It is rare for me to write from the perspective of a counselor when addressing parents and parenting issues. However, there are times when the job of an employed counselor or coach merges with parenting responsibilities. That is to say that when, for example, a family coach or family counselor is involved in supporting a child’s condition, the counselor is a direct ally of the parenting team. However, know that this article’s call to action is directly offered to parents regardless of their family’s current condition. The issue is, to be sure your children are getting the best emotional and spiritual support you can provide them.
In a recent conversation regarding the counseling of an eight year-old boy suffering from multiple genetically derived terminal disorders and his anger toward God, several concepts of parental response and counseling support were discussed. We agreed that a child of eight is able to understand theology, providing the word or concept of theology is not included in the lessons. The primary concern that came up was that this child is still young enough to have only learned certain aspects of a given theology, or has likely forgotten some of what he has learned. Either way, parents need to inquire frequently with their children to remain constantly aware of their level of theological competency.
For example, the theology of sin is one of the first things children learn about as they are introduced to Jesus Christ. Heath Lambert, in his book A Theology of Biblical Counseling, explains that human beings have a nature that is oriented away from God. Sin does not just describe the bad things human beings do or fail to do. More fundamentally, it describes who we are as wicked people.” So of that very basic analysis of sin, how much of it do you believe your child understands. For the eight year-old mentioned earlier, it was speculated that he can explain that sin is the things we do wrong, and Jesus came to save us. Your child may know more or less depending on how much you are involved in learning and teaching.
Here is the thing; we know what happens if we do not teach our children about the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6); and it is easy enough to know what happens if we only teach them some of what they need to get there. The scary thing is: What if we never know there are holes in our children’s understanding. If we do not know what holes exist in their understanding, we will never be able to fill them.
Now for a counselor, knowing these holes informs us of how the parents are doing in the training-up of their children. One of the ways Family Health 360 helps parents, is through helping them learn how to identify these holes. As mentioned, it is our belief that it is the parents’ responsibility to train up their children. If we (counselors) are to help parents be the ones who will train up their children, we must know if they have enough information to do so.
In the discussion about the eight-year-old boy, the conversation regarding helping the parents help the angry boy understand God came up. The first thing that came up was that the counselors must spend some time understanding where the child and the parents are emotionally and spiritually. We believe this is also what the parents should do when their child is suffering or questioning. Listen to determine where your child is in their understandings.
To point again to Heath Lambert’s book; he explains that where sin is concerned, [at minimum] a person must have a solid understanding of such things as the fall, sinful motivations, and how sin effects our thinking, emotions, and our physical self (paraphrased). Consider just the last three of the conditional elements mentioned here. When we are in distress and experiencing the tragedies and anguish that exists now as a result of the fall, how difficult is it for any one of us to think well, keep our emotions from running rampant, or understand our physical condition against the backdrop of our fallen flesh? Now imagine the same condition in a confused child; one living with similar conditions, but with theological holes. Holes they do not even know they have.
Know this, for adults it is tough enough. When you have holes in your theology, you can often notice when the world is the force trying to fill them. This is the point where you go looking for answers from your Bible, pastor, or counselor. Have you heard the adage: You don’t know what you don’t know? For adults, such an acknowledgment drives us to seek more than we know, notice gaps, and accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit. My question for you is, “does your child possess those same abilities to discern these things?” If you are not 100% sure your child is at least as understanding as you, and that you are fully able to understand those things yourself, stay in your Bible and ask your child to tell you what he or she knows. From there you will be able to locate the holes that the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and you need to help your child fill.
Credit: Heath Lambert. (2016). A Theology of Biblical Coaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.