This is a followup to Emotions and Childish Crises, Part 1
Since I’ve been watching my responses to my children’s crises, I’ve discovered that many times, as I seek to be compassionate, I listen carefully, ask good questions, take time to offer perspective, and then ultimately say a variation of “stop crying now.”
Since many of their childish crises are self-imposed or necessary evils, the tears often only prolong that messy room, difficult homework, or making something right with a grouchy sibling. In these cases, showing kindness includes helping them face the difficulty. The difficulty is always at the end of every conversation.
If my goal is “stop the crying” then I’m going to feel like a failure every single time. My kindness doesn’t stop the crying all that well. I was surprised and a little dismayed by this realization, until I considered that I work the same way. I can encourage my heart and renew my mind, but at some point do the right thing or the next thing in spite of my feelings.
I’ve started acknowledging that knowing what is right doesn’t mean that they will suddenly be overwhelmed with joy at the thought of doing it. I mentioned today to Bethel that even after we pray for God’s help, we still have to do hard things. Usually our feelings change after we choose to think differently, and after we start moving in the right direction. I really think this idea has been a helpful one to tell the kids (and for me to remember).
Here are some more observations since I’ve been paying close attention to the emotions at our house:
- Sometimes I don’t talk things over with a crying child. “No, don’t cry when mama asks you to….” Especially for my youngest, and typically when they were all younger, crying at a request was often a verbalizing of “I don’t want to” and not a big internal crisis. In these cases, saying calmly “Stop whining and obey” isn’t unkind.
- Not every child routinely responds with what I consider a disproportionate emotional response to the issue, but mine do. It’s partly their God-given, beautifully sensitive and emotional personalities. They feel deep. Everything matters. But for me to love them, I have to learn how to kindly, calmly, and firmly guide them through those waters.
- It is not always a bad thing to moderate some of their emotions and help them see that they are overreacting. Some children are overly dramatic! God has a use for all this drama, but it can be startling for us as parents, and humbling when we really don’t know how to respond well or lovingly.
- It helps that I have the same tendency to become emotionally stuck. Often I help my children better after I’ve taken care of the plank in my eye first. As I think about it, I do have a routine that gets me unstuck. I must recognize I’m stuck, reset my thinking upward, make my environment work for me, and do the thing I’m avoiding. If I’m really stuck, I ask someone to help me. Take phone calls. Once I realize that I’m avoiding making that phone call, I need to change how I’m thinking about it. Once I’ve framed my problem and asked for help, I will tell a friend I need to make a particular phone call. Or I will ask my husband to pray for me as I make the phone call. None of that makes the phone call suddenly a happy job, so ultimately I must make the choice to do right in spite of my feelings.
- Distraction is another good approach. One way we can learn to trust God is to find something happy to do. (“Let’s go build a new Lego airplane.”) Or do right even when we feel sad about doing it. Leading a child (“I’ll help you; let’s do it together.”) whenever possible seems much better than pushing a child (“I’ve already told you, get started now.”) Helping children get unstuck often means I must get off the couch and go help.
- I have found it helpful to consider the example of King David as a masculine warrior who was emotional. I love to read the Psalms with our children and help them identify the emotions that King David was feeling, and what he did with those emotions. Comforting our boys and helping them work through their emotions is important.
- As mothers, we bring our children to Jesus when we reassure them that Jesus does care about their crisis, and that there is nothing too small to share with him and ask for help. With very young children, we set a pattern when we pray together. “Jesus, thank you that you care about lost stuffies.”
- I don’t have answers for when to tell children gently that they have cried enough, or exactly how to help them understand they are unreasonably upset about something. (Like Laurel who was in tears because Bethel could jump rope more times than she could. Confession: I laughed.) Sometimes children are irrational, even when they are old enough to talk through their crises, and especially when they are tired or overwhelmed.
- I need to remember that emotions are God-given and control of them develops gradually. Small children are naturally extremely emotional, and they will grow out of that immaturity in time, every bit as predictably as their teeth coming in or physical height (with the same kinds of variability, I believe). I remember thinking when David was a toddler that he seemed to cry all the time. In fact, every child of ours has gone through a whiny stage when the whining seemed constant! And I’m still amazed at how emotional my children seem. If I understand that learning about emotions is a developmental skill, I will be less impatient and worried when my children cry. I will realize that some children must be taught more deliberately about emotions and what to do with them. (and that teaching is often best done outside of a crisis!)
- I need to view my interventions through the lens of my own crises. An ice-cream cone falling to the concrete is every bit as traumatic to a child as losing a hundred dollar bill that we need to pay the rent. If I treat my children the way I would want to be treated in a crisis, I am certain I will have more kindness and compassion. The verses that give me hope and encouragement are ones that reassure me of God’s love and purpose in my life. There are no random trials. As I help my daughter with homework this morning, I am deliberately telling her these things that God uses to comfort me: I love you, and I know the work is hard. I would not ask you to do it if I didn’t think it was good for you. I will help you if you get stuck.
- Emotional control (self control or temperance) is a fruit of the spirit as well as a developmental skill. Teaching children to hide their emotions is not as important as teaching them to love God and follow him. Practically, I am learning that as my children get older, their emotions are an important clue for what is going inside their hearts. They don’t always have the words to say what is wrong, but their emotions can help me to be alert to the existence of a problem. I need to remember that emotions aren’t the problem! As my daughter cries over her hard homework, I do need to help her understand when she has gone from grief to complaining (That’s a wisdom issue that I don’t always get right in my own life!)
- Especially for young children, it’s helpful to remember that God never gives us temptation that we are unable to bear. Sometimes I need to remove temptation by saying no to a playdate, ignore people who think I’m holding my baby too much, stop the lecture and go get a glass of water with my child, or simply start some music as we work together to finish a job. I’m teaching children to trust God by my hugs, by helping them put the past behind them and think instead on good things.
What are you learning about emotions and your children?