Maybe you’re not like this, but when God’s trying to get my attention about something, He usually has to give me three or four different experiences or messages before I’ll think, “Okay, God, I’m listening.”
This time, I think it started on a trip to the indoor playground with the kids. Isabelle, our almost-4-year-old, took off for the slides while her brother made his way to the train set. A few minutes later, she came over to me, almost in tears, talking about some boys who were saying things to her. I think. The message was somewhat garbled by her hysteria. So, I followed her and watched as two boys about her age, made guns with their fingers and pointed them at her while chasing her and saying things I couldn’t really understand.
My first reaction, understandably, was Mama Lion. I gave them the you-better-not-mess-with-my-baby look and sort of stared them down. I’m sure they knew I meant business. (That’s a little sarcasm. I’m not really as fierce as a lion.) I told Isabelle to try to avoid them because quite frankly, that’s what I would do. I searched the place for a parental figure but couldn’t find anyone who seemed to be claiming these boys. My eyes locked on a dad parked in front of the TVs in the “lounge” area, and I assumed that disconnected dad was to blame for their behavior.
I wanted to discipline these boys or at least chew out their father for his lack of disciplining them. After all, their actions were causing harm to someone I love beyond measure. I think I might have even told Isabelle to ask the boys if they knew Jesus, but I’m not sure I meant it. Later, though, I realized that maybe I could have handled this situation better. Maybe the boys just needed a hug or someone to tell them they’re special and valuable and useful. Naive, right?
Later that same week, I noticed my choice of words toward my son, who at age 2 is showing signs of stereotypical terribleness. He takes things from his sister just because. He tells her things that aren’t true, which upsets her. And he hits and tries to bite. Sometimes I tell him he’s a stinker. Or that he’s being a bully. The word “jerk” passes through my mind. I’m ashamed to admit these things because this is a child and I love him. What I don’t love is his behavior.
Tell me this kid isn’t bound to give me trouble? (And by the way, maybe I should get some advertising dollars from the Quaker company for this …)
Then God reintroduced me to this verse in Romans. Paul says this about God: “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)
And I began to wonder what would happen if instead of calling it like it is with my son, I called it like it could be. What if instead of saying, “You’re a bully” I said, “You’re a child of God”? What if instead of “you’re being a stinker” I called him “my beloved son”?
Now, I’m no child psychologist or behavior specialist nor do I have any research to back this up. I only know that labels tend to stick and kids can become what people believe about them, for good or bad.
If this wasn’t enough, I read this post this week. (The guy uses some profanity, but it’s a powerful read.)
I’m terribly fearful of causing my kids emotional damage yet also fearful of protecting them too much. I want them to know how to take criticism, to evaluate its worth and to know who they are apart from what people say about them. Yes, they’re only 4 and 2, but doesn’t it start here?
Honestly, I don’t have these things worked out perfectly in my life. I can still make an effort to set them on a good path, though, right?
I know that God is the kind of parent who says of me what I don’t always believe is true, but maybe that’s a discussion for another day.
So, parents, child educators, behavior specialists, theologians, anyone … help me out here.
How do I build my kids up without lying to them? How do you handle kids with obvious behavior issues using love and not judgment? How do you acknowledge the truth of a behavior (taking your sister’s purse was not nice) without labeling (you’re not nice)?