What happens to a mother’s brain when her baby cries?
What is the problem with yelling?
“What do you mean lack of evidence?” I asked her.
“When people are physically or sexually abused, it’s concrete and real. But verbal abuse is amorphous. I feel like if I told someone I was verbally abused, they’d think I was just complaining about being yelled at,” Marta explained.
“It’s much more than that,” I validated.
“The problem is, no one can see my scars.” She knew intuitively that her depression, anxiety, and deep-seated insecurity were wounds that stemmed from the verbal abuse she endured.
“I wish I was beaten,” Marta shared on more than one occasion. “I’d feel more legitimate.”
Her statement was haunting and brought tears to my eyes.
Verbal abuse is so much more than getting scolded. Marta told me that there were many reasons her mother’s tirades were traumatizing:
The loud volume of her voice.
The shrill tone of her voice.
The dead look in her eyes.
The critical, disdainful, and contemptuous facial expression that made Marta feel hated.
The long duration — sometimes her mother yelled for hours.
The names and insults: You’re spoiled, disgusting, wretched, etc.
The unpredictability of that “flip of the switch” that turned her mother into someone else.
Perhaps worst of all, the abandonment.
Being frequently yelled at changes the mind, brain, and body in a multitude of ways, including increasing the activity of the amygdala (the emotional brain), increasing stresshormones in the bloodstream, increasing muscular tension, and more. Being frequently yelled at changes how we think and feel about ourselves, even after we become adults and leave home. That’s because the brain wires according to our experiences — we literally hear our parents’ voices yelling at us in our heads, even when they are not there. Marta had to work hard every day to push away the onslaught coming from inside her mind.
Attachment and infant-mother research confirms what we all intuitively know: Humans do better when they feel safe and consistently loved, which means, among other things, being treated with respect. What is news to many of us is that we are born with fully mature core emotions, like sadness, fear, and anger. When fear, for example, is repeatedly triggered by a harsh environment, such as one where there is lots of yelling, automatic physical and emotional reactions occur that cause traumatic stress to a child. The stress in their little brains and bodies increases from anything that feels attacking, including loud voices, angry voices, angry eyes, dismissive gestures, and more.
Children do better when they are calm. The calmer and more connected the caregiver is, the calmer and more secure their child will be, and the healthier it is for the child's brain and body.
The following are some things we can remember to help young brains develop well and make our children feel safe and secure.
Know that children have very real emotional needs that require proper tending. In general, the more these needs are met, the easier it will be for the child to be resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
Learning about core emotions will help you teach your child to successfully manage emotions.
You can affect your child’s self-esteem by being kind, compassionate, and curious about their mind and world.
When a break in the relationship occurs, as often happens during conflicts, try to repair the emotional connection with your child as soon as possible.
You can help your child feel safe and secure by allowing them to separate from you and become their own person, welcoming them back with love and connection, even when you are angry or disappointed in their behaviors. You can calmly discuss your concerns and use these opportunities as teachable moments.
As a parent, it is not easy to control one’s temper or realize if we’ve crossed the line into verbal abuse. There is a slippery slope between being a strict disciplinarian and what will traumatize a young brain. A little awareness goes a long way: Being aware of one’s behavior, listening to our tone of voice and choice of words, and watching our body language all help keep us in check. Little children, who can act tough, defiant, or even indifferent to our actions, are still vulnerable to trauma. Our own childhood
Texperiences — wonderful, horrible, and everything in between — need to be remembered and honored. And we can all strive to help our families evolve, and to pay forward more of the best, gentlest experiences we received as children rather than the painful ones.
* Adapted from Circle of Security International. For parenting workshops and other resources, visit their website at https://www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/circle-of-security-parenting
How to Be a Strength-Based Parent
By focusing on our children's strengths, we can help them flourish—and stop being so critical and worried.
[This article was written by Dr. Lea Waters and can be found in the October, 2, 2018 edition of Greater Good Magazine.]
My stomach knotted as I came home after a long day at work to find my fifteen-year-old son Nick playing “Fortnite.” Again.
Just yesterday, I’d spoken with him (read: snapped at him) about screen time. Today, an argument began. Again.
He felt angry. I felt frustrated. We both felt misunderstood.
