The First 7 Years: What Really Matters in Early Childhood

LauraAll Posts, Babies, Motherhood, Preschool, Toddlers

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” – Aristotle

Oh Aristotle, you always stop me in my tracks.  Seven years old, huh? That’s all the time I’ve got to shape my child??

The years before a child begins grade school are the most formative years of his life.

We moms know this. Of course we want to make the most of the early years, but our arms are full, our minds are distracted, and our energy is depleted.

Our culture is replete with suggestions, sign-ups, and standards for how we should raise our children and it’s hard not to feel obligated to all of the options for preschools, sports, music lessons, art lessons, play dates, and service projects… for the average two-year-old.

How many times have I been ready to sign my child up for the next wonderful thing and I suddenly wonder, “Wait… Does she really need this? Will it be good for her? Will the commitment be good for me and our family?”

How can we be sure that we are investing our time, energy, and resources in the very best way, for the very best outcome? 

Today, I’m tackling these unwieldy but important questions.

Here’s a framework on which you and I may create simple, beneficial, and meaningful years for our little ones.

5 Things That Matter in Early Childhood

First, a few words: Every child is created by God with infinite dignity and worth. He trusts you and I to nurture them. This is the good hard work we’re called to do as mothers. It might require all we’ve got to give.

Promise me you won’t feel obligated to tackle every single suggestion today. Sure, I pursue all 5 of these habits on a regular basis, but I’m usually focusing on one little piece at a time, depending on where I need to grow or what our family needs most.

Receive God’s help as you consider one step – just one – that you may take towards nurturing your child, yourself, and your home.

  1. Invest time and energy in your personal growth.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears it down…” Proverbs 14:1

Your physical health, mental well-being, emotional stability, and depth of wisdom matter immensely to the home you are building and the child you are raising.

While your child is young, invest in your own growth as a mother. Don’t let obligations for play groups, story times, co-opts, arts and crafts, car pools, and toy organization distract or exhaust you from the important task of becoming a strong mother. The plan is that mama + baby grow up beautifully and naturally, side by side.

Suggestions for personal growth:

  • Develop your relationship with God.

Dig into Scripture whenever you can. Study it, meditate on it, memorize it, sing it, listen to it, and surround yourself with friends who love it.

Start here: I keep a small easily-held Bible on the nightstand next to the rocking chair where I nurse the baby. This encourages me to pick it up and read it several times a day. I also surround myself with friends, older women, and younger women who are devoted to God. Simply spending time with them strengthens my resolve to walk with Jesus. Finally, I listen to beautiful, encouraging music and uplifting podcasts and sermons.

“Thou, my best thought by day or by night…” – from “Be Thou My Vision”

Learn to pray alone. Learn to pray with friends.

Your life is not your own; learn what it means to walk daily with the Lord.

  • Read and study about Christian womanhood.

Start here: Learn how to be an active member of the Church. Learn how to love your husband and nurture your children. Find an older woman who can contribute wisdom and friendship. Find authors who encourage you according to Scripture: read their books, listen to their podcasts, subscribe to their blogs, and let their encouragement soak into your heart.

I need a daily dose of edification regarding my calling as a woman and a mother. Without the consistent encouragement of a community of like-minded Christian women, I think I’d give up.

  • Examine your daily rituals and look for one area in which to grow. 

Start here: Learn more about the areas of life that you’ll need to embrace as a mother.  Acquire practical skills – like gardening and budgeting – as well as relational skills like conflict-resolution, forgiveness, and faithfulness. As a young mother, I’ve had to learn a great deal about nutrition, cooking, meal planning, and finances.

Is there anything on this list that seems necessary-interesting to you? Jump in!

Finances
Time Management/ Schedule
Menu Planning
Grocery Shopping
Cooking/ Baking
Exercise
Vehicle Care
Household Maintenance
Cleaning
Organization
Holiday traditions
Decorating
Clothing Shopping
Laundry
Sewing
First Aid

Imagine if you can become strong and confident in several of these daily-life areas over the next five years. That will be worth your effort! Every ounce of skill and good habit that you establish today will smooth the road ahead. Motherhood only gets more complicated, with hungrier mouths to feed and larger clothes to wash.  You’ll be a much stronger mother for having these practical skills on hand, and you’ll be available to enjoy and counsel your growing children.

  • Ask God to heal you where you are hurting and to mature you where you are weak.

Perhaps God would bless you by addressing sin or weaknesses that would otherwise hold you back in life? Ask Him to do this. He loves you and will sanctify you through Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit counseling you day by day. God alone can perfectly equip you for the future by forgiving you, cleansing you, and leading you in righteousness.

When I became a mother, God got right to work addressing my pride, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness. It hurt at first, but once I experienced the freedom from certain weaknesses and sin, I was hooked. The sooner we can recognize and confess sin, the better!

Do any of these common struggles look familiar to you? Take it to God and to His Word…

jealousy
selfishness
pride
bitterness
refusal to forgive
unfaithfulness
insecurity
loneliness
neediness
lack of joy

  1. Build a happy home.

I asked my 11-year-old daughter, “When do you feel most loved?” Her answer didn’t surprise me. (Hint: It’s not when she has gone on a grand vacation, had a thrilling experience, or received birthday presents.) She said she feels loved when I am happy.

(This reminds me of that refrigerator magnet that says, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy!” How true.)

Our attitudes as mothers not only determine the atmosphere for our entire household but also communicate our love for our children. That’s a big responsibility.

