I’ve shared several stories about the antics of my youngest son, Noah, such as how his teacher carried his clip on her shirt throughout kindergarten or how he graciously allowed his basketball opponents the chance at a few rebounds rather than hoard them for himself.
There’s one story, though, that warms my heart.
Recently a mom shared with my wife that she was talking to her son about the character of Christ. She asked if he knew anyone like that.
He answered, “yes, Noah!”
As an independent Christian school, we strive to help children follow the greatest role model – Jesus Christ. In fact, I’ll take a B/C average and a bench warmer on any sports team if my child is seen as someone who is like Christ. What more could we ask for?
Now I can’t lie, my wife and I are far from perfect parents who sit around and develop action plans for making our kids like Jesus. But the comment got me thinking…how do we help children develop the character of Christ?
There are three parenting styles on a continuum from permissive on one end to authoritarian on the other.
Permissive parenting involves warmth without imposing many limits. Permissive parents want children to learn self-regulation and value freedom as the path to self-control. On the other end of the spectrum, authoritarian parenting involves a high level of expectation with an almost blind obedience to authority.
I wonder at times if some Christians assume authoritarianism is good while permissiveness is bad. I can almost hear my grandfather’s voice now, “spare the rod, spoil the child.”
I don’t believe either style is all good or all bad. Ultimately we want our children to be like Christ. So how do we do that?
Last week we held our annual honor code ceremony at my school. I talked to the students about why we have an honor code. You see, at my school we focus on the middle ground of that continuum, a style known as authoritative.
Authoritative parenting is a child-centered approach where parents are demanding, yet responsive. Unlike authoritarian parents, there is some negotiation to help the child develop a sense of autonomy.
We know God created us with a free will. He did not program us to love Him. He gave us that choice because He wants us to CHOOSE to love Him.
God wants our hearts, not just our minds. I believe it should be the same as we raise children and manage classrooms. People with authoritative parenting styles want their children to utilize reasoning and work independently, but they also have high expectations.
A blind obedience to authority, while it may get short term results in the moment, typically doesn’t come from the heart. On the other end, just loving children without imposing a value system can affect the heart without developing the mind.
In the end, the character of Christ is the only thing we will take with us into eternity. Jesus made it clear in the sermon on the mount that the character we develop here on earth will determine our reward in heaven.
Helping our children “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NIV) is our most important job in life as teachers and parents.