Concrete Thinkers, Sin, and Salvation

babylegs The young mom pulls out a baby book to show her 5-year-old son his history. She wistfully points to an ultrasound picture with a clear outline of the son.

Mom: "That is a picture of you when you were in my belly."

The little guy makes a rather shocked and surprised face.

The 5-year-old: "You ATE ME?"

Many of our funniest children's stories come from the literal interpretation of words our youngsters hear.

Why is that? Well, children prior to puberty process information in a stage of development researcher Jean Piaget called the concrete thinking stage. This sort of thinking is rigid and doesn't bend quickly to consider alternative meanings of words (or a phrase like "in my belly.") Children in this stage (6 to 12 years, generally) can be taught these new meanings, and once they hear them, they love the humor that comes from the double meanings of words. But that's not the natural way they process information.

Children in the concrete stage of thinking also have a hard time reconciling two apparently opposite conditions. One such conundrum occurs when a parent does something the child knows to be wrong. On the one hand, the parent is the image of perfection. Mom or Dad can do no wrong from their child's point of view. But what if Dad leaves Mom for another woman, or Mom takes drugs and flakes out? These are extreme examples, certainly, but lesser failures also present challenges to children at this age. A wise parent will act quickly to help the child understand life, sin, and how to move forward appropriately.

One common example happens when a parent tells a 'little white lie' and the child overhears it. Or you say a bad word; a word that you've said was off limits in your home. When you as a parent commit a wrong, admit it, repent in the presence of the child, and ask for their forgiveness as well. This is a great opportunity to go to the Scriptures to help clarify the sin you just committed. When you do this, you help point to the source of all values—not to some nebulous and fleeting consensus of what is right and wrong, but the eternal benchmark of God's word. This is the benchmark your child will come back to in years ahead.

Help your concrete-thinking child learn that all are sinners, and all of us need to ask for forgiveness. Children at this age have a hard time seeing the world in any shade other than black and white, so forgiveness is a hard concept for them to grasp. They can easily understand hell and condemnation, since they will readily tell you that the person who violates a rule must be punished (even if they didn't break the rule intentionally). They can understand God's perfection and the holiness of heaven. These are the black and white of good and evil. Children must be taught that, while God's punishment is justified, there is forgiveness for the rule-breaker but only when we look to Christ. I'm glad God doesn't let us stay in the land of the concrete thinker, but makes a way to reconcile us to Himself.