5. So much is happening inside your child, so have grace for the intensity of the moment.
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble (1 Peter 3:8).
If you were suddenly gifted with a physical super power and simultaneously enrolled in a PhD program, you might have an appropriate simulation of the sort of learning curve your three-year-old is experiencing. As parents, it’s easy to forget how much is going on inside our little one because, quite frankly, there’s so much going on inside us! You engage the world with fingers you’ve mastered using, but not your three-year-old. And at this moment in her development, she is keenly aware of the fact that she isn’t as in control of herself as she is meant to be, so it frustrates her. He is freshly aware that he doesn’t exactly know how to act in a new social setting, but a profound sense of others’ expectations now washes over him and he has no idea what he’s supposed to do with that new emotion.
Your three-year-old might know how to feed the dog each morning, but doesn’t know how to recognize they are hang-ry and need a snack break (and that clearly needed break might come with some serious emotions because they have to pull out of whatever awesome imaginary world or playtime project they are enthralled with at the moment). All of this pouring understanding and sympathy over our children at this stage isn’t (meant to) excuse poor behavior.
Yes, children need guidance and correction, but in the same breath, as parents, we are the first place they learn compassion and understanding. So when we can see emotions or behaviors arising out of the simple fact that they are little, we might need to correct or guide; but let it always be expressed with understanding and grace for their journey, too.
Finally, my husband and I joyfully served in youth ministry for many years. I remember parents groaning about their teens, sometimes right in front of them. I always cringed at the labels and stereotypes that got thrown onto teens. Yes, behavior can be categorized—but very rarely does turning your kid into a labeled specimen help them on their journey toward maturity. It doesn’t nurture the kind of relationships I think most parents want with their kids. When our son turned two, people started throwing that “terrible-twos” phrase around, asking how we were handling it. I cringed then, too.
Labeling your kid derogatorily (especially in public), whether they are two or twenty, isn’t helpful to them. It doesn’t foster the kind of family closeness most of us desire, and in the end it’s just the kind of thing you hate when your kid turns around and does it to you when they are thirteen. So even if you feel like your little one has hit an unbearable stage, choose to label them with grace, faith, and love. Drop the negative development phase names.
Life is hard. It’s hard to be three. It’s hard to be thirty. It looks awfully hard to be seventy. So instead of pop-culture labels for it all, just realize it’s hard to grow through this life. Express your unwavering commitment to sharing life’s burdens together as a family by speaking positively and graciously about one another from the very beginning of your child’s growth. It might go a long way to blessing your child and your relationship through those tough times.
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, mom, and women’s ministry director. Visit www.MotlMinistries.org for more encouraging resources.
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