When Parents Reach the End of the Rope
The greatest gift you can give to your child is a parent who is ready to face the challenges of life with a plan. So before we can offer parenting solutions, we want to help you get back to a place where you can use them. Please stop for just a moment and do the following:
1) Start by taking a deep breath or two, or three. Then pause, close your eyes and talk to God. He is your heavenly Father and he promises to give you wisdom. James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
2) The next thing to do is to regain hope. When hope is lost, parents often resort to all kinds of unhelpful parenting strategies. There are a lot of bad ways to parent. You want to avoid them. Keep in mind, though that there are a lot of good ways to parent too. Likely some of the strategies you've used in the past are good but just aren't working right now. You need a different plan. We're going to help you find that new plan and develop it.
3) In order to create a new plan, we first have to define the problem. If you have more than one child, it's important to focus on one child at a time. Even if the problem has to do with how those children relate to each other, each of your children needs to learn how to deal with his or her own part of the problem.
To help you define the issues, take out a clean sheet of paper. In a column on the left hand side begin to write down all the behaviors that your child exhibits that are creating a problem for you and your family. This isn't a list you'll show to your child. It's just preparation to move forward. First list the behaviors because they're symptoms of an underlying problem. Just list things your child does that are unhelpful or wrong; be as specific as possible. This task may take a couple hours or even a couple of days but defining the problem is an important part of the solution.
4) Next, look over your list and group the negative behaviors around negative heart issues. You're looking for patterns of behaviors and common themes. A child who is demanding about food is likely also demanding about bedtime, transitions, and about what to wear in the morning. As you group the various behaviors you'll see that your child has several heart quality weaknesses that need to be addressed. The heart quality list is shorter though and may include things like dishonesty, lack of cooperation, anger, or selfishness. You may have 50 negative behaviors on the list, but they boil down to five negative heart qualities.
5) Once you have your list of negative heart qualities, using a new piece of paper, identify the positive heart qualities that need to be developed. You will likely have 3-5 positive heart qualities that your child needs right now. That's normal. You might include cooperation, responsiveness to authority, kindness, or self-control. Most children have several heart qualities that need work and when you focus on them you'll see some positive change.
6) Stop again right here and pray. Thank God for revealing these things to you. Commit your heart to God now, even before you have the solutions you need. Ask God to provide you with strength, hope, and the courage to address these issues on a deeper level. You'll need some significant wisdom in the next steps so make sure your heart is right with God and that you're asking him for direction. Remember the words of Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."
7) Now it's time for some solutions. Having 3-5 qualities is still too much to work on at one time. So choose one heart quality you'd like to see your child develop first. Next, choose an arena or area where you'd like to see the new heart quality demonstrated. For example, "kindness with brothers and sisters", or "thoroughness with homework" or "unselfishness with friends" or "cooperation when given an instruction." The heart quality and the arena need to be specific so that you have something measurable.
8) Next, identify some specific steps you can require of your child to get from where you are now to where you know your child needs to be. Look for ways to involve other leaders and authorities in your child's life. Think about how to explain the how and why to your child so he or she catches a vision and is equipped to move forward. As you implement your new plan, remember that firmness doesn't mean harshness. You want to communicate that change is necessary, but you don't need anger in your message.
9) Next ask yourself this question, "How will the development of this quality help my child be more successful in life both now and in the future?" Once you have that question answered you'll be ready to have a meeting with your child.
10) Sit down with your child at a peaceful moment and explain several things. Start with a few qualities you appreciate about your child emphasizing good reports you're hearing from teachers, friends, or other leaders, steps of maturity you're seeing, and positive growth your child is demonstrating. Then say, "But there's one area that I think is holding you back. That is..." and then name that heart quality that's lacking. "So, we're going to be working on this quality in the next several weeks." Sometimes just raising the awareness level or pointing out the new direction in a positive way is all that's needed to prompt progress. So avoid threats or bribes. Explain clearly what you're seeing and what progress will look like. Talk about the benefits of developing this quality in life, both now and for the future. You'll be revisiting the problem and evaluating progress over the next few days and weeks so stay positive at this point. As time goes on you'll be able to further develop the plan and add consequences if necessary.
11) Over the next several hours and days point out the issue that you're looking to see changed. Raise the awareness level with observations and reminders. Coach your child to success with ideas and encouragement to move forward. Offer affirmation for steps of progress, small as they may be.
12) Plan to meet regularly to discuss progress. This may be daily or weekly, whatever is appropriate for the situation. Your intent is to affirm progress, encourage the child to continue on, and keep the issue forefront in your child's mind. Depending on how things go you may have to confront, remind, or implement a consequence in order to show your child that you intend to help him or her to move forward and that you're not content to stay where you are.
From Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller, National Center for Biblical Parenting (biblicalparenting.org)