Children can be one of the biggest blessings and sources of joy that God can possibly give us in life. They can also be some of the greatest sources of pain and frustration. As a parent myself, I personally know both sides of the coin. Having a child whom you always seem to be contending with can be both discouraging and emotionally draining.
It’s very easy to feel like a complete failure as a parent at times. Perhaps you’re looking at an angry distant son or daughter, thinking back on some of your own past missteps, and believe that you’ve messed them up for life. For those who might feel this way, let me encourage you that there is hope.
Over the course of this 2 Part article series, we’ll talk about many things that you as a parent can do to help transform your relationship with your child. Let’s start off by discussing a few important points.
It’s Not Too Late
Let me encourage you by saying that things aren’t messed up forever. People grow and change over time, and so long as you and your child are still breathing, it’s never too late to make positive changes and make a difference in your relationship.
Change Often Takes Time
Don’t expect change to happen overnight. Be patient. Be consistent in loving your child, treating them as a gift from God, and following through on implementing the principles shared in this article.
The King James Version of the New Testament translates the Greek word for patience as “longsuffering.” Longsuffering is an excellent word that captures the essence of the virtue you must have when it comes to change (especially with kids).
Kids Undergo Lots of Ups and Downs as They Grow Up
As one who has worked with children for most of my life, let me reassure you that emotional ups and downs are normal. That’s especially true when they get to that Early Adolescent Stage (around 10 years old or so) and even more so when they become teenagers.
We know from modern research that the brains of young people are still growing and developing. As a result, they will make mistakes and their behavior at times will be quite challenging for us to deal with as mature adults.
Little children are inherently egocentric. If you’ve had a 2-year-old or been around them, you’ll know that the entire universe revolves around them. “It’s mine” is the 2-year-old’s motto. Sharing is a foreign concept. They have extreme difficulty thinking about the needs and wants of others.
It never even enters into their minds how their behavior might affect and be perceived by others. It’s quite normal for children not to start developing empathy for other people until they are around 8 years of age. Tantrums are very common among young children since they aren’t able to communicate their needs and wants to others very well.
As they start to reach the adolescent and teenage years, their bodies start to undergo profound changes. They are flooded with all kinds of hormones and as a result, their physical growth rate is rapid (sometimes it feels they are literally growing before your eyes). Those hormones can wreak all kinds of havoc on relationships. They may cry easily and get easily frustrated and upset.
They are surrounded with all kinds of daily trials such as school, peer pressure, learning how to fit in, struggles with the opposite sex, temptations like drugs and alcohol, and so on. Questions like, “Who am I?” and “What’s my purpose in life?” can dominate their minds and drive them mad.
The brain doesn’t reach its full adult size and maturity until age 25 or so (some may not reach full maturity until their 30s or even later on in life). Since the brains of young people are in a state of constant flux, it is helpful to bear in mind that “difficult behavior” can be quite normal.
Other Factors Beyond Parental Control That Influence Childhood Behavior
When it comes to our kids, there are frankly many things that are beyond our scope of influence. The facts are that while we as parents have a profound impact on the lives of our kids, there are other things that influence their behavior that we don’t necessarily have control over. Such things include:
Mental Health Issues, such as Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Childhood Schizophrenia
Learning Disabilities, such as ADHD, Dyslexia, and Auditory Processing Disorder
Developmental Disabilities and Genetic Disorders, such as Autism, Down Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy
Physical Disabilities, such as Brain Injuries
Grief and Loss, such as that related to a traumatic event (the death of family or friends, or divorce). Adopted children can also experience many confusing and troubling feelings of grief and loss related to the decision by their birth parents to give them up for adoption.
Take Self Responsibility and Self Control Only
If you’re a parent, you’ve heard your child say some form of this to you, “You made me mad! It’s your fault!” Although it’s a natural tendency for people to assume responsibility (especially if they’ve come from an abusive background), stop and really consider that for a moment. Do you honestly feel you have power over another person’s emotions?
Can you actually get inside your child’s head and make them say whatever words you want? Perhaps if you think hard enough, you can shut their mouths for them, move their legs for them, and make them turn around and go to their room. [Oh, how many of us wish we could do that at times.]
