The second she got in the car she began spewing hate. Her brother couldn’t have known the wrath he would face when he asked how her day went. It was a seemingly innocent question met with a response that made it clear she was not filled with a joyful spirit.
I changed the subject quickly so we could address the matter in a more private place. (And boy was that a good idea.) Once we got home, I took her into my room and asked if she wanted to talk about what was bothering her. She started unleashing all kinds of crazy on me that didn’t even make sense.
Fortunately, I knew to hold my tongue and I just sat there listening to the nonsense. Eventually, she told me that one of the other girls at the theater had gotten upset with her. Although my daughter had apologized for accidentally kicking her, the girl would not forgive. Instead she proceeded to try and convince the other girls to dislike my daughter as well.
You know that moment when you want to march down there and give every single one of those girls a firm talking to? Yeah, this was the moment. Fortunately, I knew better. You see, I struggled with things like this so many times as a kid. I knew what my daughter needed most had nothing to do with those other girls.
She needed me to listen and care, but she also needed me to help her handle the issue. The trouble is, as parents we often jump somewhere else, devaluing our child and killing all chances at a really good lesson. We blame or criticize without even meaning to. Our child feels judged, unloved, and hopeless to solve their problems. And you know what happens next? They stop talking about them.
That’s the last thing you and I want. We are called to guide them morally and help them seek Jesus when things don’t go the way they had planned. If we are going to do that, we need to help them without teaching them to shut down.
How to help your kids handle their problems
Listen excessively. Talk minimally.
If you want to really help your kids, seek to understand them. When we offer advice or criticism, it’s often taken as judgement, and as kids get older they shut down when this happens. Next time your child is frustrated, listen until they stop talking for at least 20 seconds. Then repeat back what they said without making any additional comments or adding insight. Simply say, “So I heard you say that you…”
Keep doing this over and over again as they talk. They will add details and eventually come around to asking you for advice. You’ll be so impressed at how beautifully this works and at how willingly your child opens up to you. Once they ask for advice, you have their captive, willing, and humble attention. This is what you need in order to help them.
Relate to them.
Tell your child how you struggled with something similar. Don’t tell how awesome you are or how strong you were to overcome it. Actually tell them about the struggle. Your honesty and transparency will really help them understand that they are not alone in the battle.
If you didn’t struggle with the same thing when you were younger (or even last week) think of something you have struggled with that was somewhat similar. For example, if they are struggling with another kid at school (or co-op) you might have a story to share about a struggle with a peer from work.
The key is to relate to them as much as possible. If I really can’t relate, I have sometimes used stories about my siblings or friends who I know have walked through a similar situation. It’s not as close as a personal story, but it works.
Get out your Bible.
If you answer all their questions with your words, they will never be able to help themselves when trouble arises. You won’t always be there. Whether it’s in a sticky situation with a friend, a college dorm room, or even 20 years into their marriage, our kids will be faced with many trials. Let’s train them now to find the answers they need.
But don’t fret. Being a parent doesn’t mean you need to know everything. If you don’t have a biblical answer, find one! Google it, ask a trusted friend or pastor. No matter what it is, God has something to say about it!
So what do you think? Learning something new? Were you reminded of something? What would you add?