Why Children’s Feelings Matter

This society seems to value children’s feelings less and less.  From parents telling their children that they ate all of their Halloween candy (as a supposed “joke”) and videotaping them crying in order to send it to Jimmy Kimmel to show on his show so everyone can laugh at it; to the dad who shot his daughter’s laptop because she posted a letter on Facebook about how she felt disrespected by her parents.  The majority are cheering for this dad.

What about the children’s feelings?  Why do so many laugh at an upset child?  It is very disturbing to me that children’s value seems to be less and less.  This is not a good thing!  It means our society is becoming less and less empathetic.  That is downright scary.

Christians aren’t any better either.  Many punish their children for showing any type of negative emotion.  Children are not being taught how to express and cope with their negative emotions in a healthy, positive way.

I understand that we adults get so caught up in our lives and issues that we forget that losing candy, not being able to go outside, or being disappointed about a friend being mean is a big deal to them.  They are new to our world.  They don’t understand adult issues nor should they.  I love how my friend, Rachel, got busy trying to get laundry done and briefly forgot to take her daughter’s feelings into consideration, but then, recognized her mistake and made things right with her daughter.

“I had a parenting fail today because I was tired and frustrated. I was running Sadie a bath and trying to get laundry done for tomorrow so I told her I needed her uniform to wash with the others. She replied “I have to be naked?!” And flipped out. Crying and hysterical. I was trying to talk over her instead of calming her first by saying just her uniform, she can wear her panties, and she was laying in bed anyway playing on her Kindle so she wouldn’t be cold, she has blankets. I was in a rush to get clothes in the washer so I had timeto dry them by bedtime. Obviously that did no good. I finally took the five minutes to sit and listen to her truly, why she didn’t want to be naked, and then what I was saying about having panties on and covering up with a blanket was perfectly fine to her. We are all busy, we all have our own things to get done, but when we don’t slow down and listen, sometimes we are only hindering ourselves. Kids have reasons why they want things a certain way, and we can’t expect them to listen to us if we don’t listen to them, no matter how unreasonable it seems” ~Rachel.

I agree with Rachel. Simply taking the time to listen and validate our children’s feelings is crucial. And, in the end, it makes life go easier. Instead of fighting against them, we can work with them and do our best to understand and validate their negative feelings.

Just because children are young and immature, does not make their emotions and feelings less important than ours.  How would you do if your spouse or friend put you down or dismissed you because they thought what you were upset about was “stupid” or “ridiculous?”  What if they “jokingly” upset you and showed it to the world to laugh at?

We are supposed to live by the Golden Rule. If you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t do it to your children.

We need to take our children’s emotions seriously from birth.  Always responding sensitively and respectfully to crying infants is to validate their feelings. Instead of shushing the infant and saying, “You’re ok,” I say, “Oh, you’re hungry! I’m getting ready to feed you.” I Always validate even the youngest infants feelings even if I can’t figure out the need. For example, tell the infant, “you’re so upset. I hear you. I’m trying to figure out what you need.”

Teaching children to be “tough” is not a good thing. Crying is not a weakness!  I know many men as well as some women who have a very difficult time expressing and coping with their negative emotions because they were taught to be “tough.”  And sometimes, being “tough” for some is not showing compassion for others, which is not Christ-like at all.  People who are hurting need and deserve compassion and validation.  This includes children!

Finally, if we force children to deny, repress, and bottle up their negative emotions, they will eventually come out somehow. Or they’ll turn to harmful ways of dealing with the pain inside them. For some, this may lead to suicide.

Yes, children’s emotions matter.  Everyone should be sensitive to each other’s pain.  The only way to do that is to model love and compassion towards our children and everyone else that is hurting!  Also, model Jesus.

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Victory Is Through Jesus, NOT Through Law And Punishment!

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

If sin is the law, then our “law” for children is sin; demands thrust upon them they cannot possibly meet due to their current understanding and level of development.

To further clarify, expecting toddlers to stay away from breakables and punishing toddlers when they don’t “obey” us is thrusting the “law” on them, thus, making them deal with sin before they can even understand what sin truly is, and adding feelings of anger, hurt, and confusion to them by punishing them is sin.

Putting the breakables away takes the “law” away, therefore, removing the power of sin. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

Also, expecting first time obedience of children is thrusting the “law” on them as God does not even expect first time obedience of us!  First time obedience is neither biblical nor developmentally appropriate. The young brain takes longer to process stimuli. Young children just process everything much, much differently than we do. It takes a lot of brain damage from physical punishment to finally get children to obey immediately. Not good. They are in constant fight or flight mode when people use physical punishment to get first time obedience. Fear and pain hinder brain development and learning.

