When your child begins to think and wonder about more than what’s for dinner or when their next soccer game is, it’s time to start a conversation about their emotions.
Relationship is the bridge over which we can carry loads of gospel truth into our children’s lives. How do we strengthen this relationship and begin this conversation? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Pay attention. Watch your children in order to discern how they are wired emotionally and what most influences their emotions. Recently one of my daughters told me how her son would get quieter and less cheerful at times. She and her husband began to watch him closely and then ask him questions about his moods, which led to fruitful discussions about his struggles and temptations. In order to discern our children’s emotional makeup we must be around and we must pay close attention. Ask yourself: What is his personality like? What triggers her moods? When is she most happy or sad?
2. Create opportunities. Carve out regular times for conversation. Go out for a special time once a week. Take walks. Run errands. Often children may feel more comfortable talking during a shared chore or activity than sitting across from you at Starbucks. I often found my girls most talkative at bedtime so I sought to seize that opportunity, even though it wasn’t my first choice.
3. Ask good questions. Question asking is an art, one you’ll need to work at for the rest of your life. Seek to begin with data gathering questions that tell you a lot without spooking your children into thinking that a lecture is close at hand. Once you get them talking, they will leave many clues as to how they process their emotions. So instead of “Why do you seem so depressed lately?” maybe start with “What are you enjoying most about school right now?” Surfacey, non-threatening questions are an entrée into their lives. Hopefully, they will lead to questions such as “What have you been thinking about lately?” or “How have you been feeling this week?” “The purpose of a [teen’s] heart is like deep water, but a [mom] of understanding will draw it out.” Prov. 20:5
4. Listen well. If you succeed in getting your child to open up to you, be prepared to listen! Kids can tell if you are interested in what they are saying or not. Seek to establish yourself as the one person who is always eager to hear what they have to say and you will forge a strong bond with your child.
Start a conversation and you will construct a strong bridge of friendship over which you can carry vital gospel truths about their emotions.
One reason we are so harried and hurried is that we make yesterday and tomorrow our business, when all that legitimately concerns us is today. If we really have too much to do, there are some items on the agenda which God did not put there. Let us submit the list to Him and ask Him to indicate which items we must delete. There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy. ~Elisabeth Elliot
It’s July 25th, exactly 5 months until Christmas, and the 52home store is having a one day “Christmas in July” sale. Until midnight tonight get 25% off any of the three new Christmas signs in the shop. Just use the code “JulyChristmas” at check-out.
If one word captures the priority for our children’s emotions in the teen years, it is “conversation.” We find this command in Scripture:
Youshall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~Deuteronomy 6:7
Teaching self-control is not an end in itself. We are fashioning vessels that can receive and retain the gospel truths we pour into their hearts.
Sometimes, parents get it backwards. They talk to their toddler as if he was an adult—explaining, bribing, reasoning, pleading—but fail to provide the emotional training a small child needs most: discipline and self-control.
On the flip side, parents often fail to have fruitful conversations with their teenagers: “Because I said so, that’s why!” They can fail to explain what God’s Word says about emotions at just the age when their children need to hear it most.
These priorities are not mutually exclusive. A teenager certainly needs discipline and self-control, and we should teach our toddlers using simple language they can understand.
But hopefully, when a child reaches the age where they are beginning to contemplate the world around them and trying to understand the “why” behind the “what,” we as parents have provided a strong foundation of self-control. And hopefully we are right there, ready and eager to teach them what God’s Word says about their feelings.
The tween and teenage years are a time to talk, a time to listen, and a time to teach. How do we get this conversation started? And what do we teach? More on those questions, to come.
“Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy.” ~Timothy Keller
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 1:6-7
I guess Mom wasn’t as surprised when, a few years after my sisters, my emotions began to change, because she was quick to assure me it was normal.
I remember one of the first times I got over-emotional about something. My dad had brought me a miniature glass piano back from a trip to South Africa.
It broke, and I broke down.
I felt stupid, even guilty, for crying. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t a child anymore, so why did I feel so weepy over this souvenir?
Mom was right there to explain that these kinds of strong emotions were normal at my age. (What a comforting word normal is!) She reassured me that I wasn’t strange and that nothing weird was happening to me. I could expect more strong emotions in the future and not to be overly concerned about it. By the end of the conversation I think we were probably laughing about it all.
My mom’s calm, even lighthearted, response was steadying for me. At that age you have so many questions about life and about yourself. So much is changing and it is confusing. It helped so much that she didn’t chide me for my outburst, or act like something was wrong with me or she just couldn’t understand me.
Mom helped me to feel safe in the midst of my changing emotions. By reacting calmly, but even more, by explaining that this was a normal part of growing up, she made it easy for me to ask more questions about my emotions.
Her response also helped me be receptive to her teaching and her leadership throughout my teenage years. I didn’t feel like she was looking down on me, and so it made it easier for me to come to her with my struggles and questions, and to listen to her advice.
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). Mom not only shared this verse with me but I knew she believed it. She told me stories from her own life to back it up. Hearing how she struggled with her emotions at my age made me feel so much better.
I hope that one day I can serve my children as well as my mom served me. I want to tell them how normal they are, and I want this to be the first of many more talks about their feelings.
My two oldest girls, Nicole and Kristin, are fourteen months apart. Growing up, they were more like twins—doing everything together, including becoming women.
I read lots of books on how to help girls through puberty, and I talked to them, at the appropriate time about the changes their bodies would undergo in the very new future. I was careful to explain that this was a normal, and even a wonderful process, and nothing to be scared of. I didn’t want them to be surprised. I wanted them to know what to expect.
But I was surprised, completely caught off guard in fact, when my girls emotions began to change. Nicole first, and Kristin close behind. It felt like someone had swapped my two girls out for two strangers.
Where were my little girls who used to be so happy? Why did they cry so easily now? What were these moods that, like an afternoon thunderstorm, seemed to appear from nowhere?
I may have been surprised and confused by my daughters’ emotional changes, but God was not. Just as he designed a young person’s body to change and develop into manhood or womanhood, he also ordained for their emotions to develop and mature.
Remember, God is the one who created our children to be emotional beings, and feelings are a good gift from him. And so it is a beautiful thing when a child’s capacity to feel begins to blossom and grow. This season of mothering does come with all kinds of challenges, but also exciting opportunities to help train and tend those emotions into deepening passion for God.
These years of change aren’t meant to be a battle: parents vs. our children’s emotions. Rather, by the grace of God, they can be a grace-filled season of learning. We can lead our children to understand and appreciate who God has made them to be and teach them how to cultivate and enjoy God-glorifying emotions for the rest of their lives.
Janelle’s up next with a story about her transition from youthful to mature emotions.
2014 at 9:11 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” ~Timothy Keller