Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Diving into Discomfort

This adorable three-year-old is riding a roller coaster for the first time. If you watch the clip you will see that she has been coached to scream and raise her hands in the air. She complies with this, but her facial expression tells a different story. Throughout the ride she goes back and forth between hands in the air and a tight grip on the bar in front of her.

As she is dives into discomfort she learns something new.

She learns she likes roller coasters.

She learns she can do something scary and difficult.

She learns to trust the adults in her life.

It is experiences like these that help children to develop a strong sense of confidence that helps them to be resilient problem-solvers. I am not saying that all children need to experience scary rides and amusement parks. But, I am saying that children need to experience being uncomfortable, or sad, or frustrated. They need to learn that they can get through bad feelings and learn something new.

If we protect children from disappointments or frustrations we are simply making the path smooth for them. We are NOT doing them any favors. We are NOT teaching them to be confident successful learners.

In fact, we are doing just the opposite by creating anxious, unmotivated individuals.

How can a child know he is capable if he has never been tested? How can a child know she is capable if she has never had the opportunity to suffer the consequences of a mistake? A smooth path does not grow resilience. It simply creates more problems as children become depended on others to fix things.

Let your children experience the natural consequences of their mistakes. Let them dive into that discomfort and learn they can come out stronger at the other side. And all the time remind them that God loves them, no matter what; that Jesus died so they are forgiven; that the Spirit lives and works good in their lives.

But now thus says the LORD, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:1-2

When you find yourself tempted to smooth the path for your children, instead take their hand and show them how God helps them to overcome sadness, disappointment, anger, fear, and frustration. That is discomfort that results in resilience.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Disturbing Events and Other Tragedies

Disturbing events happen and when they do our children look to the adults in their life for answers.

Disturbing events rarely have answers.

The good news is your child doesn’t need you to be an expert. Your child needs to be present and aware.

Be aware that the constant information from the media and others in your child’s life might be increasing anxiety.

Be aware that some aspects of busy family life might need to be set aside to spend time talking and comforting.

Be present to show empathy and help your child to manage worries. We don’t have answers to scary things so it is best to assure that God is in control and that He loves us, even when the world makes us think differently.

Be present to ask questions and listen for both the spoken and unspoken answer. Often children need us to pose questions that start with feelings.

“I wonder if you are feeling afraid?”

“Does the world seem confusing now?”

“Are you worrying about something big or maybe something little?”

And when your child is ready, help him or her with an action plan. Make a list of what can be done. Are there people to comfort? Are there little changes to be made? Are there comforting rituals that can remind your child of love and protection?

You may not feel like an expert, but God has given you expertise regarding your child. He will bless you with what you need, when you need it.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ Isaiah 58:9

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Trust and Waiting

This NPR article talks about a new version of the famous marshmallow test. In the original study researchers were looking for children to show delayed gratification by being able to wait patiently for a second treat while not eating the first treat that is within reach.

Today’s children do not do very well on this test with fewer than half of them able to resist the temptation of the treat in front of them. For those who are able to wait, the skill of patient waiting leads to better academics and success in life and school. The ability to delay gratification – or put off a small reward in favor of a larger one later – is a desired skill, indeed.

The NPR article talks about the difference between kids in the U.S. and Germany when compared to the children of rural Cameroon. Apparently, waiting patiently is a super skill for these children and it is most likely linked to parenting style.

While we can’t move to Cameroon in order to raise patient children we can make some changes in our own parenting to encourage this same effect. Here are three differences that can be addressed:

Nurture a positive attitude: In situations that require waiting you can empathize and redirect by helping your child to find the silver lining:

“It’s no fun to wait in line, but won’t these groceries taste good when we get them home?”

Now, don’t follow this up with a bribe, or coaxing. Just let your child know that waiting is a part of life.

Parents know best: Children learn to trust parents who are able to tell them what the best course of action is. Bargaining, bribing, and arguing are all things that might work in the short run, but leave a child wondering who is in charge. That just creates anxiety which in turn encourages more argument. The child thinks, "If my parent isn't in charge I guess I need to be."

Be predictable: Children look for patterns in behavior and are happiest when they can predict what a parent will do – even if that action is not favorable. If an activity is not healthy, affordable, or timely, then don’t give in to pleading. 

The bottom line:  your children want to trust the person who is in charge. This helps them to feel safe and learn. They are too young to lean on their own understanding!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3: 5

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Children and Trust

This cute clip shows the wonder of young children and magical thinking. Where did that plastic centipede go?

One of the first cognitive tasks of a child is to learn to trust. The world is a crazy place and the brain wants to make sense of everything that is experienced. Infants begin to develop a trust relationship with caregivers very early on. Sometimes this is referred to as an attachment. A child with a secure attachment learns to trust that parents will respond to needs. 

A secure attachment extends to include the confidence that parents will give good explanations for what is experienced. This trust is essential to any kind of learning whether that be at home, in school, in church, or anywhere important to the child. A child without trust is a child who’s brain finds it difficult to learn.

Magical thinking is aided by this trust. Young children have a less developed sense of logical thinking. They tend to believe what they see because they cannot access the abstract thinking necessary to imagine something else – in this case the possibility that Dad has learned a clever trick. As this young one gets older she will begin to suspect there is another explanation and then the “magic” becomes a fun game.

Emotional trust muscles need to be exercised on a regular basis. Children need to know they can trust their parents to respond to their needs (ahem, put the phone down if your child is near). They need to know that you will continue to love them even when they do something wrong, or something bad happens. They need to trust in that relationship you are building with them.

Teaching your child to trust in Jesus is also important. Anxiety levels rise when we believe we are in control of our lives. Quickly we learn that we cannot rely on ourselves to make things turn out okay. Children who trust in God will move through life with more confidence that they have help and that someone wiser than themselves is in charge.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6