Two-year-old Sam asked for milk while waiting for breakfast. His mom, Rebekah, was happy to oblige and poured him a small cup. Sam was at a curious, exploratory stage of life. He didn’t want the milk so much for drinking, but for a little science experiment about liquids and gravity. So he poured it all out. Onto himself.
Knowing when to stand firm as a parent and when to extend mercy can be a difficult challenge, and can leave your kids feeling confused about your authority.
Have you heard yourself say these things?
…That is not ok, do you understand me? How many times do I have to tell you?
The rough-looking teen’s tough veneer had softened. I detected tears in his eyes.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me.”
Just minutes before, I met this teen in a line at our local amusement park. After a brief conversation, I dug a little deeper and asked Jared what he was good at. “Are you kidding?” He seemed angry. “Look at me.” Violent tattoos, tattered dark clothes, a defiant countenance and multiple piercings on his ears, nose, eyebrows and lips were suggestive of a hard life.
Could it be that one of the main reasons Jesus is so appealing to us, a reason we want to follow him, is that we see throughout scripture that he “gets” people?
He knows us. He understands us. He meets us where we are. Hebrews 4:15 essentially tells us that we have a high priest (Jesus) who empathizes with our every weakness. Following in Jesus’ example, we represent his character to our kids when we empathize with them in their weaknesses.
Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. Our oldest son Daniel, sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully right. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
A friend of ours said, “I am so competent at work and with friends. I’m on my game almost all the time. But when my kids act up, it’s like I lose the ‘real me!’ I become someone I don’t know or like.” Virtually every parent we’ve talked with in any depth admits, “I don’t like the ‘me’ that comes out when I discipline my kids.”
We still remember our early days of feeling stuck in our parenting challenges, unhealthy dynamics, and hurtful habits. So we’re passionate to help all parents who feel that same way! As you think about making for a better future, we want to help you with three principles adapted from a research based book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.
1. Launch from your successes!
Trying to “fix” your failures can cause discouragement that makes change difficult. Focusing on what goes well in your home is a great way to start positive change because you are building on a skill you already know. Looking back on the past, ask yourself these questions:
Disciplining our kids is usually the most frustrating, confusing part of parenting. The stakes are high, because what kids learn when they are disciplined will last a lifetime. In our work with parents, we have seen that well-intentioned efforts often miss kids’ hearts as parents struggle to figure out, “What is ‘biblical discipline,’ and how do I do it?”
As parents tackle this issue, we have found it extremely valuable to shift our focus from a few controversial proof texts to consider a broader view of biblical instruction on this matter. We’ve found it helpful to ask two questions in particular:
How did God the Father discipline key Old Testament saints that clearly had a “father-child” relationship with him?
What do we learn from Jesus’s response to struggling sinners?
There are challenging kids, and there are “over-the-top” challenging kids. Research suggests that around 15% of all children are considered highly sensitive. What does this mean for parents of kids who exhibit these characteristics? More importantly, what kinds of behaviors classify as highly sensitive? Knowing that your child may be more sensitive than most need not be overly burdensome, there are many strategies for helping highly sensitive children thrive. Are any of the following comments true about your child? If so, read on to discover positive ways to help your child celebrate their uniqueness and succeed.
Does this sound like your child?
“Dressing is always an ordeal for my daughter. No tags, and sometimes no socks, because the seams drive her crazy.”
“My teen has never been a touchy kid. It used to be tough to get him to slow down for a hug, but now he even pulls away and acts like I’ve violated his space.”
“My child is such a picky eater. I feel like I’m always special order cooking from the ‘brown and white’ food group.”
“My son just can’t sit still – he’s always squirming and wiggling. It’s almost impossible to get him to slow down, look me in the eye and really listen.”
“My daughter’s mood swings are extreme and sometimes very sudden. The littlest things can set her off. Talk about intense! Her meltdowns wear me out.”
“My child is easily over-stimulated. Large groups of kids, crowded places or busy stores are usually a prescription for trouble.”
These comments are from parents who have one thing in common: highly sensitive children! These kids are easily overwhelmed by intense or aversive sensations from their body or their surroundings. They are almost always kids with highly sensitive nervous systems, and their challenging behavior is about much more than defiance or disobedience.