The Heart Is a Wrestling Place
The heart is where we wrestle with things. When experience, teaching, and values need to be integrated into life, it happens in the workshop of the heart. Information comes into our heads on a regular basis but much of it just stays there. Only when it moves down to our hearts does it become part of our lives.
When parents understand this one idea it can significantly change the way they work with their kids. Here are some examples.
When eight-year-old, Jordan, says to himself, “I’m no good. No one wants to be with me. I’ll never get it right,” he’s repeating negative things in his heart. Rebecca feels good in her heart because she refused to join those who were disrespectful to the teacher. Jack’s mom can see a heart problem because he scowls and complains whenever she asks him to do something. In each of these situations, children wrestle with things or come to conclusions about life and its challenges in their hearts.
The Heart is Looking for New Ideas…Sometimes
Sometimes the new information or new idea like “You have a responsibility to contribute to family life,” is accepted well. The heart integrates that idea and it becomes a belief and even a conviction. On the other hand, this new idea may be met in the heart with resistance. It might be an emotion that says, “I don’t feel like it.” Or, maybe a desire that communicates, “I don’t want to.” Or, maybe another belief surfaces such as, “Chores are Mom’s work.”
In these moments we have a problem. How strong is this new idea at overcoming the existing structures that are in the heart. This is how change or lack of it takes place in the heart.
When parents use heart-based approach they take advantage of this wrestling inside a child. They feed nutritious information, contribute praise for growing character, and comment about the helpful and unhelpful internal dialogue as it makes its way out through behavior.
Firmness is Often Necessary
Sometimes parents use firmness to communicate that this new way of living is not optional. It’s going to happen whether or not you feel like it, want it, or even struggle to believe it. It’s still going to happen. This firmness comes in the form of practice, accountability, and even consequences if needed.
Jesus knew that the teachers of the law were struggling inside with the fact that he forgave the paralytic in Matthew 9:4. He says, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” When in Luke 24 the two disciples on the road to Emmaus realized that their surprise guest was Jesus, they reflected on the experience by saying, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Children’s Hearts Need Guidance
Too often parents focus only on behavior, things like getting jobs done around the house and completing homework. The real work of parenting is done in the heart.
Frankly, many children’s hearts don’t burn enough. They don’t wrestle with the new ideas that God wants for them or that their parents believe are keys to their success. Don’t be afraid of emotion from your child. Sometimes an emotional reaction is an indication that you’re working in just the right place. The heart is just being resistant.
Working on the heart of a child isn’t easy. It often requires significant conversation, time building relationship, and a strategic approach to firmness that points kids in the right direction.
The good news is that when the heart actually embraces the new idea or truth, then it can be nurtured into a life-changing conviction that will last a long time.
Heart work is so much better than an approach that focuses on reward and punishment. But the heart can be complicated, often puzzling parents about how to get through to this kid. In those moments the strongest tool is prayer. Ask God for wisdom to know what the heart issue is and how best then to approach change.
For more ideas about how to relate to children on a heart level, read the book, Parenting is Heart Work, by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.