Posts by SusanArico:
One of the hardest parts of parenting is figuring out the best way to deal with tough issues we encounter with our children. How should we respond – with empathy, correction, further questioning, or something else? It’s not always clear-cut, and what works with one child in one season may fail completely with another child in a different situation.
Recently our five-year-old daughter has begun responding with oversensitivity and meltdowns whenever she’s crossed or corrected. She falls into long-lasting tears and despair, feeling that everyone’s “mad at” her and/or “mean to” her, and that no one understands her. The emergence of this behavior coincided with a major life transition – our family moved across the country, and she’s adjusting to a new home, milieu, and school. Such changes are deeply unsettling and take time and energy to address; our daughter is no doubt exhausted, overwhelmed, and insecure. We work and talk with her through her outbursts, helping bring her through them.
But as weeks wear on and the behavior remains – even escalates – how do we respond? We can’t live with fits of tears, anger, and self-pity exploding onto the scene ever hour or two over trivial matters. We can’t wait for the behavior to just peter out; it’s not fair to anyone in the house, including her. But what do we do?
During the time we’ve been wrestling with this issue, I developed a few guiding steps to help walk myself through this and other tough parenting issues, a kind of a cheat sheet for the discernment and training process. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Pray for the child and about the situation. This first step is such an easy one to overlook, even though – or maybe especially because – it’s so vital. Situations like these require wisdom and Spirit-inspired intervention, and we have none of that apart from Christ. But He promises to give it when we ask. And more than ever in the midst of taxing seasons we need to love our child deeply and wholly; the kind of love we’re after comes (like all love) from Jesus.
2. Step back and assess what’s really going on, as objectively as possible. It’s easy to get stuck only seeing and responding to what’s happening at the surface level while missing the bigger picture. Our daughter’s excessive tears and oversensitivity were the presenting symptoms, but they were in fact only half of the problem. The other half that her failing to own the fact her misbehavior was prompting the negative responses triggering her meltdowns. Blame-shifting always fueled the self-pity and insecurity she expressed in her fits — the “bad mommy” syndrome that Cloud and Townsend write about in their Boundaries with Kids. Her explosive emotional response to being crossed or corrected blocked out her capacity to accept responsibility for her behavior,
3. Experiment with several different responses to the situation to see which one(s) appear to bear most fruit. In our case, it was pretty clear that what we were doing – trying to talk with our daughter in the midst of her emotional response – wasn’t working. She couldn’t hear or receive our words in those moments. So we had to brainstorm other options – talking through the scenario in times of non-conflict, removing her to be alone during fits, loss of privileges relating to fit-escalation, practicing the situation over again later to internalize correct responses – and then try them out to see what best reaches her and helps her improve.
I often skip this step. I generally feel that the route I’m taking is reasonable and should work, and I keep using it even when it’s unsuccessful (and then feeling frustrated). It takes time, commitment, and a certain amount of unflappability to work through different strategies to address a problem. Trying different strategies helps us learn our kids better – their hearts and their souls. And it trains us in proactively acting out the hope and perseverance that always marks Christ-like love.
4. Place boundaries on the child to protect her and the other family members from the situation. Our children do have control over their actions and responses, even when they’re being unreasonable. Though our daughter sees the problem to be with others treating her poorly, the fact is that her emotions and choices are driving the bus. It’s our job to teach her this and over time help her practice controlling her emotions and choices. So we say: “You may stay in your room if you need time to be upset, but when you come out you can’t cry or be unpleasant. And you can’t use the words ‘mad at me’ or ‘mean to me.’ If you do, you’re making the choice to go back to your room.” We don’t permit her to use those phrases in times of high emotion because they signal that she’s still entrenched in self-pity mode – the mode that perpetuates the downward spiral – and not yet ready to move on.
Walking myself through these steps helps stabilize me when trying to muddle through taxing behavior and train our children at heart level. Are they perfect or complete? Or course not. But raising kids is never as straightforward as we wish it were and that’s, I think, how God intends it, as it keeps us relying on and dependent on Him.
This issue hasn’t gone away for us, though we’re making some slow headway, and I don’t know when it will. God knows, and that suffices. In the meantime, here’s to the wisdom, humility, and enduring love we all need to raise up the children God’s entrusted to us.
Next Week’s Author: Jeanine Cook
Under our roof live four delightful children, all under the age of eight. Play, laughter, and antics are ours in abundance… and so too are squabbling, bickering, and mischief of varying sorts. Perhaps you can relate.