Why do we zoom in on the things about our children that concern us more than the things that delight us? Why do we find it so hard to resist the urge to criticize, nag, and worry?
Blame it on our brains. Our “negativity bias,” an ancient survival mechanism, hardwires us to spot problems in our environment more quickly than we spot the things that are going well. I call it the Dirty Window Syndrome: A clean window doesn’t attract your attention; you look straight through it. But a dirty window is something you notice. What’s more, your focus on one specific part of the window—the dirt—means you’ll often fail to see that the rest of the window is still clean and showing you a beautiful view.
It’s the same with our kids. When things are going well, we take it for granted; but when things are going badly, that spot of dirt on the window snaps our attention into sharp focus. The dirt, in my case Nick’s gaming, grows from a small spot to a big stain. It gets magnified, overshadowing our kids’ positive qualities, thus creating the perfect storm for conflict and for feeling anxious about their future. A useful evolutionary feature that keeps you and your kids safe from danger can be counterproductive to fostering a positive relationship.
The good news is that by learning how to shift your attention to your child’s strengths (the clean part of the window), you can override the negativity bias, clean the dirt, and prevent the problems from getting blown out of proportion—all while building up resilience and optimism in your children.
The power of strength-based parenting
Psychologists have identified two broad categories of strengths: talents and character. Talents are performance-based and observable, including things like abilities in sports, music, art, IT, and problem solving. Character strengths are personality-based and internal, including things like grit, curiosity, courage, humor, and kindness.
Although we tend to focus on our kids’ talents, the two categories of strengths work hand in hand. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has made the most of their talent without also drawing on their character: Imagine the Beatles without creativity or Neil Armstrong without bravery. As parents, we can help our kids enormously by intentionally cultivating their character as much as their talents.
In my own research, children and teenagers who have parents who help them to see and use their strengths enjoy a raft of well-being benefits, including experiencing more positive emotions and flow, being more persistent, feeling more confident, and being more satisfied with their lives. Kids and teens with strength-based parents are also less stressed, cope better with friendship issues, cope better at meeting homework deadlines, and get better grades.
These well-being benefits can also spill over into better behavior. In a 2010 study, after parents of pre-schoolers learned strength-based techniques in a 10-session program, the parents reported fewer behavior problems in their children.
Parents benefit, too. In one of my studies, published in the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, parents were split into two groups. One group took a course teaching them how to identify and cultivate their children’s strengths, while the second group had no training and continued to parent as usual. The results showed that the parents who went through the course felt happier with their children and more confident about their own parenting skills after the course compared with beforehand. Those who didn’t go through the course showed no shift in happiness and confidence.
Of course, focusing on strengths isn’t the be-all and end-all of parenting. My own findings have shown that strength-based parenting boosts many positive aspects of a child’s mental health, but doesn’t reduce anxiety (although it does lower stress and depression). In other words, connecting kids to their strengths helps make them feel good but may not necessarily make them feel less bad; the actions needed to reduce ill-being are different from those needed to produce well-being. But with so much focus on fixing children’s problems these days, it’s important to intentionally and independently seek to build well-being in our kids.
How to focus on your kids’ strengths
Strength-based parenting is a style where we focus first on building up what is going right with our children before we focus on fixing what is going wrong. We help our kids to maximize and make the most of their talents and character, and we show them how to use these as leverage points to address weakness and problems.
So how to start?
Simply notice one strength in your child and comment on it: “You used good judgment today when you decided to pack your school bag ahead of time,” or “Thanks for making me laugh—I really love how funny you are,” or “I know your brother aggravates you, and I was so proud to see you rise above and show forgiveness.” Repeat this strengths spottingapproach as much as you can. Over time, your children will internalize their own strengths in their self-talk. Rather than using negative self-talk like “I’m stupid” or “I’ll never get this” in difficult situations, they might say, “I know I’m persistent and can stick to the task,” or “I’m curious and can learn new things.”
Keep a strengths diary for the next two weeks and, at the end of each day, write down three strengths you saw your kids use in a diary or on your phone. If your child has a phone, you can send them a text the next day letting them know the strengths you saw them use. At the end of the two weeks, you can use your strengths diary to write a strengths letter to your child telling them about the strengths you see in them.
