The Deadly Character Flaw: Pride
Every person has an invisible shield that resists change and seeks to keep the status quo. It’s the story we tell ourselves to justify our actions, defend our reactions and determine how we think about life.
When that invisible shield becomes self-focused, inflexible, and unwilling to look at life differently it’s called pride. Here’s what it looks like in children.
A child doesn’t listen to reason and continues to act in ways that hurts self and others.
A child reacts to correction with blaming, defensiveness, and a victim mentality.
A child resists interruptions, continually saying “no” or “wait a minute” or “I’ll do it later.”
A child says, “It’s not fair” to manipulate situations by comparing themselves and competing with others.
What’s happening in all of these situations? The child is being self-focused, believing that his or her wants, needs, desires, and situation are the most important thing – or the only thing.
How the Child Sees the World
This invisible shield is the glasses through which a person sees the world. A healthy person is willing to continually examine self and question their actions and underlying motivations and beliefs. Christians, in particular, are always asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” or “How can my beliefs be more in line with God’s Word?”
The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 illustrates how pride solidifies in a person’s heart. Verse 4 says, “Come,” they said, “let us build for ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of all the earth.”
God had told them in Genesis 9:1 and 9:7 to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth.” They decided instead that they wanted to build a city and a tower. They didn’t want to obey God’s directives and instead they wanted to focus on themselves. Pride is deadly.
Notice how God handled the situation. He didn’t enter into significant dialogue to try to reason with them. One of the big parenting mistakes that frustrates parents is when they overly rely on conversation and dialogue, and children continually resist, argue, and don’t listen. Those children often need a different approach. They need to learn through experience.
So, God confuses their language. His “parenting strategy” was to frustrate their current goals and force them to reevaluate their position. He didn’t tell them to stop building a tower, he just took away their privilege of communication.
Russ told the story this way. Our twelve-year-old son’s disrespect was increasing. We would tell him to do something and he would either refuse or ignore us. We realized that he believed that he could just do whatever he wanted, and that listening to us was optional. We knew that his lack of cooperation would hinder his effectiveness in relationships both now and in the future. So we took action.
First, we explained to him what we were doing. We told him that we wanted to help him develop a life-skill of cooperation and we were going to have him practice new responses. We tried to position ourselves as coaches, on his side, helping him for the better.
We then stopped the dialogue surrounding instructions. We simply told him he needed to bring in the trash cans now, and then we expected him to do it. We knew that we were being a bit strict, but we also knew that he had a problem in his heart and that helping him take action immediately would help to address that inner response.
Just as we anticipated, there was huge push back. We tried to remain calm but firm, requiring him to do what we said. He tried to use anger and drama to control the situation. We refused to get involved, recognizing that he was trying to protect the status quo with his emotions.
It would have been nice if he would have just responded, but he didn’t, so after a bit we took away his tablet and computer privileges. Again, we saw the anger, but again, we recognized that he was using his emotion to try and control us. We refused to get sucked in. We knew that we were forcing him to deal with his invisible shield. Life couldn’t work for him as it had in the past. He needed to make some changes.
After about an hour he went out and brought in the trash cans. “Now can I have my tablet back,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “but first we need to talk. Your ability to give up your agenda for others is important for your success in life. I’m going to give back your tablet, but I want you to know that in a little while I’m going to interrupt you and give you another instruction.”
We actually worked on this approach for days. It seemed that when our son saw that we weren’t going to back down and that we were determined to change the pattern, he became more pliable in his heart. We saw it in other ways too. He became more responsive. We praised the growth and maturity we were seeing in him and, although he wouldn’t admit it, he seemed pleased with himself.
These parents were successful because they challenged the invisible shield. They found ways into his heart. It wasn’t easy and it looked like their strategy would fail for a while. But they realized that the success of their plan wasn’t the short-term compliance. It was much bigger than that.
Here are some ways to challenge a child’s pride as you continue to develop a specific strategy for your child.
1) Use experience in addition to dialogue to bring about change.
Sometimes children need more relationship-focused experiences to increase emotional connectedness with parents. Remember that relationship softens the heart. Other times, parents can use experiences of firmness to push through a child’s resistance.
Interestingly enough, parents also have an invisible shield that governs their actions and reactions. When parents are intentional, they are able to move past their own tendencies of avoiding conflict, or helping their kids to feel good, or other hindrances to progress they might realize.
2) Teach children to be open to change.
Growth takes place when we examine our belief systems and choose to allow new ideas and experiences to mold our thinking. The most powerful tool God uses is his Word to bring about change in our lives. Telling children Bible stories and reading passages of scripture together are helpful. Be sure to ask the question, “What’s the lesson learned?” because application adjusts what we believe and how we act.
3) Share your own growth experiences.
We all have an invisible shield. We are all challenged regularly by life and by God to make changes to the way we live. By talking about the invisible shield and illustrating ways that you are growing and changing, you can inspire a child to also grow.
4) Be patient but not negligent.
Some parents believe that their child will outgrow a bad attitude or become more responsive over time. This is a dangerous line of thinking, especially when dealing with pride and selfishness. Most of the time children grow into selfishness and unless challenged, become more self-centered. Change takes time, but change doesn’t happen without a catalyst, and often you’re the one to motivate the change.
A heart-based approach to parenting involves strategy instead of simply reacting to problems. As you consider your own family, look for ways to challenge the heart. That’s the road to deeper and more lasting change in a child.
For more on understanding a heart-based approach to parenting you might want to read the book Parenting is Heart Work. For more individualized help, you might want to consider the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program.