In reality, you aren’t in control of your youngster and how they choose to feel, think, and act. The truth is there is only one person and one person alone of whom you are in control and for whom you need to take responsibility – yourself. You are in control of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. You and you alone.
So, never take responsibility for your children’s thoughts, feelings, and actions – only for your own. Though many of us would love to be, realize that in the end, you aren’t in control of your kids. You may be in charge of them, but you aren’t in control.
Being in charge is very different because the only thing you have power over is how you choose to respond to what they do or don’t do. Never forget that choosing to do nothing in a given situation is a conscious choice over which you have power, as well. Learning how to have self-responsibility and self-control alone will save you a ton of heartache and pain.
As we’ve discussed, when it comes to our kids, there are many things that aren’t in our control. Their physiological makeup, their mental health issues, and the choices they make are frankly beyond your ability to change.
What can you honestly control? What can you honestly impact? The answer is your own behavior and choices.
Let’s discuss some of the things we as parents can do that are in our control. As we go through this list, be honest with yourself and asking yourself the question, “Do I honestly do that?” If the answer is no, then that may be an area where change is warranted.
Make Teaching God’s Word a Constant Point of Emphasis
If you want to make an impact upon your children that will last a lifetime (and beyond), then make studying God’s Word and teaching it a way of life for you and your kids. There is probably no greater illustration of this in scripture than Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Teaching God’s Word is so much more than reading one passage of scripture once a week or saying prayers at bedtime. It’s a way of life. When does God say we should be teaching about Him? Constantly — in the simple things such as on walks, pointing out to kids how the trees and the birds were created by the Lord.
When God so overflows from our life, He is ever in our conversations. Like Jesus, the ordinary things of life can become illustrations of Godly principles as we continually scan the horizon for teaching opportunities about God and the Christian way of life.
Seek Purity and Cultivate a Godly Environment
One of the most surefire ways you can transform your home and your children is by transforming your home environment into a sanctuary for God. There was a saying when computers first came out – “garbage in, garbage out.” Over time, I’ve learned the absolute truth of that saying when it comes to your environment. It is a powerful shaper of attitudes and behavior.
So, watch what you allow to influence your family’s heads, hearts, and souls (Proverbs 4:23-27). As Romans 12:2 says, “don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” We as Christians should ideally be surrounding ourselves with the true, pure, and noble things of God (Philippians 4:8-9).
It’s not going to make you popular, but I’d really limit and monitor your family’s exposure to today’s secular media. That means restricting the sorts of TV shows your family watches, the type of music you allow in your home, and the kind of internet sites you allow to be visited. Ideally, this should start when they’re young and be consistently practiced.
Why? Numerous studies over the years have clearly demonstrated that media exposure to violence and sex (on TV, music, internet, video games, etc.) have a profound effect on our kids and their attitudes and behaviors.
Your kids may not like you very much when they’re young (especially when they start comparing what their friends are doing in their homes), but in the end, they’ll be happier and better off for it. It all comes down to a simple question, whose values do you want your family emulating: the values of the world or values of the Lord?
But it’s not merely about limiting their exposure to the wrong things, it’s also about increasing their exposure to the right things. Some suggestions include putting selected Scripture verses on the wall, along with uplifting posters or other visuals, listening to Christian Music, watching Christian movies, creating family traditions and rituals, playing board or card games, going on walks, taking trips, and just focusing on spending time together and having fun as a family.
Practice What You Preach
It’s almost an afterthought by some parents. Many parents expect and often demand respect from their children. For those parents who may feel that way, ask yourself if you give respect to your children? Do you ask for and honestly consider their thoughts, their feelings, their desires, and how your choices are going to affect them? Do you ever ask for their opinion?
Before you make a major life decision such as a moving, are you at least talking to your child and getting their feedback on the matter? If your child is “difficult,” I suggest that you humbly take a look at your own life and ask yourself, “How have I treated my child? How have I raised him or her? Does he or she know that they are honestly unconditionally loved and cared for by the way I act towards them?”
Over time, I’ve found that when it comes to relationships with others you will tend to receive back what you dish out. If you treat your child in mean, nasty, and harsh ways, if you speak to them in a condescending way, they will eventually begin responding in kind. They will treat you the way you treat them.
