Internal Tension None of the theories adequately takes into account the biblical view that
humans are distinct from all other living creatures because they carry the image of God within them. Granted, the human condition is marked by sin, and therefore we are a broken image. “Sinning must be understood in the context of its relation to the general human longing for goodness” (Shults 2003, 190). The biblical view of being made in God’s image and being marred by sin acknowledges that the human condition is marked by internal tension. As Paul states in Romans 7:21–24, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
In viewing human behavior as part of the natural order, developmental theories refer to internal tension but stop short of using the concept of sin. If the ultimate meaning and purpose of human development is to be understood, we need to know what it means to fall short or miss the mark in human development. In Ray Anderson’s theological anthropology, sin is understood in a relational context. He defines sin as “defiance of God’s gracious relation to those who bear his image . . . [resulting] in separating persons from the gracious life of God” (1990, 234).
Shame illuminates the experience of sinfulness (Capps 1993) as it is (1) self- involving, (2) self-constricting, and (3) results in estrangement. Sin is self- involving, as it is centered in one’s physical being as well as one’s thoughts and motivations. Further, sin prevents the flourishing of the person, and the ultimate outcome of sin is alienation or estrangement from others. Sin as the shame experience impacts the relational dimension of the image of God—estrangement. Capps (1993) also argues for the structural impact of the shame experience— increased psychic depletion of resources as well as the division of the self. Broadly, sin may be conceptualized as an orientation to life that (1) destroys community; (2) impedes God’s intentions for the world—human and natural (cosmos); and (3) inhibits or destroys individual well-being (Capps 2000).
In like manner, Shults states that at the “heart of the doctrine of original sin . . . is that each and every person is bound by relations to self, others, and God that inhibit the goodness of loving fellowship” (2003, 309). Humans desire to be related to good objects—this is a core feature of being made in God’s image. Human nature is motivated to secure relations with these good objects. The good but sinful human is unable to truly discern what is of ultimate value. This means humans often substitute idols for the ultimate security provided by God— salvation in his Son.
Sin is the condition of failing to be in proper relationship with self, others, and God. Brokenness in relationship is the heart of human sin. Thus, the goals of child development from a Christian point of view are realized in capturing a sense of the relationality in the divine Trinity, as exemplified in the covenant love, grace, empowerment, and intimacy modeled by God for us in the Old and New Testaments.
Capacity to Make Choices In developmental theories, the capacity to make choices is generally couched in
terms of human agency. From a theological perspective, human agency is understood in terms of people struggling to live as broken images of God yet being responsible to God and others for their behavior. Child development theorists differ significantly in the degree to which they conceptualize humans as choice-making creatures.
Classic learning theory assumes that children are born as clean slates on which social conditioning imprints the cultural script. In this mechanistic view, people operate on much the same principles as do machines.
Social learning theory leans toward the conviction that children are active organisms who continually act upon and construct their own environments.
The contemporary theories maintain that children are unable to take any action apart from the options presented by their environment. While we can use the wisdom of child development theories to understand human freedom, we must not allow this knowledge to deter us from accepting the scriptural view of free will.
Humans, from a Christian perspective, (1) act intentionally and judge between objects, (2) are motivated by desire for certain goods, and (3) act to attain perceived goods (Shults 2003). “The emerging agent is embedded in a dynamic trajectory in which one finds oneself loving and longing to be loved” (Shults 2003, 191). However, this agent is ambiguously related to the good. Humans have the capability to choose and are inherently motivated to choose. Sin has not removed the ability to choose; it has warped humanity’s ability to accomplish good in that choice.
Created for Community Whereas child development theories have only recently leaned toward the view
that children are active organisms or are agents working on the environment, they have been in continuous agreement that human input is necessary if children are to take on human characteristics. Deprived of a human social environment, very little in the biological structure of children would induce them to embrace norms, values, or attitudes. When children are part of a human social environment, however, they take on the attitudes and behaviors of that community.
