as crawling over the arm of a sofa, or picking one’s nose, or not answering when being spoken too, is NOT acceptable behavior for a thirty-year-old, it is not acceptable behavior for at three-year-old.
Teaching children to love others is hard work, and takes forethought. I find I do a lot of pre-event or pre-visit talks, like: “Be sure to say ‘thank you.’ Mrs. Boo has spent a lot of time getting ready for our visit today. I know you might not like everything she is having for dinner, but do not say a word about it. Be grateful for her hard work and eat a bite of everything she serves.” or “We have never been to the Doo’s House before. Please notice or ask if you should take off your shoes indoors.”
In any case, there is scenario after scenario we could walk through together, but everyone has different situations and I cannot predict what other people might need to prepare their children for. I do know it really helps make visits easier for me, for our host, and for my children if we talk about things before we go.
So, opening my children’s eyes to love them with a heart of compassion and understanding is an ongoing journey. In fact, it is something I still mess-up at doing myself.
In any case, teaching children to love God and Others will not happen on its own. It takes fore-thought, purpose, and planning to cultivate the children I pray will someday be God-loving, kind adults.