God has given parents specially granted authority in the lives of their children, which is amazingly good news for us who want to be used by Him to bring health, hope, and healing to our children. This authority doesn’t rest on how well we do things…it rests on the Sovereignty and power and goodness of the Holy One. We have the power to speak life into our children’s lives and situations, not because we’re all that..or have the language or the skills…but because God granted us that authority. It comes from Him.
We do, however need to understand the purpose of this authority, because we don’t want to misappropriate it toward an end that is not of God. For example, Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) puts it this way when discussing power dynamics in authoritative relationships:
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles* lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20) * the term gentile here means those without God in their lives; of the nations, not of God’s Covenant family. *
Paul caught on to this idea: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29.
The quote illustrated in the meme above also informs us that God gives authority to build up and not to tear down. When we parents use our God-given authority over our children as a tool for controlling them to ensure orderliness, or to justify punishment for wrong doing, we miss the real opportunity God is giving us.
As priests in your home, you have divine power behind your words of blessing to your children:
The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26
Each one of these words has significant meaning to empower the hearer toward deep relationship with God and restoration of the dry places: bless, keep, His face shine, gracious, His countenance upon you, peace. This would make a wonderful study to see how each of these promises and empowerments can have direct, practical application for the futures of your children. If you are a parent in Covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you are called to represent your children before God in intercession, and to pronounce blessings in the name of this God.
Is your child fearful, have anxiety, and worry? Pray those empowering scriptures dealing with these issues over them, trusting God to come into those places of fear. Does you child feel abandoned by birth parents, or have feelings of not belonging? Pray those scriptures of belonging. And then walk out those empowerments. Neuroscience tells us that we can re-wire our brains, that we can be change agents in the re-wiring of our children’s brains. Believe it, you have God’s authority to do just that. God’s authority gives lasting results.
As you learn and use the principles of TBRI for your children, always remember the spiritual power behind the actions. When you use strategies to create felt safety for your terrified, cortisol-filled child, don’t just stop there – also proclaim that our God delights in them being set free of fear. Proclaim that the work Messiah did on the cross was to show that He overcame the power of FEAR too. Proclaim that they have meaning and purpose in their lives, that they have belonging and a family because your heavenly Father told you so.
We have a power source of Godly authority in our children’s lives to speak against the things which bind them up. Don’t forget to plug in!
Old habits are hard to break – this is true for our children and true for us. In my family coaching ministry, I propose to make 2018 the year to tackle some of our parenting habits that are not working long term. I say long term, because sometimes parents only look at the immediate benefits of a particular parenting practice. And believe me, I can relate, especially when it comes to discipline practices. I mean, I raised 7 children, with an age span of 10 years and let me tell you, crowd control was big on my list. If a method of discipline offered immediate results – namely, stopping a behavior I wanted stopped, then I used that method without thought for any long-term ill-effects. I often lived in TODAY’s moments, because I was often overwhelmed TODAY. Can you relate?
Dr. Becky Bailey, whose quote is in the meme below, specializes in early childhood education and developmental psychology. She often writes about the dark side of fear-based discipline. This is true for all children, but even more so for our children who experience any of the 6 risk factors for behavior issues. By inadvertently triggering the stress response in our children by our discipline method, we disconnect from them and become their adversary, not their ally. Children who are in fight, flight, or freeze mode are stuck, and can not process that we are trying to do right by them – what they actually experience in their bodies is that the very one who is supposed to help, is actually hurting and scaring them. Of course we don’t want that for our children.
I have been able to identify some wrong beliefs I used to have, which fueled my own fear-based parenting, back in the earlier days of raising my children. Each of these ‘myths’ could have a blog post all their own, and I might try to do that in the future. For me, these were religious beliefs that I had just accepted from the Church, but never examined on my own. I am content knowing that I seek to forsake man-made doctrines which don’t really reflect a biblical perspective.
*power grabs: child tries to take power from parents and parents job is to prevent that from happening at all costs.
*a child’s will is rebellious and must be broken by parents.
*spanking removes rebellion and increases obedience.
*not spanking leads to more rebellion and bad behavior.
*Instant obedience to parents leads to instant obedience to God.
The good news is that there are corrective methods you can employ to guide your child’s behaviors, which do not lead to disconnection with your child. In fact, TBRI has some amazing ideas for shaping behavior which actually lead to more connection with your child. Watch this short video as Karyn Purvis of TBRI describes one such technique, called the I.D.E.A.L. response to your child’s behaviors. I am available to coach you on this method, if you want to incorporate it into your own parenting.
I welcome your thoughts and comments!