Strife between siblings, an inescapable facet of family life, is normal and something with which we moms quickly become experienced. But one particular strand of sibling conflict is newer to me, and it’s this: when older siblings deliberately manipulate or take advantage of younger siblings. The few years they have on their juniors can yield just enough savvy and sophistication to pull wool over the youngers’ eyes. And they do…. for a laugh, to pull off a trick, to escape blame, to gain something desired.
Some real life examples: an older brother bringing in the mail with a younger sister convinces her that a piece of junk mail is a special letter just for her from her grandmother. An older sibling encourages a younger to say an off-color sentence (not understood by the younger) for amusement. An older sister convinces a younger sister that the less-desirable component of a game is actually the more desirable – leaving the choice role open for herself.
This last one was my own forte as a child. One of my clearest memories is, as a five-year old, convincing my best friend that the really fun part of bubble-blowing was the popping part. Because, of course, there was only one bubbler-blower, and I wanted to be the one using it. We smile over this now, my friend and I, but it still shames me to remember it.
So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – and really, we all have to contend with the apple that fell from the original tree, the one Adam and Eve ate. Living in this fallen world means we all face the temptation to press our advantage with others when the opportunity arises. And we all fall at least some of the time. It stands to reason that children, still trying to figure out how the world works and how to make their way, will be especially prone to trying this kind of behavior on for size.
Sin is enjoyable, though, and habits form easily – which is why catching these things early on matters. A cute prank employed by a five-year old on his preschool sister won’t be so cute (or benign) when it’s become a malicious trick played by a ten-year old.
Here are some strategies I’ve been using as I begin navigating this terrain with my crew:
Be watchful for mean-spiritedness between siblings. Meanness happens at all ages, not just olders to youngers, and all of it requires correction, repentance, and training. But older children are more apt than younger children to utilize subtle or under-the-radar methods of selfishness or meanness (because they can), and these require closer observation by mom.
Keep the heart at the fore. Of course meanness demands correction, but it also demands heart examination and discussion. If a kid gets disciplined for taking advantage of her younger sibling but has no heart change, it seems much more likely to happen again. Heart-probing questions are perfect for scenarios like these, ones like: why did you behave that way to your sibling? Was it kind or mean? How would you feel if (insert the name of a friend) did that to you? How do you think God feels about it? This type of approach helps a child connect to her own conscience and more easily come to a place of real repentance. Too, it gives a chance to paint proactively pictures of what God calls us to when we are with the younger and/or weaker: love, nurture, caretaking.
Use the Proverbs as an anchor and a tool. When you start looking for verses about people taking advantage of other people, it’s surprising how many you can find, especially in the Proverbs. Usually they use terms like snare, deceit, oppress, wicked, and cruel – but it’s all the same thing. A seven-year old who’s intentionally tricking a four-year old is, in fact, using a form of oppression… Not as severe or dire, obviously, as the wealthy man who’s driving his tenant into slavery. But a form of oppression nonetheless. These are helpful concepts for a family to regularly be looking at together, so we can all recognize sin for what it is – and ourselves in it.
Proverbs 14:22 says, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.” Here’s to helping our children find the love and faithfulness that come with a life spent pursuing (with God’s help) the good.
Next Week’s Author: Jeanine Cook
What’s the temperature like at your house? Where do you keep your thermostat – a cozy 71, a cool 65? We live in southern California, moderate enough that this is more or less a non-issue. But in our native New England, the thermostat is a big deal – especially in the snowy winter and the hot summer.
No matter where you live, the emotional temperature of a household is an issue. This is nowhere more true, perhaps, than in homes where moms and young kids live. Some “climate” examples from my own home:
Stuffy warm. This is what it feels like when overall crankiness prevails and everyone’s getting under everyone else’s skin. Little fights are breaking out here and there between kids and an undertone of whining has set in. My own frustration or self-pity usually contributes to the scene on temperature-rising days.
Sweltering hot. These are the moments when I bubble over with frustration and yell at my kids. When the whining and bickering volume gets too high, my patience level can max out and I snap. When a mother erupts, her anger is like lava pouring down on her young kids – it’s volatile and searing. It’s never ok, and it always merits repentance, confession, and a serious change of pace or activity so the cool breeze of the Holy Spirit can blow in.
Chilly. Sometimes I treat my children civilly and appropriately, but I fail to love them. When I’m in productivity mode, there’s nothing cherishing or nurturing about my interactions with my kids. Our children need us to meet their needs, yes – tie their shoes and get food in their bellies. But more than that, they need our attention and affection. Lack of warmth erodes relationship.
