A Child Left To Himself

One day last year, I walked into our bathroom and found my 3-year-old, Moses, with his arms awkwardly positioned, slightly up in the air. Upon hearing my footsteps, he dropped his hands. His big, winsome smile didn’t fool me. :)  It was clear there was something in one hand he had pulled down and was trying to hide.

My eyes caught a glimpse and I realized what he’d been doing: trying to use his big brother’s deodorant.

Sweet boy. What an adorable mess he is.

That time obviously wasn’t a big deal. But later, as I was cleaning the bathroom and my eyes fell on the deodorant, a verse came to mind. All I could bring to mind was: “a child left to himself is a shame to his mother.”

A Child Left To Himself… // Practical Biblical Parenting Advice // JessConnell.com

Here’s the whole thing:

The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Proverbs 29:15

For a number of years (deodorant incidents notwithstanding), we’ve generally tried to keep our kids close to us. And there’s a reason for that:

A CHILD LEFT TO HIMSELF BRINGS SHAME TO HIS MOTHER

A child left to himself does foolish things. He brings shame into his life and the lives of the people around him.

But notice- it’s not really HIS sin– it says “a child left”– “LEFT.” It’s his parents’ sin. They are “LEAVING” him TO HIMSELF. They have another option– namely, NOT leaving him to himself– but they don’t exercise that one.

Instead, they choose to leave him “to himself.”

And so he walks headlong into sin… into things that bring shame… Because, rather than being “given wisdom” by the rod and reproof, he is being left on his own to sort things out.

Here are some of the practical ways that this principle has been lived out in our home:

  • A child is not left alone, to himself, playing for endless amounts of time. Until a child is old enough to be responsible with his choices, he is not regularly out of mom’s presence. This cuts down on unending tantrums (because they’re close enough for me to deal with their fits immediately), cuts down on messes (like coloring on the walls), and cuts down on selfishness.
  • A child is not left alone to give foolish vent to his anger. There is occasionally a time when I purposefully give a child a moment alone to gain self-control. (This is especially true of my little introverts who sometimes need that moment alone to defuse. But it’s just a moment, not ten, and usually with a suggestion to go wash their face with cool water to help them calm down.) And with toddlers, we sometimes use a few minutes in the crib (before they possess strong verbal communication abilities) to help them understand that, for example, throwing a fit at the dinner table is unacceptable. But I don’t allow a child to endlessly rage. We don’t send a child to his room to “change his attitude” (a.k.a. fuss as long as he wants to). I believe that leaving him on his own in that way would ultimately train a child toward self-focused raging, isolation from others when angry (rather than forgiveness and reconciliation), and a lack of emotional self-control.
  • A child is not regularly left alone with other foolish little friends. This one is where things can get touchy. Other moms may not understand at first. But this is not being a so-called “helicopter parent.” Trust me– I could show you the ER bills to prove that I’m not some over-protective mom who never lets my little “poopsies” get hurt. No, rather, this is being purposeful about who you allow to influence your child’s soul. 

MY THOUGHTS ON UNSUPERVISED TIME WITH OTHER CHILDREN

Children are foolish. This is nothing personal; it comes with the territory. You were foolish; I was foolish. I remember being a little fool. I remember hearing, and saying, stupid things. I remember doing, and being on the receiving end of others doing, stupid things.

I remember the red-headed 3rd grader who told a group of us on the playground that you could get pregnant by a boy putting his knee between your legs. I remember being teased, mercilessly. I remember laughing in 5th grade when told that a boy in our class had just gotten a swirly in the bathroom down the hall.

Not to mention the truly harmful and wicked things children are apt to do to one another.  I remember when two little girls called me over behind the bushes in the apartment complex to look at confusing pictures that I somehow (at 5 or 6 years old) knew weren’t appropriate. And unfortunately I have friends, and you probably have friends, who have been harmed in far more life-altering ways by being left alone with other foolish children.

I know what I was like, and I know what kids in general are like. 

Little immature people with faulty decision-making skills and foolishness bound up in their hearts, with potential for great wickedness and harm toward one another, aren’t the sort of people I want to regularly give unfiltered, unsupervised access to my children’s minds, hearts, and bodies.

SO THEN, WHAT IS OUR DEFAULT?

Primarily, our kids stay nearby.

That doesn’t mean they’re never out of our presence, but it does mean that our default is not “a child left to himself.” 

