Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.Ephesians 6:4
I know, I know, the title sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? How to give my child more freedom? “They already have too much!” you may be thinking. Well, let me explain.
As a teacher, I have often made the mistake of running my classroom like a boot camp: “Don’t put the eraser in the pencil sharpener!” “Don’t eat the science experiment!” “Don’t leave the classroom without asking!” Don’t this, don’t that.
Restrictions are good, they’re meant to keep my students safe, and order is important in a classroom, but running my classroom like a military training camp isn’t the best method for my students’ development. Each student is unique and has a different background and story. It’s important for me to take this into consideration when dealing with them. This is why instead of always saying “No!” to my students and getting upset with them when they do something wrong, I try to use a more constructive approach. I ask them why they felt the need to do what they did, trying to understand what prompted this action. I aim to give them the freedom to share their reasoning. My goal is to help them understand that they are free to express themselves in a way that isn’t detrimental to themselves or others. Hopefully the next time they are tempted to put an eraser into a pencil sharpener, for example, they will think of a more constructive way to release their energy and divert it towards something more useful.
This principle of giving children the freedom to express themselves, while educating them on appropriate and constructive ways to do so, can be applied to anyone with children at home. Especially now that many families are spending more time at home with their children than usual, it’s easy to fall into the trap of running your home like a boot camp: “Don’t eat the cookies now!” “Don’t make a mess in the living room!” Don’t this, don’t that. It’s a precarious balance: you can’t give your children unlimited freedom or they will turn the house upside down, but you also need to be careful that they don’t feel like being home is a list of never-ending rules that seem arbitrary in their young minds.
A balancing act
I believe we can find the right balance by looking to Scripture at God’s way of dealing with His earthly children, Adam and Eve. In the beginning, when man and woman were created, they were given a lot of freedom. Genesis 2:16 tells us that “the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.’” However, the Bible doesn’t stop there. In verse 17 God says, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The tree. One tree out of hundreds, maybe thousands, perhaps millions of trees in the garden of which they could freely eat. This illustrates to us that God is a giver of a vast amount of freedom. Out of all the pleasures that God gave to Adam and Eve, the only restriction was that they not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God entrusted them with personal responsibility, which would enable personal growth, but they chose to act irresponsibly and rebelliously.
As a parent, it’s important to recognize that the only way to enable your children to grow personally and to learn to make wise decisions is to entrust them with a certain amount of responsibility and freedom. This is risky. Freedom is always risky. Your child could choose to make the wrong choice. Of course, you should ensure that the consequences of these choices aren’t dangerous or harmful to your child or others, but there will be risks involved with educating children to make responsible decisions. However, the reward outweighs the risk. Allowing your children to make smaller mistakes in the home when you can educate them on choosing more wisely next time is much better than having them make large, life-altering mistakes outside the home when you are no longer there to guide them. When they are faced with choices that have serious consequences, they will be in a far better position to reason through the choices and make a wise and thoughtful decision.
Having said this, we should never forget that without God’s Spirit guiding and convincing us, none of us will ever truly make a wise decision. This is why it is vitally important that parents teach their children to surrender themselves to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to their hearts. Parents should also pray for their children to be guided by the Holy Spirit as they learn to exercise their freedom in a godly manner.
So, what are some steps you can take to give your child more freedom? Here are 5 steps that can help your child become more responsible and learn to make wise decisions:
- Make them responsible for a big, important task. Give them a specific job that nobody else has and hold them accountable for it. For example, tell them “You are the only one in this house that feeds the dog, so if the dog doesn’t get fed it is on you.”
- Allow them to make organized messes. Give them the freedom to cook with you, make art projects, help you in the garden, help you clean the car, or vacuum the house in preparation for the Sabbath. All of these little things can take time. You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to constantly be cleaning up after my kids when they ‘help’ me.” But keep in mind that you don’t have to do this every day. Take it one day at a time. Start small, maybe take time to allow them to cook with you once a week. After doing it for a while, they will be able to help you make bread on Fridays. Before you know it, you won’t have to make bread for Sabbath every week anymore! They will become more independent, more useful, and you will have time to do other things because now you have a “big” helper.
- Allow them to make mistakes. Sometimes the more you tell your child “NO!” the more they want to do what you are telling them not to do. Sometimes it’s ok to let them make mistakes. They will be given an opportunity to learn from it. And remember when you correct your children, do it in the fear of God.
- Teach your children how to do things for themselves. I know it’s so hard to let go, especially when they seem to be growing up way too fast, but the best way to provide your kids with more freedom is to teach them how to be independent. Holding on is more detrimental than allowing them to grow. Let go and trust your children in God’s care. He is the one who blessed you with them, and if you have done all that you can do to raise them up in the fear of the Lord, there is nothing else that you can do but to submit them into His care.
- Trust your children. It’s so important for parents to build a relationship with their children in which they can be trusted. This doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time through constant love, constant devotion, and constant listening, becoming their best friends. Be your child’s best friend because by doing so your child will not hide anything from you. They will share their deepest secrets with you and by doing so you will be the biggest influence in their life. They will value your advice above their friends’ advice and your relationship will blossom into something beautiful.
Photo credit: @gaby_anunfinishedstory