You can also map the strengths of your family. “We did a strengths profile of our family and put it on the fridge. Now we know our strengths, I create opportunities for the kids to use their strengths at home,” one parent said. “I ask Olivia and Jackson to use their zest to welcome guests, while Elijah’s judgment is used to rein in risk. The kids appreciate playing to each others’ strengths within the family.”
Finally, incorporate strengths into the questions you ask your children. When your child is nervous about a big project or event coming up, ask them, “What strengths do you have to help you with this?” If they have had a fight with a friend: “What strengths do you think were missing that may have led to the fight? What strengths will help you make up?”
If you keep practicing these skills, you will find that you can more easily shift out of fix-it (or nag) mode and into strength focus. When challenges arise, choose a strength you’ve identified in your child through the techniques above and suggest how they could use it to handle the situation. For example, I use my daughter’s kindness to help her temper her impatience. A father I’ve worked with helped his athletic son channel his natural competitive spirit into a friendly contest to “win” at finishing homework, instead of having the same old battle about lack of discipline.
What strength-based parenting does (and does not) do
Strength-based parenting isn’t about lavishing your kids with false and excessive praise. It’s about real feedback based on your child’s actual strengths. And since none of us is so perfect that we’re showing our strengths all the time, there’s no risk of creating a self-involved, narcissistic child who thinks she’s the only special one in the world. If anything, strength-based parenting drives home the point that our strengths make us unique, but they don’t make us special—because everyone has strengths.
Nor does focusing on strengths mean we ignore problems. Instead, it shows us how to use what we’re good at to work on what we’re not so good at. Knowing their strengths gives children a solid-enough identity to acknowledge and address the areas where they need to improve. Being strength-based allows parents to approach weaknesses from a larger context—seeing the whole window, not just the dirt.
In my case, I’m able to put Nick’s gaming into perspective by reminding myself, “He’s a good kid. He’s creative and funny. He’s social and loyal, and he likes to build good relationships (most of the time).” In the grand scheme of things, he’s heading in the right direction. Despite my overactive worry button, he is actually doing OK. I can breathe a sigh of relief.
When I use a strength-based approach, two important things occur. First, I am able to see that there are strengths involved in gaming that Nick can use in the rest of his life. The self-regulation and problem-solving Nick uses to choose his moves, and the grit he uses to continue even when his points are low, are the same strengths he can use to better monitor his screen time and balance this with his homework. When I comment on the humor and loyalty he uses to cheer up his friends when they die in the game, he sees how he can apply these to his relationships with his family.
Second, because I am calmer and able to engage more with Nick about the benefits of the game, he is more receptive to our conversations about balancing screen time with his homework, sports, and family time. When he sees that I am not demonizing technology and I am giving him a fair amount of time to play, he knows he also needs to be reasonable when we ask him to get off.
As a result, the negotiations about screen time are far more fruitful and less combative. This doesn’t mean I have all the answers. The conversation about “Fortnite” is an ongoing one, and most days Nick tries to sneak in extra time. But the days I am strength-based are the days when he shuts the game off more quickly and more happily.
Our negativity bias helps us to survive, but our strengths help us to thrive. Showing our children how to harness their strengths is a key tool for their happiness, and a recipe for effective and enjoyable parenting. It’s not a “cure-all’’ but is most definitely a win-win!
About the Author
Lea Waters, Ph.D., is a psychologist, university researcher, author, and speaker who specializes in positive education, parenting, and organizations. She is the 2017-2019 president of the International Positive Psychology Association and is the author of The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish.
This essay is adapted from The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017, Lea Waters.
Setting a godly example of intimacy for our youth is the topic of a talk presented by Dr. George and Mrs. Eileen Scipione. They were guest speakers for Titus 2 Community’s Christian Marriage Support group on Facebook. This live presentation was given on Tuesday, September 25, 2018.
You can view the presentation by clicking the button below or going directly to the link here.
If you wish to discuss this topic or receive help in this area, let me know. Contact me today.
Two of the books referenced in their talk are found below:
Raising Kids Who Are Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers
Not too long ago, I was walking and juggling overflowing baskets of laundry, when my seven year old said: “Mom. I made a mistake”. As the word mistake echoed around the two of us, I stopped walking. I looked at my son, noticing his face scrunched up in concentration. Curious about this mistake I sat down with him.