Our default is a child near his parents. Most often, our children are near one or both of us. Not always. This is not some lockstep, shackled-soldier mentality, where they never spend a moment away from us, or us from them.

Rather, it’s a general approach to life. They are near us. 

  • Near enough to be corrected when I hear them teasing or bullying a sibling.
  • Near enough to be asked to change the subject if they’re joking about poop.
  • Near enough to be prompted to ask forgiveness if they’ve done something that hurts a sibling.
  • Near enough to be reminded to consider others before themselves, and asked to stop singing the same 5 words over and over again since a sibling has already asked them to “please stop.”
  • Near enough for us to see the outplay of their little hearts— their tendencies, their strengths, their weaknesses
  • And near enough for us to rub off on them— for them to be molded and shaped MOST by the two people who love and pray for them more fervently than anyone else in the world.

Our default is “near enough.”

We spread out more, and they have more freedom as they show more maturity and responsibility. Our older boys (10 & 12), for example, could be in the basement playing legos for an hour or two without interruption. That is because, for the most part, I can trust them. They aren’t perfect, but I know their tendencies. My 8-year-old daughter might take a few friends up to her room to play babies for an hour during home fellowship, once a week.

But my 6 and under crew (and especially the 4 year old and 20-month old) are near me throughout most every day. And that is because, on the whole, they still need regular training. Left on their own, they are given to emotional tantrums, foolish arguments, and saying or doing hurtful things to one another. So they stay closer.

It’s not that I don’t “value my space” or “need time alone.” Believe me– I am no saint. I came equipped with the same proclivities toward selfishness as any other person on the planet. (And probably worse!)

It’s not that I want to control every minute of their day. In fact, my selfishness would prefer a different, easier, less intensive way to live these things out. If there was a way to know and train their hearts well, and still have my time all to myself, and have the kids  “out of my face,” I would choose that option.

But the Bible paints a different picture, and compels me to choose what I would not choose to do on my own.

Ultimately, I believe this verse: “a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

 

 

For further study on children/foolishness/parenting consider:

Subscribe to my newsletter, and I'll send monthly encouragement -- full of truth and grace for moms. SIGN UP, SO WE CAN KEEP IN TOUCH:

Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

You may also like...

39 Responses

  1. YES!!! Excellent and well-explained. I’m sharing this!

  2. Jenn says:

    I have two little girls (2.5 and 10 months). I would love to hear how you manage this practically and still get things done! When you say they are near are they within sight or just within earshot? How have you set up your home to facilitate this? I find that these two priorities (training my kids and caring for my home are in constant conflict… Unless I build in independent play (usually in the living room) especially for the older girl. I may be running to the basement for laundry, in the kitchen cooking or upstairs with the baby. I would really benefit from concrete examples of how you juggle it all! :-)

    • Jess Connell says:

      Hi Jenn,
      I do not always have them within view, but most of the time, I do. What I have found that some people call “within earshot” isn’t close enough for what I mean. By “within earshot,” some people mean “I can hear them if anyone makes a blood-curdling scream.” What I mean by “within earshot” is I can actually hear not just their tone and screams but also their actual words. Close enough to hear and correct faulty attitudes, unkindness, or crude joking BEFORE it turns into blood-curdling screams. Close enough to recognize the transition from silly kids playing like they are baby kittens into fake-fighting which will quickly turn into screaming/fighting (giving me a chance to stop it before it gets that far).

      So I do have to be creative. Tools like baby gates and playpens/pack-n-plays come in handy. With some of the kids, I have used “blanket training” to teach them to sit in one spot while I get the dishes done or whatever, but I am not fierce about doing this with every kid. (When we lived overseas and had house church in our home each week, having a toddler who would sit still on a blanket for 30-45 minutes was very beneficial.)

      With or without tools like baby gates & pack-n-plays, I am very directive with little ones when I’m not going to be right near them. So for example, I might dump out a bin of Duplos and say “you play right here” in the room next to the kitchen, where I can peek on them while I am cooking. If they get up or move to do something else, I’ll verbally remind them, but if they continue walking to do their own thing, I quickly walk over and move them back to the play area I specified. “No, mama said to play here with blocks. Yes ma’am?” (We’re southerners, so that last phrase is optional, but I do find it helpful to get their assent in one way or another– “yes mom,” “OK,” whatever.)

