Overwhelmed Parents Need to Start HERE to Define the Problem
When you feel overwhelmed by the poor behavior of your child, here’s an exercise that will give you some direction. In fact, this activity is good for any parent looking for ways to help a child grow, but it’s especially helpful when you’re confused or overwhelmed by a problem’s complexity or deeply rooted nature.
Take out some paper and make a list of the offenses committed by your child or the problems you’ve seen in your child in the last few days. This isn’t a list to show to your child but is a working list so that you can gain some perspective in your discipline. You’re looking for examples of problems that need to be addressed. Look for behaviors, their causes, common arenas where the problem takes place, and others who were typically involved. In this step, you’re simply gathering data and making observations.
Group the Offenses
Next, group the offenses around character qualities. That is, look for common threads in the offenses that are an indication of a bigger heart issue. For example, one mom was discouraged with her son because he continually resisted chores, wasn’t completing his work at school, and gave her a hard time when she asked for help around the house. She saw a common thread in that her son didn’t like to work hard and resisted work whenever it was presented. She called it a “work ethic” but you could easily give it a character quality name such as perseverance or determination.
In another family, Warren recognized that his son Cory had a lack of compassion. Cory was mean to his sister, made fun of people who were different than him, and liked to play tricks on people he didn’t even know just to get a laugh. The grouping of the offenses around a character quality helped Warren to see the real need in his son’s life. He looked for ways to develop compassion in his son. They talked more about hurt feelings, how humor can be offensive, and went out of their way to help people in need.
Grouping offenses around character qualities is freeing for many parents. First, it provides parents with some perspective. Instead of working on 50 different negative behaviors, now you can focus on three or four positive character qualities. Furthermore, once you develop a strategy for character development you begin to see many of the offenses in your child’s life as opportunities for growth.
Focus on the Goal
This approach also helps parents focus on what their kids need to be doing instead of simply focusing on the wrong behavior. Listen to your words of correction. Are they primarily focused on the problem? Or are they focused on the solution? In just a matter of a few minutes one mom let out a trail of words that went on and on “Cut it out.” “Stop being annoying.” “People aren’t going to like you if you keep that up.” Instead, she’d be more effective if she’d say, “Think about being sensitive.” “Remember, stop and think first.” “Consider how the other person is feeling.” Focusing on the character quality you’re working on allows you to take a more positive and hopeful approach.
In order to keep character training practical you might want to develop working definitions of the qualities you’re focusing on. These aren’t dictionary definitions, but are practical statements that give children hands-on ways to think about heart issues. Here are some examples to get you started, but the best definitions are ones that you develop that are targeted specifically to your child’s needs.
Obedience is doing what someone says, right away, without being reminded.
Honor is treating people as special, doing more than what’s expected, and having a good attitude.
Perseverance is hanging in there even after you feel like quitting.
Attentiveness is showing people you love them by looking at them when they say their words.
Patience is waiting with a happy heart.
Self-discipline is putting off present rewards for future benefits.
Gratefulness is being thankful for the things I have instead of grumbling about the things I don’t have.
This is a Spiritual Exercise
One of the benefits of being a Christian is that the Holy Spirit comes into your life and produces fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 gives a list of character qualities that come from relying on God. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These aren’t just qualities for your kids. Parents need these as well. In fact, the family is a great laboratory where God is helping each person develop the character qualities they need for life.
Now when you see an offense in life, take time to relate the character quality that your child needs to develop. You might say to a teenager, “I sense an ungrateful spirit in you, yet you seem to continually want me to sacrifice. I don’t mind helping you, but I’m going to say no this time and I’ll watch and see if your gratefulness increases for the things I’m already doing for you.”
With a preschooler you might say, “Remember, we’re working on self-control. That means waiting without getting angry or upset.” With an early elementary age child you might say, “When you come into the room, don’t just start talking. Be sure to take time to see what’s going on so that you don’t interrupt other people. That’s what we call sensitivity.”
Affirm Character, not Just Actions
As your children grow and demonstrate godly character, be sure to affirm it. A little praise or even admiration for growth, can go a long way. Admiration and gratefulness are two different things. Many parents are in the habit of thanking their kids for things, but many don’t practice admiration. Thankfulness focuses on what a child does; admiration acknowledges who the person is.
For example, you might thank your son for taking out the garbage, but you could go a step further by saying, “I’m pleased that you did a thorough job. I admire that about you. You saw that extra bag of trash by the door and took that one out too. Thoroughness is a great quality.”
Admiration helps kids recognize character qualities in themselves. A little work in this area can help children better understand how small tasks fit into the larger picture. Focusing on character is a great way to help both parents and kids maintain a healthy perspective on growth.
These ideas come from the book Motivate Your Child Action Plan. If you see a need in your child’s heart and you want to address it using a heart-based strategy, this book and the audio sessions it includes will show you how.