“You need some way to look at your children and understand their needs. You need some comprehensive way to organize the things that make up their personalities. You need a grid on which to chart strengths and weaknesses, so that you can zero in on their real needs.
The Three-Pronged Tool of Diagnosis is both simple enough to be useful and comprehensive enough to be helpful. Every six months or so, make this sort of analysis and diagnosis of the needs of your children.
THE CHILD IN A RELATIONSHIP TO GOD
The first prong of analysis is your child in relationship to God. The question is not the personal evangelism question-does he have a relationship with God? The question is what you discern the nature of that relationship to be.
Is your child living in a conscious need for God, and what is the content of his relationship with God? Is he concerned to know and love God? Is God a source of strength, comfort and help? Does he make choices that reflect knowing God? Is he moved by God’s ways and truth? Is he alive to spiritual realities? Is there any evidence that he is carrying on an independent (from you as a parent) relationship with God?
Are there false gods before which your child bows? What are the things without which he cannot be happy? What things other than God seem to motivate him? How does he finish the sentence: ‘What I really want, long for, desire, and esteem is. . . .’?
Does he ever talk about God? How does he talk about God? How does he think about God? Is his God small or grand? Does he think of God as a friend, a judge, a helper, or a taskmaster? Is he living out of the fullness of seeing himself in Christ or is he trying to worship and serve himself?
These are not questions about your child’s understanding of biblical truth. They are questions about his understanding of the nature of God’s grace and salvation through faith in Christ. To shepherd his heart, to lead him to God, you must have some perception of where he is spiritually.
THE CHILD IN RELATIONSHIP TO HIMSELF
How does your child think about himself? How well does he understand himself? How aware is he of his strengths and weaknesses? Does he understand his personality? Is he self-conscious about the propensities of his personality?
My friend’s daughter, Jennifer, is a person with a tender heart toward the needs of others. Because of this, she can often tell what others are feeling. This is an excellent ability. It makes her sensitive to the feelings of others. There is a downside to this ability. It is easy for such people to allow others to manipulate them. It is easy for her not to tell others how she feels or what she thinks. She is sometimes tempted to let someone else win at a game so that they will not be disappointed.
She must understand these things about herself. If she is to discern these qualities of her personality, my friend must first understand them so that he can help her. Most of us learn these things eventually, but it is often after we are adults. Sadly, some adults never understand the personality issues that drive their responses.
We are complex combinations of strengths and weaknesses. There are things that we can do with ease. There are other things that are painful and arduous. Understanding these things can enable us to shore up our weaknesses and develop our strengths. Your children need to accept and appreciate themselves as unique combinations of strengths and weaknesses-as person who are exactly what God wanted them to be. Help them to embrace themselves as good enough to do all God has called them to do and has called them to be. In a word, you want them to be content with themselves.
There is another aspect of your child’s knowledge of himself. What attitudes toward himself does he evidence? Is he shy or confident? Is he arrogant or diffident? Is he chained by fears? Is he able to extend himself to others? Does he have a false dependence on others? Does he feel better than others or does he feel inadequate around others?
Harold, a first-grader in my acquaintance, is a relationship junkie. Everything he does is vested with relationship implications. When he sits in the reading circle he is interacting more with those around him than with the reading material. Lining up for recess is a process of jockeying for the recognition of someone. Seatwork time is made meaningful by racing with someone to see who finishes first. (It doesn’t even matter whether they know he is racing.) His thoughts about relationships with girls are sexually loaded and laden with baggage a 7-year-old should never carry.
Self-possessed qualities are still another aspect of the child’s relationship with himself. Is he able to stick to a task without external props? Is he able to work independently? Is he dependent on the approbation of others, or is he more self-possessed?
You need to understand your child’s development in these areas so you can shepherd him. You need to ask the proper questions, to draw out his ideas about himself so that you can point him to Christ in ways that address the thirst of his soul.
THE CHILD IN RELATIONSHIP TO OTHERS
What are your child’s relationships? How does he interact with others? What sorts of relationships does he have? What does he bring out in others? Are his relationships even or is he always in control or being controlled? Does he fawn for the attention of others?
Is he pleasant with other children his age? How does he deal with disappointment in people? How does he respond to being sinned against? What are areas of relational strength? What are the weaknesses?
In Christian school, Genny was the take-charge type. She was a born CEO. She told the girls whether their clothes were right. She informed everyone what they should wear to school the next day. If she planned to have braids, the other girls should have braids too. When it was time for recess, she chose the game. Then she chose the teams!
Her teacher understood the issues. She could have told Genny not to be so bossy. But she knew that while Genny might try to obey, eventually the bossiness would resurface. So she chose to help Genny in a better way. She worked with Genny’s parents to understand Genny’s overbearing manner. Together, they helped Genny to see herself, to see what she was doing to others, to see how she was trying to control people, to see that she was getting comfort for her heart from controlling others Genny learned how to pray and ask God for help when she was tempted to control others. She was rescued from a life of finding comfort and meaning in controlling others.”
From Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart (165-9).