Start here: My mom used to come into our rooms in the morning and zip open the blinds, while singing “Good morning, Merry Sunshine”. When I’d come home from school, she’d be humming along with beautiful music on the radio. These are precious memories to me because they made me feel safe and loved.

That’s why I think it’s important to greet my children lovingly in the morning. I hug them and smile at them. I tell them how happy I am to see them. I hold my baby in my arms and open the blinds. We look out at the world and talk about what a beautiful world God has made. I’ve long since learned that I don’t always feel pleasant in the morning, but I can choose to rejoice in the Lord and in the day He has made.

Throughout the day, when I notice that we’re dragging a bit, I play background music or sing. You should see the difference that comes across my children: though they were agitated and aimless, they become calm and industrious. There’s no question about it: children are at their best when they feel happy and loved.

Another way I build a happy home is by smiling. In fact, I consider my smile to be my #2 strategy in building my home, second only to prayer. I want my countenance to say Jesus gives us abundant life! Without realizing it, I often go for hours without smiling! When I finally remember to smile, I’m alarmed by how stiff and serious my face feels. I’m too often focused on seriously surviving instead of happily thriving. When I smile, I feel better about almost everything in the world. (By the way, have you ever noticed that women are most beautiful when they smile? Sign me up!)

I also look for ways we can laugh together, make memories together, and work side-by-side .

Building a happy home is a major priority in my day-to-day. It informs how and why I correct my children, how and why I encourage them. I’m constantly guiding all of us toward taking responsibility for our relationships and the atmosphere of our home.

What would increase the happiness in your home today? Jot it down.

  1. Introduce your child to God.

God has given mothers the honor of raising our children with truth, goodness and beauty, through His Word. Although we cannot force our child to embrace faith in Christ or live according to the Bible, we are their first exposure to His forgiveness, character, and Story. We are God’s missionaries, making disciples in our own homes. What a calling!

Start here: As early as possible, we can tell our children that God made them and the world. We can tell them that He never sleeps, but always protects and cares for us. We can tell them that God forgives us and will help us to obey, that God listens to our prayers, any time, any where.

Most of all, we can raise our children with Scripture all around – in songs, memory verses, and Bible reading.

When our children are 0 – 3 years old, we play a lot of Scripture-based music from Seeds Family Worship, Songs for Saplings, and Steve Green’s Hide ’em In Your Heart series.

When our children are 3 – 5 years old, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible to them. Then, we move on to The Mighty Acts of God.

Once they are in third grade, we encourage them to read from their own Bibles, to write meaningful notes in a journal, and to share what they are learning.

How would you like to introduce your children to God this week? Jot it down.

  1. Focus on building character in your child.

We want our children to have strong, godly character because it glorifies God and brings contentment and favor. A healthy dose of wisdom and carefully-trained character will set our children up for goodness regardless of their circumstances.

For example, as a homeschooling mom, I often consider the depth of character my children would need if they suddenly have to attend the local public school. What if they are behind academically? What if they are ahead? What if they are socially rejected? What if they are socially idolized? Regardless of how they fare academically or socially, I want my children to have the character that allows them to adjust to changes gracefully, to sit in their desks and work diligently, to respect their teachers, and to be kind to the other students. Their character is in the forefront of my mind as I make decisions for our homeschool experience. Worksheets, checklists, lessons, and tests take a backseat to the hearts and minds that are being developed day by day. Don’t get me wrong, worksheets and lessons are often the ground on which their character is developed, but my eye is always on the outcome of character beyond the correct answers or successful performance.

We will never regret focusing the first few years of our children’s lives teaching them to obey, tell the truth, care about other people, and take care of their belongings.

Start here: I often reference Sally and Clay Clarkson’s 24 Family Ways and Charlotte Mason’s Laying Down the Rails. Both of these resources provide ideas for building character in our children that will benefit them through life. In fact, these two books alone will keep us busy until graduation day and beyond.

  1.  Learn what children truly need and prioritize that.

After listening to seminars, learning from mentors, and reading volumes about child development, I’ve developed a personal List of 8 Things That Cause Children to Thrive. Here’s what made the cut:

  • knowledge of God through His Word
  • tangible love
  • healthy boundaries
  • gentle discipline
  • healthy sleep
  • healthy food
  • plenty of outdoor play, and
  • consistent exposure to beauty.

When I get distracted, depressed, or overwhelmed, I review this list and discover that I am inspired all over again. Whenever I need to make a decision about how we’ll spend our time, energy, and money on our child’s behalf, I weigh it against this list. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Start here: Prayerfully seek wisdom from Scripture above all.

Then, read For the Children’s Sake and The Simple Charlotte Mason to get you started. I’ve also learned from authors like Paul Tripp, Edith Schafer, Susan Schafer McCauley, and Maria Montessori.

While you’re studying, you’ll also become a student of the child God has given you. From an early age, you will notice that your child responds to certain types of instruction, correction, and engagement. Ask God to give you insight about the marvelous way He created your child, so that you can nurture him well.

Now it’s time to choose one thing…

Choose one of these things to pursue this month. You won’t be spinning your wheels, wasting your time, or adding unnecessary stress to your family. Work on establishing a strong foundation and building life-sustaining habits that are necessary for a thriving youngster, a strong momma, and a happy home.

What will you pursue this month? Share it in the comments!

(If you’re new here, we’d love for you to join this growing community at LauraBooz.com where we aim to treasure Christ, nurture children, and enjoy life. We’d love to hear from you… what are your questions? What are your insights?)