      If we’ve had a particularly rough day (i.e., they’ve been picking at each other all day, or I can tell the 2/3 year old is emotionally on-edge), I keep them even closer. Yes, in the room with me. Sometimes right next to me.

      When they’re acting out/emotionally distraught, they need even more direction and care, and time with mom also helps to minister to their little hearts. That I’m close, want them close, etc. They might help stir the pancake batter, or “help” put silverware away, or whatever, but ultimately, I’m smiling, talking, singing, whatever, helping them to get through a rough patch in their day.

      Other questions/specifics? Feel free to nudge me again if there’s a particular situation you have in mind that doesn’t fit what I’ve just described.

      • Jenn says:

        Oh, that’s really helpful! Thanks for the details. I think I can see some ways to apply that. We have some work to do with overall obedience (I LOVE the idea of “yes, ma’am”…but haven’t figured out how to implement it in our house). It’s amazing how so many different situations come back to just the basics…..

  3. Kaitlin says:

    Very good advice here – I never really caught that scripture before!! In our home we do practice many of the same guidelines as you – but you brought to my attention some areas that could use improving! :) Not to mention the scripture to back it all up with! Great post! 😀

  4. Erin says:

    This was very timely. My husband and I were just discussing that our just-turned-six-year-old, who is the youngest of four, brakes everything. He is what we call a “messer”…he has to touch/mess with everything he sees. And he almost always brakes it. Not intentionally, he has a very pure heart. He is just has to touch and explore everything. After I read this post I realized that he has the least parental supervision that any of my children had at his age…and always has. I know that 6 isn’t 2 or 3 and he should know better, but 6 is also not 16. He still needs active direction from his parents – from us! Thanks for the reminder Jess.

  5. Vanessa Samuel says:

    Hi, I’m not looking to offend, But I disagree on quite a few things.

    My initial issue is, how would you modify/explain this to a single mother who needs to work to provide for her family.
    I’m not a single mother, but my mom is( Right after my parents’ divorce,since my mom dint get any alimony or child support, my grandparents went back to work to let her heal , and we were in school, and yes my brother and I got into some questionable situations),
    my cousin is a single mother(she was and is extremely strong, and dint get any alimony or child support either, but needed and is working right now, to raise her little 6 year old. My niece has people watching her, but again all of them are working). So what does this look like for people in these situations?

    Secondly, and this is my biggest concern, again and again, a lot of preachers who focus on marriage,, tell us to PUT EACH OTHER FIRST(even at the cost of children, and especially, when they are little). To make sure the priority is your marriage, and not put it on the back burner. We do. We realized that means we need time for Mom and Dad(especially with the long hours my husband works), and sometimes, we let them cry/fight a little longer in their room, sometimes we put something on TV(and lock our room), and sometimes we cuddle on the sofa, but don’t allow the kids to come between.
    I guess my question is, Isn’t your marriage equally important?

    I do want to state that there were some very helpful ideas, and I’m trying to see how that works with my family. I agree we need to watch who we let influence our children, but I’m also curious about what you think?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Vanessa,
      To answer your first question, I love what Matt Chandler says in regard to less-than-ideal family circumstances: “in the absence of the ideal, God gives grace.” And I believe that is true. Even in a situation that is less than “ideal,” when we look to God’s people & God’s ways, God can help us hem in the broken places through relationship with other families, and looking for creative solutions to our challenges. Godly men in the church can step in where a father is absent, etc. As a single mom, the goal (for me) would be to not leave my children to themselves. That may look like a large amount of other-adult supervision in various forms, and a lot of conversations & trust in God to protect and guide them through those times out of my care. Sometimes it doesn’t all “work out” and line up perfect, and there is grace there. God knows our hearts.

      But we don’t structure our ideas about what’s right around the circumstances that happen as a result of sin (or the effects of sin, in the case of a widow/widower). We look to Scripture to see what is best.

      In regard to your second question, yes, our marriage is extremely important to us. That doesn’t mean we avoid child-rearing to accomplish that. It means we do it together, and structure our lives in such a way that we have time alone (for us, that mostly looks like after 8/8:30 pm once the kids are in bed, which has been a top priority for us since they were little). It also means that aside from major emergency-level conversational needs, we see to the children (like I said in a comment above, about putting the toddler in the middle of a pile of blocks) and THEN get a chance to have a brain-dump about “how our day went.” Doug & I are intentional about having time together, but not at the expense of being diligent and faithful with our children.