Shoulder to shoulder with my son I said “I’m listening.”
“Well, I’m still thinking.” He replied.
In that moment, I so wanted to spring up and tackle the never ending laundry. But I stopped my own hurry and said “Ok. I’ll keep you company while you think.” And then I waited.
I waited because I hoped that with some time and patience, my son would figure out what to do about this mistake he was still thinking about.
Time and patience are two tools for teaching responsibility
that we parents often forget to use.
Armed with nothing but good intentions to teach our children important lessons, like responsibility and the “consequences of their actions” we parents (myself included) can be quick to jump into fixing, questioning and lecturing. Alarm bells ring in our brains when children make mistakes or misbehave:
What were you thinking…Don’t you know better…Are you kidding me…Your choices have consequences you know!!!!
But time and patience, a willingness to just be present with our children is so often much better than any lectures, consequences or punishments.
How Children Learn Responsibility
The word Responsibility breaks down beautifully into two words: Response & Ability*
(*response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. – Steven Covey)
How much a child feels ready and able to respond to her circumstances is what will help her grow in a responsible way.
When children learn how to respond to a variety of circumstances that come up in real life, like dealing with mistakes, they are actively developing responsibility. And as we gift our children our time and patience, we cultivate in our children trust and capability.
But what about consequences you may be thinking…don’t children need to know the consequences to their actions?
While many actions have consequences, by focusing on imposed consequences we often steal away the very opportunity to teach our children what responsibility really is all about.
Helping children explore the consequences of their choices is much different from imposing consequences on them. – Jane Nelsen D.Ed. author of the bestselling Positive Discipline Series.
Responsibility can’t come from imposed consequences:
Standing in the corner for spilling milk doesn’t help a child learn to pour well or how to clean up messes.
Wearing a shaming sign for cheating on a test, doesn’t teach a child how to prioritize studying. Or why education is valuable. It doesn’t teach that it is safe and helpful to ask for help when they are struggling at school.
Not playing video games for hitting a sibling doesn’t teach a child how to express his jealously, frustration or annoyances in a constructive way.
Raising responsible kids has very little to do with finding the right consequences. And everything to do with encouraging children to participate, to be problem solvers, critical thinkers and capable beings. Ones capable of accepting their circumstances, capable of looking for solutions and capable of telling the truth. Even when they make big mistakes.
Instead of focusing on consequences, teaching Response+ Ability….may start with us saying:
“I see markers on the wall. Let’s go get some soap and a sponge to clean this up together.” And following up with “Next time you want to color, you can find paper right here in this drawer.”
“Let’s dry up this water with some towels” And following up with an opportunity to practice and learn “Here, why don’t you pour me a glass and yourself another glass.”
“Looks like this broke. Too bad. The good news is, we can glue this back together.” And following up with “If you would like to see something from one of these shelves, I’d like you to ask me first.”
Eventually these moments can turn into our children feeling able to respond = responsible:
“I spilled water. I’ll get a towel!”
“Ooops, sorry I broke that. Can I help you glue it?”
“I made a mistake. And I think with a bit of help, I can fix it!”
A calm response to mishaps, mistakes and misbehaviors, one that focuses on repair and capability, wires our children to weather much bigger storms as they grow too. That is called resiliency. Resilient children know that they have resources they can use to overcome all sorts of mistakes.
Remember that mistake my son wanted to tell me about? The mistake was a broken bed! His sister’s mattress frame (yikes!) And after we sat together for a few minutes he told me how it happened. He had a plan to apologize to his siter and then he explained several possible fixes:
“Bella can sleep on my bed, and I will sleep on the broken one.”
“We can drive to the store and get a replacement slat, if you have time today or another day.”
“I have some allowance saved up and I will pay for the new bed slats and help put it back into the right place.”
“If papa let’s me borrow some tools, I can try to fix it. Duck tape might work until we get a replacement!”
These were his own solutions. Solutions that came from taking responsibility for his actions. I didn’t need to tell him it was wrong to break the bed. Or that there are consequences to his actions. He already knew that. He accepted responsibility. He thought about solutions. I’m quite sure that me imposing consequences would have not added anything helpful to his learning process.