God created children to be who they are. He created our brains. So, no children should never be expected to obey immediately all the time. Now, if there is an emergency or a good reason for immediate cooperation (I really dislike using obedience within the parent-child relationship because we’re not God and are mere sinners. Cooperation should be our aim within the parent-child relationship.), then we need to tell the child why and be prepared to help the child cooperate.

Let’s do our best not to thrust sin onto our children before they are truly capable of resisting it. Let us get the Word of God into their hearts instead! After all, it’s Jesus who gives all of us victory over our sin, not punishment.

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Helping Toddlers Deal With Big Feelings

Toddlerhood is full of intense emotions and transitions over which they have no control. They are discovering their independence, while, at the same time, still requiring much dependence on their parents. Striking a balance between dependence and independence can be difficult for them. Plus, they still lack the vocabulary to tell us how they feel or what they want. On top of all of this, as they can finally walk, climb, and run in order to explore their world more fully, there are limits added that weren’t there before, and sometimes they may not always get what they want.

Yes, toddlerhood is not an easy time for toddlers or for their parents. Developmentally, they cannot control their impulses. They test everything out of curiosity, not maliciousness.

It is up to us to guide them through this tough stage of development. When toddlers get upset, it is important to figure out why and validate their feelings. Usually a full-blown meltdown can be avoided if we are aware of the toddler’s needs and intervene with offers to help them. If they know we hear them and will validate them, they are less likely to completely meltdown. It is also important to tell toddlers what is expected of them. For example, if we are going to the grocery store, we need to tell our toddler what we will and will not be buying at the store. This will help them not be so disappointed when we remind them that candy wasn’t on the list when we are at the store. A well-fed, well-rested, and well-loved toddler is less likely to have a meltdown.

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Providing children with appropriate ways of getting out their anger and aggression like punching as pillow, doing an angry dance, kicking a ball outside can be another way in which we can help prevent full blown meltdowns. Calm me jars also help. Fill a plastic bottle with water. Then pour glitter in. Duct tape the cap on and give it to the child when he/she is upset. He/She can manhandle it. As he/she calms down, he/she can watch the glitter settle. We can then talk to him/her about his/her feelings. It’s always better and more Biblical to help children work through their negative feelings rather than punish the child.

But despite everything that we may do in order to prevent toddlers from having meltdowns, there are always going to be times in which a limit has been set or a “no” has been given to something the toddler really wants and the toddler is going to get very upset and have a meltdown. As upsetting and tiring it is for us, this is a normal stage of child development for young children and is just as upsetting and tiring for them.

As Christians, it is also helpful for us to remember that the child is not being sinful. He/She is trying to communicate with us using their very primitive communication skills.

When meltdowns happen, it is important for us to remain as calm as possible. A toddler in a meltdown cannot control themselves as their brains are in overload. Scolding and punishing them will not help. They need us to gently but firmly help them get through the meltdown. Having them in a safe place where they can’t hurt themselves, others, or property is important. Quietly saying, “You’re showing me your big feelings. You’re so angry. I am here.” is helpful. But, try not to say too much as it could agitate them even more. Some children may find gentle restraining helpful while others just need room to work through the meltdown.

At the end of a meltdown, it is okay to talk to the child about more appropriate ways of dealing with their anger. If they made a mess during the meltdown, have them help you clean it up. This should not be a punishment. Make it fun. Also, right after the meltdown, pray with your toddler to help him or her feel God’s peace within him or her. I also recommend singing a favorite Christian song after the meltdown. Children must learn that God loves them no matter what, and we do too!

Helping children co-regulate their feelings by validating them and providing for their needs allows for children to become emotionally healthy and able to cope with the disappointments of life appropriately. After all, this is what God does with us. He validates our feelings and our hearts.

For example, in Matthew 9:2, Jesus first tells the paralytic to “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.”

You see, being disabled in New Testament times was quite a hardship emotionally as well as physically because the people treated people with disabilities as beggars. They were outcasts. Some even believed that they were disabled due to sin, which John 9 shows isn’t the case. Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our physical beings.

Gentle but firm discipline allows children to identify and deal with negative feelings. They learn to express them appropriately. By positively helping children work through their feelings, they learn we will always listen and help them. This will lead them to come to us, and, ultimately, to God when they are in need.

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Can There Really Be A Balance Between Love, Trust, And Fear?

Many Christians tend to believe that there should be a balance between love and fear when it comes to our relationship with God. They also believe that their children should have a “healthy fear” of them. Punitive parents tend to confuse fear with respect.

Is it truly possible to have a balance between fear/terror, love, and trust?  How can we truly trust someone that we are afraid of?

Let’s look at the definitions of fear/terror, love, respect, and trust.

Dictionary.com defines fear as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”  Terror is defined as “intense, sharp, overmastering fear.”

Dictionary.com defines trust as “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.”

Dictionary.com defined respect as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability; to hold in esteem or honor.”