If you expect love and respect from your children (and you should), then be the first to give love and respect. Keep in mind that values are more caught than taught. When it comes to children and their behavior, it’s often “monkey see, monkey do” (Titus 1:15-16). Live out your faith. Walk what you talk.
And above all, have patience, patience, patience. Remember, God has loaned you your children to you for a time. Children aren’t your property (as if they were cattle). They are they are people first and foremost. Treat them as such.
They are gifts given to you by the Lord for a time. He has given you a divine charge to raise up the children he’s loaned you to be servants for His Kingdom. Love them in the same way as God first loved you. Don’t miss this biggest key of all.
Make Them Feel Special
Just how important are your children to you? You’ll know the answer by examining how you choose to spend your time and how you choose to treat them. Your children know and will feel that too.
Do you make them feel special? If you have a girl, do you make her feel beautiful? Do you make her feel like a princess, like a daughter of the King of Kings? If you have a boy, do you make him feel like a prince, a cherished son of the Lord of Lords?
Through your actions and your words, are you making your children feel like the most brilliant artist in the world, the most brilliant scientist in the world, or the best in whatever their particular interest happens to be?
Now, I’m not talking about creating self-centered narcissists with over-inflated egos who believe that they walk on water and are God’s gift to humanity. Not at all.
What I am asking is whether you are honestly spending time with them? When it’s their birthday, do they feel honored and like the most important person in the world? How do Christmas and Easter look at your house?
Are you doing things with them and talking with them on a consistent basis? Do you play with them? Do you watch them when they play? Do you laugh with them? Do you cry with them?
Or are you honestly finding yourself just too busy? I often tell people, if you’re not raising your child, then someone or something else is. If not you, then who or what?
Even when you are with them, do you honestly give your kids your undivided attention? Or when they start to speak to you, are you checking your Facebook account or your cell phone every 30 seconds or every time you get a text message?
Think about how unimportant you would feel if every time you went to talk to someone, they were so busy with whatever they were doing that they couldn’t afford the time to even look at you?
A major reason that many young people choose to act out is that they aren’t getting the attention they desire. They are thinking, “Although it’s no fun to have mom or dad yell at me, at least they’re paying attention to me. Negative attention is better than no attention at all.”
If your teenage son or daughter spends most of their time by themselves, ask yourself, “Are they choosing to hole up in their room because they’re actually despondent, lonely, and desperate for connection?”
Some parents spend little to no quality time with their children and then wonder why they don’t have a close relationship (or virtually any kind of relationship at all) with their kids. If you want a good relationship (whether it’s with God, your spouse, friends, or your kids) it requires the investment of your time and attention. Be honest with yourself, how important is your family to you?
Jesus asked the little children to come to him. He made a point of spending time with them. He made each and every one of them feel precious and told everyone the kingdom of God belonged to those such as these (Matthew 19:13-15).
Psalm 139 talks about how God’s loving hands fearfully and wonderfully fashioned each one of our children. They are beloved creations of His – each and every single one of them. Ask yourself whether that is the message that you are sending to your children. If not, then may I humbly suggest it’s time to make some changes.
Give and Receive Appropriate Physical Touch
In the early 1900s, the infant mortality rate in hospitals throughout the country was very high. A report came out in 1915 showing that in 10 institutional settings the death rates were found to be between 30 to 75 percent. These babies had no apparent physical problems, were well nourished and cared for, and yet failed to thrive.
Many hospital staff believed these babies were dying due to some mysterious infection, resulting in a massive push throughout the country towards sterilization. Nurses and staff were conscientious about washing their hands, wearing gloves and masks, and handling babies only when necessary. Despite all their efforts though, babies continued to die at alarmingly high rates.
During the 1930s, Henry Bakwin, pediatric director of the New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, came to the conclusion that these babies weren’t dying because of physical illness; they were dying because of loneliness. He took down the signs that forbid anyone to enter the ward unless they had scrubbed twice and replaced them with signs reading, “Do not enter this nursery without picking up a baby.”
Contrary to previous protocol, nurses were instructed to hold babies in their laps and cuddle them often. What happened? Infection rates went down dramatically and the overall infant mortality rate plummeted.
