Sissy Goff: Helping Your Child Discover Who They Are in Christ

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” If you’ve seen the movie or read the book The Help, you know these words. You also know the moving scene when they’re spoken. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Stockett’s heartwarming characters, let me introduce you. The scene takes place in adorable 2-year-old Mae Mobley’s bedroom with Aibileen, her beloved housekeeper. Aibileen walks into the room, smile wide and arms outstretched. She takes Mae Mobley into her arms, holds her close and repeats these words with her: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” They’re words that are foundational. They speak the truth into Mae Mobley’s life of who she is, how God made her, and how deeply she’s loved by her Aibileen.

The picture of Mae Mobley and Aibileen is what we often think of when we think of growing a child’s identity. Nurturing…comfort…security. Giving them a sense of how deeply they’re loved, of how God sees them, of how we see them. We talked about that type of knowingness, being known and loved in the last chapter. In this phase of life, however, they want more. They want not just to know, but to experience that knowledge and love. In these years, we want to go deeper with those foundational truths and dig down into helping a child develop their unique, God-given identity.

Seven to 12 years of age are some of the most important in terms of a child’s life—particularly, their capacities for growth. (We say 7 to 12, but each child develops at a different rate in every aspect of their lives, not just physically. These are more guides than they are rules.) Kids in these years are not just growing upward. Their brains are changing as quickly as their bodies. Their muscles are, too. What’s learned in this phase of development has more potential to stay with them than in any other season of their lives. That involves muscle memory such as sports or music lessons, cognitive abilities such as multiplication, and spiritual truths, such as developing identity. But, as always, there are blocks that get in their (and our way) of helping children reach this crucial milestone in their spiritual development.

Stumbling Block: Over-Encouragement

Just as we could call this the Age of Identity Development, we could also call it the Age of Lessons and Practices. For you, it could be called the Age of Carpool. Your child has piano lessons on Monday night. Soccer practice is on Tuesday night. Dance is on Thursday and Boy Scouts are on Friday afternoons, plus a weekend camp out from time to time.

As a parent, you’re not only using these practices and lessons to build their skills. You’re also trying to build their confidence. And you’re exactly right. Because of the way their brains are developing, this is the time these skills have their greatest boomerang effect. What’s learned now is much more likely to come back than what’s learned at 18 or 30.

In the flurry of activities and building confidence, however, we can forget an even greater truth. We spend our time cheering them on, building them up, encouraging them. And, again, rightly so. But in the midst of all of this cheering and building and encouraging, we can place too much emphasis on growing their confidence. We worry so much that their little self-esteems are fragile that we sometimes neglect growing their understanding of grace. We don’t talk about sin because we don’t want them to doubt God’s love for them.

Several summers ago, we were at second to fourth grade camp. I was teaching on one of the “put off” and “put on” list verses, such as Colossians 3. You remember, Colossians 3 starts with putting off “sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust.” We didn’t stress those quite so much with the second to fourth graders. But the verse goes on to add, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.” It then goes on to include “bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk and lying.” I’ll stop there… I’m feeling convicted myself.

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Source: Church Leaders