The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven by Brittany Cromar
I was not going to turn Brittany down when she volunteered to write a post on this topic for us. Brittany also wrote a few essays in the book and has a great blog called Birth Unplugged. Thank you Brittany for putting together these great resources. –Robyn
The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven
Guest Post by Brittany Cromar
“Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”-Mark 10:14
Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In Christian theological discussions, how the Fall of Adam and Eve may affect children is a point of much contention. Most believe that the Fall causes children to be born in a fallen and sinful state. As a result, some teach that infants must be baptized. Others teach that children who die before they reach accountability are not saved. The idea that children are fallen, and therefore inherently rebellious, is sometimes used to justify some very harsh physical punishment techniques for children. Some rather confusing verses in the book of Proverbs, which speak about using “the rod,” are sometimes used to support these practices. What light does the restored Gospel shed on this subject, and how is the role of the Latter-day Saint parent of young children to be understood in relationship to this doctrine?
Little Children Are Alive in Christ
In the second Article of Faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we are “punished for our own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression,” which means children are not born with “original sin” already on their heads, but are born innocent. The prophet Mormon clearly and beautifully taught why children do not need baptism in Moroni chapter 8. Here is verse 12:
Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
There is no doubt that The Book of Mormon teaches that children are born pure. Furthermore, while King Benjamin taught that the natural man is an enemy to God, the way to become “a saint” is to become ”as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19). Jesus also taught that adults must be humbled and become as a little child to enter into the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 18:1-6).
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:4
But what does Mormon mean by “not capable of committing sin”? In the 1981 Ensign article Salvation: by Grace or by Works?, Gerald N. Lund explains that there is a difference between violating the law deliberately (“willful rebellion against God”), in spite of knowing and understanding it and violating the law in ignorance of it or without “sufficient maturity to understand the implications of it.” Children under the age of eight are only capable of the latter. They do things that violate the laws of God, but they are not considered accountable for them as sins because they have not matured enough to discern right from wrong and take responsibility for their actions.
Church leaders have also explained that before the age of accountability, children are not subject to the temptations of Satan. President Eyring taught,
The family has an advantage in the first eight years of a child’s life. In those protected years, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Satan’s use of the mists of darkness to hide the path to return home is blocked.(Help Them On Their Way Home, April 2010 General Conference)
Teach Them Correct Principles
If little children are not in a state of rebellion as a result of the Fall and cannot rebell as a result of Satan’s temptation, then they do not do things that are wrong on purpose. They do them because they haven’t been taught that what they are doing is wrong, because their brains are not developed enough to fully comprehend what they have been taught, or because they live in a fallen world with imperfect examples around them. When I really think about this doctrine, I feel that it has great potential to have a deep impact on my attitude towards my children and how I respond to their behavior. To respond in a spirit of retaliation, or to try to “make them pay for what they did,” is not in harmony with the doctrine of child innocence. If, indeed, the Lord would not punish my children for their breaking rules they don’t understand, then why should I?
How would the Lord have us respond to children’s misbehavior? In his April 2011 General Conference address, What Manner of Men and Women Aught Ye to Be?, Elder Lynn G. Roberts of the Seventy taught that it is “misdirecting our discipline” to focus on the undesirable act that the child did. He explained that it would be better to focus on teaching the principles of the gospel and the Christlike qualities that would help the child avoid that misbehavior in the future, to help them become more like Christ.
“Behold your little ones”-3 Nephi 17:23
D&C 121:43 says that whenever we correct someone, we are to show an increase of love afterwards, “lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.” When adults respond to children’s behavior with anger or try to force them to do things instead of guiding and teaching with love and understanding, children may respond with anger and defiance. The Lord has commanded us, “provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
I mentioned the “rod” verses in Proverbs earlier. In my research, I came across an article on a website from another faith exploring the Hebrew roots of the words in the Proverbs in question. It explains that the original wording used referred to adolescents, not young children, and there are other interpretations for “the rod” than what most people automatically think. One possibility the article mentioned was that “the rod” is used as a metaphor for the “word of God.” I find this fascinating in light of the use of same symbolism in the Book of Mormon—the rod of iron in Lehi’s dream.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking at the October 1994 General Conference, shared the example of the Christlike guidance provided by his own father. He said his father had skill for communicating what was expected of his children and giving them encouragement to do it, without having to ever raise his hand against them in anger. He mentioned that former BYU president George H. Brimhall was known to rear “his boys with a rod, but it [was] a fishing rod.” In the words of President Hinckley:
I am persuaded that violent fathers produce violent sons. I am satisfied that such punishment in most instances does more damage than good. Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement. They need fathers to whom they can look with respect rather than fear. (Save the Children)
Teaching with Logical Consequences
There is a difference between punishment and negative consequences. The Lord allows natural consequences for transgression to befall His children, regardless of their understanding of the law. In teaching with consequences, the spirit with which the consequence is given in is a big determining factor in whether it is a consequence that will teach or a punishment that will provoke resentment. It also helps if the consequence is not a one-size-fits all blanket response to misbehavior, but instead, natural or logical consequences, tailored to child and the individual situation. This technique is the basis for the Love and Logic book series. Developing such consequences is a fine art and may look different for different families. For inspiration, this post from the Christian blog Not Consumed shares some good examples. For a great explanation about how parents can pattern teaching with consequences after the way the Lord presented consequences to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (when they were not yet accountable either), see this post by Middle-Aged Mormon Man.
Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness.-The Family: A Proclamation to the World
Teaching with Parables
Sometimes my children start ignoring me or try to change the subject when I am trying to explain a gospel principle to them. In a parenting book I read recently, I found an excellent method to get them to listen as I teach them moral lessons, and it is actually one that Christ himself used often. The book called it teaching with fairy tales, a tactic that has existed throughout all cultures for thousands of years. It wasn’t until I started using it that I realized that I was, in fact, teaching my children with parables. Here is the book’s simple formula for creating your own “fairy tales”:
The Beginning “Once Upon a Time”: Your goal at the beginning of a story is to capture your child’s imagination . . . with lots of description. Start out by saying a few sentences about what the little animal hero of your story is doing and feeling (think of both her emotional feelings and her five-senses feelings).
The Middle “But Then”: Now weave in a little lesson about a specific behavior or value that you want your child to learn—sharing, helping others, telling the truth, saying thank you, et cetera. This is where you introduce the “problem” that has to be resolved by the end.
The End: “Happily Ever After”: Always finish your story with the problem being solved, the animals being safe, and everyone living “happily ever after.”
(Adapted from “Plant Seeds of Kindness: Fairy Tales” from The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, MD, pages 138-140)
The book I learned this from also included some other wonderful suggestions for teaching good behavior playfully and encouraging cooperation with play and positive attention, designed for use with children ages 1-4.
Lead Me, Guide Me
I wish you the very best on your parenting journey. I know it is so very, very hard sometimes. Give yourself permission to be imperfect while still striving to be better. Our Heavenly Father knows your child and can guide you in how you can lead that child back to Him. If you have a resource that has been particularly helpful in giving you tools and ideas for parenting young children in a loving and Christlike manner, please feel free to share it in the comments.
“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.-Isaiah 54:13