So, how can we help them to step out of their known safety well?
Firstly, children need to be strongly attached to their mum or dad. They need to feel safe with you. If that is in place, they have the best start possible.
Children will pick up cues from you very easily, particularly if you show fear. This is a great opportunity for personal growth as a parent. Try to find ways of avoiding sharing your unnecessary fears with your children. A whole area of study has been established about the lack of resilience of children with 'helicopter parents' who hover around protecting children from things that they could do well on their own. I remember in my first year of teaching having some boys throw spiders at me in the playground. Not my favourite thing, but I chose to ignore it because I didn't want to teach children, boys or girls, that I was scared of spiders. Resilience comes from feeling the fear, assessing the risk and doing things in spite of fear, and our children need lots of encouragement for facing fears well.
I have found phrases like those below really helpful for developing resilience:
- "Wow! When you were little you would have been scared of that, but I can tell you are really growing up because you weren't scared at all!"
- "I know you will be tempted to scream when the lightning strikes, but we are actually quite safe, so I will be really proud of you if you can enjoy watching it with me instead of screaming."
- "You know, even adults find some things scary, like going on rollercoasters, but lots of children and adults learn to be calm enough on the inside to do it anyway because trying new things can be both scary and fun together. If you only do easy things you know about, your world will be really small, but if you push yourself to try new things, you will have so much more fun enjoying this big world that God has made!"
Learning to Love
Secondly, we want to teach our children to love others. Again, children will pick up cues from us. If we teach our children to "stay away from (that naughty child)" we are often missing a valuable opportunity to teach them how to love.
Children naturally see things from their own perspective. They see themselves as separate from others. They see themselves as good, and are often more willing and able to notice 'badness' in other people than in themselves. In fact, as adults we are the same, and understanding Jesus' grace as he showed God's deep love for us in spite of the 'badness' in all of us is an ongoing journey of growth. Learning to see the log in our own eye rather than the speck in the eye of another is a challenge - we are blinded to our own 'naughtiness'!
Growing up means being able to see things from God's and other people's perspectives.
Seeing from others' perspectives is foundational to the development of compassion and love.
Growing up means being able to feel the separateness from the 'naughty child', and offer care and kindness instead of judgement and further separation.
Growing up means recognising that we are also naughty at times and say mean things to others.
When my children were young, we had a large front lawn that was the gathering place for the local children, including those from the house where marijuana wafted across the fence, the house where drunken parties weren't uncommon, the house where the 2 year old was left to wander down the street to us on her own because the older sister wasn't doing her babysitting job well. Several grew up experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex in ways that were not what we want for our children. They are all still friends of my children today.
If we had not seen this as the very best opportunity for our children to develop resilience and love, we would have not allowed our children to play with these children. And our children would not be the inclusive, loving, outreaching people they are today.
Phrases that I found useful included:
- "Yes I know that Xxxxx swears a lot and picks fights. It doesn't feel nice when that happens does it? But you can't always stop other people from doing wrong things. You can, though, be kind to them so that they know what it is like to feel kindness from others." (I will talk about having healthy boundaries in a different post).
- "Have you ever tempted to do something naughty with Xxxxx? It's hard sometimes to choose to do the right thing. I find that too, and I am a grownup! What are some other things you could do or say when you are tempted next time? If you make a good choice next time, come and tell me and I will celebrate with you because I will be so proud of you!"
- "When people do naughty things, it is often because they feel sad inside or they might feel angry because they have been hurt, or they might want attention. There are lots of reasons people do naughty things, but not usually because they are happy. So, I sometimes feel sad for Xxxxx because I know he doesn't have friends/isn't happy inside. What could you do that could help him know what it is like to feel happy and to have friends?
- All families are different. In our family, we ask God to help us be strong enough on the inside to show kindness to others.
Inviting lonely, sad or 'sometimes naughty' children over to our homes and allowing our children to visit their homes under safe circumstances, or when you or other adults you trust are around to make the most of the opportunities to coach.
An even simpler way to start is by encouraging our children "see how you can make Horizon School a happier place (or Xxxxx a happier person) today" and to report their own reflections at the end of the day about their growing maturity in making good choices that make the world a better place.
We have a very special community of families at Horizon School. Let's make the most of this and work together to share the love of Jesus with each other, and especially with the ones who feel or act or look different from us. Following in Jesus' footsteps...with love , not fear.
It starts with our own attitude as parents, which is worth reflecting on if we want loving and resilient children who reflect God's love in the world.