A child’s soul develops like a new building under construction with scaffolding around it. Parents and other adults provide a framework for support, but the child is the one under development. The point is the child—or the building.
Everybody looks past the scaffolding
They are trying to see around or through the scaffolding to get an idea of what the building is going to look like. So it doesn’t matter what scaffolding looks like, as long as it serves its purpose.
Instead of worrying about what others think of our efforts, what if we keep our focus on the best interests of the child?
What will help develop their soul?
- Letting them make mistakes. Not covering those mistakes up, but helping them process wrongdoing so they can learn from it.
- Serving as a sounding board as they think, reflect, and make the kind of internal changes that will allow them to grow. Here’s a free resource to use.
When scaffolding is no longer needed, it goes away.
I’d argue that this removal of support doesn’t happen all of a sudden at age 18, but gradually throughout childhood and the teen years as kids take on more responsibility and make wise choices more consistently.
Paradoxically, the sign of good parenting is when they don’t need you anymore.
How can we help children develop an internal moral compass– a conscience– but without the negative baggage that guilt brings? How can we help them not just have a change of actions, but a change of heart?
A change of heart is the realm of the spirit
Spiritual perspective has to do with whether guilt leads to sadness for what the child has done. Guilt is a healthy response to one’s own wrongdoing. When a criminal has been convicted, we watch to see if they feel remorse. When someone feels no guilt for obvious and severe wrongdoing, society considers them a sociopath.
As children get older, their conscience is what bothers them when they have done something wrong. Often it prompts them to right a wrong, make amends, or apologize… all of which promote personal and social health.
Is guilt ever helpful?
I would say yes–- when it comes from the internal guidance system inside us as opposed to being heaped on us from others. A child’s internal guidance system gets educated by watching role models exercising their moral code and from sacred writings of their faith.
- Focus on what the child can do differently next time.
- Agree that the behavior is wrong. Avoid judging the the child’s character.
- Deliver consequences with empathy.
- Clarify positive outcomes that result from stopping the wrong-doing and starting to act differently. The uncomfortable guilty feeling goes away, replaced by the internal joy felt from doing the right thing.