How easy it is as parents to see the negative in a child as only that.
“He is so stubborn.” ”She talks too much.” ”That kid is so argumentative.” And on it goes.
Instead, years ago, a wise pastor friend encouraged me in dealing with my children to always try to find the positive side of a personality or character trait I was having trouble with. This isn’t to whitewash anything, but, rather, to help shape and direct — or just better understand — how a child operates by first understanding who that child is.
The flip side is also true.
I’ve seen parents oblivious to the fact that their outgoing child is also the one sucking the oxygen out of the room with his constant talking, or demanding that the spotlight always be on him. The one with self-confidence can at times be too full of himself. (I will neither confirm nor deny that we’re talking about any of my kids here!)
Here’s an example that is OK to share. I have a child who is extraordinarily passionate about everything she does, and there are times when that can be destructive. But it’s especially when that trait is driving me nuts that I have to remember, as I deal with it or help her deal with it, it’s that same passion that propels her to excellence in areas like the classroom and theater and to be an enthusiastic and sought-after friend.
As I seek to help her find positive outlets for her passion, I have to remind myself that it’s actually unfair for me to think that trait should be exhibited only when I like it, not when I don’t. She is, wonderfully, who God designed her to be. So it’s better for me to appreciate her passion even as I try to help her shape it in positive ways.
David Staal sheds needed light on the nuances of helping rightly orient our children in “Lessons Kids Need to Learn: Six Truths To Shape The Character of The Child You Love” (Zondervan 2012). Chapters include: “Believe That You Matter/Live Like Others Matter More”; “Find Your Unique Fit/Find Out You Can Fail”; “Forget Unimportant Stuff/Remember Life Has Consequences”; and “Be a People Person/Be Your Own Person.”
Staal, director of Kids Hope USA, works with at-risk kids and was formerly the director of Promiseland, the children’s ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.
His book is a great antidote to the “all or nothing” brand of parenting. Staal considers different sides of a necessary life lesson (versus character traits, per se), but also demonstrates why it is often so much better to consider nuance and balance when it comes to our children, rather than the black-and-white approach often found in books on parenting.
There’s a continuum there we have to help our children think about.
Of course, the bottom line is that thinking in terms of balance and shaping — whether in character traits or life lessons — requires something of us as parents. Something much more than just a “let the experts tell us the answer” mentality I often see on the one hand, or the “my parenting doesn’t matter; my kids will turn out how they turn out” on the other.
What a breath of fresh air.
So much of this, of course, is just common sense. But as Staal told me, when we ignore common sense, we make parenting complicated.
And there’s not much nuance needed there.
Betsy Hart’s latest book is “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).” Reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org.