Latter-day Saint Life

6 Childlike Traits that You've Probably Lost (And How to Get Them Back)


I have spent much of my life working with children and those who teach and care for them. I have noticed children quite naturally possess attributes that we sometimes end up missing in our adult lives: an inner desire to do right, a sense of worth, the ability to be happy, a capacity to love, an innate sense of wisdom, and a deep and trusting faith. It is as if children are carrying full buckets of water, and then they stagger into their teenage years and the water starts sloshing out. Then they face the blows of adulthood, and even more water escapes. Soon people are standing around with empty buckets. This emptiness is not because the buckets were never full; the buckets become empty when people lose what they once had.

As we strive to emulate the Savior and be true Christians 7 days a week, God refills our buckets, and we understand why Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

1. A Desire to Do Right

Jennifer Eggleston, an elementary school principal, told me how she intervened when two first graders were fighting. She asked, “What’s going on here?”

One boy pointed to the other and said, “He is not choosing the right!”

The other boy looked at Mrs. Eggleston and on the verge of tears said, “Tell me what to do and I’ll choose the right. I want to choose the right!”

Think back to when your greatest desire was to choose the right. Think back to when the world seemed gentler, to the time when you brushed your teeth or looked both ways at street crossings because these were things your parents had taught you were right. Did you kneel by your bed to say prayers and just know that God had nothing more important to do in His vast universe than to listen to you? Don't lose the drive to do right you had as a child.

2. A Sense of Worth

Another attribute missing from too many adult lives is a sense of worth. In Isaiah we read, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold” (13:12). Children feel golden! Every baby born thinks he or she is the center of the universe. Not a baby in this world waits to cry until he finds out if the cool babies are crying. No baby ever checks another baby’s diapers to see if she is wearing the right brand name. Babies come into the world with full buckets.

Young children possess a vibrant sense of their own value and potential. Children know they are important. My wife, Debi, worked part-time as a nurse in the same-day surgery unit at a local hospital. One day when she was outside eating lunch on a bench, a little boy rode up on his bike and said, “Hi! Do you remember me?”

My wife looked at the boy but had no recollection of meeting him. He saw her hesitation and asked with disappointment, “You don’t remember me?”

Debi finally said, “I’m sorry. Where would I know you from?”

The child pointed to the hospital and announced, “I was born here!”

That little kid thought he was so important that every nurse in the hospital was going to remember the day he was born!

We’re naturally going to lose some of that exhilaration, but many of us lose way too much too fast. Many of us start caring in unhealthy ways about what others think and say. Some people, struggling with fears and insecurities, try to replenish their own buckets by emptying ours. They ridicule and find fault, and we give their words too much credibility. A sense of worth can be drained from our buckets by thoughtless people even though what they take from us does not really add to their own supply. Soon our buckets are empty. The girl who used to twirl around in front of a mirror like a princess now greets the same mirror calling herself “Fat! Stupid! Unpopular! Ugly!”

How many adults think of themselves as the coolest of the cool? We need to remember the days when we truly felt capable, important, and of worth. It’s time to allow God to refill our buckets.

3. An Ability to be Happy

Another attribute children have is the ability to be happy. Children are naturally happy. I have seen children on almost every continent—many of whom have little in the way of worldly goods—and they always seem to have big smiles on their faces. These children don’t wait for happiness. They create happiness.

In Psalm 128:1–2, we read a promise to “every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in His ways”: “Happy shalt thou be.” We are not told that happiness depends on what we look like, what others think of us, or what material possessions we have. The promised happiness comes from our relationship with and obedience to the Lord. As adults we may foolishly think happiness comes from winning a competition, enjoying popularity, being blessed with good health, or having not experienced divorce or some form of abuse. Thus happiness may seem forever out of our reach. (“I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds,” or “I’ll be happy when I find a spouse,” or “I’ll be happy when I get a raise.”) Children create their happiness by choosing to be happy now. For years my mom had a little plaque in her kitchen that read, “Happiness is a city in the state of mind.” Regardless of the state, province, or nation in which they were born, children know the City of Happiness—it is their birthright.

Yes. I have problems, but you can have problems and be happy at the same time. That perspective can make a difference to us.

4. A Capacity to Love

Little children can desire to do right, recognize their worth, and create their own happiness; a reason they can do this is that they also have their buckets full of love. Most children readily accept and give open, spontaneous, unconditional love.

As much as we think we are loving the children in our lives, they are actually loving us even more. It’s phenomenal to see how freely children share their hearts. I experienced this quite literally with a student in my sixth-grade classroom. James had been born with a heart problem. He had had his first open-heart surgery when he was only in first grade, and during this sixth-grade year he had to be scheduled for another. On the day he received this news, he was quite discouraged. This boy who usually filled our classroom with enthusiastic chatter was subdued. He dragged through the day, and I wanted to help him feel better. I wanted to build him up and lift his spirits.

When the final bell rang, I asked James to stay and help me put away some supplies, which gave us a chance to talk as we worked. I said, “James, your parents wrote me a note telling me about the surgery. What is going to happen?”

