Monday, April 21, 2014

Helping a child feel secure: Part 2

In part 1, I talked about being in control of the home environment and the situation at hand can help a child feel secure. But being in control isn't the only thing that helps a child feel secure.

When children feel capable and as though the parent believes in and trusts their abilities, that helps a child feel secure. How does it make you feel to know that someone truly believes in you and what you can do? A child is the same way.

As a child grows older, they need more of this kind of encouragement and less of your control of the situation. They need to be confident that they can control their own situation. And, paradoxically, the best way we can teach a child to feel confident and capable is to teach them how to communicate and rely on the Lord.

There's a disturbing trend in the Christian homeschool world that I've noticed. I've seen it among people I know and on blogs and in some books on homeschool. Maybe a good way to illustrate it is to quote from an e-book that Rhea Perry wrote called "Ten things this Mamma taught her kids about having their own businesses:"

"When things don't go right in your life, it may be that you're not staying on the path that Mamma started you off on.

"God in heaven knows it ... but worse, Mamma knows it too!"

Don't get me wrong, Rhea Perry says a lot of good, helpful things in her e-book. But the first chapter drove me nuts. Can you believe the audacity to put mothers on par with, or even above, God? It is so much worse if God knows (which He always does) than if your mother knows. How could anyone think otherwise? To whom do you think you will ultimately be accountable? It's not your mother! No one, not even your mother, should come between you and the Lord.

We all know the commandment to honor our parents. Ephesians 6:1-2 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and thy mother." But I feel that some parents equate this with being all-powerful, even standing in place of God in their child's life.

Honoring your parents is important. But the best way to honor your parents is to obey God. Obey your parents in the Lord and honoring your parents are the same thing. But that's not the same as obey your parents in all  things.

Expecting a child to obey a parent in all things, especially when a child is growing older and should be making some of their own decisions, is denying a child the chance to develop properly, especially if you supplant God in the equation.

Obviously, when a child is young, they do need to obey us without question. But we need to be building a foundation for them to rely on God, not us, when they leave the home. This will ultimately help them to feel secure, even when you are not around.

My mom was really good about helping us learn to rely on the Lord. As soon as we could talk, she would teach us to pray. As we got older, she would allow us to pray and make a decision with the Lord, and she would respect that decision. This helped us learn how to communicate with God, and, through trial and error, how to recognize answers from Him.

I'm going to use a story of one of my brothers to illustrate how this worked, just because I think it is one of the best examples we have. I'll call him Ron. Ron really wanted to play basketball one year when he was in middle school. My mom didn't feel it was the right thing for him to do. After some discussion, Mom suggested that he pray and find out if it was the right thing to do at that time. After all, God is all-knowing, and He would know better than she if it was a good idea. She would ultimately respect his decision.

Ron prayed about it, and felt that he should play basketball. It turned out to be a rough experience, everything went wrong, and he didn't even finish the season.

The next time something like this happened, Ron wanted to join the swim team in high school. Mom left it between him and the Lord. Ron prayed about it and felt like it was a good idea. He was a little hesitant after his last experience, but this was different. He joined the swim team and excelled. He learned a lot, and it was a great experience.

Because my mom respected his right to communicate with the Lord and make his own decisions, not only did Ron learn how to discern between his own desires and what the Lord was telling him, he became a lot more confident in his ability to rely on the Lord, and that the Lord was always right.

It is so important that we allow children to make decisions growing up so they know how to make the bigger, more drastic decisions as an adult.

I really admire Marilyn Boyer, a homeschool mom with 14 children. I listened to a seminar about delighting in your children a while ago. I agreed with almost everything she said. But she said something to the effect (and I wish I could find the direct quote so it makes more sense) that it was our job to get our children to give us their hearts.

I couldn't disagree more. We need to be directing our children to give their hearts to Christ, and then they will feel confident, capable and secure no matter what life brings their way, because they know Who is ultimately and always in control.

Helping a child feel secure: Part 1

I am still working on the next part of my challenge to read a book about an educational philosophy. Meanwhile, I have a few things that I've been thinking about and wanting to share.

The spring before I was married, I frequently babysat for a woman with two children, ages 1 and 3. I learned a lot of things from that experience at the time and later from reflecting on it.

This woman's family and home were falling apart. She was on medication for depression, was an ex-drug addict, struggled to care for her kids and the house and her husband had been unemployed for some time. Even worse, the oldest child, a little boy, was developing some severe behavioral problems. To make a long story short, her husband was put into jail for child abuse. From their side of the story, he hadn't been and wasn't meaning to be abusive, which I believe. But I do think he lost his temper that night and there may have been some uncalled-for, maybe even abusive, spankings. Not long after, though, the woman started chasing other men and wanted a divorce as soon as her husband was out of jail.

Unfortunately I was kind of caught in the middle of some of this, mostly because I was willing to babysit the kids a lot and clean the house for free. I was originally doing it to help keep their family intact, and then later, I was doing it for the children.

The oldest boy, who I will call Joey, really did have some behavior problems. But he was a normal little child. I am pretty sure it wasn't his nature or any mental health issues. He was very intelligent, yet he couldn't hardly talk. My 18-month-old daughter talks better now than he did then. Nor would he potty train or go to bed without screaming.

Joey's world was falling apart, and had been for some time. He and his mother (and sometimes his father) had some real power struggles. He was only 3, yet the couldn't seem to keep him under control. He could be incredibly demanding.

And yet, you know what? When I babysat him, most of those problems disappeared. He even started to potty train for me. He calmed down and would let me tell him what to do.

I've thought a lot about that experience since. What was it that I gave him that his parents couldn't? I know his parents loved him, as unwise as they were. And I know they wanted the best for him, although they couldn't seem to give it to him. It wasn't love that he was lacking.

It was security! His life seemed utterly out of control, and he was constantly trying to take control. That's why he always had the power struggles with his mother. That's why he was so demanding. But when he was in control, he was afraid. I'm not sure why it is that way with little children, but they are afraid if they are the ones in control. They need to feel secure and that you are ultimately in control (although they do still need to have choices and chances to be capable within that security).

When I babysat him, I was able to handle his tantrums without giving in or even reacting too much. Even if you don't give in to a child's demands, getting angry with them can be just as bad. If you are in control of the situation you don't need to get angry. If you are losing control of the situation, then you become afraid, and you get angry. A little child can sense that.

Also, I made sure that I never had a power struggle with Joey. I made sure I was absolutely fair with him and that I was meeting all his needs--including his needs for attention. But then I drew the line. There was no power struggle. We simply did not cross that line.

Something I found that helped (and later I heard someone describe the Montessori method this way) was to control Joey's environment, not him. I put all temptations and possible accidents out of his reach. If he was misusing something, I took it away and put it where he couldn't get it. It was a lot easier to do that than to try to control his every action. He didn't need to be controlled. He just needed to feel secure.

I don't think I ever punished Joey the whole time I babysat him (unless you consider taking a toy away a punishment). I never needed to. As long as I was in control of the situation, then he would concede to kind persuasion. And as for the potty training, I never even tried to get him to do that. He just up and did it himself.

There were other things I learned about helping a child be secure from that experience. I think that when things are unnecessarily loud in the home, like fighting or loud music, it can make a child feel insecure. Tension between parents can make a child feel insecure. Failure to meet the child's needs can make him/her feel insecure.

So although it was a sad experience, I did learn a lot of good things. I still wonder if Joey and his sister are ok, where they are living and if they are still with their mother. I kind of doubt that they are. If they're not, I hope they have found a good home somewhere.

 If only every parent could have this kind of experience and see just how much a child is affected by a parent's choices. We'd have a lot more good parents.