Mistakes and misbehaviors that at first glance may seem like the very moments to impose consequences are often the exact opportunities for us parents to gift our children some time and patience. And in this case, an excellent excuse for me to ignore laundry for just a while longer 😉
So what do you think, is it possible to foster responsibility without imposing consequences?
Peace & Be Well,
Raising Problem Solvers The One Question to Ask Before Helping Your Child By Alissa Marquess @Creative with Kids
Eight Ways to Deal with Anger as a Parent by Kristina B. @Toddler Approved
How To Be an Empathetic Parent, Even When it Feels Hard by Andrea Nair
Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.
How to Support Your Kid at School Without Being a Helicopter Parent
Parents can help their children most by getting back to the basics and not trying to solve everything.
As the school year looms, it’s easy for parents like me to feel a sense of intense pressure. We may worry, sometimes for valid reasons, about our children’s academic progress, independence, and social life. We get caught up in micromanaging and ruminating instead of staying grounded and clear-sighted in our planning.
How do we reduce the pressure and still give our children what they need? A long-term focus on the resilience of our children—their ability to overcome challenges independently—is what can really help them thrive in school.
As a developmental pediatrician, I believe it’s the proven basics that matter most for a child’s resilience: their belief in their own self-efficacy, strong self-management skills, and reliable relationships. If we can let go of other pressures created by our busy family life, fads and trends within our communities, and information overload on the Internet, we can confidently focus on the tried-and-true instead.
As we start this new school year, here’s what child development research shows builds resilience in our kids.
1. Consistent relationships
Dr. Robert Brooks, one of the foremost experts on resiliency, emphasizes the benefit of having at least one “charismatic adult” in your life throughout childhood. Dr. Brooks defines this vital role as someone from whom a child gains strength and who meets their emotional needs. Healthy relationships of this kind start with consistency, positive feedback, and low-key, fun time together.
So, before filling up your calendar with extra activities, protect family time, play time, and social time in your child’s weekly schedule. For example, research shows that in families who eat meals together more frequently, adolescents have higher well-being and better relationships. Unstructured play time helps kids build relationships and contributes to the development of their social-emotional and self-management skills—which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a recommendation that physicians “prescribe” play for children.
2. A sense of self-efficacy
In everyday life, encourage your children to believe in their own strengths—whether around their behavior, a sport, creativity, or whatever you else you see—by praising and valuing them yourself, particularly when they find school challenging. Perhaps even more importantly, notice and comment on their hard work when you see it. When children hear that solid effort leads to success, rather than getting the message that they should be smart and get good grades, they persist more. This helps them become more resilient when they suffer any setbacks in doing their schoolwork.
Most children are also driven by short-term achievements and have a hard time persisting when they don’t taste success. They will be more motivated when they focus on incremental goals that sustain their interest and sense of accomplishment, rather than protracted long-term plans. For example, if your child has been struggling in French, “successfully stick to your new study plan this month” may be more motivating then “get a B+ in French this year.”
3. Self-management skills
“Executive function” skills include all mental abilities that allow us to envision the future, organize our lives, persist at long-term tasks, and make plans. Since these skills only mature as we become adults, it isn’t typical for younger children and even many teens to manage their academic lives independently until they learn how from adults.
Without these more concrete managerial abilities, our children may find that success is elusive. Because of that, many require direct guidance around academic routines right up until they show themselves capable. In fact, what appears to be poor effort on their part often reflects a lack of knowing what to do next, or how to adjust and stick to a plan.
By understanding how executive function develops, we can accept the reality that many students need involved parents and teachers to figure out how to study, manage time, and handle whatever hurdles they encounter around school. Teach self-management skills by creating detailed routines around homework, managing projects, writing assignments, and studying, and then assist children in maintaining those plans. We can change the course of an entire school year by establishing useful academic habits right from the start.
4. Addressing skill deficits
Whenever children fall behind, it’s vital for their future that we intervene early. Around executive function, language, reading, and anywhere else, the sooner children catch up, the better. That catch-up requires that we honestly, compassionately evaluate where work is needed, then implement appropriate supports. Many students require parents and teachers to lead and initiate these interventions, since problem-solving and self-advocacy are also part of their (still-maturing) executive function.
One specific way to improve executive function is through mindfulness—a focused, nonjudgmental attention towards everyday experience that can be developed with practice. Children can learn mindfulness through formal meditation, such as a few minutes built into bedtime. More informally, it can grow from paying detailed attention to activities like eating or walking in the woods. Whatever works for your family, these types of practices are also something to consider when prioritizing family time.