Finally, dictionary.com defines love as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person: a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.”

As we can clearly see, fear, trust, love, and respect have absolutely nothing to do with each other. What I find even more interesting is that the definition for fear contains the words “evil” and “pain” whereas trust, love, and respect do not.

This makes sense because fear is not from God as 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

It makes me wonder why so many Christians believe that fear and respect are one and the same.  They’ll claim that their children “respect” them when, in reality, it’s fear because children know that they’ll get punished for not obeying. Fear makes children behave out of self-preservation, not because they want to please us or trust us.

Respect and trust allows children to cooperate with us because they love, trust, and respect us. Often times these children will surprise us by spontaneously doing something nice for us because they find pleasure in helping us. They know we respect them and always have their best interests at heart. They also know that we won’t intentionally hurt them when they displease us.

While we can love a parent that we don’t trust or respect, it’s a weird love. My dad physically, emotionally, and verbally abused me throughout my childhood. Yes, I loved him, but I was often afraid to be with him. I felt like I had to be a certain way in order not to be hurt by him. I didn’t look forward to seeing him. But, because he was my dad, I did love him. He died in 2003 and I still struggle because I can’t remember him as a good guy.

My mom, on the other hand, is someone I can look forward to being with when we visit. I love, trust, and respect her. Sure, we’ve had our issues but I’m not (never was) afraid of her.

The same goes for my husband and friends. Then there’s God. I am not afraid of God. I know He will never hurt me. I struggle sometimes with trusting Him due to how I was raised and my brain wiring due to being abused.  If I was “terrified” of God, I could not have a personal relationship with Him.

I do NOT believe there can be a “healthy balance” between love and terror when it comes to our relationships with God. That just isn’t possible. How can we totally trust and rely on Him if we are terrified of Him in some way?

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Yes, the Bible does tell us to fear God.  Yirat Adonai is Hebrew for the fear of the LORD.  Terror, being scared, being afraid of God is not what this Hebrew term means. Rather, to “fear God” means to be reverent, in awe, and worship Him. It also means to take Him at His Word.  God does not want us to be afraid of Him. In fact, over & over in the Bible God tells His people NOT to be afraid of Him.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:15-18).

Even Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:27-28).

Again, I must ask if we are to be scared or afraid of our loving, merciful God, then what kind of personal relationship is that with Him?  I run AWAY from things and people I’m afraid of, and yet, God wants us to run TO Him!

May we, as Christians and as parents, let go of this twisted church doctrine that claims that fear/terror must be a part of our relationships with God and our children. That is a lie from satan who wants to do everything in his power to hinder love, trust, and respect in our relationships with God and our children. This lie may even prevent some from coming to know Christ’s amazing saving grace!

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Are Children Truly Selfish?

Many people, especially Christians, think that young children’s incapability to always share or to not be able to put themselves in other’s shoes or to need what they need is selfishness. They think this is children’s “flesh” and “sinful nature” taking over. It is not sin or selfishness at all.

It’s a developmental stage that young children go through. Only much older children and adults are truly able to be selfish. We have impulse control. We should have empathy. Children don’t. They’re learning.

Infants and toddlers are very aware of their parents’ emotions from birth and are affected by them, but this does not mean that infants and toddlers can empathize with the parents.
Young children from birth until somewhere around the age of four or five years are what Jean Piaget calls egocentric. Again, this is not due to their “sinful nature” and it does not mean that young children are evil. God designed children exactly how they are. There’s a reason He made young children egocentric, probably for survival in this harsh, sinful world.

As we teach children empathy by modeling it to them as well as pointing out how their behaviors–both positive and negative–affect others, children begin to learn how to be empathetic.  We need to teach them how to be gentle and respectful to others by being gentle and respectful to them.

Punishing them will always hinder their learning of selflessness.

Unfortunately, parents who use fear and punishment to make their children obey them are actually teaching their children to be selfish as the child is not thinking about doing something for another person but rather protecting him/herself from punishment. We should not be teaching our children to only do things to avoid punishment, as the Bible says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

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I’ve dealt with many pro-spankers, and the way some of them dismiss the painful experiences a great deal of people have had with being hit by their parents is selfish.  The way pro-spankers automatically assume that their children will “survive” just because they feel they did is selfish.

In essence, spanking/hitting makes many selfish because it leads to worldly sorrow and a sense of self preservation instead of godly sorrow.

So, what is godly sorrow and worldly sorrow?

In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, it states:

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

What the Apostle Paul is saying here is that godly sorrow makes us think beyond ourselves to how our actions have hurt or affected other people and our relationship with God. We look past whatever consequences our actions caused us and want to do everything in our power to repent and seek forgiveness from God and the person we have hurt. This is why Paul says that godly sorrow brings life as we seek to be forgiven.

