As a parent, I am constantly looking for new ways to be better at this job. I say ‘job’ because it feels that way sometimes. The old adage that a job stands for just over broke is enough to define parenting but in a literal sense, it is a real burden and it is hard work. Of course with four children, our job is a little more taxing than some, but we have friends who have more than plenty above our quartet and even some who have a single child who struggle with parenting.
Recently my son who is almost six has developed a weird and unreal sense of disobedience. Not like the tantrums of three and four or the smart mouth of some children, but a mild passive-agressive reaction to authority. Not in all things. Most of the time he is a very gentle, affection and accommodating child but since September he has changed his mode of defiance.
For example. If he had something else on his mind at bedtime then he would normally whine and fuss or complain. A little coaching or direction would normally get him to comply with the request to stay in his bed and go to sleep. If that didn’t work a quick consequence of loss or grounding for the next evening’s activities would do the trick. But his current response is a different story.
Instead of whining or crying he just simply and kindly says, “no”. A smurk and turn around to do what ‘he’ has determined to do. Of course this doesn’t anger me or cause me any grief at all because he is just a child and children do silly things. Not the case. It infuriates me – or it did. Now I have a real fear that his actions are becoming habitual and turning into a personality issue or character issue. I have changed my direction with him from being stern to becoming more of a listener and it works with ‘me’.
At school, if he is told he cannot do something, he will just disrupt class and begin to insult the teacher or refuse to move from the location he’s standing. As if he should be in the trees with the Berkeley students 🙂 But seriously, my wife and I are beside ourselves. Now his reponse to his mother and nanny is that he ‘hates them’ and that they are ‘mean as hell.’ This is more than I can bear to see my son rebel at such a young age. Immulation you say, where? When and from whom has he seen or heard this type of language and behavior.
From this point here is my course of action:
- Stop saying, “Don’t” but asking him to give me a statement of intent or understanding. Example: He has been saying darn, which is not a favorable word for a child his age nor in our home – instead of saying, “Don’t say that son.” I have begun to ask him, “What should we say instead of darn.” His response is, “Sorry dad, goodness or golly, etc.” This is working in some areas.
- Praying. I have been praying for my children more than I ever have in my life. I know that the more we feel embedded in the will of God for our lives, the more temptation is going to creep in for all of us, even the children. So my prayer life specifically for my family is severe lately.
- Having him pray. I have been getting Jacob to pray that God will help him with his attitude. Of course the first time I did that he responded, “It’ll take God six years to change it!” We laughed and moved on. But it’s a reflection of his perception on life. In a nutshell, he does pray sometimes when he ‘wants’ God to help him. I don’t want him to pray out of habit or obligation but only when he recognizes his mind going to anger or disobedience.
- Reminding him of my love. Acceptance is the largest hurdle in my life as a human being. Even in my mid-thirties I seek acceptance from every angle. I don’t think Jacob is any different. I have began to over-do my affection with him and the other three children and it is very effective. They are warmer to my leading and instruction and when you ‘know’ that someone cares more for you than they do themselves, there is peace, even when it takes away from what ‘we’ might want.
- Reminding him of God’s love. Today as he left the van for school, I did what I always do. Deliver his backpack in a fashionable style that he loves. He climbs out of the van and I roll down the passenger window and launch it to him while holding the extended handle. It’s great. As he leaves the last thing I say is, remember that I love and am proud and that God loves you more than I ever could. My hope is to reinforce my love and acceptance of him even during his poor choices and in turn share that God loves him more than that!
- Time. I have been picking him up and taking him places with me. This is going to increase more and more in the weeks to come. Time with my dad is precious and I wish I could have had more but God’s plan for my life was different. While I can, I am going to invest in my children. So, each week for the last nine weeks, I have taken one of them out for breakfast or brought ‘one’ of them something special home. Giving of my time has been super effective with my oldest daughter. We talk more than we ever have and all I’ve done is be there a little more.
- Coaching. Not only Jacob about his attitude (I don’t focus much on behavior but attitude and thinking) but also others around him about how they respond to him. He gets direction from me and his mother, his teachers, his care workers after school and also his siblings. They are always telling each other what they should be doing, especially my oldest. So, coaching others to hold their anger, be gentle, Christlike and kind even when he is ‘mean as hell’ is a difficult battle. I could not do this myself had I not been a year or more in prayer about my own attitude and actions.
- Prayer. So it brings me back to this. I pray for everyone who meets my family each day. My children and my wife – that they would be used by God and be treated kindly, especially my son for this critical time in his life.
I feel like he is at a crossroads and if we can show him another way, God’s way, he will see the fruit of life as a good thing. Please join me in prayer and encouragement as I journey down this path. I have over 13 years experience working with teens and this one has me. I finally understand that even a five year old wants to talk and he doesn’t get the privilege much in our home with three sisters.
I would appreciate any comments or thoughts from anyone who has gone through this or has advice as to what ‘else’ we can do. In all things, we are trusting in Christ to save my son from himself. Proverbs 3:5,6