When I was a younger Christian parent, I wanted to believe that having faith in my strong and capable God inoculated me and my family from experiencing the trials and struggles common to humanity. I had hoped to think Christians existed in some sort of spiritual Goshen, sheltered from the plagues that befall ‘them’ – those who stand outside the Kingdom. And while it is true in many cases that our lifestyles founded on biblical principles give us protective qualities from many of the storms of life, our experiences tell us that even Christian homes have stresses and events that can be very disruptive to the functioning of our families. Jesus’s prayer to the Father is “ not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”, so honestly, we have been forewarned that we’ll face difficult situations from time to time.
Every day your child faces stress events can cause them to feel vulnerable, anxious, afraid, sad, frustrated, or lonely. As parents, we’d like to think we can shield our children from these things, but the truth is, there are always going to be events that can cause stress in our children’s lives – a parent’s sudden and unexpected job loss, health issues of parents or family members, events happening in the world that impact the family directly. The good news is that starting right now and today, you can help them build resilience, so they are equipped to take on the challenges that come with life and growing up.
What is resilience and what contributes to it?
The word resilience started in the physical sciences as the capacity of an object to return to its original shape when stretched; think of a spring or a rubber band. I’m going to date myself here,but in my own childhood I remember my brothers, sister and I playing with “Stretch Armstrong”.
Do stores even sell these anymore? This was like a large GI Joe toy with hard plastic body but with these pliable stretchy arms and legs. My three siblings and I would each take one arm or one leg and together we would see how far the ‘ol guy could stretch. But he always bounced back. That is resilience.
The concept of human resilience became the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and stress; it’s what we use to bounce back from the hard things in life, or as I like to say, bounce forward. I say forward, because it’s unrealistic to expect families to bounce back as easily as Stretch Armstrong’s limbs do, especially when faced with serious life challenges. With serious issues, it may not be possible to go back to the way things were, but instead resilience forges new pathways; it becomes a way to look at life as a series of ‘moving forwards’. For Christians, in any talk about resilience, we must look at it through the lens of Biblical Truths: Jesus told us we would always have tough times, but He also told us that the Father would always be with us, strengthening us for the task set before us.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40: 28-31
How can parents promote resilience in their children?
There are several ways that parents specifically can support resilience development, such as acknowledging your child’s feelings; keeping your child safe while allowing him/her to explore the environment; modeling what empathy and caring look and sound like; and encouraging your child to do things on his/her own. These work together as ingredients in the soup of resilience but one of the most significant influences on resilience has to do with family belief systems.
Brain research tells us that strong faith and prayer can promote health and healing and reduce stress. When your biblical values are lived out with your children (you practice what you preach) and when you create meaningful shared family practices, the whole family is better able to withstand challenges. I am going to highlight two biblically based practices that you probably already know are important parts of the Christian life, but maybe did not know that they encourage greater resilience in your children and yourself too.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
Children are strengthened in resilience when they know that even though they (or you) may not be able to control the outcome of events, that does not mean the family has been forsaken by God. This is the time to be thankful for family and for what you do have, even in the middle of the challenges. When you give God the glory as a family, the perspective changes from what you can’t do to how you can get through it together. Who says thankfulness needs to only be on display during November? When facing struggles, make a thankful tree or banner as a family, listing (or making pictures of) all the things you have because of God in your life. Read bible stories of God’s provision in times of struggle. Focus on His power and strength.
Exodus 14:14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Philippians 4:19 My God will richly fill your every need in a glorious way through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
When we teach our children that God is with us in the trials too, we promote the idea that we are all in this together, with God; that He is there to sustain us through the trial. When parents show how we trust God in our own lives, we give our young children the building blocks to trust God for themselves too. Children are better able to handle adversity with that bounce forward attitude when they sense an abiding loyalty and faith in one another that is rooted in loyalty, faith and trust in God.
No, we can’t be taken out of the world, never having to face adversity and hardships. But we can learn to reframe the scary or uncertain things for our children, to show that we can get through it as a family and after all, God is still on the Throne.
We all look at the world through the ‘lens’ of our beliefs and worldviews. Often, our these beliefs and ways of thinking about parenting have been handed down to us by our own parents in subtle ways such that we don’t give much thought to them, they are just there. That is, until something challenges the old ways of thinking. Then we might hold on to the old ways only because it feels more familiar, not even because it works anymore.
I experienced this when my husband and I brought home 6 year old twins from a Russian orphanage back in 2005. I just assumed the traditional, very authoritarian way I had been parented, and the way we had parented our 5 bio kids would also work for our new sons. My view of their struggles was colored by the lens through which I viewed their challenging behavior – willful disobedience, lazy, attention-seeking, controlling, manipulative, limit-testing, rebellion. Thankfully, I listened when God showed me I needed different glasses.