While nothing is guaranteed, focusing on these proven basics—healthy relationships, emphasizing effort, self-management skills, and early intervention—is bound to make a difference to your children. While countless other details, plans, and challenges will no doubt be part of their school year, it’s their resilience that will provide the strength to persist through it all. As a parent, coming back to this simple framework when you feel off balance or overwhelmed will help you let go of any pressure to do even more. And you can rest assured that you already are setting up your child for a successful school year.
Need advice about how you can help your child navigate well through school? Concerned you are being too controlling with your elementary school son or daughter? Contact me today to see how we can work together to find positive solutions for better relationships.
Science says happier people are raised by parents who do this one thing...
[This post was originally writte by Jeff Hayden and can be found in Inc.com.]
Want your kids to be happier kids? More importantly, want your children to grow up to be happier and more satisfied for the rest of their lives?
Less Controlling and More Caring
A study from the University College of London found that the people who perceived their parents as less psychologically controlling and more caring as they were growing up were likely to be happier and more satisfied as adults.
On the flip side, the people whose parents applied greater psychological control as they were growing up exhibited significantly lower mental well being throughout their adult lives; in fact, the effect was judged to be similar to the recent death of a close friend or relative.
According to Dr. Mai Stafford, the lead author of the study:
"We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood. By contrast, psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence."
Psychological control and behavioral control are different
Psychological control differs from behavioral control. Behavioral control includes things like setting curfews, assigning chores, and expecting homework to be completed.
Behavioral control was determined when respondents disagreed with statements like "Gave me as much freedom as I wanted" and "Let me go out as often as I wanted." While that might sound psychologically controlling, it's not. Those parents set limits on certain types of behaviors -- but not on feelings.
Psychological control involves not letting kids make some of their own decisions, not allowing privacy, and encouraging feelings of dependence.
Psychological control was determined when respondents agreed with statements like "Tried to control everything I did" and "Tried to make me feel dependent on her/him."
If the difference still seems fuzzy, here's an explanation from Nancy Darling, Ph.D.:
- Behavioral control refers to the extent to which parents ask kids to constrain their behavior to meet the needs of others. Strictness is one way to think about it, but I think it is better conceptualized as the parents' expectation that the child conform to high standard--especially when it's difficult. It also captures the extent to which parents follow through on rules they set.
- Psychological control is the extent to which parents try to control the child's emotional state or beliefs. For example, they may use guilt induction or make the child feel that they won't be loved if they don't do what parents want. The core of psychological control is that it assaults the child's self.
"We know from other studies," says Dr. Stafford, "that if a child shares a secure emotional attachment with their parents, they are better able to form secure attachments in adult life. Parents also give us a stable base from which to explore the world, while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote social and emotional development. By contrast, psychological control can limit a child's independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behavior."
How can you, the parent show you care?
What can you do to show that you care? What can you do to maintain some degree of behavioral control... without straying into the psychological control zone?
In the study, "caring" was measured by agreement with statements like "Appeared to understand my problems and worries" and "Was affectionate to me."
That should be easy.
Then feel free to set limits you feel are appropriate. Feel free to have expectations. But then go one step farther: Talk about why you set those limits and why you have those expectations. Then allow your kids to talk, and make sure you listen. You may be able to control certain behaviors, but you can't control every opinion -- so don't try. Show that even though you might disagree, you still respect their right to see things differently. Showing respect is a great way to show you care.
And make sure you let your kids make as many of their own decisions as you can. The best way to learn to make smart choices -- and to take responsibility for our actions -- is to start early.
After all, your ultimate goal is to raise them to be successful and independent adults -- because that's a great recipe for happiness and satisfaction.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON: MAR 15, 2017
How can you love your wayward child? Here are twelve ways.
[This post was written May 9, 2011, by Abraham Piper. You can find the original post at 12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child.]
Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I’ve never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.
1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child’s real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don’t see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.
Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping him for.
3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
If your daughter rejects Jesus, don’t pretend everything is fine.
For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don’t ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won’t be.
4. Don’t expect them to be Christ-like.
If your son is not a Christian, he’s not going to act like one.