On the other hand, worldly sorrow brings death according to what Paul says in this verse. Due to fear of punishment as well as guilt, people of all ages will focus on the consequences that are happening to them because of their actions rather than how they’ve hurt God and the other person. This is worldly sorrow. Being afraid of punishment and rejection causes worldly sorrow. Also, feeling so guilty and bad about oneself that one feels that he/she deserves whatever punishment he/she has coming to him/her leads to worldly sorrow.

We need to do our best to use discipline instead of punishment so that our children don’t become selfish people who believe that it is perfectly acceptable to inflict pain on others.

No, young children are not selfish, but we sure can be!

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Feeding Infants and Young Children

Feeding/nursing infants should be a social time (except in the night when we dream nurse/feed) for infants and parents. Infants love to gaze into our eyes while getting fed. We should softly talk to our infants while feeding them. I often see parents missing out on valuable bonding time because they do other things while nursing/feeding the infant. It’s important that we communicate to the infant that we enjoy being with him/her. It shouldn’t be a chore to nurse/feed him or her.

Asking infants if they want another bite or to nurse/drink is also important instead of shoveling food into their mouths.  I’ve seen parents shove a bottle or a spoonful of food into a baby’s mouth in order to “shut them up.”  Not only is this disrespectful, it could cause the infant to choke.

I strongly believe in feeding infants and toddlers when they are hungry.  Their stomachs are small.  They need to eat more frequently than we do and have smaller portions.  They also get dehydrated quicker than adults.  I also believe we shouldn’t force children to finish their meals.  Forcing infants and young children to ignore their hunger and satiation cues can mess up their body and lead to eating disorders later on.

While encouraging children to try new foods is important, I don’t think it’s fair to force children to eat foods that they truly dislike.  I also understand making a whole separate meal for them isn’t practical, so we should do our best to include one dish within the meal that the child likes.  For picky eaters, and really all children, letting them have a say a couple nights a week as to what they want for dinner as well as allowing them to be an active part in meal prep can go a long way in encouraging healthy eating.

Finally, try not to scrape food off infants and toddlers’ mouths with the spoon. I have to be fed myself and I don’t allow people to scrape food off my mouth and chin. It feels gross and isn’t respectful. Wipe their mouth with a cloth. Telling them before you wipe them mouths helps them cooperate slightly better.

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Why Talking to Infants is So Important

I taught the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Approach at a community college a few years ago, and they have a child development lab where early childhood college students learn how to work with young children. After one of my RIE sessions where I discussed talking to infants and toddlers before doing things with them, some of the students got to see RIE in action at the child development lab.

The infant room had just gotten a new infant. She was just 6 weeks old. *6 weeks.* I always emphasize the 6 weeks part of this story every time I tell it. You’ll see why in a moment. Anyway, the teachers in the infant room told the college students that every time someone tried to pick up this child, she’d get very startled and scream. The teachers didn’t know how to help her. The college students decided to give RIE a try.

They went to the baby, got on her level, made eye contact, and said, “Hey —–, I’m going to pick you up. Are you ready?” They held out their hands to the baby as they said this to her and waited a few moments before slowly picking her up.

Guess what?!  The baby didn’t cry!  It worked!

A 6-week-old cannot yet understand words. But they do pick up on speech innotations and body language. This is why talking to infants and toddlers is so important!

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Taking the First Step in Your Gentle Parenting Journey

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love this quote so much. For many Christian and secular parents, turning away from punitive parenting and corporal punishment to gentle and firm parenting is a huge first step in faith. It means rejecting what most of the culture is teaching and doing. It also means getting ridiculed and told that your children will turn out as “brats.”

It means for us Christians rejecting a very prevalent church doctrine that is touted as “Biblical truth.” While the Church is ever so slowly coming to the realization that God never intended for children to be spanked/hit, many are actually afraid to come out of the closet due fear of being told that they and their children are going to Hell.

And though the gentle parenting movement is growing and there are a ton of resources on the Internet for how to truly discipline our children, it is often still a lonely journey as sometimes finding other local gentle parents is very difficult.

Often parents moving from punishment to discipline don’t know what TO do instead. They’ve only experienced painful corporal punishment. Taking a first step despite not being able to see where the staircase leads is a a huge leap of faith. It’s scary to go against the grain. Children are viewed as property and burdens in this society. We who are standing against this must have faith that we are making a difference even though we don’t always feel like we are.

Yes, we must have a lot of faith in this gentle parenting movement. I often get weary trying to teach and advocate for the respectful treatment of children. There are many days I want to give up. But then I’ll look into the eyes of an innocent child and think, “If I don’t speak up for them, who will?”

This verse also encourages me to keep going. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9). Yes, God and Martin Luther King, Jr. are right. Faith is taking that first step when we cannot see where we are going.

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