Greetings! As the Summer unfolds kids are wrapping up activities and getting ready to go back to school. I am saddened by the news this past month: A 19 year old mass shooter snuffed out the life of several people including some children then was shot down by authorities. This was only the first in a string of similar incidences. The kids in my own neighborhood scream and yell at one another, and even in our churches, parents are frustrated with their kids, scolding and chiding without much success of compliance. Something is amiss!
I would like to bring more positive news that there are parents and kids enjoying life together. Many folks are making a difference in their communities, people are enjoying intergenerational activities and I know many families who are successful at engaging with their kids, connecting with joy and effectively helping their kids grow, manage emotions and become caring and kind people. There is still hope that we can bring the Love of Jesus into our homes, our communities and the World.
This second lesson in a series of 4 lessons on Parenting with Connection and Confidence will focus on THE CHILD. I hope you will enjoy these thoughts and suggestions. I especially hope that some idea or practical application will bring more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to you and your kids.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Jesus of Nazereth (from Matt.19:14, NIV)
Like Jesus,--well, somewhat like Jesus—I prefer to start with an invitation and connection when it comes to engaging with children. Many parenting resources focus on discipline methods, which are surely needed to help guide and correct the child-person, but that is not the best place to begin. Here are the 3 areas that I will highlight in this lesson on the Child.
Regard- I SEE You and I LIKE You!
Respect- Your child is a Person, separate from you.
Redemption- Children also need redemption.
Regard- “to look attentively at; consideration; concern; respect and affection; to involve” Webster’s New World Dictionary. The first brain skill that children will develop is connection with the primary caregiver. It is said that an infant will interpret two main emotions: Joy and Disgust. The question each little person—and perhaps we do too—ask is, “are they happy to see me or disgusted to be in my presence?” The babies and children that get huge doses of, “I am delighted to be with you!” tend to be more secure and settled. Children who are consistently greeted with disgust, despair or indifference, tend to be more agitated and difficult to settle. With more studies about brain development and function we see that high regard connection with people who love us helps the brain develop, and even have profound effects on physical, mental and relational health. Dr. Jim Burns, at HomeWord ministries provides a practical reminder on how to approach our relationship with our children using the acronym: *AWE! Affection, Warmth and Encouragement. This is the mindset that helps a child grow into a healthy loving person. Perhaps this is the best way to approach all of our relationships!
Respect- The second principal in connecting with your child whether infant, child, teen or adult is R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Sing the song out loud! Your child is a separate person from you. Webster’s defines respect as: To feel or show honor or esteem for; to show consideration for.
Children need to be respected as a person, not just an object to control and direct. Even infants will communicate if they are feeling overwhelmed or wanting more interaction. Reading your baby’s queues will begin the pathway for respect as they grow. You may want to pause here and ask yourself this reflective question:
In what ways are you showing respect for, or disregarding your child in this area?
I notice that many parents seem to have the habit of answering for their children. Even parents of junior high and high school kids have interrupted conversations that I was engaging with their son or daughter to answer for them. Have you or do you answer for your child when someone asks him or her a question? This is extreme disrespect and gives a negative message that the child is somehow unable to speak or think for him/herself. Some children will actually feel invisible and unwanted if this is a constant habit. If you are doing this-even for your young children, it may be best to just stop doing it. I am sure you are not willingly trying to be destructive or disrespectful to your son or daughter, but now you have new information. In what ways can you communicate and show your child that you believe he/she is capable of thinking and answering for him/herself? Being seen and being liked is a powerful expression of love that translates into confidence and joy in the child. When was the last time you demonstrated that you truly saw your child and liked being with him/her? Children that get this kind of assurance tend to act out less and engage in life with more positive social connection in and outside of the home.
When we show respect, we model it. If your child is disrespectful, they may need guidance. It may be better to practice polite behavior at home through role-play (make if fun!) rather than to embarrass your child in front of others. Here are two more reflective questions to ponder:
What do your actions and words toward and in the presence of your child(ren) communicate overall?
How do you like to be respected?
Finally, let’s talk about Redemption. Jesus said, “let the little children come to me”. This was an unpopular notion in Jesus’ culture, that children would be welcomed into the adult arena. Even now I notice that most of us are uncomfortable with childish behavior in our midst. Children can be unruly, disobedient and disruptive. Surely they are in need of discipline, redemption and restoration. So, what is the best approach? First, go back to regard, then act with respect, then we can approach the need for redemption. We will talk more about direct discipline in Lesson 3, for this lesson I would like to plant the seed that no matter how much we discipline, correct, cajole, persuade or direct our children, they are at the core self-centered and in need of redemption. Certainly, we need to teach and direct them in ways that help them regulate their emotions, treat others with kindness and learn to do tasks that will be helpful in life. However, I believe that only God can redeem the child’s heart. It is not our job as the parent to turn our child into a “good Christian boy or girl”. This motive may even be detrimental to their spiritual and emotional health. Rather, it may be better to keep pointing the child back to Jesus as savior, the Holy Spirit as the Helper and the Heaven Father as the Lover of their soul.
I saw this happen after a sibling altercation in my friend’s home. She listened first to see if the sisters could work out their differences with words, when it escalated to a physical shove, she intervened. Each went to cool off where mom separately engaged each one in a conversation. “ What Happened?”, she asked each one separately. “What did you want?” “What was in your heart toward your sister?” “What do you need to apologize for?” “What would you like to happen next?” She skillfully helped the girls replay, apologize-from the heart—and forgive. The final statement that she made (I think this is a family theme) “Remember that you BELONG to our family! Our family has regard for each other, we respect each other and we are kind to each other.” It took time and thoughtful work with each child. But, I think these kids will gain skills to resolve differences in a way that my bring more peace and unity to a very fractured world. We will talk more about Belonging at another time.
In closing for this lesson, we need to remember that each child is a uniquely created and loved person made by God in His Image. We are to have regard for one another, respect one another, and create an environment so each that of us can engage with the Savior for our redemption. Perhaps these beginning reminders will help kids grow up to be more connected and caring adults who watch out for one another and enjoy relationships instead of hiding from them. This is by no means the only things that children need from their parents, but perhaps it’s a good start.
I hope that you will be able to bring something practical to your family life that will help you connect more deeply and enjoy each other more.
Confident Parenting, Dr. Jim Burns, 2007
God Attachment, Why you believe, Act, and Feel the Way you Do about God, Drs. Tim Clinton and Joshua Straub
Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed, 2004