      I think pastors who say “put each other first” are saying, “don’t let your parenting become something that takes center stage to such a degree that you stop interacting like married people. Don’t let your role as mother take precedence in your heart over your role as wife.” One good way that prioritization can play out is in things like one you mentioned– snuggling on the couch (with kids on the outside rather than between). But I believe (based on this verse & based on my experience so far) that regularly leaving irresponsible kids alone, without correction, leads to foolishness & -often- someone getting hurt.

      I’m not saying it’s easy– it’s not– it takes more work. But purposefully disciplining/training them so that you can (as a result) truly *ENJOY* time together, without the stress of screaming children in a room somewhere by themselves, injured children coming to you in tears because of something rude big brother did to them, or worse, is worth it. Discipline, consistency, and purposefulness are needed (in my view) in order to be able to find that place where the kids are being well-disciplined and looked after AND the marriage relationship is able to thrive.

      Further thoughts?

      • Vanessa says:

        I do have further thoughts. Give me a couple of days so I can collect them and present them in a respectful, and non condemning way :)

        • Vanessa says:

          This si more of a confession comment, so I’ll be all right if you do not allow this to be posted :)
          First off, I’m sorry. I was quick to take offense, and I needed to work it out, and figure it out why .
          This is what I “read” .
          Vanessa, just cause you have only 2 kids, they will never learn to be selfless.
          Vanessa, just cause you choose to go do something(me time), while Daddy is being a parent, you’re being selfish.
          Vanessa , just because you don’t do things my way , you’re not discipling your children, and are letting them run amok, and wild
          Vanessa this, Vanessa that …………
          (I had to read, and re -read and realize that is NOT what you had written or meant :)

          I needed to realize, that my kids are actually near me, most of the time, and that they chose to do so. People have told me that they follow me like little duckies! I needed to realize that I do some simliar and some different things(from what you do) to model things for my little ones (my 3yr old “helps” with making Indian flatbread, and with the laundry). My 2yr old “helps” clean up kitchen spills. I realized that I did learn to be intentional bout the time that my kids are awake, and spend with me, so to model things with them and for them daily. I did realize that the discipline we as a couple have started instilling in our kids are showing fruit. I needed realize that we have been doing it for awhile before your reading your blog, but never articulated it the way you did, and so I took offense!

          I’d love to hear what your situation zero was :) What made you realize , think, ruminate, and come to this point of articulating “not leaving a child to himself”. What I mean is, there was obviously something , someone you saw,and dint agree with on their choices.

          • Jess Connell says:

            Thanks for coming back; I’m glad you did. It sounds like you are being purposeful! I’ve also had the “little ducklings” comment. :)

            For me, I was going through life as a mom similar to what I’d seen in other places, “sure you can go to your room, etc.,” especially as they got older, and particularly doing so with other people. I was never one to let my kids endlessly fuss in their room, but I was one to let my kids play with other people’s kids more freely & unsupervised than I should have. I still have this tendency and have to fight it, especially when I’m just wanting to participate in adult life.

            When I came across the book, website, and basic idea of “tomato staking” in Raising Godly Tomatoes, I was very challenged and knew while it was the right way to go, it would take diligence and (at least initially) be a drain on my “time alone.” It has eventually allowed me to have more peace in our home, and a lot more joy, but it does require mom’s presence in a way that other approaches do not.

            So for me it was not about seeing someone else’s choices, but seeing and experiencing some of my own, and the negative fruit that came from leaving children on their own for longer amounts of time than they could wisely handle.

            Jess

      • Andrea Studt says:

        I agree. I am guilty of not always being consistent in this. But, it always comes back to bite me:) I do see how what my family is comfortable with allowing yours may not be, and that is okay, too. This is a grey area where there *could* be some misunderstandings develop. I have learned to give other parents their “space” if they are stricter in an area than we are. Likewise, I am not afraid of being honest with another parent by sharing (if asked, put in the situation, not freely advising) without being fearful of offending. Nor, do I criticize them for their different approach. I understand how family dynamics, preference of the father, just different convictions can come into play. But, I always appreciate suggestions and tools to use that others have tried and are sharing.