Ice cold. Let’s face it: we moms can flat-out ignore our children. I think this is more true today, in an era of multi-tasking and ever-present digital distraction than it ever was. How often do our children repeat themselves three, four, five times before we – fingers to the keyboard or thumbs on the phone – even register that they’re talking to us? It happens, some days, to all of us.
Temperatures fluctuate – real ones outside, and mood ones in our homes. That’s life. But everyone know it feels best, physically and psychologically, to hang out in the moderate, temperate zones. No one likes to be too hot or too cold.
A few ideas to keep the emotional thermostat set to a comfortable space in your own house:
• Know and anticipate the temperaments of your children. As we study and learn our children and their dispositions, we can anticipate their reactions and be better prepared to head off storm clouds as they’re gathering (or to water soil that’s drying in the heat). Equally, know your own temperament and triggers.
• Be intentional and consistent about discipline. Effective discipline is both loving and effective in limiting wrong-spirited behavior. When discipline slackens in our house, volatile situations begin cropping up more frequently and things go haywire. I tend to become frustrated and reactive, contributing to the uncomfortable climate that’s brewing.
• Simplify your life and focus more on your kids. This is a huge one for me. Things go toward chilly and cold awfully quickly when my life is over-full, and my family starts to feel like one more project on my ‘management’ list.
• Have some go-to “temperature-adjustment” plans at the ready. Hot chocolate or a seat by the fire are great warmers on cold days, just like popsicles or the sprinkler help on hot ones. What are the emotional equivalents we can have at the ready on the home front when we need them? Nothing fancy – just baking muffins; a library outing; a walk around the block. These might be all it takes to bring the climate back to comfortable for you and your kids.
It’s worth remembering that the goal in life (emotionally as physically) isn’t to be comfortable – sitting in climate-controlled homes to avoid whatever taxing elements are outside. The goal is to be like Jesus. We want our households to be so centered on Him, so fueled by His actual presence and connected to His tangible grace, that His warmth abounds. His is the climate of true Life, and it’s the one we’re after.
Next week’s Author: Jeanine Cook
Chores and character for children
Every night it was the same exhausting song and dance. I’d stand over them, half-dressed and goofing off, and chide them to finish getting ready for bed. They’d maybe get a bit further with donning their PJ’s (or not) – and them, same thing. I’d be prodding them again toward teeth-brushing and the rest of the rigamarole. Oh, they got it all right, my 4- and 6-year olds. They knew what to do, how to do it, that they need to get it done. They were just unmotivated, inefficient, forgetful.
Beyond the repetition, my annoyance stemmed from hands full with the two babies (2 months and 2 years), the ones who really couldn’t do it by themselves. And my grace and patience had inevitably waned thin by 6:45 as we’d enact the nightly ritual.
The old saying, “God helps those who help themselves” isn’t the Bible, and it isn’t (in many ways) true. God’s pretty much all about helping us, we who literally can’t (because of sin and its effects) help ourselves. He’s the strong, capable, willing Helper of all who come to him and ask. That’s why Jesus came and died.
But even so, we are supposed to honor God with our lives and work, doing our best with the life He gave us. Be diligent. Steward our gifts and talents. “Carry our own load” in our daily tasks as we walk through life. We’re to work wholeheartedly as if we were doing it for God Himself. And the way I see it, the earlier and more thoroughly everyone learns these lessons, the better.
I love this Proverb, which boils the concept of hard work to the thumbnailversion: “Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism.” (18:9, The Message)
That kind of gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? Imagine how upset you’d be if you found out your kid was responsible for a huge, hideous swath of graffiti on the local highway bridge. No run-of-the-mill misbehavior there – vandalism’s kind of a big one. And here’s the writer of Proverbs saying that laziness and a poor work ethic are just as serious as that kind of activity.
Bottom line: an industrious spirit is important – for us and for our families. And instilling good work habits in our children matters. It’s no use pushing it off, making excuses for them because of their age, or doing the work yourself because it goes faster and gets done better that way (which it does). Another proverb says that “diligent hands will rule,” and if we want those hands to be our kids’, we have to do the work of cultivating that diligence as they grow.
When I stepped back from the inefficient-evening-routine we’d fallen into, it was pretty obvious that we had a boundaries problem where I was bearing the consequences of my children’s poor work habits instead of them. That needed to change. I was failing them by not holding them to a high enough standard of work. This failure was hurting both them and myself – them by allowing sloppy work (and the character problems Proverbs implies), and me because of the frustration and lost time it caused me.
