Many discouraged parents have asked us this question: How should we respond to our child who doubts the reality of God?
When children suggest “there is no God” it’s natural for parents to immediately try to convince them otherwise. It’s a good intention, but one that often deepens the chasm between kids’ doubts and their movement toward God. If this is your reality, understand that there is probably little you can say, (because they’ve probably heard all the arguments before) but much that you can DO to make it safe for your kids to struggle back toward Jesus when they have doubts.
I remember like yesterday walking in the door after work to what I believed were out-of-control children in my wife’s care. She’d lean into me for help and I’d quickly get the kids in line. “Why can’t Lynne get this?” I’d wonder.
Over time, however, I started seeing things a bit differently. As my kids grew older my seeming ability to quickly control them began to waver, and particularly my daughter seemed less interested in being alone with me.
I grew in my understanding about what had been going on all these years on the day my daughter rushed to her mother in tears because I had “yelled” at her. In my mind I had not even raised my voice, but was just getting firm in order to get her to behave.
Two things happened that day that helped reshape my thinking.
Rick was feeling impatient with the way his wife was dealing with their children’s misbehavior.
He shared his thoughts with me during a recent conversation: “I’ve always been the kind of dad that likes to get things done efficiently. When I’d come home and see my wife in seemingly endless conversations with the kids about cleaning up messes or how to treat each other, I’d step in and take over because I figured sometimes these kids just need to know what’s what and who the parent is. The kids would comply and we’d get on with life. At the time I thought my wife was taking way too much time to do what should be quick and pretty easy.”
Since Rick was talking as if that was the way it once was, I asked him what had changed. Here’s what Rick said:
Parents sometimes feel like hostages to the intense demands of their children, intimidated into submission with the threat of “the big gun” – a deafening meltdown. One of our online course participants asked for help:
Our 3 1/2 year old son often wants a specific plate or cup. So if we set him up with one that he doesn’t like, he can be very vocal about it. Sometimes our initial reaction is something like “It doesn’t matter if you have the blue cup or the orange cup. Why can’t you be flexible & move on?!?! Get over it!” But perhaps he wants to exercise his choice & preference.
When kids melt down, we often counsel parents to respond with empathy. When you truly understand your struggling child, it strongly communicates the essential message, “You are loved no matter what!” Often, communicating empathy in the midst of misbehavior takes the wind out of kids’ sails of defiance or anger.
But occasionally we have parents say, “It didn’t work!” Reading between the lines, this can be translated, “I empathized and said what I thought my child was feeling, and nothing changed. I didn’t get the behavior I was looking for.”
How do I get my 7-year-old son to stop talking back to everything we say? He is always right and we are always wrong! … We try discipline, taking away some of his toys, etc. but nothing seems to work. Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated!
Parents get justifiably exasperated with incessant backtalk, but the typical reflexive response — punishing backtalk — is like putting fertilizer on it.
Deep inside most parents is a strong urge to control their children. It may seem beneficial or even “work” for a few years, but there are diminishing returns if the goal of control is not given up significantly by the teen years (probably earlier than that).
When we take control of our kids’ lives we often end up making decisions for them that they are capable of making on their own. But maybe even worse, when we take control away from our kids we deprive them of learning that they are capable of making choices and living with the consequences whether positive, negative, or neutral. When we micromanage our kids’ lives they learn that we are responsible for their life, not them.
The great thing about yelling is that it helps a parent unload a lot of frustration and for the moment feel a sense of control. The bad part is – that moment is short-lived. Whatever damage was done in the brief outburst (or in some cases the extended outburst) tends, in the hours and days to follow, to increase the problem the yelling addressed and add resentment to the relationship in which the yelling occurred.
I just read another decent parenting book by a well-known author. It’s got some good ideas in it about how to manage kids’ misbehavior. But like so many of the parenting books I read, it is laced with what I think is a subtle but huge parenting mistake: Arrogance.