I think one of the most difficult concepts for kids to get their arms around is the concept of “tomorrow.” I don’t mean that kids struggle in understanding that Friday follows Thursday, but they do seem to struggle in understanding that today’s choices affect tomorrow’s outcomes.
Night Guy vs. Morning Guy
Jerry Seinfeld spoke about this in one of his famous bits. He said,
“I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, ’cause I’m Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. What about getting up after five hours sleep? Oh, that’s Morning Guy’s problem. That’s not my problem, I’m Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want.” So you get up in the morning, you’re exhausted, groggy…”Oooh, I hate that Night Guy!” And there’s nothing Morning Guy can do. The only thing Morning Guy can do is try and oversleep often enough so that Day Guy loses his job and Night Guy has no money to go out anymore.
Whether he realized it or not, Seinfeld was actually hitting on a biblical concept. It’s called “The Law of the Harvest.” Choices have consequences, and you reap what you sow.
I’m not sure why kids struggle with this concept. Maybe it’s because their track record with the concept is shorter than that of adults. Maybe it’s because their parents have sometimes shielded them from experiencing consequences of their choices. Or maybe it’s because kids, like Night Guy and the rest of us, tend to place greater value on the pleasures of the moment than the benefits of wise choices.
It’s a parent’s job to help kids understand that the people they turn out to be tomorrow depends a great deal on the kinds of choices they make today. But how does a parent do that? How do you help kids gain a practical understanding of this concept, and how do you help them turn that understanding into life habits?
It starts with the Scriptures. I believe there are two passages of Scripture that are critical for kids to understand.
1. Wrong Choices Bring Hardship
Proverbs 13:15 says, “…the way of transgressors is hard.” That means life becomes difficult for those who make wrong choices. When we live foolishly, we can expect to face consequences that will make our lives tougher. For examples of this, you don’t need to look any further than your local newscast. People break the law and they’re arrested. People ignore traffic regulations and they get into accidents.
Parents need to help their kids not only to understand but also to experience this concept. If your 5th grade daughter sleeps in and doesn’t have time to comb her hair before going to school, it’s all right to let her experience some embarrassment from going through a school day with bed head. If your 5-year-old son plays more roughly with his favorite toy than he should, it okay to let him experience the disappointment of a throwing his broken toy in the trash. And when your children disobey, they need to experience disciplinary consequences. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who loves his son is careful to discipline him.”
2. Godly Choices Bring Blessings
The second passage that is critical for kids to understand is John 13:17. Near the conclusion of His earthly ministry, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, and He tells them, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ” After spending three years pouring His life into the disciples, Jesus provides these men with one final picture of sacrificial service, and He tells them that they will be blessed if they follow His model. The principle here is that doing things God’s way brings blessing.
Parents need to help their kids understand this concept as well. Kids need to experience in concrete ways the blessings that come from doing what pleases God.
Recently, my 2-year-old son Noah got curious about belly buttons. (At age 2, I think it’s okay to contemplate your navel.) He was looking at his belly button, and he wanted to see his mother’s. My wife showed him her belly button, and with the deepest tone of sincerity you’ve ever heard a toddler muster, he said, “Mommy, your belly is beautiful.”
We had been talking to Noah about speaking encouraging words to others, and when he gave his mother this encouragement, we praised him up one side and down the other. We made sure he knew that what he had said not only encouraged his mother, but it also pleased God. We also gave him a special reward. We wanted him experience in a tangible way the blessings that come from pleasing the Lord. Our hope is that by experiencing the blessings of doing things God’s way, Noah will, over time, develop a longing to please the Lord.
If parents can help kids develop a core understanding of these two principle–wrong choices bring hardship but godly choices bring blessing–they will lay a foundation upon which satisfying, Christ-honoring lives can be built.
What suggestions do you have for helping kids understand these principles?