By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
As a parent, your child’s wellbeing is your top priority. You pray from the bottom of your heart that your child stays safe and exercises good judgment at all times, especially when those times fall outside of your watchful eye. The Bible tells us that we should turn to God “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). Yet, God doesn’t need us to tell him our concerns because He already knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8).
Simply put, our prayers do not inform the Almighty of anything He doesn’t already know. Instead, our prayers work to humble us by bringing to the surface just how much we don’t understand and can’t control. It is with a similar humility that we should approach our role as parents. In particular, parents should admit — at least to ourselves! — that we don’t have it all figured out. This basic but powerful admission can help us see that our children need not just our guidance but our compassion for the fact that they’re figuring things out too. That’s why it’s important to nurture an atmosphere of trust and support in our homes, whether or not we agree with our children’s particular choices.
Here are three ways to be a safe harbor to your children no matter the storms they’re facing or may have brought upon themselves.
1. Let your children know that they are not their mistakes.
The Psalmist declares that “children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Life teaches that there are no bad kids, just varying degrees of bad choices. How lucky are we to serve a merciful Lord who gives people second, third, and even fourth chances! God doesn’t stay angry forever but delights in showing mercy to those who truly seek forgiveness for their sins (Micah 7:18; Joel 2:13).
If your child is burdened by shame or regret over making a bad choice, reassure them that even good people do the wrong thing sometimes. In giving examples of people who made bad choices but turned things around, you need look no further than to your Bible.
Take Moses, for instance, who murdered a man (Exodus 2:11-15). Despite this, God saw in Moses a strong leader who would go on to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, receive the Ten Commandments, and show the Israelites to the Promised Land. While Moses is a good example of someone who did a horrible thing yet went on to become a great prophet, he’s also a good example of the reality of consequences. Notably, despite his favored status, God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land because of Moses’s disobedience in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 32:51-52). Here, explain to your child that although making good decisions will only benefit them in the long run, they may still have to pay consequences for their prior bad behavior. On the plus side, encouraging our children to take responsibility for their actions bolsters their confidence in standing behind their good choices and owning up to and correcting their bad ones.
For more examples of Biblical figures who were not defined by their mistakes, look to Jonah, who fled from God’s command (Jonah 1); King David, who committed adultery and had a man murdered (2 Samuel 11:1-17); and Peter, who denied knowing Jesus despite being one of the Twelve Apostles (Mark 14:66-72).
2. Acknowledge your children’s maturity level and then model better behavior.
Children engage in all sorts of behavior that can make parents lose their cool. From our kids throwing tantrums in their younger years to the attitude, backtalk, and disobedience that run rampant in the teen years, parents know full-well how angry we can get at the human beings we love the most.
During these times that test the limits of our patience, take a breath and remember that growing up is a rollercoaster ride of unpredictable mood swings, nerve-wracking insecurities, and heavy peer pressure. While we can’t stop our kids from going through the highs and lows that come with growing up, we can offer them the support they need to feel secure along the way. One thing you can do to make your child feel supported despite their best tactics at getting under your skin is to tell your kid that you may not always love their behavior, but you will always love them. Letting your child know that you see the good kid in them despite the distracting haze of their bad behavior shows your kid that they are separate from the attitude they choose to display. And being reminded that behavior is a choice can be empowering.
Amid your child’s meltdown, take the opportunity to model more appropriate behavior. The best guide for good behavior that we can give our kids is to live by the Golden Rule. Teach your kid that when you do to others what you would have them do to you, knowing how to treat others properly becomes the more natural choice (Matthew 7:12).
Likewise, being slow to anger models patience and clear-headedness to the young eyes watching us at home (Proverbs 14:29). Even if your kid doesn’t immediately change their behavior for the better, you’ll be doing your part in raising your child in the way they should go, as God commands (Proverbs 22:6).
3. Tell your children that you’ll listen to their words but won’t honor their every request.
There is a difference between agreeing to hear your children out and granting their every wish like some parental genie. Teaching your kids that they can’t always get what they want is a lesson that will serve them for a lifetime.
Children who aren’t taught to have patience or take ownership of their responsibilities eventually feel the consequences of their self-serving behavior. Often these consequences include the loss of friendships, jobs, and other vital relationships in their life. On the flip side, sometimes the problem isn’t that your child isn’t responsible, but that your kid wants to hang out with the wrong company. Scripture tells us clearly not to fool ourselves into believing otherwise: “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Children lack the emotional maturity and life experience to see the “red flags” that identify certain people as “bad company.” Because of this, it’s a parent’s duty to know the people their kids are spending time with and, when appropriate, limit or take steps to outright stop those relationships from continuing. This doesn’t make you “overly strict.” It makes you a realistic parent who protects their kids from the many dangers that lurk in our fallen world. However, if you do feel like the “bad guy” for refusing to give in to your child’s requests, remember that our loving Father in Heaven also doesn’t answer all of our prayers. The reason for this is simple: what you think is right for you may very well be different from what our Father knows is right for you. As Jesus taught, if we mere humans know how to give good gifts to our children, then “how much more will [our] Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11).
Every adult knows that unanswered prayers can often be blessings in disguise. If age-appropriate, tell your kids about a time in your life when you desperately wanted something that you didn’t get and how those unanswered prayers turned out to be for the best.
The world outside your door can be harsh and unfair. It’s an unfortunate reality that your children will meet people who’ll say and do things to hurt them. Raising faithful, level-headed kids helps them to steer clear of bad situations but doesn’t guarantee that your kids won’t be ensnared in problems from time to time. When that’s the case, reassure your child that no matter how bad things get out there, they can always count on home to be a safe space to come back to.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/kieferpix
Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.