Children: Jesus is in the House
My wife and I enjoy visiting family and friends. We also enjoy having family and friends visit our home. But, imagine what would happen if you were to visit my home and I answered the door saying, “Quit knocking so loud. I’m not deaf you know.” As you step into my house, I demand that you “take your shoes off…now. I just mopped the floors and I do not want you tracking mud through my house!” You smile politely, albeit somewhat confused, and take your shoes off. “Why are you giving me that look?” I continue. “I just asked you to take your shoes off. If you have a problem with it, just leave them on and track mud through my house.” “No, that’s OK. I don’t want to muddy your floors. They look beautiful,” you respond politely.
“You don’t have to get smug about it. I just asked you to take your shoes off. Never mind. Just go into the living room and sit down.” You attempt to make small talk as we enter the living room but, just as you are about to sit down, I yell, “Don’t sit there! That’s my seat. You sit over there” pointing to a less-than-comfortable looking chair in the corner. The visit continues and I continue to make similar comments. “I like your outfit but you probably paid too much for it. You have no common sense about money.” When you express frustration about a recent experience, I tell you to “Quit worrying about it. You get overemotional about everything.” When you compliment the cookies, I state, “Don’t overdo the praise, buddy. I bought the cookies, but at least I did something.” So the evening goes. How will you feel as you leave my home? How excited will you be to return?
Of course, you and I would never treat a guest so rudely. And yet, we often make these kinds of comments to our children. I have heard parents make comments like those above to their child on a consistent basis… conversations overrun with “do not’s,” demands, sarcasm, and subtle putdowns. Speaking in constant “do not’s,” demands, sarcasm, and putdowns leads to negative feelings that fuel misbehavior. These negative feelings also make it difficult, if not impossible, for a child to really listen and understand. If we want a child to listen…really listen…we have to stop the constant “do not’s,” demands, sarcasm, and putdowns. What can we offer instead? Here are a few ideas.
· Tell your child what behaviors you desire rather than the behaviors you “do not” desire. It is important for parents to teach their children proper behavior; but, if we constantly tell them what not to do, how do they learn what to do. The behaviors they hear spoken about most often will remain most prevalent in their mind…and acted upon most often as a result. Given no positive alternative, and hearing constant yell about negative behaviors, a child will simply repeat the negative behaviors. Instead, describe appropriate and desired behaviors to your children. Tell them what behaviors you want to see. Fill their mind with images of proper behavior and the expected results of positive behavior.
· Make requests rather than demands. Demands arouse defensiveness. They make us want to “fight back.” Demands create competition. They reveal an underlying belief that our child does not want to help, and will not help, unless demanded to do so. Demands focus on “my needs” and “my desires.” Requests, on the other hand, communicate respect for the other person and a belief in their desire to help. They build cooperation. They take the other person’s needs and desires into account as well. We ultimately want our children to cooperate with us rather than simply comply because we are bigger and more demanding. Making requests instead of demands helps build the desire to cooperate and help.
· Speak lovingly and honestly rather than sarcastically. Sarcasm reveals an underlying sense of anger that arouses more anger from the recipient. Constant sarcastic remarks fuel beliefs like “I’m never good enough” or “I can never do anything right.” A child will develop a sense of inadequacy in response to sarcastic remarks. They will come to believe they are not acceptable. Loving, honest remarks, on the other hand, build a sense of adequacy and acceptance in our children. This translates into a healthy sense of personal worth and, ultimately, better behavior.
· Empathize rather than criticize. Children are learning about their emotions. Adults help children learn how to manage emotions by accepting the emotion and empathizing with it. When adults criticize a child’s emotion, the child feels shamed and humiliated. They may come to believe that something is inherently wrong with them because they have “unacceptable” emotions. When we empathize with our children’s emotions, they learn that they are normal…they belong. They learn that we manage those emotions in healthy ways and they can, too. Additionally, when parents empathize with their children, children learn that emotions provide us opportunities to connect with others and grow more intimate.
· Encourage rather than put-down. What do you want to shape your child’s sense of self-worth, a steady stream of putdowns or a steady supply of encouragement? Whichever they hear most often will form the recordings that constantly repeat in their mind throughout life. Fill that internal self-talk with words of encouragement that will play over and over throughout their life.
PS—After Christmas I often think about Jesus growing up. Mary, His mother, had some idea of who Jesus was–an angel told her even before He was born. I wonder how Mary parented Jesus. Did she respond with criticism or empathy to His sorrow when His friends hurt Him or He got frustrated with school? How did she get Him to do chores or tasks around the house, by demanding or requesting? Did she give a sarcastic “It’s about time you helped out around here” or an honest “I’m glad you helped me by cleaning up. Thank you”? Did she encourage Jesus or say things like “Is that any way for the Son of God to act?” How would you treat Jesus if He were a child in your home? Jesus set a child on His lap once and said, among other things, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes Me.” Our children serve as His representative in our house. Perhaps, we can practice treating them as we would treat Him. After all, when we “do it unto the least of these…” Just a thought.