There are probably a hundred tools out there a mom can choose from to facilitate chores and daily tasks for kids, if she’s ready to make a change (as I was). I picked the Accountable Kids program, with which I’ve been pretty happy; today we’re gobs better about evening routine, and chores in general, that we used to be. The specific program is less important than the motivation and the consistency to implement it. Because the point isn’t bootcamp or a graceless, rigid environment – we’re not talking child labor here. We’re talking helpful children regularly performing age-appropriate tasks they know how to do. The point is a teamwork atmosphere where everyone – parents and kids alike – internalize the reality that family members are responsible for attending to their own tasks; that we each carry our own load. And ultimately (and this part requires more time, likely years, to really get) we do so willingly, to the glory of Jesus and for His honor.
So here’s to the opposite of “slack habits and sloppy work” in your household and in mine!
Next Week’s Author: Jeanine Cook
I was feeding my two-month old daughter in the doctor’s waiting room with my three other young kids in tow when a woman with six children sat down to chat. Kind-spirited, she seemed on a mission to encourage me, saying how well she remembered the challenges of the early years. I surmised by the Bible verse memory flashcards one girl held that they were believers. As they walked out, the littlest girls picked up the flashcards her sister had forgotten, and her mother said encouragingly: “Sweetheart! You did a kindness for your sister, without even being asked!” The little girl beamed.
That exchange stuck with me. I loved that the woman noticed the act so readily, referred to the favor as “a kindness,” and so intentionally celebrated her daughter for it. My kids squabble and bicker regularly, and I could stand to address this dynamic with more front-end proactivity and less back-end reactivity and correction. The doctor’s-office family thought about kindness, talked about kindness, and reinforced kindness when they saw it; they made me want to be that intentional about recognizing kindness.
So we made and prominently posted a kindness chart on a big piece of butcher block paper. It was basic and un-fancy: the word “Kindness” across the top in colored-in block letters with a short Bible verse about kindness beneath it [“God our Father is kind; you be kind,” Luke 6:36, the Message.] Every night at dinner the kids told us one kind thing they did that day, or one kind thing a sibling did for them, and up it went on the chart. When the whole chart was full of kindnesses, we’d read them all aloud and have a kindness celebration.
The chart’s presence and our evening practice injected the concept of kindness into the conversation where I never would have used it before. “Can you do a kindness for me and pick up that bib?” I’d ask my daughter. Or if my son is clearing the table while his sister’s in the bathroom: “Why don’t you clear all of the dishes as a kindness for your sister?” The acts weren’t entirely selfless since the recognition provided by the chart was a big motivator, but it was great as an initial motivator. It practically displayed the fact that performing kindness feels good and is a choice we intentionally make. A praiseworthy choice. A Christ-like choice. Talking about these kindness and noticing individual acts sets the tone that I – and of course God! – want in my home.
Two months in, we held the long-awaited “Kindness Celebration.” The kids were beyond ecstatic, having asked about it for days — “Is the paper full? Can we have our Kindness Celebration now?”
The format was simple. Here’s what we did:
–Spent dinner talking about what kind of sundaes everyone was going to have. In between, read the first half of the items on the list, praising the kindness of the do-er in each case.
-Reviewed our kindness Bible verse: “God our Father is kind; you be kind!” (Luke 6:35, The Message)
-Announced the pending Kindness Celebration, suggesting homemade ice cream sundaes.
–Read the second half of the items on the Kindness Chart aloud, again praising the kindnesses shown.
-Went to the store, bring the ingredients home, and make the sundaes
–Allowed each child to share which kindness documented on the list s/he most enjoyed doing and which s/he most enjoyed receiving. Finish by having everyone at the table recite the Bible verse together.
It was almost startling to see how exuberant the children were about the party and every little aspect of it. They adored it. And when we read the recorded kindness that they’d done, they both beamed in turn. And beamed again. And again. Our son, almost 6, actually said at one point: “It made me feel so good when you read that!”
We all know that positive reinforcement is important, and that it takes seven spoken praises to balance out on spoken criticism. But this exercise was an amazing opportunity to remember and specifically call out right actions performed by our children and actually celebrate them. To encourage the good and selfless moments that take place in sibling interactions, even if they seem rare. It was a chance to reinforce the good my husband and I see in our children, and to make a big deal about it. It was a perfect example of the kind of “building others up” that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:29. Our kids were very built up by our little party and its events. And they got to experience how good it can feel to be kind – both in the service and in its remembering.