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Often we are harder on the children in our families who display sin behaviors most like us. We easily recognize their weaknesses because they mirror our own. What if we took this understanding and ministered to our children in that knowledge, rather than with a singularly reprimanding spirit?
One particular Tuesday evening, my family was visiting our favorite local pizza place. We were enjoying our time together and I was, quite frankly, enjoying some time to just sit and regroup from all the day’s activities.
One, two, and then three pieces of the thin crust, gluten free, daiya cheese pizza slipped off the serving pan and onto my children’s plates. Sometimes two pieces are enough for them to be full and sometimes three is more filling.
This particular day, two would have probably sufficed due to our snacking in between activities, but occasionally our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. This was one such day for one of my children. This child downed the three pieces then instantly was overfull. Next followed that yucky overindulged feeling and a visible reaction to the fullness: slumping in the chair, head laying down on the table and adopting an overall gloomy demeanor--a significant change from the cheerful attitude before. Thereafter, this child began behaving meanly towards the other sibling; snappish and aggravated.
Now, because I have dealt with overeating many times in my life, I know that one of the ways in which I cope is to shift the accompanying negative feelings outward and towards someone else. I instantly recognized this behavior for what it was because I had a pattern of this relationship with food in my younger years. I loved food and would often overindulge and then hate that choice and how it made me feel. Even today, how I feel about myself after eating too much can affect how I behave. So, I had a new choice to make right there in that pizza place: would I address the behavior, or address the heart behind the behavior? Gratefully, on this occasion, I chose the latter.
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“Let’s go to the bathroom and talk,” I directed. With a pouty posture my child obliged and followed me into the restroom.
With a caring and understanding tone, I began, “you overate and now you feel yucky and are taking it out on your sibling right?” My child nodded in agreement and said, “But it tasted so good!”
“I understand,” I reassured, “but it doesn’t feel good after we eat too much does it? Next time, when you are eating and you want more but know that it would probably be too much, just remember how you feel now and how bad that makes you feel. I know that the pizza really tastes good, I felt the same way. But I stopped after two because I didn’t want to feel yucky afterwards. We have to learn to be content with what we have and not constantly wanting more. That’s hard! Why don’t I pray for you for the next 21 days for you to be content with what you have and not constantly wanting more?”
My child looked at me with eager and interested eyes, head nodding. “It’s no big deal today,” I reassured, “just learn from today and choose differently next time. Okay?”
My child looked up at me and grabbed my waist in a big hug. “I love you mama.” “I love you to pieces,” I said. My child smiled and puckered up for a kiss.
As we walked back to the table where my husband and other child were sitting, I was deeply encouraged that I had taken the opportunity to foster that moment. A moment similar to many I had previously found myself in and, regrettably, had chosen to reprimand rather than address the heart behind the behavior. To be honest, I often don’t get the discipline portion of parenting the way that I would like to.
This time however, I addressed the heart, which mirrored my own heart’s discontentment—both in the past and all too frequently in the present. As my child scampered to the table with a smile, I knew in that moment I had chosen wisely.
The next time we see our children being manipulative, controlling, selfish, discontent or defiant, we should address those behaviors at the heart’s core issue—even as we discipline in tangible ways. We can ask ourselves a few questions:
· What’s the heart behind this behavior?
· What’s the counter attitude we want to see? For example, patience, charity, humility, contentment, or grace.
· Do I display this in my own life? Can I share that struggle with my child in such a way that they see I too battle such feelings?
· What does the Bible say in reference to this heart attitude?
· Can we pray right now or purpose to pray together over a set amount of time for tangible change in this area of your life?
It can be hard to watch how our children are similar to us, because we know the struggles they may face in the coming years. Letting them know they have an advocate and empathetic prayer warrior in their parents is one step to take in continuing the conversation over a life-time, guiding their course, and developing them into fully-devoted disciples of Christ. We foster these moments and work toward becoming more like Christ so that when someone says, you are just like your mom, it will be a complement to their ears.
Brooke Cooney is a pastor's wife, mother of two, and foster-mom of one. To capture the eternal in the everyday, she blogs about family, faith, and lessons along the journey at ThisTemporaryHome.com.