  6. Emily says:

    Hmm have you read Raising Godly Tomatoes? :) Sounds a lot like tomato-staking! Good stuff. I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 2-month old. I love & need this kind of practical advice. Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to discipline, even though I have read many books and really desire to be consistent. (Two recent ones are Shepherding a Child’s Heart & Don’t Make Me Count to Three). I feel like my toddler has cranked up the disobedience since he has been able to “get away” with more due to me being tied up with nursing the baby. Plus I’m super tired!. I stay at home and since having the baby 2 months ago I haven’t been able to get together much with other moms…. (plus it’s cold/flu season and we all have to keep canceling on each other!) I so wish I could pick your brain! Especially about certain discipline scenarios (gray areas) with my toddler that I can’t really figure out how to train or what to do. Anyway, I really find myself agreeing with your blog posts more & more (I’ve followed you for years… although that sounds super creepy… while you blogged @ Making Home.) You should totally do a Q&A!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Emily,
      Exactly right! So many of these thoughts of mine have been clarified by Elizabeth Krueger’s wisdom, laid out in Raising Godly Tomatoes. She is an incredibly wonderful resource for moms who want biblical advice for parenting.

      She does have a forum with lots of interaction & discussion about what you’re talking about– specific “how-tos” of parenting. If you’d like a referral, message me & I can connect you with her.

      You are right– it is tough in different seasons. Nursing. On bed rest. Working from home. Dealing with sickness (in us and in our kids). Etc. All these things affect our ability to live these things out consistently, and none of us carry it out perfectly. Every one of us hit points where we have to implement “triage” parenting– dealing with the biggest needs first, prioritizing other things behind the most important things. The books you mentioned are good ones… keep going! All of us who want to parent in wise & biblical ways are striving toward what’s best, not living-every-moment doing what’s best.

      We all need grace, and even when “doing our best” are ultimately resting on a foundation of grace, not of doing.
      Jess

      • Emily says:

        Thanks so much for the encouragement!! Maybe a little off topic (you don’t have to respond, just throwing this out there)… but concerning church nursery and/or “socialization” being a necessity.. My 2 and a half year old son has a VERY hard time being left in nursery on Sundays. (We never tried to leave him until recently.. we kept him with us in service or in the church ‘cry room’). He is in hysterics and is distraught the rest of the morning if I leave him. He screams (in a scared/sad way not a defiant way) and someone has to hold him and I can hear him down the hall. Well-meaning friends tell me to just keep trying to leave him and let him scream & cry each week until he gets used to it. … Bringing it back your post…. They tell me he’s that way because he’s not around other children “enough”, or I haven’t left him with a babysitter (for example) often enough. Every Sunday I have felt pressured to put my kids in nursery (everyone else does). I’m told it’s a skill he needs to learn. I do know some moms really really love being able to sit in church alone with their husband. Hey, I’d kind of like that too. It’d be like a date. But anyway, I’m told I “brought it upon myself” if my babies are upset and distraught when I leave because I did not start leaving them early enough. I guess it depends on your view of church.. family-integration, etc… but I have felt really torn about the idea of leaving my kids off for a few hours every Sunday so I can attend service, and then Sunday school, and so on. Maybe I am overthinking it!

        • Vanessa says:

          Hi , I’m one of those parents, I keep thinking to myself, maybe they are new here, they don’t know where the nursery is. maybe they are new/first time parents and do not yet realize how much they will benefit, and so I offer the choice to them and ask them if they want to leave baby/toddler in nursery (I back off when they reply “No thanks ” though :) )
          I would say, if you are torn up about it, don’t give into the pressure. Your child may be all right with maybe one or two people at a time, he may not like chaos,noise,other little kids who are (usually) boisterously running around. So watch and look for his cues. If you can, volunteer (in the class he will be in) once in awhile, and be there with him, and observe what goes on, and maybe you’ll find out why he doesn’t like it. Otherwise keep him with you at service.
          This child segregation thing is a (relatively) new concept. Im my home country , children at this age would stay in service with their parents(with parents going out when they need to), and wouldn’t get any dirty looks from others in the congregation, and eventually they learn to be quiet during service. The kids start Sunday school, at the age when they would go to regular all day school(5-6 years) and that continues till youth , when they start coming back into mainstream church :)
          Helps?

  7. Emily Jensen says:

    Jess,

    This is so helpful and convicting because lately I’ve noticed things escalating between our children when I leave them alone together and I feel the temptation to just ‘let it happen’ because it is so exhausting to intervene constantly. I like the idea of keeping them closer, but also need to die to my desire to do chores and my ‘own thing’ un-encumbered by littles latched at my knees. So my 2 practical questions are:

    I have a 2.5 yr old and 11 mo old twins….all boys….all active. The twins swarm my 2.5 yr old and it makes him angry, so he shoves / etc. We discipline him for this, but I have a hard time blaming his reaction when they are coming at him from both sides. I have no idea how to keep all of them near to me AND keep them separated or how to train them to get along.

