This following scene has played out hundreds of times in our house between me and my son. We know the scripts and we play the parts well. Too well.
A typical scene opens on my 9-year-old son, who is outside playing with his neighborhood friends, making up fantastic make-believe games or throwing the football or shooting hoops. I love our neighborhood and I love that he has the freedom to be a kid. This is what I want for him! It’s a 9-year-old’s dream come true.
I call him inside to do something responsible like eat a meal, get ready for practice, do homework, take a shower. He explodes and tells me I’ve ruined his life.
The way parents deal with anger often gives kids the impression that anger is always bad. Unfortunately, as kids grow up learning that anger is bad, if they aren’t equipped with ways of dealing with their anger, they tend to do one of two things. They either develop the habit of fighting for the sake of gaining control or they build a habit of “fleeing” (avoiding conflict and stuffing feelings) in order to escape the pain of conflict. Psychologists call this “fight or flight.”
Habitual fighters somehow believe there is significance gained in the fight for power and control. They become overtly angry and aggressive about too many things. They react quickly and unreasonably to the things that anger them. Almost every child’s first expressions of anger are some form of fighting. But if kids regularly get sternly confronted or angrily punished for these expressions, they quickly learn from their parents’ example that anger is a weapon. They either keep fighting harder in order to win, or they learn to flee because they know they can’t win.
Kids who flee get quiet. They get sad. They withdraw into worlds of their own and do little if anything to let us know they’re angry. The most troubling thing when kids “take flight” is that at first glance they don’t seem angry. They are often compliant to our requests. They don’t like the requests, or the feel of being controlled, but they don’t have the will or energy to fight. So they give in and coast along. But there is a limit to how much anger they can hold in. So they have to express it somehow.
Every parent fails to deal perfectly with every parenting situation.
In other words, we all screw up sometimes!
Along the way we’ve discovered that what’s far more important than handling every parenting situation perfectly is to regroup, and resolve well. For it’s in resolving well that parents and children best learn and grow from their mistakes. Here’s a true story of resolving:
We’ve worked with many bullied kids, and with just as many who did the bullying. They were often the same person. During National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we wrote a series of reflections and tips that we’ve found helpful in parents’ efforts to curb bullying in their homes and in the world around them. We think they will help kids and adults year round!
What if we viewed bullying the way Jesus the Christ viewed the aggressive pursuits of Saul the Pharisee? In the story, Jesus’ followers have been viciously ‘bullied’ by Saul. But instead of going after him with the penal code, Jesus is moved by love to go to Saul – with compassion and vision. Jesus recruits Saul to use his talents for good, for the proclaiming of the Gospel Saul had so vehemently bullied. Saul was so impacted by Jesus’ approach to the bullying that he changed his name to Paul, and became a zealot of Grace. Paul never bullied God’s son again!
What if, instead of defending and seeking “justice” when our kids get bullied, we helped our kids by offering a compassionate response to those who bully them? When our son got bullied, I asked him what he thought the other boy’s life was like. He said the boy plays video games all day long, his mom smokes and yells, and his dad never plays with him. So I called the boy’s dad and invited him down for a friendly game of father/son football. The boy was on my team and my son paired with the other dad. I did everything I knew how to do to affirm everyone and worked especially hard to encourage the boy who bullied. He never bullied my son again.
These are not absolute answers. But we cannot help but wonder — what if?
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Over the past few weeks we learned how effective natural impacts and logical consequences help children learn to make better choices. Today we conclude with Part 3 of our series on Consequences That Actually Work!
With a strong focus on relationships, “restitution consequences” are a type of logical consequence administered when a child has mistreated someone. The goal is to find ways to help the offender “right the wrongs” while restoring the victim and the relationship. The message to the child is: “Your relationships are valuable. When you mess them up, it’s important to do your best to reconnect.”
For example, when our oldest son would get rough or aggressive with our daughter, we encouraged him to comfort her with kindness after hurting her. This oriented him immediately toward her, and her toward him.
Restitution consequences are radically different from traditional “punishments.” Punishing the offender usually breeds resentment and therefore more and craftier aggression toward the unpunished child. Restitution consequences encourage personal responsibility and usually end with one child feeling cared for and the other feeling caring.