You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don’t expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, “I know you’re struggling with believing in Jesus, but can’t you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?”
If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child’s unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart’s sickness than its symptoms.
5. Welcome them home.
Because the deepest concern is not your child’s actions, but his heart, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously, there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house if you are…” But these will be rare. Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s—or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.
6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment.
What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she’s breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows—especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she’s doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn’t need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.
Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.
7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.
There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it’s worth it—especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can’t.
Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.
This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son—in a way he may actually pay attention to—that he’s being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it’s a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.
A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they’re being fools—and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents—so try to keep other Christians in your kids' lives.
8. Respect their friends.
Honor your wayward child in the same way you’d honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you’d never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child’s friends. Respect that—even if the relationship is founded on sin. They’re bad for your son, yes. But he’s bad for them, too. Nothing will be solved by making it perfectly evident that you don’t like who he’s hanging around with.
When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again—be hospitable. She’s also someone’s wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.
9. Email them.
Praise God for technology that lets you stay in your kids’ lives so easily!
When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation for them is positive examples of Christ’s joy in your own life.
Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out one after another, and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s word is never proclaimed in vain.
10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don’t let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it’s far worse to be in the child’s shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.
It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don’t know how he’ll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you’re an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don’t know until you risk asking.
(Here’s a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won’t feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father’s invitation—even as a surly nineteen-year-old.)
11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she’s twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?
Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn’t even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter’s CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus’ glory instead of her own.
12. Point them to Christ.
This can’t be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.
It’s not so that they will be good kids again; it’s not so that they’ll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it’s not so that they’ll like classical music instead of deathcore; it’s not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it’s not so that they’ll vote conservative again by the next election; it’s not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they’re not going to hell.
The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.
And not only is he the only point—he’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but satisfied.
He will do this for many. Be faithful and don’t give up.
© Desiring God
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Successful Parenting was written by Ed Welch in June 2010. For the original post, go here.
Everyone who has children thinks about the question: How can I be an effective or even successful parent? I have yet to meet a parent who simply wanted to pass children off into the next stage of life with basic physical health intact but nothing more. (Reminds me of the time I babysat a friend’s goldfish while he was on vacation–simple survival—that was my only goal.)
We want our children to thrive, and we want to contribute whatever we can to make that happen.
Parenting, of course, is not a precise recipe. Follow the steps and . . . voila, out pops a fear-of-the-Lord, covenant-keeping, wise young adult. Such parenting would actually oppose the way God does things. All we would have to do is trust in our steps and everything goes fine. Instead, the (much better) system we have received is one where we parent by faith. We trust in Christ every step of the way. We pray tons and love the best we can. Yet, there are some basic directions available to us.
As I get older I have the opportunity of watching many children grow. Some do well, others don’t. I have a mental file of hundreds of conversations about parenting and have observed almost every kind of parenting style imaginable. Here are some of the tendencies that I have noticed in successful parenting.
Successful parents are always learning about Jesus.
This is a no-brainer. A pastor once said that his congregation’s greatest need was his [the pastor’s] sanctification. The same goes for successful parenting. God can use blatant hypocrites, but, as a general rule, parents who have a growing knowledge of Jesus do best.
To be a little more specific, successful parents are able to answer the question: What are you learning about Jesus? “Learning,” in this case, like “knowledge” is no mere academic accumulation of facts. It is the intimate knowledge and learning that take place in the closest of relationships and inspire us to love the other person more deeply. This means that these parents are talking about how they are learning about Jesus rather than lecturing their children about Jesus.
I was in a conversation recently that was headed toward that question: What are you learning about Jesus? I had probably thirty seconds to consider my answer.
It was one of the more painful thirty seconds of my life.
My mind was blank. Nothing to say. I might have been a little embarrassed, but I was more grieved by the dryness of my own heart. So I asked the person to pray that I would never have that experience again.
Successful parents can tell you how they are personally learning about Jesus. Hopefully, that group also includes those who want to be personally learning about Jesus but miss a few days here and there.
Successful parents talk about Jesus with their children.
If you are learning about Jesus, you talk about him. Successful parents talk about Jesus naturally in the course of their day. In this, they are following the earliest of biblical guidelines.
