I know, I know, “opportunity” isn’t the first word that springs to mind when you are leading a crying child out of a crowded room and everyone is staring at you. But our children’s emotional outbursts are like intelligence reports, marked urgent. They reveal the secrets of our children’s hearts and give us as parents an opportunity for strategic and effective parenting.
Outbursts are a chance to help our children learn to handle their emotions in a way that glorifies God. But not all “outburst opportunities” are alike, so we must apply some good, old-fashioned parental discernment in order to handle them wisely.
An Opportunity for Comfort – Tender love is what Ryle calls the “grand secret” of effective child training. When our child falls and gets a bloody knee or if another kid calls them a mean name and they burst into tears, we might be tempted to see their emotional outburst as inconvenient or embarrassing (if it is in public), but we should receive it as a chance to express our love and affection for our child, to enter into their sorrows. Isn’t that the kind of love our Savior shows to us?
An Opportunity for Self-Control – We should be quick to comfort, but also seize the opportunity to teach self-control. Even if the reason for our child’s tears is understandable, we must not allow them to lose all control over their emotions. For example, we might tell our child that it is OK to cry when they fall down and scrape their knee, but not to scream. And, if necessary we should gently help them bring their crying to a close at an appropriate time. This will teach them the difference between appropriate and excessive grief.
An Opportunity for Discernment – If a child becomes unusually weepy or more tempted to outbursts than usual, this may be an indicator to us as parents that they need rest, or a break from activity. As we’ve already said, a wise parent will minimize temptation wherever possible.
An Opportunity for Discipline – If a child’s outburst is angry or rebellious, then the intelligence we are receiving is of a serious nature and must be dealt with firmly and biblically. We do not serve our children by ignoring or overlooking angry outbursts or by getting angry in return. An angry outburst calls for a loving heart and firm discipline. And if the child is no longer a toddler and yet angry outbursts are still frequent in nature, we may need to consider whether or not we are exercising biblical authority in the home.
An Opportunity for Focused Training – Frequent outbursts can be abated by a season of focused training. Consider rearranging your schedule, eliminating unnecessary events, focusing your teaching and your discipline on this one area and often you will see good results in a couple of days or weeks.
So the next time we are that parent, exiting the crowded room with the emotional child, we should smile, and even laugh a little. We’ve just been handed a golden parenting opportunity.