    Secondly, how do you get things done while also paying attention to your kids and bringing them along with you? If I let my twins near me, they are literally crawling all over my body. My two year old immediately starts competing for attention when they do this because he feels left out. For instance, do you have any resources about blanket training? What age do you start? Is there an age that is too late to start?

    I want to give our kids more attention, it hurts my heart that my reaction is sometimes to just get them settled with toys so I can get other things done, but I also feel confused about what to do differently. I am just LOVING your blog and every post is just convicting and resonating with me tremendously. Thank you for being faithful to God’s leading to write.

    – Emily

    • Jess Connell says:

      Hey Emily,
      Thanks for the encouragement!

      You said: “I like the idea of keeping them closer, but also need to die to my desire to do chores and my ‘own thing’ un-encumbered by littles latched at my knees.” And I just wanted to say– me too. So when you’re praying that for you, pray it for me too. Cause that is hard for us all. I think we all are easily given over to the idea of getting things done, and much less apt to be honed in on the work at the heart-level, with day-in, day-out presence. The checklist and things done shows up so easily… we can see what we’ve done, and others can too, and we feel achievement in that. (And pretty much all of us in this modern world have been reared with a heart seeking after achievement.) So we run to that which is measurable, and that which is less measurable (the incremental change of little hearts) can easily be pushed to the side.

      So. Practically… first, for the 2.5 year old, I would try to set up some sort of space where he can play on his own from time to time (things like pattern blocks on the dining table) where they can’t mess up what he’s doing. Cause, yeah, that is frustrating, to feel like you can’t do anything, build anything, etc, without being swarmed. LOL. Poor little guy.

      At the same time, I would try to build in some times of “wrestling” on the floor– you with all of them. Things like– tell the two year old that his goal is to try to, for example, make your legs go flat. All the while, you’re able to kiss, snuggle, twist, tickle, grab and growl, etc., with the twins. If he gets your legs flat to the ground, he wins. Boys love this kind of play… Or, take turns lifting them up on your shins and bouncing them. Getting him to, at times, learn how to gently wrestle with and love on them, so that they aren’t always seen as little pests, but he can (on his two-year-old level) see how to have fun with them, how to be gentle, etc. It’s not going to be perfect. He’s two. But he can start to have a good time with them at intervals in the day, without it constantly being that they’re messing up his fun.

      And on the second question, in your case, I would definitely try blanket training, or using two pack and plays, and letting the 2 year old help you in the kitchen, for example, help make lunch, help put dishes away, etc. He is old enough to stand in front of the dryer while you hand him laundry to throw in. Yes, it will take longer. For a year or two. But he will eventually start being able to truly be a help to you. The only way that happens is for him to learn to help you at times when it isn’t actually a help to you. As one of our friends said, with a smile on his face after our 2 & 4 year old “helped” him with dishes, “Thank you boys SO MUCH for doing dishes with me… with your help, it only took TWICE as long.” :)

      For blanket training, 11 months old is actually a really great time to start. It will be slow going at first (for a week or two) while they “get it”– which means you won’t be able to get as much done during those times. But it will pay off if you are diligent and consistent, because it will go from just 5-10 minutes of independent play to being able to do 30-45 minute stretches happily on the blanket, engrossed in their own toys/books/etc. The alternative (if that isn’t appealing) would be to use two pack and plays, or two sealed-off areas (gates?) that are visible to you, where they can safely play on their own.

      Also, honestly, when they are little, I used nap times to try to tackle any “must do” items that I couldn’t get done with them awake. Sometimes parenting/training really will take up most of your time, especially in the early years, but then, the pay off is that it produces peace and joy in your home later on. :)

      Keep at it.

      And don’t feel too much guilt about wanting to “get them settled with toys so you can get others things done.” That’s OK too. I bet Mary did that to Jesus, and I think every mom does. That’s just normal. It’s not that every minute of every day has to be with them attached at the hip. But it’s that you’re purposeful as you go about your day, training as you go, bringing them along to help and learn to be contributors to your home, etc., smiling at them, spending time together laughing and learning, teaching them what a cup of flour means, etc. Sometimes it will also mean setting them down with toys to play so you can get things done. There’s no harm in that.