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)
Jesus is a part of their everyday life and their children hear about it. Some children might suggest that the parent is being a little over-spiritual, but my observation is that children’s – or, more often, teen’s – complaints about references to Christ are akin to children’s complaints about parental affection in that they don’t like it but they don’t really want their parents to stop doing it.
Successful parents don’t mind imposing tight boundaries.
I want to be careful on this one because “tight boundaries” can become an excuse for parental fear and anger more than parental love and wisdom. What I am thinking of has more of that Proverbs feel to it. Children are prone to foolishness and they don’t do too well at establishing their own boundaries, so we help them. There are times we say no to requests to sleep over someone else’s house. Other times we call the other parents before we let a child or teen go to someone’s house. We want to know where our children are, and we are willing to get evidence that they were actually there. When boundaries are done in love, and parents listen to the advice of otherwise people, I have never seen a child permanently scarred by tight boundaries, though I have known many children declare that they would be forever harmed by a parental no. I have seen children who lived with loose boundaries indulge in sins that had long-term consequences.
Successful parents love in a way that leads toward a friendship.
Friends enjoy one another. They have a genuine appreciation for each other. They like each other. We are warned that we are our children’s parents, not their friends, and I think I understand what that warning is addressing, but my observation is that parents who aim for friendship with their maturing children are the ones who have most successful spiritual influence on them. Children share their hearts in such a context. Parents ask forgiveness. Parents even seek advice.
As a recent example, I know a young man who anyone would be proud to have as a son—late-twenties, faithful to his wife and friends, pastoral and caring in relationships. I just met his father. He had flown to see his son so that they would be able to drive one-on-one to a vacation area where the families were staying. This father clearly loved his son. Most fathers do. Yet his expression of love was most striking. He admired his son. He felt as though he was watching his son surpass him in spiritual understanding and growth, which wasn’t the case but it is a good thing to think. And he had a list of questions for the twelve-hour drive.
How are you really doing? What are you learning in life… as a father, husband, friend, worker? What are you learning about Jesus? What books are you reading? Tell me about your church?
These questions weren’t an interrogation. The father was prepared to answer the questions too so that both father and son would be sharpened (Proverbs 27:17). But mostly, he just wanted to savor the growth in another person. And as I listened to him further, he had all the qualities of a successful parent.
Successful parents know there are no guarantees.
You can do all the things I’ve talked about and still have wayward kids. There is no formula or one-to-one correspondence between faithful parenting and “success”– that would violate the creative and grace-filled ways of the Spirit. God calls us to provide good soil conditions but He alone gives the increase. As we lean on Him, He teaches us how to participate in creative and grace-filled ways with our kids as we give unexpected gifts, become servants rather than masters, extend patience and kindness toward them, and walk with Him in one of life’s great adventures.
5 Unselfish Qualities of True Love for Your Child is from 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible. As you might know, this is called the love chapter. The point of the chapter is how God's people ought to relate with one, which is primarily in Christ through love.
However, the qualities of a loving relationship also apply to Christian families. This obviously includes how parents ought to love their children and in turn, how children love their parents and siblings. These qualities are the standards but are not applied like checklist rules. They flow from the mercy and grace of Christ. They are also the fruit of a Spirit-led parent and child.
A Prayer to Truly Love My Child
Dear Father, I pray that I would become more and more like Christ, filled with a heart of genuine love for You and for my family. Give me power to love in my speech, for love to be at the center of all we know, and that love would be the source of our faith. By grace give me daily patience. Make me demonstrably kind. Keep me from bragging. Eradicate my pride and replace it with Christ's life. Keep me from being rude and self-seeking. Remove from me any hot temper. Purge my mind of any registries of sins I might be keeping against my child. Please help me not to dwell on those sins. Empower me so that I would be repulsed at unrighteousness but delight in good things. May I always rejoice in truth.
Lord, may I always have a heart to protect my child's dignity, life, reputation and soul. Enable me to always put things and my child in a positive light (unless of course there is evidence to the contrary). By your Spirit help me persevere in my love for my child and family, for your pleasure until the end. In Jesus' name. Amen. (from 1 Corinthians 13)
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If you feel frustrated in your family relationships or you do not understand why you are not experiencing these love qualities, contact us today. We will do what we can to assist you find resolutions to your challenges.
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