One thing I’ve been pondering lately is being mindful of the temptations that our little ones are facing as they grow – in age and (we hope) in character. Elizabeth Krueger talks about the importance of closely overseeing our children because, when they are very young, their temptation to sin when they’re not in our presence often exceeds their capacity to resist the temptation. The watchful presence of a benevolent mother functions as a kind of starter conscience for a young child whose own fledgling conscience is not fully operational yet.
When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. A young child who feels an urge to whack her brother may well control that impulse if her mom is standing right there, and she knows that her mom will not approve of this urge (and is apt to make this very clear her). If her mom is not standing there, the urge may get the better of her and she may well act on the base instinct. This reality explains, in large part, why children who are not closely attended by adults behave much more poorly than when they are closely attended. Their temptations to misbehave exceed the reach of their current character development, and thus they yield to the temptations to sin.
God assures us that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear, and part of our responsibility as parents is to avoid placing our children in settings or situations where the temptations to act in ungodly ways exceed their training and character development. This may translate into small or big efforts on our part (and likely both). A small example might be keeping two playing preschoolers within earshot, even when they’re playing well together, to nip erupting meanness in the bud. A bigger example might be pulling your kid from preschool if he shows signs of consistently succumbing to temptations to sin. As I wrote about our experience of this last incident: “it was hard to face the fact that preschool was providing more temptations to misbehave than our son could handle – that keeping him there was leading him into temptation.” But once we did face and act on that fact, things improved immensely for him and for us.
Over time, as our children mature, the need for us to mediate between them and temptation will lessen. And one key is to remember that the goal is not to rid our children’s lives of temptations, as if we could expunge it from their experience. After all, life on this earth is a battle with the enemy and temptation is one part of it,as well as a sanctification ingredient that God uses to grow our character and to help us become more like Christ. Temptation in itself is neither bad nor avoidable, and “the testing of our faith develops perseverance.” When we see our children being tempted to sin (as we will many times every day), we get to work with them to recognize the pull to sin that we all feel and to teach them how to choose the good. When they fail to resist temptation, we unpack notions of sin with them at heart-level, work with them on repentance, and over time help them grasp their need for a savior.
Rather than seeking to erect a wall between our children and temptation, the goal of monitoring our young children’s temptation levels is to keep them from experiencing too much temptation. Our watchfulness serves to ensure that over-exposure to temptation doesn’t derail their character development as we train them toward godliness. Our goal to train their consciences and to give them early experiences and tools to meet temptation with self-control and the strength of our faithful God, who always provides a way out.