Sunday, January 10, 2016

Serious Advice 6-8: Respect and Uplifting Speech

            #6  The previous points can be summed up in this Biblical principle:  Imagine how you want to be treated and treat your kids likewise.  Good ‘ole Matthew 19:19:  “. . . love your neighbor as yourself . . .”  Well, our closest neighbors are our family members.  It seems so obvious, but it’s amazing how little we show kindness and respect to our family members. 

            And, this is a novel thought . . . treat them at least as good as strangers.  Why is it that complete strangers get kinder words, gentler reactions, and the benefit-of-the-doubt more than our own family members do?  And why do we treat our children with more harshness than we would tolerate for ourselves?  We won’t let other people call us names, but we’ll call our kids names.  We won’t let others speak to us like we’re stupid, but we may talk to our kids that way.     

            Talk respectfully to your kids.  They are people, too.  And, as I said, they are God’s children on loan to us.  Think of it as though we are just babysitting God’s children.  Don’t think of them as your property, so that you can yell at them all you want or call them names or speak harshly to them.  (Same goes for how you should view your spouse and others.)  Those are God’s kids that you are mistreating or degrading.  And as parents, we all know how it feels when someone messes with our kid.  If our inner mother-bears come out so easily when we see our cubs being messed with, imagine how God must feel to see us messing with His cubs.  I believe that we will all stand before God and give account for how we treated the people He gave us to raise (as well as all the people we encounter throughout life). 
            I had the sad opportunity once to overhear a young mother speaking to her children in a very damaging way.  I could hear this mom yelling through her open window at her two toddlers.  She was so angry and forceful that I half expected to hear a child being thrown against the wall.  (And trust me, I was listening.  And ready to call the police, if it sounded like it was getting physical.)  And this little boy was crying, “Mommy, Momma, oh, Mommy,” over and over again, as the mother yelled, “SHUT UP, SHUT UP!  I can’t take it anymore.  I am stuck here all day BECAUSE OF YOU.  Just SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!”  And on and on it went with many words that I couldn’t decipher.  And on and on that little boy cried for a good hour or so in his room by himself after the screaming stopped. 
            I knew his other parent was home, his step-dad.  Why had he not stepped in and removed the child from his enraged mother for a few moments so she could calm down?  I’m sure she didn’t want to be sending these terrible messages to her kids.  Maybe she would have appreciated a little help from him. 
            My advice to all the “other” parents out there, the ones watching it all happen . . . never sacrifice your child and leave them in the path of a wrathful, hateful tirade because you’re afraid to step in and become a target yourself.  Do the brave, bold thing and swoop in to protect your child from immediate harm to their bodies, minds, and hearts.  Even if it means calling the police.  Children are too precious for you to just sit on the sidelines and watch them be destroyed.  And then try to encourage your spouse to seek help for their anger.  They may thank you for it later.   
            How my heart broke for this little boy!  How I wanted to run in there and scoop him up and hug him and tell him that he is a wonderful little creation.  I can understand getting frustrated and reaching your boiling point, but please remember that your words have a lot of power.          Proverbs 12:18:  “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  Words and attitude (or total indifference to them) have the power to crush the life and the spirit out of a child.  I’ve heard this before and I wish it were true: children should come with a tag that says “Fragile! Handle with care!”  
            I’m sure many of you think I’m over sensitive.  My husband does.  He teases me that I am overly concerned about protecting my children’s self-esteem, that I fear that everything I do will cause lasting and irreversible damage, and someday my children will write a book titled Scarred For Life: Memoirs of My Childhood. 
            Maybe I am overly concerned.  But as a counselor, I have heard and read so many personal accounts of what kinds of things damaged people’s developing self-esteems and created certain negative beliefs, behaviors, or protective walls.  Maybe it’s not that I am overly concerned; maybe others aren’t concerned enough. 
            Children are fragile, even if they don’t show it.  For example, I know that when one of my kids gets his feelings hurt or gets scolded, he smiles and skips away to the other room.  It may look like he is not listening or that the message hasn’t sunk in.  But he heard and he feels pain.  I know this because he is just like me when I was young.  (And it’s probably the way I still am; smile through the pain, don’t let them see you hurt.)  If I go after him to check on him, I can see that he waited to cry until he was away from people.
            Even if your children look like they are blissfully unaware that they are being yelled at, they are probably just hiding the pain from you.  They are more sensitive than we give them credit for, and they need to be handled gently.  When you discipline, make your point and make it once.  Don’t carry on and on, kicking a dead horse and making them feel worse and worse because you don’t know if you made your point loud and clear.  I’m sure you did!  Yes, children are resilient.  But don’t use the “Children are resilient” motto to be careless in how you treat them. 
            It always surprises me when I will scold one of my children for something and they will look like they didn’t hear or care.  It’ll seem gone and forgotten; but then, ten minutes later, they will come in the room all forlorn and say, “I’m really sorry, Mom.”  Trust me!  They do hear all that you are saying, even when you don’t want them to.  Which brings me to my next point . . .           
