My children were all early speakers. My oldest was barely a year old when she began pointing at things and asking "that?" I would carry her around our home and tell her the names of things. My two boys were also early speakers. They were, in a word, precocious. When we began homeschooling, I could see that they were very bright students, and teaching them the academics was actually quite a breeze.
As a lover of learning myself, watching them grow and learn was a joy. It was no testimony to my teaching skills that they learned. They were just wired for learning. The problem with that, however, is that when our children are very bright, and sound older than they are, we are tempted to think they grasp more than they do. Some children can grasp cognitively what they are really not mature enough to truly understand.
This becomes a matter for concern with regard to spiritual issues. As parents, we raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We set boundaries for conduct. We teach them the gospel. We read the Bible. We tell them how knowing Christ ought to be lived out in the daily things. They may nod in assent because they can make sense of what we're saying, but as we know as adults, knowing something doesn't mean we always obey.
I was reading Amos on the weekend as I prepared for Sunday school. In chapter 4:6-13, God is calling his people out for their sins. He points out that even when he sent them a chastening hand, they still did not return to him. That phrase, "yet you did not return to me" is repeated five times in that passage. This is so much like us, isn't it? We know the truth, we are corrected when we stray, and yet we resist submitting.
This is also true of children. But sometimes, as a young parent, I mistakenly took cognitive understanding for heart understanding, and I think you can guess where that road can lead. Outward behaviour is not a guarantee of true compliance. In a parenting course my husband and I taught based on the Ezzos (what were we thinking?) we were told that if we had outward compliance, evenetually it would manifest itself in heart understanding. It might; but it might not.
My children could give the answers we wanted. But that could not change their hearts. Only God can change someone's heart. What we as parents need to do when our kids are young is to extend mercy. Children are immature. It takes time for them to learn the heart lessons. A child can have a genius IQ, but that doesn't mean he's going to obey the Biblical commands we set before him.
I can't help but think I should have been more merciful toward my children. I unwisely took their intelligence and ability to comprehend things as evidence of heart change. No wonder I often took their disobedience with such alarm and feelings of failure. With intelligence, it is a matter of honing it; with faith, it is a matter of the Spirit sanctifying one, and that is not my job. I am not the Holy Spirit. I should have been more patient as they grew up. I think I expected far too much from them.
I Corinthians 13:7 reminds us:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It should certainly bear the immaturity of our children as they grow up. That doesn't mean we excuse sin, but it does mean we show mercy when it's required. After all, our example of extending mercy will be something they may follow later on in life.