Cynthia L. Eppley, MA
The Worst of Times
We are in trying times. Many of us are trying to get through the day. And then we are faced with an angry, sullen teenager. Or a toddler that is pitching a fit.
We really do want this to be over, quickly, don’t we?
We want to shout: “Get over it! Just look at everything I have to handle right now!”
But this sends the worst message to children.
It tells them we only see a symptom and not their inner emotion.
It tells them they are a burden to us, a nuisance, a problem.
Is this the message we want to send to these dear souls that have been entrusted to us? To shut them down means we don’t care.
Instead, we need to validate them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
What does this even mean?
It is a recognition and affirmation that a person’s feelings are worthwhile.
We may want to rush to stifle their tantrum and have peace in the land.
But to do that too quickly invalidates their inner world and sends the dangerous message: “I only want you around when you are pleasant and congenial.”
People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, “Im too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.” I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.” (Mr. Fred Rogers)
In the past, a common phrase was: “Big boys don’t cry.”
But this only served to stifle the emotion that children felt. And to teach them to not feel and not trust their feelings.
As a parent, one of our greatest jobs is to develop emotional intelligence for our children.
Now, more than ever, this is necessary. It is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions. And this is our challenge because kids don’t get this. Some adults don’t get it. Now, more than ever, we need to help them manage the big feelings.
When our kids first begin to open up to us, it may seem easier to give them a 4 step external fix. To make it all better. Kind of like slapping on a bandage. But this only addresses the outer behavior.
First we need to accept their scary emotions. They are most likely frightened by it.
Can we hear them first? Can we accept them first?
When we don’t accept the big emotion, they end up feeling misunderstood, isolated and lonely. Jesus taught:
It is out of the fullness of the heart that the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
Verbal assurance gives the child that they are loved and accepted.
It also helps them begin to understand the heat of emotions behind the behavior.
And this verbal assurance is practical and winsome. When we step back from our own emotion and help our child with their emotion, it becomes love in action: love applied in real life.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
How Great the Father’s love for us!
How Great the Father’s love for us! How vast beyond all measure! (Getty Music)
Isn’t this the very message we want to give our children? That they are loved with an everlasting love?
Phrases that help:
I’m sorry this is happening. It is crazy times! Things don’t feel right, do they?
You’re not all by yourself.
I’m here with you. I’m not leaving.
I hear you.
I hear you with my ears. I want to hear your heart. I want to understand more.
It’s okay to feel what you feel.
It may be strong, but it is very real. Sometimes our big feelings are scary. But I’m not leaving, I’m hear to listen.
You don’t have to be tough.
You are not an island. We are interconnected.
Simon and Garfunkel sang:
“I am a rock. I am an island.”
But weren’t they speaking facetiously when they sang:
“And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” (Simon and Garfunkel, I am a Rock.)
Your feelings matter to me. I want to hear more. Help me understand.
Do not misunderstand. Poor behavior must be dealt with; but let us first listen and draw out the child.
Ask Good Questions; Listen Carefully
Have you ever noticed that God and Jesus engaged people through questions? Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Where is your brother?
Who do you say that I am?
Where is your husband?
When things are hard, it is hard to explain to others. So our questions need to be more engaging than ever. A good question can unlock a child’s heart.
This relates to the “Heartbeat Check” at bedtime.
As I’ve done this with my older grand daughter, she has opened her heart: What are you excited about?
What are you worried about?
What was the best part of your day?
It has become the favorite part of our day. And it is very dear to me.
Avoid the generic: How was your day?
Along with asking good questions, we need to be attentive to the answer. Often, it leads to a deeper level of emotional intimacy.
And deeper emotional intimacy builds trust and competency.
To be accepted and understood, warts and all, is a gift of love.
It grants us the ability to be authentic in our relationships, knowing that we will be heard and recognized.
In our tears, and our fears, don’t we we want to make a human connection?
Don’t we all long for somebody to love us?
Tears are running down and down and down your breast And your friends, baby they treat you like a guest
Don’t you want somebody to love
Don’t you need somebody to love Wouldn’t you love somebody to love You better find somebody to love (Jefferson Airplane, Somebody to Love)
We don’t want to be treated like a guest. Our children want to feel safe emotionally.
We want to be loved and understood and validated.
Truly, only Jesus can love us in this way.
But as parents, grandparents, caregivers, we can show them this kind of love and care.
To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” (Tim Keller)
And this is the type of love and acceptance that will speak into the hearts of our children as we continue through this Pandemic.