      Hang in there.
      Jess

  8. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for this post! I have always been a fan of tomato staking parenting but I always think of it and often see it as something used for toddlers and young preschoolers and then stopped. We live in a small apartment right now so my boys (8 and 6) are always “near” me even when they are in the other room lol! But I have been struggling with their time with friends.as they are adventurous boys and want to go adventure away from mom and I want to visit with friends as well during that time! We choose their (our) friends carefully but as you were saying everyone is a sinner by nature. I think we as parents get into a more relaxed parenting style once our kids are in that school age stage and while there is some good reason for that, this has reminded me that they arent grown yet and still need direction and correction! So perhaps allowing shorter adventures away from moms and dads and then more adventures with mom or dad and friends are in order! But yes definitely more work! But as we all know parenting is a life long journey not a few years! Thank you!

  9. Justin says:

    I think that the antithetical parallelism in the verse you’re talking about means that “left to himself” is the opposite of “rod and reproof.” The writer wasn’t talking about leaving your child alone to play, it was about leaving your child without discipline…I’m not ready to tell my overworked wife that she shouldn’t leave our son alone because he might get into trouble.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes indeed. The problem is a child left without discipline, which is what happens when he is regularly left alone (either alone alone, or alone without a responsible person to provide guidance and discipline). The two things go together. Being left alone by definition means being left without someone to give the rod and reproof (discipline you) when you need it, and having someone there to give the rod and the reproof necessitates the child not being left alone. They are definitely twin ideas.

      As for your last sentence, I can relate. We all feel overworked, and unusually stressful times may call for creative solutions, and prayers for God’s grace in the midst of challenges, but generally speaking, a child left alone (left without discipline) is not a good thing. Thanks for chiming in.

  10. Melissa says:

    Jess, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to articulate so well on this! This is the second time now that God has used your blog to bring an answer to a significant question in our parenting journey (the other being a post about birth control from a few years ago) and so I just wanted to let you know God used you! We are living in Nicaragua and raising our 4 little ones (5, 3, 2, 2 mo) here and trying to figure out what to do about the upcoming school year (the schedule’s different here) for our older ones. I really want them to learn the language and culture of the land in which we live. It seems like a neat gift to be able to give them being bicultural and bilingual…. yet not at the cost of our convictions. And I DO agree with you that that verse is saying parents need to have their kids with them to such an extreme…. I was running a million possibilities through my mind and worrying about them being maladjusted and getting wrapped up in wanting them to have a Nicaraguan experience or something that I lost sight of the bigger picture. My husband was homeschooled and it’s a big value for him and something he’s always wanted for ours… and I hated ‘fighting against’ it. So anyway, thank you for articulating the Scripture so clearly – it didn’t return void!

  11. Viki says:

    I am wondering how should I handle my kids wanting to go outside and play. We live in a growing housing development that already has lots of kids in it. My kids like to go out and ride bikes with the other kids, and to hang out with them at their (the other kids’) houses. We don’t do sleep overs (so I don’t have to deal with those scenarios), but what sort of rules would you recommend about my kids being outside with other kids as well as visits to friends’ houses? Thank you.

    • Jess Connell says:

      In our home, this mostly wouldn’t happen. What goes on depends largely on age and responsibility, as well as the influence of the kids they’d be hanging around, but ultimately it’s just not a good thing.

      My view is that the influence of other kids, without adults around, operates (in general) according to the law of diminishing returns. The less time alone together, the better… the more time together, the worse things get. Yes, when they’re alone together, things like abuse, molestation, exposure to porn, etc, can happen… but there’s also the “lesser” things that could take up real estate in our kids’ hearts– cussing, bullying, teasing, name-calling, a focus on dull and trivial topics, and more.

      There is just not much benefit for kids to be around each other and be left alone. Now… around parents? Within view & within earshot? Occasional times together are fun & can be upbuilding. I think if I was in that setting, and wanted my kids to be able to play with neighborhood kids, we might have afternoon hours a couple times a week where I sat in the yard with a book and invited kids to come over & play outside.

      I would not send my kids’ to other people’s houses unless I knew those people intimately well as friends. WAY too much potential downside now, with devices, wifi access, and unknown possessions (porn? liquor cabinet? drugs? horror movies? 50 Shades books left laying around on counters?).

