If you are reading this, you probably want your kids to know how much you love them. And you probably tell them often that you do. But effectively communicating love is not always so simple. How can we be sure that what we mean as love is received as love? It can take insight, determination and creativity to communicate love messages in ways children can’t miss them.
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.”
Sometimes it takes a while for parents to change in ways that lead to deeper respect from their kids. Sometimes it can happen fast. When Dan attended our weekend workshop he saw an immediate change by practicing what we call a “do-over.” Here’s his report:
An hour before we left for your seminar I was getting ready to go. Our 12-year-old son Will was sitting on the steps. He asked why we needed to go to the seminar. I explained that his mom and I were going so we could learn to control some of the chaos in our household. His reply was, “If you think that’s going to work, you’re retarded!”
We often see a common parenting cycle when kids are prone to anxiety.
In short, it goes like this:
- Child feels anxious
- Worried, but well-meaning parent “encourages” the child toward to overcome the anxiety by pushing the child
- The child gets more anxious and withdraws, or has a meltdown in order to feel in control
- The child feels more ashamed and anxiety builds
- Parents feel scared about the future and the anxious (and usually very emotionally sensitive) child picks up on this and grows even more anxious
- Repeat at increasingly higher intensity
This cycle might be about homework, new experiences, social situations, or any number of challenges.
We received this story from “Shelly”, who was able to communicate love in misbehavior and saw it bear fruit with her 8 year-old-son…
This morning my son Garrett was getting into his grumpy, yelling, the-world-is-against-me mode. I asked him, “It seems like you’re not feeling very loved right now. Is that what you are trying to communicate to me?” He yelled, “YES!”
I said, “I am messing up if I’m communicating I don’t love you – because what I want to say is that I love both you AND your brother in the midst of your hard time. Can you tell me how I could better communicate love to you?” He said he’d think about it. He returned later in a better frame of mind, and told me that it was just his own discouragement and nothing I was doing.
If Shelly had tried to get Garrett to see that his attitude was the problem, he probably would have resisted and accused her back. It was her “kindness that lead him toward repentance” (Romans 2:4). No longer was he unfairly venting his discouragement by yelling at his family, but he was insightful and honest about his feelings (something many adults don’t accomplish).
So the next time your child is struggling, how could you connect in a way that expresses unconditional love, or ask what your child needs in order to to be reminded of your love?
Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook When Your Child Misbehaves – Four Strategies for Lasting Change.
Asking sincere questions, even with small kids, is a great way to build wisdom. Here’s a story a mom emailed to us that shows the difference between making demands and asking questions.
We were getting ready to leave the house, and I told Matthew it was time to go potty before we head out the door. He began to protest, whine big-time, and even throw himself on the floor. I told him again that it was time to go potty, and the same thing happened. Clearly this wasn’t going anywhere, so I stepped back to assess what was happening. I knew there must be a better way to handle this. I remembered the Connected Families principle about how important it is to teach wisdom rather than just give commands. So I tried again. Our conversation went something like this:
Julia was a spitfire. When she was a tyke, she was ready to take the world by storm. All who knew her mom, Maggie, knew of this little one’s intensity. Creativity, exuberance, a ferocious snuggle instinct, and excellent vocabulary were sometimes difficult to enjoy amidst defiance, meltdowns, sleep issues, and definitely a plan for how she wanted to run the family, even as a pre-schooler.
Maggie wrote, “Julia, you are a little firecracker. You know what you want and how you want it done, and have always been able to communicate that.” Maggie, also a horse trainer, carefully navigated how to train this feisty “filly” in a way that captured her heart and didn’t break her spirit. It wasn’t always easy, to be sure.
Anna Braasch, Connected Families Executive Director has brought a much needed perspective of parenting adopted kids to our team. Formulaic parenting sounds good, but as Anna discovered, didn’t work with her kids.
We adopted our first child from Ethiopia when he was 4 months old. It was pure love.
When he was just over two we adopted again, this time a sweet little 9-month-old girl. We didn’t realize our son’s attachment to us was so fragile. As the arrival of another family member rocked his world, he began fighting for his life and for his place in our family.
For several years we continued to implement many traditional parenting and discipline techniques. We like formulas. You follow the steps — one, two, three — and you get the desired result. Many of these formulas promised if we followed these certain steps, we would have a transformed child and a transformed family.
They didn’t work. In fact, they backfired.
Today’s post is written as part of “Give to the Max Day,” a large scale effort to call attention to the TONS of great causes and to inspire giving. We’d be honored if you’d add or again include Connected Families in your charitable giving portfolio. Click here to go right to the giving page. Or, read the story of transformation that follows, and visit the donation links below.
Five-year-old Selah and her parents, Scott and Kari
“I wasn’t safe! I need to go to my room to think about this,” exclaimed five-year-old Selah after hitting her infant brother Caleb. It seemed almost miraculous that she would say such a thing. Adding to the beauty of the scene, by the time her parents Scott and Kari went to her to talk about it, she had a plan to ask for forgiveness and make things right. Who’da thunk it? A feisty five-year-old child, internally motivated to remove herself when misbehaving and reconcile well. Think of how this will play out as she grows older.
Ed was trying to be patient and thoughtful, but he was at the end of his rope. Instead of helping him fix dinner, his two daughters were upstairs arguing loudly and disrespectfully. As he listened he thought to himself, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. That’s the last straw!”
Seconds later the inevitable happened: screams cascaded down the steps and into the kitchen as the older sister innocently appeared for her table-setting duty. With loud voice and popping veins Ed erupted. “Are you happy now? Your sister is crying! Did you get what you wanted?”
As Ed retold the story he looked discouraged. He’d been working on asking constructive questions and empowering his kids to solve their own problems. Technically, he asked a couple of questions, but we can immediately recognize the intent was not to discover new information or empower his daughter. “I was angry and I knew I wanted to ask some questions,” he said sadly, “but those were the only ones that came to my mind.”
I said, “That is awesome!”