This is the last in a 3-part series on children being a priceless treasure to be cherished now and always. It might be a good idea to read the two previous articles (April 2017 and May 2017 Rural Route Magazine) again to get the flow of the subject. We have looked at the change in children, parents and families over the last 50 years. In fact, in our lifetime we have seen quite a change in some people’s ideas of what it means to be a husband and a wife, and a father and a mother. Getting married and having our own children is no longer a top priority for many people. It’s common for some people to put their job, career and social life ahead of marriage and raising children.
In the past, children were strongly influenced by their family, with much less influence from the world. Nowadays children are strongly influenced by television programming, internet, movies, video games, music, and the school system with less and less influence from their family. The modern influences of the world do not usually teach the values of unselfish love, kindness, submission, forgiveness, humility and obedience. The messages of the world often promote the opposite attitudes of selfishness, anger, rebellion, revenge, pride, and disobedience.
In the previous two articles we talked about the necessity of the parents loving each other, for the children to feel love from their parents. When a husband loves his wife, his children feel his love for them, and when a wife loves her husband, her children feel her love for them. If the father and mother do not love each other, the child feels torn in two. If we are angry with our spouse, our children feel that anger because part of them does not like the other part of them.
We also talked about the value of heart-to-heart and eye-to-eye talks, protecting innocence, eating meals together, growth and maturity, the line of authority, and the amazing rewards of the family experience. If you believe that God loves us and forgives us, it’s important to tell your children that. Children can read in the Bible that God loves them, and they can hear it from other people, but it is much more personal when they hear it from their own parents as well.
In this article we want to introduce some questions for discussion with your children, and also a sample conversation between a parent and two children. Let’s look at a situation where two children are playing together, and they are arguing with each other because they both want to play with the same toy. Both of them are unhappy and they are saying hurtful things to each other. This is a good opportunity to teach the children about unselfish love.
When you walk into the room, just stand and quietly observe what is happening for a few moments. It is important not to force a change with strong correction or a lecture. The goal is to get the children thinking and understanding why they are unhappy and hurting each other, and to show them a better way to get along with each other. Get their attention by saying something different like, “Ouch, you are hurting my feelings.” This will help to get them thinking. You could ask one of the children if they are happy. They’ll probably say “no.” If you ask the other child if they are happy, they will probably say “no” as well. Then you could say, “So it looks like we all have something in common. (Pause) All three of us are unhappy.” Let that sink in for a minute.
Ask one of the children why they are unhappy, and they will probably say because they can’t play with the toy. If you ask the other child, you will get the same answer. Now here is an important question to ask the children, “Why do you think I am unhappy?” They know they are unhappy, because they are not getting their own way, but they might not understand why you are unhappy. You could answer, “I love both of you, and when you are being unkind and hurting each other, it hurts me too.” Understanding that their behaviour affects you is an important first step. It helps them to see that their words and actions reach beyond what they are personally experiencing at the moment, and can hurt you and damage your relationship with them.
Ask them the question, “What do you think makes me happy?” If they understand what you told them and they put themselves in ‘your shoes,’ they might say, “When we are being kind to each other.” You could respond, “That’s right. Why do you think that makes me happy?” They might say, “Because you love both of us, and you want us to love each other.” You could say, “Good for you. That’s exactly right!” This is an important second step. Now they realize that how they treat each other can make you happy and improve your relationship with them.
Now let’s work on a solution to improve how they treat each other. They understand what makes you happy and unhappy. Now ask them, “How can you be happy?” They might not have an answer. Explain that when we are selfish, we will end up hurting other people to get our own way. Our selfishness will make other people unhappy. And if they are unhappy, it won’t be long before we are unhappy too.
Ask one of the children to be unselfish, and to pick up the toy they were fighting over and give it to the other child and say, “I’m sorry I was selfish. You can play with this toy as much as you want.” You can congratulate the child who gave up the toy and say, “That makes me feel good to see you share your toy.” Ask them if they feel better now, and they will probably say they do.