      If kids don’t want to be in a setting where parents are around, we need to be asking ourselves– why not?

      I know this seems countercultural, and I’ve almost wanted to shrink back from writing it out. But more than that, I want to protect my kids and be a responsible parent who is systematically thinking through the influences I’m allowing and encouraging in my kids’ lives. And I want to encourage other parents to do the same. For the most part, I don’t want random strangers (and whatever they have in their homes) to have the opportunity to influence my kids’ hearts, lives, bodies, and decisions outside of my presence or the presence of authorities that I implicitly trust.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Oh, and you asked about being outside with other kids… that’s different in many ways than being inside. The main thing that’s still there at that point is the interpersonal influence. I think at that point, I’d be really watching the kids I allowed to participate and evaluating what I’m seeing– any attitude changes? what changes are happening in how they treat people? how they talk about people? is anything becoming an idol in their lives (i.e., this time with friends, or even a particular topic they’re into– now everything is about “Avengers”, or TMNT, or _______)?

      I’d be continually coaching my kids for what kinds of friends they should BE and what kinds of friends they should look for… and if possible I would want my kids to go in pairs (or 3s) together, rather than being off by themselves with a friend. How often this happened would be decided based on the results of the influence, and based on their ability to move in groups rather than off alone with 1 buddy.

      Hope this helps. I’m not one for absolute rules, but I’d be looking for the after-effects of influence.

      The only rule in our house, really, is that kids obey parents.

      So then, if we assess a particular friendship or activity and see it having a damaging effect, the kid knows he’s going to obey mom and dad about the frequency of doing that activity or seeing that friend. I don’t know if this is the case, but it seems like in many families, that principle is not in place. Kids’ friendships are seen as an untouchable holy grail and something parents are unwilling to intrude on, and I just don’t think that’s wise, given the level of influence a person can have over our child’s heart and life in a relatively short amount of time alone together.

      So for me, having that principle in place would be more important than any external rule/guideline I’d place on the time together with friends. That said, if I had to come up with a rule, I’d probably limit it to (maybe) two interactions a week. If they ride bikes with friends on Tuesday afternoon and Saturday morning, that would be more than enough. One exception I could see to this would be if there were a really godly family who lived near us, whose kids I really believed were GOOD influences toward the Lord in my kids lives, I might allow it more frequently, but I STILL would be continually considering the balance of peer influence and sway vs. parental influence, and working with my child to make sure peers (even “good” peers) didn’t become a ruling force in their hearts and lives.

  1. November 17, 2014

    […] A Child Left to Himself […]

  2. December 12, 2014

    […] we do that, it is to our shame, and to our children’s […]

  3. May 25, 2015

    […] We generally keep our kids close to us. Our default position is “near enough” to our children to hear and correct sin, and keep them from habitually acting like fools. Yes, in the short term, that’s harder work, but in the long run, I think it’ll make for less regret. […]

  4. August 31, 2015

    […] the way, this means that you need to be present with your children to watch and correct them, and not leave your children alone in the bath […]

  5. September 15, 2015

    […] a child left to himself will bring shame to his mother. (Prov 29:15) […]

  6. September 30, 2015

    […] you. Keep her within eyeshot all the time. This is perhaps the most important thing of all because “a child left to himself” is not a good thing. It’s a BLESSING for your little one to be very, very close to you. Close enough to […]

  7. December 30, 2015

    […] To keep my children near enough, and well-supervised enough, that at the time when they are all adults, I will not be horrified at […]

  8. April 8, 2016

    […] One mom posed this question after reading my article, A Child Left To Himself. […]

  9. June 1, 2016

    […] field of vision and ability to hear them. Leaving children to themselves sets them up for the rapid overtaking of their own foolishness and sin (not to mention leaving them open to the effects of the foolishness and sin of […]

  10. June 15, 2016

    […] (This Q is a follow-up from the article, A CHILD LEFT TO HIMSELF) […]

  11. December 8, 2016

    […] Beware of this: “A Child Left To Himself” […]

  12. December 28, 2016

    […] promptly, and to keep guiding them toward the way they should go. It’s worth it to keep them close. It’s worth it to be more stubborn than they […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join my e-mail list & get 30 Quick Fixes (for Tough Mom Days) FREE!

  • Stay connected with your kids, even on the hard days.
  • Get exclusive MOM encouragement
  • Let me help you become the best mom possible!

Enter your name & e-mail address & let's become friends: