I don’t like the fact that my kids will suffer. I prefer the happy concept commonly stated as a parent’s desired goal, “I just want my kids to be happy.”
Prevention and protection are things most parents do naturally. Some of us prevent and protect to the detriment of our kids. We shield them from disappointment. We guard them from discomfort. We hover over homework to fend off failure. We are poised to pounce if they sit on the bench. We rescue, we blame, and we excuse.
We want our kids to be safe, successful, happy, and comfortable. We don’t want them to struggle. Yet Jesus told the disciples in >John 16:33b, “In this world you will have trouble.”
Suffering is part of the human experience. It produces a silver lining of perseverance, responsibility, accountability, humility, and empathy. The challenges our kids face create opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth. Creativity and problem solving abilities are birthed and confidence is cultivated. Hard times can draw our kids closer to God. Knowing this, it is easier to allow suffering to enter our kids’ lives without running interference.
Here are six ways to prepare kids for suffering:
Intentionally parent with delayed gratification in mind; give the child the opportunity to wait and work for a desired object. Train kids to identify the difference between needs and wants. Show them how to be content in their circumstances by having an attitude of gratefulness permeate the home. Pray prayers of thankfulness even in times of difficulty.
Let the child grieve rejection or betrayal knowing this can build compassion. Show empathy, listen, love, and share your own experience so bitterness doesn’t develop in compassion’s place.
When the siblings argue, don’t be the referee; instead be the coach. Guide them through conflict resolution. Show the kids how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Focus on intrinsic motivation and learning rather than only results, “I’m sure it feels great to have put so much effort into your project. What did you learn from exerting all that effort?” Talk about what was learned during both successes and setbacks.
Value serving over being served; it is a privilege and honor to be able to serve.
- Give your kids a window into your own disappointments, heartaches, and failures to normalize struggles.
When suffering surfaces a parent can implement six progressive stages of response to help the child navigate difficult moments:
Experience it: Allow children to fully feel the emotions of happy and sad. Both feelings are part of the human experience. It may not feel good to be sad but it isn’t bad, it’s normal. Our kids shouldn’t be protected from their emotions.
Express it: Provide space for your kids to be sad. In Romans 12:15 Paul tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Be ready to listen and love. Share a time when you walked through a disappointing time. It’s important your kids know you have struggled too.
Define it: Give your kids words to frame their emotions. Mirror what you hear to help your kids name their emotions. “It sounds like you are frustrated. I’d feel frustrated too,” by stating this, your children will feel heard and understood.
Deal with it: Let your kids get to the solution side of the issue. Once feelings are identified, stress is reduced and the brain is more able to deal with the problem and work toward a solution. Give your child the opportunity to be the one to come up with the way to solve a difficulty.
Learn from it: Ask questions. Help the child focus on the whats and hows not the whys. “What is God teaching me?” “How can I respond?” Rather than, “Why me?”
Use it: God never wastes our suffering. God will at some point encourage the sufferer to reach out to and help another.
Let your kids experience suffering, express it, define it, deal with it, learn from it, and use it. If we prevent and protect our kids from hard things they will be emotionally fragile while becoming entitled and selfish. Over time they will be insecure, lack confidence, and fearful. Ultimately over-protected children will grow to resent mom and dad for their constant intervention. Instead, let’s equip our kids for suffering so at some point they can help someone else.
We cannot prevent and protect our kids from suffering but we can arm them with some truths about suffering:
It’s temporary. “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).
God is near when we suffer, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
- And God will strengthen us, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10).
We can rejoice in our suffering, not for the pain but for what the hardship produces. Ultimately we hope when our kids hurt they seek God’s comfort, when they feel alone they know God is with them, when they are broken and depleted they ask for God’s strength.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Lori Wildenberg is a licensed parent-family educator, co-author of three parenting books, co-founder of 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting. Contact Lori to schedule her for a seminar, retreat, or speaking event. Go to www.loriwildenberg.blogspot.com to subscribe to her Eternal Moments blog.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: November 8, 2016