What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?

When I was very young, maybe six years old, my father read me a Bible story. In the story, God commands Abraham to take his Isaac to Moriah. There he found the mountain on which he was to make a burnt offering. On the way, Isaac notices the firewood, the fire and the knife and asks,”Father, where is the lamb?” Abraham responded, “God will provide it.”

Once at the top of the mountain, Abraham builds an altar and placed the firewood on it. He binds Isaac and places him on top of the wood. When he points his knife to the boy’s throat, God calls to him, “Do not harm the boy. I now know that you love me, because you were willing to sacrifice your son.” Over in a thicket Abraham finds a ram to use as the offering.

I thought to myself, “My Dad loves God so much, he would kill me for God.

What kind of father would read this story to his son before he is old enough to process it? Based on my understanding of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development states, I wouldn’t read this to a child younger than 11 years old.

In addition, he wanted me to say the children’s prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I die before I wake,
I pray for Lord my soul to take. Amen

It seemed I had to think about the mortality of children a lot when I was around him. These experiences coupled with his rages made my father a very scary man. By contrast, my mother never discussed the childhood mortality and made me feel safe.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

Photo: Jean Piaget, whose theory of cognitive development states that children go through stages of development. At each stage, they develop a new behavior and/or become capable of understanding a new concept. Prior to reaching that stage, the child cannot understand the concept.

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