Later researchers like John Bowlby and Harry Harlow helped crystallize the theory that is known in clinical circles today as Attachment Theory. We now know just how critically important touch and regular displays of appropriate physical affection (hugs, kisses, etc.) are to the normal development of children.
Children who are given regular displays of appropriate physical affection will be more confident, well adjusted, have higher self-esteem, and tend to have much more successful marriages and families. Children who are consistently deprived of physical touch and affection will tend to be exactly the opposite and be at greater risk for all kinds of emotional and psychological issues.
I know this flies in the face of many cultural norms around the world as well as past standards in our own country. For example, Japanese and Scandinavian Cultures traditionally tend to be fairly conservative and don’t tend to show a lot of affection.
In many places in the U.S. throughout the 1940s and 50s especially, it was commonplace for many men to be fairly uncomfortable with the idea of showing physical affection. What I’m saying and what an avalanche of research over the past 70-80 years is saying is that appropriate physical affection is not just important, it’s actually critical for children to receive on a consistent basis.
We are literally wired for touch and children desperately need it. It is crucial that you as a parent give your kids appropriate physical attention. Sadly, many teenagers end up finding the affection, the attention, and the touch that they’ve always longed for in someone else’s bed or else trying to fill that deep need for attachment through illicit drug use.
Do you as a parent show your children that you love and care about them? My advice to you is that you shower them with love by giving them lots of hugs, kisses, and appropriate displays of physical affection as they grow up. Yes, saying, “I love you” is critically important as well, but kids also need to be shown you love them.
I’ve worked with many young people over the years who believe they’re unlovable and that no one cares simply because they have no one in their life who is giving them appropriate physical affection and attention. Show your kids (especially the “difficult” ones) that they matter by showering them with hugs and kisses each and every day.
Talk with Your Children and Seek First to Understand Them
I know that this is perhaps the most blatantly obvious thing you can do, but you would be amazed how many parents out there hesitate to ask their children what’s wrong with them. Many families just sweep their problems under the rug, don’t talk about their issues, and even pretend they don’t exist.
Other parents, knowing that there’s going to be an unpleasant conflict, simply avoid it all together. If I’m describing you, let me encourage you not to bury your problems. Over time, they will start to decay and stink up your relationship.
Approach your children in a manner that promotes understanding. Seek first to understand them and where they’re coming from rather than simply trying to argue your point, make them see your side of things, and bow to your will. What does he or she say that the problem is?
God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to your children and try to hear what they are saying. Validate their feelings and acknowledge what they’re saying without judgment. If you make a habit of consistently approaching your child with an air of love, humility, and understanding, you will transform your relationship over time.
Be Honest, but Not Necessarily 100% Transparent
A lot of parents (especially single mothers) who don’t have anybody else to really talk to end up confiding their deepest, darkest secrets in their young children. A lot of single moms make the mistake of making their young children their greatest confidants.
Believe me, they’re not ready for that. They’re neither emotionally ready nor mature enough in their season of life for the things that an adult might throw at them. They’re still trying to figure out their own issues so they’re not even close to being ready, nor do they have the life experience, to handle the issues of a fully mature adult.
Don’t make your child your best friend. Be their mom or dad. Lead them and be an example for them and mentor them. You’re not your child’s best friend and they most certainly cannot be yours. Why? Because you’re not on the same level. The two of you are not on equal footing. Love your children and be honest, but understand there need to be limits and boundaries to how much you share. Having limits and boundaries are healthy for both you and your children.
Conclusion to Part 1
We’ve only barely scratched the surface, but let me say that if you as a parent are doing those things, you are well on your way to making a positive impact on your child’s life. That said, if you’re finding yourself struggling in your relationship with your child or teenager, a trained Christian counselor may be a wise investment of your time and resources.
He or she can help assist you in identifying the roots of the problems and help you to learn beneficial interventions, strategies, and habits that will enhance your relationship. In Part 2, we’ll conclude our discussion on things you can do to help make things with your child or teenager a bit less difficult.
“Little Queen,” courtesy of Senjuti Kundu, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Beach time,” courtesy of David Straight, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunshine,” courtesy of Thiago Cerqueira, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Curbside chat,” courtesy of Sebastian Leon Prado, unsplash.com, CC0 License