God created humans to live in community. Imaging God means being in relationships. This is the message from Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in our image,” and from Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’” Relationships are reflected in the Trinity and are modeled in Adam and Eve’s relationship. The “be fruitful and multiply” aspect of the creation of humanity is known as the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28; Wolters 2005), indicating God’s desire for humanity to flourish and build community and culture. This core theme of living in community is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments and is central to our theological model of relations. Humans require an empowering community of grace, based on covenant commitment, to provide the security and emotional intimacy all humans need.
In summary, children need not only a family; they also need a family of families. This is essentially the New Testament model of what the church is to be to the family—a place where family members are nurtured, empowered, and developed in a community of faith. The covenant community is to care for members as well as to help them mature spiritually.
Parenting Young Children The major theories of child development provide a basis for discussing important dimensions of parenting young children. In this section we address the matter of how parents can best facilitate the social, psychological, and spiritual growth of their children. In keeping with our theological basis for family relationships, we believe that parents need to provide unilateral unconditional love. This is the indispensable component in the empowerment process. The fundamental qualities —loving, accepting, knowing, and communicating—kindle in children the capacity for mature bilateral commitments. The question of how to empower children comes down to a twofold concern: (1) how to build self-validation and (2) how to discipline.
Unconditional Love and Self-Validation Children need to be valued for who they are and their unique contributions to
their families. When parents have high self-esteem and model mutual regard and cooperation in their marital relationship, they establish a climate in which self- esteem is nourished in their children.
The covenant commitment from parents to children establishes children’s identities. As children experience responsiveness and accessibility from their parents, this identity as belonging to the parents is solidified. Covenantal love cements belonging in children. Children learn that they are valued for who they are, not only for how they behave or contribute.
This identity is reflected in our adoption into God’s family. In a poignant passage, Paul describes how gentiles and Jews are joined into one family: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19–20). Identity is based on acceptance into God’s family; analogically, identity is based on the covenant commitment parents make to their children.
Unconditional love should be shown not only in the parents’ commitment to be responsible and faithful in child-rearing tasks but also in verbal and behavioral demonstrations of affection for their children. The children will then begin to recognize that they are loved not only for what they do but also for who they are. This gives them a sense of security and increases the incentive to be cooperative and helpful family members.
Acceptance of Differences Inherent in the Family Constellation
The order in which siblings enter into a family is referred to as the family constellation. Although research is inconclusive about the empirical effects of family constellation on adult personality (Miller, Anderson, and Keala 2004), many therapists emphasize how an individual’s birth order affects adulthood. Each position in the family is important, and every child needs to feel secure in his or her place. Particular characteristics accompany each position. For example, the oldest child is usually an achiever since parents tend to give first children special attention and expect them to take responsibility early. Middle children often try to compete with the older sibling(s), but since they cannot catch up, they often achieve in areas untried by the older sibling(s). Sometimes middle children feel squeezed or lost. The family usually caters to the youngest children, who, therefore, tend to be more easygoing and relaxed. The terms babied and spoiled are usually affectionate labels, but there can also be resentment toward the youngest children. An only child is similar to the oldest child but tends to be more adult in attitudes and actions. Children who come from large families tend to separate themselves into smaller sibling groups.
Every position in the family has certain advantages and disadvantages. The only girl in a family of boys or the only boy in a family of girls may have special privileges and problems. Siblings who are more than five years apart tend to feel separated into different subsystems. And, of course, there is great variability in how each unique family reacts to each individual child.
It is important that every position be respected and that age-appropriate behavior be expected of every child. Parents who exert too much pressure or expect too much burden a child unnecessarily; however, parents with low expectations or who show little faith in a child’s abilities provide insufficient stimulation. Neither of these extreme approaches empowers the child.
Older siblings need assurance that their positions in the family are special and secure. Knowing that younger children are not more loved or more valued encourages them to be helpful with their younger siblings rather than jealous or competitive. If middle children are noticed and perceive that they are cherished as special and capable, they will not feel the need to outdo the older children. If the youngest children are given adequate attention and encouraged to accomplish appropriate tasks, they will be able to contribute to the family system without feeling overindulged or coddled. Parents send their children a strong message by believing in them and in their ability to contribute to the well-being of others.
Communication Parents use verbal and nonverbal communication to show that they respect and