From Self-Hatred to Full of Grace with One Small Parenting Change

This week we’re excited to share with you the story of Kyle*, a child who has struggled with perfectionism and explosive anger, and his mom, Brenda. After reading our the 1st edition of Discipline That Connects, and considering how she might approach Kyle’s behavioral challenges differently than in the past, Brenda decided to make a change in her discipline. Brenda was able to more effectively teach about grace and good behavior by looking at Kyle’s strengths–in the midst of his weaknesses.  We were blessed to hear her amazing solution — and we know you will be, too!

From Self-Hatred to Full of Grace

Our son Kyle was an intense perfectionist – hard on himself and others. His big emotions would erupt in strong, hurtful, or colorful words. After such an explosion Kyle would be engulfed by a tsunami of remorse and shame. “I’m a bad kid! Nobody will ever like me. I’m going to hell because that’s where bad people go!” If we tried to console him by contradicting this terrible self-hatred he would yell “Shut up!!” and run to his room.

“All the Other Discipline Methods Weren’t Working”

Our confrontation and discipline was totally ineffective. I had read many parenting books, including numerous ones on strong-willed children. The ideas either didn’t resonate with the kind of parent I wanted to be, or didn’t help when I tried them. I felt desperate.

When I read Discipline that Connects with Your Child’s Heart, the concept that struck a chord was identifying my son’s “gift-gone-awry” in the midst of his misbehavior – God’s workmanship in him coming out twisted by sin (Eph 2:10). My husband was skeptical of this new idea, and so was I a bit at first, but I prayed and dove in. I thought about Kyle’s intense, colorful tirades and realized they were a reflection of his love of words, curiosity about the meaning of words, and a large vocabulary. I determined to get down on his level as Jesus did for us, and call that good gift out when he struggled.

“I Got Down on His Level”

At his next hurtful verbal explosion I set aside the old resentful recording in my head, “Here we go again…” Instead, I got down on my knees, looked deeply into his troubled eyes, and gently said, “Kyle, you’re really angry right now. Your strong words come from a gift of a big vocabulary. I believe it’s a good gift God has given you. Let’s work together to figure out how to use that awesome vocabulary in a more honoring way.” He didn’t expect to be treated with that kind of grace and love in such a very difficult moment. Both of our souls melted in tears into God’s rich pool of grace. His discouraged heart soaked up this outpouring of love when he most needed it, and I thought, “Wow, this is safe. We’re gonna do this differently than we’ve done it in the past.”

“We Learned as a Family How To Deal With Anger”

We all began to grow in an identity as a family of learners: “You’re so great at learning and we’re all learning here together.” We helped Kyle learn that when he is mad he can angrily and loudly say:

  • “I’m so mad! I’m gonna go take a break.”
  • “I have some really strong feelings that I don’t know what to do with.”

We were careful to model those kind of statements ourselves, and sure enough, he began to use his words in wiser ways.

“We Thought About How Our Actions Affected Others”

We talked about how wonderful it is to use words to honor and build up. We learned and discussed 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Now most of the time after tempers have escalated, we walk away feeling really good about the way we handled it, and he feels good about who God made him to be. Now instead of “I’m a bad boy,” we are more likely to hear statements like:

  • This is really hard and I’m feeling nervous about it, but I’m gonna give it a shot.
  • Even if I make a mistake I’m probably gonna learn something from it.
  • I had a strong feeling but I showed some self-control.
  • I can try.
  • I did my best.

Kyle even told his teacher what an expansive vocabulary he has!

That first tear-filled breakthrough may have been one of the best moments ever. In other difficult moments I remember how that felt, and it draws me toward the same kind of response. I step back, pause, and think, “Even though right now I would rather yell to get compliance, how do I want to feel about this in 15 minutes? And how do I want my child to feel about it in 15 minutes?”

angry self-hatred child to grace pin
Photo Credit: _Ella_ iStockphoto.com

“As Parents, We Are Learning About Grace, Too”

One night recently we had a rough night and I slipped into some old habits. As I tucked each kiddo into bed, I hugged them and told them I was sorry for being short tempered and demanding. Kyle’s reaction brought me to tears. He sat up in his bed and hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. “You know what the best gift is, Mom? It’s grace. I forgive you.” What a change, from a boy predicting his future in hell to dispensing grace and forgiveness!

It’s not perfect and we’re still learning, but after all the searching and struggling I have come home to peace-filled parenting: To truly love my children in their most vulnerable moments, to still see the good in them, and then guide them into how to use it well. This is parenting that resonates with your heart for your child and the kind of person you want to be!

Apply It Now:

  • What stands out to you in this story as something that fits the kind of parent you want to be, and how could you apply it to your kids?

P.S. These names have been changed. As with all our stories, we only use real names with permission.

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