Bloomfield Blog

Why Our Kids Need to Struggle

Posted by Trenton Leach on Jan 31, 2020 6:00:00 PM

Thinking girlThe English word “spoil” is derived from the Latin word spoliare and comes down to English via the Old French word espillier.

Today, we typically apply the word “spoil” to two categories: food and children. What is interesting is that each one “spoils” in opposite ways: food by neglect, children by indulgence. When we ignore and “under-care” for food, it spoils. When we “over-care” for children, they spoil.

Cultivating Growth

But what does it mean to “over-care” for or pamper a child and why does this lead to spoilage?  The answer rests in the nature of growth seen in the metaphors of the Bible. Both plants and children need the right amount of nutrients to grow, but no more. Both plants and children must be worked on to grow—they must be weeded, they must be pruned. They must be cultivated, which inevitably will include activities that each find disagreeable.

Jesus speaks of this in the Gospel of John saying that “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2 NIV) It is understandable that parents want to protect their child. But what was once healthy protection has become an overgrown weed of Helicopter parents and most recently “Snowplow” parents who aim at avoiding suffering or discomfort for their children.

Our current culture views childhood as a time set aside for delight, for play, for the care-free life. We must not spoil their childhood. Ironically, this approach keeps the child as a child. This has led to the advent of delayed adulthood and the term “adulting” with a negative connotation.

Struggling kidsHowever, children naturally desire to “grow up”. When the child is consistently uncorrected of his natural sinful wants and behaviors, he cultivates the childish mindset of “I will do what I will do, and no one will tell me otherwise.” For only the child expects to get whatever they want, do whatever they want, and say whatever they want without consequences.

This is contrary to our Biblical mandate in Matthew to “deny yourself and take up your cross” (16:24) and likewise Paul instructs us “to walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of your flesh.” (Gal 5:16). The Christian parent is called to cultivate in their children the “fruit” of Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) which by God’s design involves pain and disappointment.

Struggle as Growth

In our culture we often consider struggle as a sign that there is a problem. When a student is “struggling” with his or her homework, either the homework is too difficult or there is something wrong with the student—a learning disability perhaps. When I see a student struggling to understand, I rejoice. To me, this is a sign not that there is a problem, but that the student is thinking and developing.

Muscles must strain to grow. Iron must be hammered to be shaped. Friction must be achieved to sand wood. The mind must struggle with things it does not understand in order to come to an understanding.

convocationIMG_8544We must do the right exercises too. Anyone who works in fitness will tell you that much damage can be done when exercises are done improperly. We shouldn’t avoid tasks because they are “difficult.” Many adults I meet refuse to read Shakespeare because it is “over their heads.” To this, philosopher Mortimer J. Adler answers:

Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles.

Paul tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom 5:3) We too must train our children to rejoice in struggles and disappointments as a way to grow ever stronger and conform their young minds and hearts to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). 

We must be stronger than our children. We must be strong enough to say “no” to their ungodly desires because they are not yet strong enough to do so on their own.

The author of Hebrews tells us that no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 NIV)

Let us discipline our children and help them grow. Let us cultivate them into adults who reflect the character of Christ.

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Topics: parenting