If you ask the child who received the toy how they feel, they will probably have a smile, and say they are happier too. You could conclude, “So now we all have something in common again, but this time we are all happy. Do you know why?” If your children don’t come up with the answer, you may have to fill in. “Before, all three of us were unhappy because of selfishness. Now we are all happy because of the wonderful benefits of giving and unselfishness. You see, when we try to please ourselves, we cause other people to suffer, and it’s not long before we’re suffering too. However, when we say “no” to ourselves and try to please others, they are happier, and we end up receiving a good feeling in our heart as well. This is what has just happened here.”
The next step could be to ask the child who received the toy to get a book, another toy, or something they don’t like to share and give it to the other child. Then go through a similar conversation. You will have to do this slowly and thoughtfully, because they could be struggling with many conflicting emotions. It is a priceless experience to be involved with teaching children about unselfish love and sharing. It is easier to do this with children than it is with adults. Children are not as hardened, and do not have as many years of practicing selfishness and anger. Children can easily be taught the joys of sharing and giving when they have an older person to walk them through the steps and to be an example for them to follow.
This sort of lesson about sharing, unselfishness and being kind applies to both boys and girls. It can be adapted to different situations, different numbers of people, and different age groups. These same ideas apply in our relationship with God. If you believe that God loves us and wants us to love each other, then we adults become the children and God becomes the parent. What pleases God and makes Him happy is when His children are kind to each other, and practice forgiveness and unselfish love. What grieves Him and makes Him unhappy, is when we are unkind to each other by being selfish and unforgiving.
It is important to explain the practice of unselfish love and being kind to each other not just from our position as parents to our children, but also from God’s position as our Father in Heaven with us as His children on earth. Our love as humans is always imperfect and has selfish motives mixed in. As a result, our children will be disappointed when we behave selfishly, and we let them down. We have to apologize and ask their forgiveness when this happens. However, God’s love is perfect and always for our good, and He will never let us down. The writings of the apostles to the Christians in the New Testament teach us to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving. Not just to people who love us, but to everyone. To our friends as well as our enemies. When people take advantage of us, criticize us, and hurt us, we should forgive them, and be kind and generous.
This is not something our human nature wants to do, or even can do, on our own. Whether we are children or adults, we need God’s help to make this happen. It’s a daily challenge to practice unselfish love regardless of whether we are young or old. By reading the apostle’s writings, praying and singing hymns we can gradually develop a closer relationship with God. His Spirit can then give us the ability and the power to overcome our selfish nature, and gradually mature to have a character of unselfish love by God living in us.
THE PARENT’S EXAMPLE
Another learning situation for you and your children would be to ask your children how they feel when there is an argument between you and your spouse. Most children find it hurtful when they see their parents being unkind to each other. They’ll often say, “I feel like I’m crying inside.” If you ask them why they feel that way, they will say that they love both of their parents, and it hurts them when one parent is being selfish and saying hurtful things to the other parent.
Another situation that exists in families is when one, or both parents, are being mean and hurtful to one of the children. If you ask the other children how they feel when that is happening, they will say it hurts them and makes them feel very sad. If you ask the reason, the answer would be the same. They love their parents and their siblings and it hurts them when they see family members being selfish, hurtful and unforgiving.
All of these examples apply to relatively ‘normal’ families, but if the family has been exposed to abuse, violence and attitudes of revenge through the internet, video games and movies, then their emotional heart can be hardened. In that case, it will take longer to get through to the children and their parents, and the violent, angry and hurtful influences will have to be removed before their heart and conscience can be softened. This is a process that doesn’t happen quickly, and a lot of cleansing and healing needs to take place in the individuals before the relationships can be healed and restored.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Some good questions that can be used to prompt discussions with your family members about unselfish love could be: How can we feel truly happy? What would you say our main need as humans is? What do you think the point of life is? Where can we go to find true unselfish love? There are many other questions and discussions that would be helpful as well. And remember, just the fact that you want to spend time with your family members heart-to-heart and eye-to-eye will be a message in itself of unselfish love.