            #7  Don’t be afraid to share your parenting mistakes and stories with your friends and to laugh over them (if it’s appropriate) because we can all understand.  But please remember that children are very sensitive and easily embarrassed whenever things are shared about them.  Do not let them hear you talking about their funny or embarrassing moments to others.  If you are going to share anything with another person, make sure it’s only with those who won’t pass it on or tease your child.  Don’t sell them out for a laugh or use them as fodder for conversation.  (Don’t do this with your spouse, either.)  You might just lose their trust and respect.  Proverbs 11:13:  “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”  
            [Oh, and speaking of parenting mistakes.  We will all make them, so just accept that.  We will all say and do irrational, stupid, hasty things that upset us.  But one mistake that we should never make is to think that everyone else out there is a perfect parent, and we are great, big failures at it.  Because, most likely, those other “perfect” parents are thinking the same thing.  I think it’s time that we all forgive ourselves for not being perfect.  Seek to try harder, of course, but go easy on yourself.  And know that as long as you continue picking yourself up when you fall and you apologize, your children will probably turn out fine.  Trust me, it’s no surprise to them that we aren’t perfect. 
            Oh, and when another parent shares their parenting mistakes with you, don’t leave ‘em hanging.  Feel free to be real with them, too.  Our Adult Bible Fellowship Class (a.k.a. Sunday School) was doing a series on parenting once.  And the leader asked if anyone in the class would be willing to admit to any mistakes that they have made as a parent. 
            Well, I assumed that all of us in that room were human, and so we all must have some sort of example to share.  Yet, knowing how hard it is to be the first person to speak up, I decided to go first to break the ice, to build the camaraderie.  And I shared about a time that I really wasn’t proud of, when I disciplined without truly understanding the situation.  And then . . . NO ONE else spoke up.  They all heard my confession and then sat there in silence, with “Hmm?  You know, I can’t think of one example from my life” expressions on their faces. 
            I tell ya, my insides were burning with embarrassment.  I felt about two feet tall.  Come on, people!  Don’t leave me hanging out there all by myself, all exposed and vulnerable.  I wanted to then say, “Oh, yeah, well, do you all know about the other 95% of the time?  That I try really hard to be the best mom possible and that I do a really good job, if I must say so myself.”  And apparently, I would have to say it myself . . . because nobody else would speak up.  Okay, I’m done now.  I’m letting it go . . . taking a deep breath . . . moving on . . .]  
            #8  Since kids listen to everything you say, let them hear you complimenting them and praising their accomplishments and good qualities to other people.  Ephesians 4:29:  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 
            I know what you’re thinking, Hey, typo!  I just read that.  Yeah, well, if you’re like me, I’ve heard this so many times before that I go “Yeah, yeah, I know all this.”  And then I go out and do exactly what it says not to do, daily.  So I’m going to keep saying it till it sinks in, and I obey it.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 
            One day, I began noticing a trend.  When my husband came home from work, I would start by telling him what the kids did wrong during the day, mainly just in the name of conversation and filling him in.  Then he would feel that he needed to say something to them or discipline them, and it would start off the whole evening on a negative note.  Now, I can’t fault him because he was just trying to do the husbandly thing and help his wife. 
            But I decided to try something different.  I decided to make it a point to tell him about the ways the kids impressed me - like when Ryder picked me a flower, or when Hunter got his Thank You cards written right away with no complaints, or when Kody thought about saving the last orange for Dad because he knew that he would want it.  Or when he offered to not go bowling with the boys for Hunter’s birthday party because he felt bad that we had to spend too much money already.  (I mean, what child is that sensitive to other people’s needs?  That is a really rare, special trait that he has, and it’s so endearing to me.) 
            This got Jason to praise and encourage them.  And I can only imagine how they must just swell inside when they hear me tell their dad the good things that they did during the day instead of the bad things.  This also encourages them to try harder and do better so that they can hear more of those affirming words.  I think I’ll try that more often and save the negative for when he really needs to hear it.
            To help set a more positive, encouraging tone in our house we started something that we call the Special Plate.  There is one plate different from all the others, and this is our Special Plate.  Occasionally, one of us will get this plate with dinner, because we did something special to deserve it or “just because.”  And everyone else needs to say something special about whoever gets the plate. 
            Ever since we started this, I have seen positive changes in my more reluctant-to-help children as they begin trying to find ways to impress us and help out more.  And I can just see the smile in their eyes when they find the plate in their spot at dinner-time.  (Although, when they don’t get the plate they tend to get upset and envious.  This helps us teach them that we need to encourage and celebrate others when it’s someone else’s time to shine.)  But it has helped us all be more conscientious about complimenting each other and considering each other’s feelings.  And hopefully, this will help set the tone for the adult relationships that the boys will have.