Addressing Deeply Rooted Problems in Children
The Bible uses the term “stronghold” to describe a defensive structure. Although viewing God as our stronghold is a good way of looking at the idea, there is also a good picture of a person’s challenges hidden in that word.
A stronghold, as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 10:4 is an internal argument or belief that is controlling the person. Sometimes children develop strongholds of pride, defensiveness, arguing, meanness, dishonesty, or self-defeating thinking. When you see these kinds of deeply rooted problems in a child, it’s time to move to a heart-based approach.
2 Corinthians continues to suggest that there are spiritual weapons we can draw upon. But how do we discern these weapons? And, what can we do to recognize these strongholds and work with them in daily life?
In Matthew 23, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the cup and dish (their outward behavior) but leaving the inside of the cup (their hearts) full of greed and self-indulgence. Jesus told them to first clean the inside of the cup so that the outside would also become clean.
We need to work toward allowing God to change our children’s hearts, not just focus on changing their behavior. Since this challenge can seem overwhelming, it’s helpful to formulate a specific plan that uses a multifaceted approach—beginning with prayer.
As you pray for your child, several things happen. First, God works directly in your child’s heart as a result of your prayers. Also, your prayers raise your awareness level of God’s work so you are better prepared to respond wisely. You see, some of the work God wants to do in your child, he will do through you. If you are praying regularly for your child, you will become more sensitive to issues and opportunities you face during the day that can make a big difference in your child’s life.
For example, parents often react angrily to a child’s habitual problems. But if you’re praying for the child, and asking for wisdom and opportunity for yourself, those negative patterns can become opportunities to practice new strategies to move your child a little bit in the right direction. As prayer prepares you for the challenges you face with your child, your anger decreases.
Look at Character
In addition, look at character and not just behavior. Behavior is situational. Character is transferable. Notice how Romans 5:3-4 encourages us to persevere in order to build character. Why? Because the growth in one area, helps us develop strengths in another. “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Here’s an exercise that parents often find helpful: Take a piece of paper and jot down all the behaviors you see in your child that concern you. Be specific. Next look over your list and group the behaviors together in terms of character weaknesses. What quality is your child lacking, that if it were developed, would help your child overcome this group of problems? You might identify a weakness in humility, courage, cooperation, thoughtfulness of others, integrity, kindness, or some other quality. Once you have narrowed your list of behaviors down to a handful of character qualities, choose one to work on first.
Develop a plan to work on that one character quality. Character is built over time. Don’t expect huge changes in your child overnight. Many little steps are more realistic and effective in bringing about lasting changes than large steps. Therefore, reinforce “approximately” right behavior whenever you can. Don’t wait for absolutely right behavior before offering encouragement. Talk about the character quality you’re working on, what you see developing, not just the behavior or what you’re trying to change.
Focus on it for a While
Continue to concentrate on one particular character quality for a period of time in order to bring about change in your child’s heart. As you see that quality develop you’ll notice behavior change too. As your child makes progress, continue to talk about the importance of this character quality. Gently offer reminders when negative patterns reappear.
In the end, a character-development approach to child training pays huge dividends. Children may forget the individual issues, but they will remember the character qualities. You can successfully address deeply-rooted problems in a child’s life over time through a character-based approach.
For a list of positive character qualities and their corresponding negative manifestations, you’ll want to read Chapter 8 of the book Home Improvement: The Parenting Book You Can Read To Your Kids by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. It’s now available as an audio book as well as an ebook and paperback.