“No, YOU’RE dumb!”
“Well, you’re a loser!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“You’re a butthead!”
Name-calling between children is a challenge for many families. Once kids get on a roll of slinging names back and forth it can seem like an express train to a sibling meltdown. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can help your kids turn their angry words into an opportunity to connect and build even stronger relationships.
When our child gets teased, battered and bullied by another child’s hurtful words, we parents are inclined to step in and fix it by saying things like, “Oh honey, that’s not true.” Or, “You don’t deserve that.” Or maybe we’ll criticize the aggressor (especially if that aggressor is an older sibling). Quick fix responses like this may settle things down in the short-term, but keep parents in the role of managing all the difficult emotions instead of empowering their kids. This article will teach you how to equip your kids to filter through what others say to them and respond wisely instead of cover their hurt feelings with anger.
We’ve coached many parents how to equip their kids with wisdom to assess the value of what others say to them. You too can help your children learn to place the things others say to them in one of three categories: Trash, Truth and Treasure.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately. You see, Lynne and I have this amazing opportunity to speak to groups of parents all over the country. Most of these workshops, however, are filled with a majority of moms. We love connecting and encouraging moms!
To be honest, though, I’m often nervous about the conversation that happens after these events. I can just imagine the dad on the receiving end feeling like he is being dumped on with new-found parenting wisdom. I also know that sometimes things get lost in translation. I find myself wishing that I could be talking to the dad too.
With that in mind, I sat down to record an overview of our parenting framework, thinking specifically of dads. These are ideas that Lynne and I developed over decades of working with families, and ideas I wish I knew better when I was a young dad.
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.
Over the years, Lynne and I have worked with many families who struggle with the same issues. Time and again, we see how a change in perspective can transform a parent-child relationship from one of tension to one filled with grace. When it comes to school, grades and performance, there is often a minefield of conflict over expectations. Parents often believe that they need to create change in their child to see improvement in work ethic and performance when it comes to grades. The truth is, change best starts with the parent.
Read on to learn how one mother and daughter set aside conflict and embraced grace for homework success without nagging:
Misty anxiously told me about her seventh grade daughter, Greta.
“Her grades are tanking! She’s sassy and defiant most of the time! I know she is capable of so much more, but she won’t dig in and live up to her potential. I check her grades every day. I’ve withheld privileges, created charts, offered rewards, and constantly reminded her. But it keeps getting worse. Our fights get louder by the day!”
When you’re constantly fighting with kids who don’t live up to their potential, we suggest a new approach, a new fight: the fight of faith to walk in the “fruit of the spirit.”
We are a big deal. Our kids look up to us in a unique way. They need our affirmation and approval. Statistics show that kids who get a father’s love tend to soar well into the world, and those who don’t tend to struggle. Consider that. Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks so specifically to fathers. (see Col. 3:21, Ephesians 6:4, Prov. 20:7)
My own dad had no idea what a big deal he was. He thought our mom was the cat’s pajamas when it came to parenting (and she was pretty awesome), so he left her to take care of most of the affirmation and approval stuff. He did typical dad things: we fished, golfed, watched football and laughed together some. Yet, Dad wasn’t one to put constructive words to his feelings. His silence left me wondering. Even though he loved and cared for me deeply, I came to believe that in Dad’s eyes I was a disappointment; that he didn’t love me. I made a lot of destructive choices in my teen years perhaps because I was looking for a reassurance of my father’s love.
Thomas Edison often tops the list of the world’s greatest inventors.
We have him to thank for (among other things) the phonograph, the first motion picture camera, and the lightbulb, about which he famously said of his many failed prototypes, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
But we’re interested in a less famous quote of his: “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”
You see, as a child, “Tom” Edison was seen as a difficult child with a learning disability (dyslexia). His strict teachers didn’t understand why he couldn’t memorize and recite his lessons like the other children, and referred to young Tom as “addled” — a catch-all term at the time to mean that he was mentally incapable. This caused Tom to storm out of class one day, heading home to his mother.
A mom of three kids ages 10 to 14 emailed me this story this week:
A friend once told me she worked to greet her children with enthusiasm, even if they had just come into the kitchen from the living room. I thought that might be a helpful way for me to consciously verbalize my enthusiasm for my kids, and so I began doing that a couple of years ago. “Hi, Sweetie! How’s that homework going?” “Welcome home from school!” “Hi, Hon! I saw you reading your new book in the family room. How is it so far?”
The funny thing is, the kids have all begun to do that with each other, even imitating my tone—and I don’t think they’re aware of it! When one of them leaves the house, the others jump up to hug them and to say, “Have fun! I love you!”
It is yet another reminder to me of the opportunity we have to set the tone for our home and how much it impacts our kids and their relationships, in ways we can’t possibly foresee.
Apply It Now:
- If you could be a fly on the wall watching your interactions with your kids throughout the week, how would you describe the tone in your house? What kind of tone do you want to be setting?
- What are some ways you could take advantage of the opportunity to set the tone for your home by “verbalizing your enthusiasm”? Brainstorm some phrases that you might say. (And feel free to share in the comments!)
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“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute – if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise – let your mind dwell on these things” (Philippians 4: 8, NASB).
Ricky had just been suspended from school for threatening his teachers – an unusual thing for a fourth grader. I was enlisted to help him and his parents learn new skills for coping with his anger. During our first meeting I asked Ricky, “What are some things you’re good at?” He shrugged, unable to give an answer. I probed further, “What are some good things the adults in your life might say about you?” Ricky about hit the roof!
When connecting with our kids is a struggle, sometimes it can feel like we have to “just try harder.” But if we’re really stuck, “just trying harder” doesn’t cut it.
What “just trying harder” can miss is that at the root of a struggle to connect can be a host of other issues.
Pretending that all is well will only perpetuate these troubles. In order to make real progress, we need to stop “trying harder” and look under the surface to address the real roadblocks — whether discouragement, exhaustion, awkwardness, disappointment and resentment, or even my own feelings of disconnection.
We’ve written about some of these issues, but the important thing to remember is that whatever barriers to connection you’re wrestling with, the starting place is honesty with God and with a few trusted people who will encourage and pray for you.
Once I’ve been “brutally honest” about the situation, there are practical ways that I can build my Foundation for the joy of Connection with my children. Here are a few.