When a child misbehaves either at home, in Sunday School or Good News Club, how do you let him know you still accept him, without appearing to take his offense too lightly? How do you protect his heart and your relationship with him?
The important thing is to let the child know you LIKE him, even if you don’t like some of his actions or thoughts. Sometimes we want to let it go with the fact that we LOVE the child, but it’s just as important to him to feel LIKED. Let’s say Charlie commits the same offense for the umpteenth time. As the parent or teacher, you delivered the correction, and helped him express remorse. Next comes four ways to protect the relationship and help Charlie feel loved AND liked.
First, LISTEN to Charlie. Ask him, “Charlie, can you tell me why you wanted to do that?” A tone that actually welcomes him to express himself can help him learn to verbalize his frustrations before acting on them. You might learn that something else happened in the incident that wasn’t witnessed by you or others, and if you proceeded with discipline without knowing the full story, Charlie would be so distracted by the injustice that he won’t let God work in his heart over his part of the problem. You can also ask him how he thinks his actions affected the other people present, then say you know it wasn’t his intention to cause that discomfort for them. If appropriate, give him the benefit of the doubt, that his actions were maybe thoughtless but not outright vindictive. Even little people live up to higher expectations and feel pain if judged too harshly.
Second, you don’t want to leave him in shame mode, uncertain if he’s forgiven, so be sure to let him know he’s forgiven even though you must carry out a consequence. Help him feel good about the fact that the misbehavior was openly addressed and taken care of, so now it’s resolved, and we can move on in the relationship without bad feelings.
Third, you need to deliver acceptance to this child who can be quite unlikeable. Acceptance is a way of communicating, “I want you around, even if your behavior isn’t acceptable.”
Here’s where we ask the Heavenly Father for HIS perspective. After all, He made Charlie. He knows Charlie inside and out. When God gives you His perspective, you can say accepting things to the child like this:
“Charlie, I’m so glad you’re in our family (or class).”
“Charlie, you’re special to me in your own way.”
“Charlie, I had the same struggle when I was your age. I know you will work on this and overcome it.”
Finally, we need to deliver affirmation. Affirmation is a way of communicating that there are good and likeable things about you, even though you’re struggling with that issue. Again, you’ll need God’s help to discern Charlie’s finer points for affirmation. Giving attention to the good helps him feel noticed without having to misbehave for the attention, and encourages him in the good. Even if you don’t get to observe something good, you can imagine it. “Charlie, I’ll bet your little brother really looks up to you. I’ll bet you’re a great big brother to him.”
If you encourage Charlie to talk, he might say something that will give you insight into pressures he’s feeling. Kids today have more pressures and different pressures than we had as kids.
Most of us fill our lives so full that we’re too busy and exhausted for thoughtful parenting. We take the shortcut and just make a correction and quickly move on. Our own busyness might be some of the cause for kids acting out. Less rush and more, patient eye contact and communication, by itself can say “I care about you, even though your behavior isn’t pleasant.”
The more we can verbalize to our children that we LIKE them, the easier it is for them to verbalize affirming things to others. One appealing thing about young children especially is their ability to love, and even LIKE, unconditionally. We can learn from THEM on that. Our favorite people are those who easily affirm others. 2 Timothy 4 tells us to correct and encourage with great patience. Balance in doing both can be hard with difficult children, but God’s grace is there for you too.
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