He replied, “They are going to open my chest, open up my heart, and then take out the valve that doesn’t work and replace it with a pig valve. And if that doesn’t work,” he said matter-of-factly, “I guess I’ll just die.”

The empty classroom was silent. Neither James nor I spoke, but inside my head it was as if someone were screaming. I looked into the eyes of my young student and said, “Don’t die, James. You can have my heart.”

“No, Mr. Wilcox,” he smiled—the first smile I’d seen all day. “I can’t take your heart. You have a good heart. I love your heart.”

I had wanted to lift James. I had wanted to help him and love him, but like the true child he was, he lifted me. He helped me. He loved me.

That’s the kind of love we need to put back into our buckets. It is time to feel and express love as openly and as unconditionally as children do. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 19:19), the Lord taught, and also, the “stranger that dwelleth with you . . . love him as thyself” (Leviticus 19:34). On the night before Jesus was crucified, He gave His disciples a “new commandment”: “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34–35).

5. A Sense of Wisdom

Wisdom is another childlike attribute we adults need to find again. Children are wise. They haven’t yet learned how to think in the same words and ways adults do; their wisdom is their own, and it reflects what they have learned from their own experiences. If you don’t believe me, read the words of my young niece, who wrote the following: “If I were in charge of the world I’d cancel war, bullies, and weirdoes. I would have more friends, peace, books, and airplanes would all be safe. If I were in charge, every person would eat his meals. Bad drugs would all be burned, and people would never be lonely.”

Almost all of us used to think that clearly. Things were pretty straightforward—wrong or right. Then we moved into adolescent and finally adult years and allowed others to convince us that life is filled with gray areas. Unlike my niece, we started to think that bullying had to be tolerated. My niece’s desire to “cancel” war got trumped by economic issues or upcoming elections.

Empty bucketers ignore the dangers of addictive substances and risky behaviors: “It’s no big deal. Everyone is doing it. No one will know. Just once won’t hurt.” Pretty soon we find ourselves saying and doing things we would never have done when we were thinking a little more clearly.

To me, that’s what the scriptures mean when they tell of being “filled with the spirit of wisdom” (Exodus 28:3). It’s time for us grown-ups to ask God to refill our buckets.

6. Trusting Faith

Children do have an inner desire to do right, a natural sense of worth, the ability to be happy, a capacity to love, and an innate sense of wisdom, but their foundational and crowning attribute is a natural, deep, and trusting faith. How many of us have ever been running around panicked with a problem and had a young child remind us to pray about it? How many have been startled when a child is more upset that Jesus might not like what he has done than that Mom has sent him to his room? How many of us have heard a child pray for a friend or neighbor who is sick or troubled? When children have been taught about God, their buckets are spontaneously filled with faith.

How much faith do we adults have in our faith buckets? Are we full, partly full, or totally empty?

Many adults may recognize that it has been a while since they have been as close to God as they should be. Perhaps they have settled for following rules instead of following the Savior.

Many adults may recognize that it has been a while since they have been as close to God as they should be. Perhaps they have settled for following rules instead of following the Savior. Perhaps they feel there have been too many hurts, mistakes, and regrets along the way. We all need to rediscover faith like that of our children.

To Be Like a Child

For every person who says we can’t change, there are others whose lives are evidence of Christ’s transforming power.

Scriptures assure, “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). It’s time to realize that God is real and He wants to be close to us if we will let Him. For every person who says belief is foolish, there are others who witness that there is a spiritual side of our natures that cannot be overlooked without serious consequences. For every person who says we can’t change, there are others whose lives are evidence of Christ’s transforming power. For every person who finds fault with organized religion, there are others who show with their words and actions that it is possible to find and live at a higher level. For every person who claims that faith is a weakness, there are others who testify that faith is the source of true inner strength.

In today’s world, many people try to motivate positive changes by saying “Move forward! Press onward!” Instead, I say, “Look back!” This may sound like strange advice, but let us remember that Christ referred to His Apostles as “little children” (John 13:33). These were grown men, yet He called them little children. As old as we may get, as grown up as we may appear, as sophisticated and knowledgeable as we may become, we are little children in His eyes. Each must choose to be like a child for Him.

• • •

This blog is an abbreviated excerpt from Brad Wilcox's new book, The 7-day Christian, now available at Deseret Book. More about the book:
Christianity is facing great opposition. No one is being thrown to lions, but many followers of Christ face persecution because of their beliefs. At the very least, most know how it feels to end up on the wrong side of a "politically correct" conversation. More than ever before, we need believing and behaving disciples—men and women who are ready to stand up and stand together to change the world as early Christians did: one righteous choice at a time.

Filled with personal experiences and insightful stories, this book emphasizes the importance of living in accordance with our values every single day, with practical suggestions for how to actually pull it off. "Christ doesn't just want people to acknowledge His grace," writes Brad Wilcox. "He wants them to be transformed through it. He doesn't just want people to come to Him. He wants them to become like Him— a process that takes place 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, and throughout all the years of our lives.

Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content