How well I remember that moment. I was peaking around the door to check on my oldest daughter. She was only two or three and was in Sunday School for the first time. As I watched, I saw a couple of little girls treat her unkindly. I saw the hurt look on her face and I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart.
That was the moment I realized that it hurts far worse to watch my kids experience hurt than for me to experience it personally.
Watching all that was going on from that door was rather torturous. But I knew to step in and try to fix the situation would only make it worse. And so I stood helplessly by, trying to comfort myself with the thought that I went through the same kind of snubs and survived.
Little did I know at that time just how often my kids would experience pain and hurt throughout their lives– no matter how much their father and I tried to protect them. Since that time I’ve grown older and, hopefully, wiser. And I’ve learned that there are some things we can do help our kids as they travel through those painful times.
But before we can help them, we need to understand a few things ourselves. First, we need to understand that we can’t– nor should– fix every little problem that comes up in our kids’ lives. As my oldest was going through terrible times with some friends in middle school it was all I could do to not to get involved, but, thankfully, I chose to heed my mother’s advice: do not get involved. I am so glad that I did now, although at that time it felt like I must do something.
I think we also need to understand that shielding our kids from hurt is actually hurting them in the long run. Let’s say that we were actually able to keep them from experiencing pain and hurt for the first eighteen years–can you imagine what would happen when they left our shelter and struck out on their own? What a cold and harsh introduction to a cold and harsh world. And not only that, but in our attempts to protect and shelter our kids from pain, they start believing that they are the center of the world. They become self-centered and self-absorbed and eventually end up hurting themselves (and us) in the long run.
And so we cannot think it is our duty to shield our kids from pain. It isn’t.
But just because we can’t keep them from feeling hurt, doesn’t mean we can’t help. There are some things we can do to help our kids–
1. Remind your child that they are not alone. Let them know that you love them unconditionally and keep them secure in that love. No matter what’s going on — whether bad grades, a broken heart, or not making the team– be by their side and encourage them. But, just as importantly, remind them of God’s love. Remind them that they will never be alone if they turn to God in their trials.
2. Talk about the Sovereignty of God in their life. Sovereignty is a big word, but basically we need to discuss with our kids how nothing happens outside of God’s Will and how whatever it is they are facing is something God is using to turn their hearts toward Him or to grow them spiritually. Nothing happens without a reason. Encourage them to have a humble and teachable spirit as they face trials and troubles and then follow those words up by having a humble and teachable spirit yourself when you face your own personal trials.
3. Think outside the box. So often we tend to throw our hands up in the air and say, “Oh, well, we just need to walk through this” and we put our heads down and trudge on. But sometimes– not always, of course– we can think outside the box and come up with a solution. Or we come up with a way to creatively deal with a situation. Talking and discussing in this way will help them with problem-solving later on. We never want to teach them to just “accept their fate” without first exploring all of the options. We never want to encourage them to dwell in a place of self-pity. But it is very important that we never have these discussions without prayer. Be in prayer with them and for them. God has answered and provided in many seemingly impossible situations in our family’s life– building much faith in the process.
4. And, finally, always help them to keep a proper perspective. When one of my kids and I were discussing something difficult that they were going through recently, it was so helpful to remember that this particular trial really wasn’t that much of a trial, in light of what so many others go through. It really does help to remember that it could be so much worse. At the very least, gently and lovingly turn their thoughts to how much gratitude they should have simply because they have a warm home, food to eat, and someone who loves them to take care of them.
As you have these discussions with your kids, you will see them start handling their own trials in this way. But, of course, most of our discussions with our kids will be utterly useless if we don’t respond to our own trials well. How true the old saying is: Much more is caught than taught. And so we need to be ever mindful of responding and reacting to our own trials by applying these same four principles.
Our kids are going to experience pain. It is the very nature of life. Instead of jumping in to shield and protect them, let’s do all we can to prepare them for the future, so that they will be ready to go out into the world as capable and unselfish adults who want to live for God’s glory.