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Requirements for investing in children . . .

Teachers of Character

Although the writer is a schoolteacher and his examples come from a school setting, the principles for investing in children that are presented also apply in many ways in the homeschool.

Financial investors have certain qualities that make them successful. Those who successfully invest in children are no different. Children of integrity have usually been trained by people whose lives demonstrated integrity. What are some of the essential qualities for people who would train children?

Compassion. Mornings in the school where I teach are hectic affairs. When the hall clock announces 7:35, the hall fills with energetic sixth graders. One morning I looked down the hallway—children as far as I could see. I remembered Jesus, who was moved with compassion for the multitudes because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Rather than seeing only swarms of noisy children, I saw needs, dreams, and desires.

Not all of the children I saw that morning in the hall had the same level of need. Some of them come from stable homes while others know nothing about stability. Every child has his own set of needs. Yet the need for compassion in relating to children is universal.

Compassion requires that we look beyond what we can see in a child and focus on what is not so easily revealed. True compassion springs from the knowledge that every child needs love, and operates on the principle that every child has value regardless of actions that make us feel otherwise. Compassion seeks to bring some missing element into a child’s life and thereby bring about positive change in the spirit of Jude 22: “And of some have compassion, making a difference.”

Humility. No matter what our responsibilities in life, we will be challenged in the area of humility. Humility seems to be more severely tested, however, in relationships that involve daily person-to-person interaction. Sometimes our children disagree with our decisions and negatively contrast us with other families. How do I react? When I deal with these situations, I am forced to honestly evaluate my own heart. Am I upset because of the need this reveals in my child or because of the affront to my position and authority?

In times like this, we do well to again ponder the example of Jesus, “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). While we do need to hear our children’s opinions and thoughts, ultimately the judgment others give us does not determine our self-worth; that judgment has already been handed down from God. Accurately understanding who we are in Him is the truest indicator of our humility.

Sincerity. If anyone can spot insincerity, it is a child. Children are quick to point out the inconsistencies they see between what we say and what we do. This makes our sincerity or lack of it a crucial issue as we invest in children.

Situations that reveal a parent’s inconsistencies arise easily. We tell the child not to talk when someone else is talking, but how often in conversation do I interrupt someone else? We criticize the child for a sloppy room or study area, but what does my sewing corner look like?

Then there are questions that reveal how sincere we are about our calling as parents. Ask yourself, “Why am I treating my children the way I am?” Am I merely trying to manipulate them so they like me and behave well, or do I really care about the welfare of their eternal souls?

Teacher Charlotte Forten Grimke had this advice: “May those whose holy task it is to guide impulsive youth, fail not to treasure in their souls a reverence for truth. For teachings which the lips impart must have their source within the heart.”

Wisdom. Wisdom is the most encompassing need of us all. In the situations of life that require more wisdom than I have, I take comfort in God’s promise that “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5).

We need wisdom for decisions, sometimes immediately. I remember in my earliest teaching days, I would sometimes make a decision without being completely convinced in my own mind that it was right. The students sensed that and tried hard to sway me, sometimes successfully. Gradually I’ve come to realize that some decisions aren’t as enormous as we make them; there may be more than one right choice. We need to quickly choose one of them, stand behind it unless a valid reason appears why we shouldn’t, and move on.

We also need wisdom to relate to the varying needs of our children. It is easy to want to homogenize the children in our care, to find a “one-size-fits-all” solution to their problems. Yet in reality, children have unique needs that require individualized attention. Wisdom in teaching, then, does draw on past experiences, perhaps with other children, but also realizes that the child in front of me now is a one-of-a-kind person, made in the image of God. The challenges he presents require a new dose of wisdom that God, the Benevolent Giver, will bestow as we call on Him.

—Daniel E. Miller

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