So much research has gone into what we now know about kids from broken places. No wonder what my husband and I were doing with them wasn’t working – it was counter productive in so many ways to what they really needed – more connection with us, not more discipline or structure. We needed to first know that there is a perfect for us balance between structure and nurture; then we could work on the balance designed just for our family.
So much of what parenting hurt kids can do for us as parents is motivate us to find that new pair of lenses in order to see the needs of our children who became traumatized before we began parenting them. With any new growth on our part as parents and caregivers, we must be willing to trade out a lot of old thinking about what is driving the challenging behaviors of our kiddos, and put on new lenses of compassion. This is harder than it sounds.
I suggest that we let our mantra be Kids do well if they can: if my children could do well, he would do well. That right there was revolutionary for me, who had been taught that I need to be strict on the kids so they don’t get away with anything. What hurt children need are skills of adaptive behavior, not some kind of external motivation to behave well, without the heart change. Often, your child won’t know how anyway, and even when she does know how, her little body is in such a fear state from past trauma that she is unable to follow through. Our kids need our help.
At the core of God’s heart for all of us, and the basis of TBRI is the idea that connection is the most important thing you can offer your child. We are created to connect. I work with parents to show you the tools to guide your child’s behavior while maintaining an emotional connection with them. That was a completely new lens for me. Part of what this means is no yelling, shaming, or sending them to their rooms in isolation. Instead, everything you do for your child is through the lens of creating, maintaining and repairing connection with then. This is how you will begin to see improvements in your child’s behavior, and more joy in your family.
Start with your lens. How do you feel about this statement? Kids do well if they can. The link takes you to a 4 minute video clip of Dr. Ross Greene explaining this idea.
I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Researcher are getting a handle on a big problem facing our children: fear is a huge issue for many children coming from trauma and neglect backgrounds where their needs were not met in consistent, nurturing ways in early life. Science is unraveling the mystery of the neurobiology of fear and the body’s amazing fight, flight, and freeze responses designed to survive a traumatic event. Clinicians are seeing that with sustained danger and no one to help them, children eventually believe that they are alone in the world without anyone to meet their needs, so they develop survival skills in place of trusting others to care for them. Practitioners are recognizing that hurt children still use the fear-based survival strategies they learned prior to coming to their new foster or adoptive home, despite now living in stable, caring homes.
It is vitally important to learn how to recognize your child’s trauma-based needs that are born out of fear, and learn to promote felt safety in your home to disarm the core fear issues driving their survival behaviors. Yes, it is a daunting task to dive into a child’s deeply ingrained fear responses, but it is a necessary one, in order for your child to heal. But fear is a funny thing. It sticks its ugly head in places it doesn’t belong. And if you are parenting a fearful child but feeling stuck at helping them heal, chances are fear has a hold on you too, in some area. It is an ailment common to humanity.
We’re getting a handle on the PROBLEM. But what we truly need is connection with the Solution.
A loving Father is ready to take hold of your hand, when you extend it to Him, to help you through your own fear. It is only in this connection to Him (taking His hand) that fear dissipates in your life and you receive the authority to cast out fear in your child’s life.
TBRI can help you create an environment of felt safety for your child, to help them deal with their fear, but first you yourself need to walk in fearlessness by taking hold of your own Safety Source. What do you do when you fear God, not in awe-some reverence, but because you are afraid to reveal yourself to Him? Do you fear His rejection? Are you back in the Garden after eating from the Tree, trying to hide your sins from God and yourself? Let Him help you in your fears.
Here are 5 verses showing the True power behind overcoming fear, that you can talk to the Father about, asking Him to take away the fear. God wants your child set free of fear and you set free of fear, even more than you do.
This blog entry is dedicated to my oldest son, age 21, who, until he was about 3, would, just as often as not, merely point and grunt for what he wanted, compelling his older sisters to carry him around until he got whatever it was that caught his eye. The sisters knew his language and responded swiftly to meet his need, giggling at how only they understood him. Why use words when you have sisters? I have to tell you, grunting wasn’t as much fun for me to hear, though, and I was happy when he outgrew this quirky little stage. But for our children who come from histories of loss, grunting or whining to express a need can be a symptom of deeper issues instead of, ‘I’m just too pampered to be bothered by words…”
Whiny children are overwhelmed children because they lack the internal resources to cope with what life is currently throwing at them. As much as we might think, they are really not whining to drive us crazy. They whine because they are on overdrive and can’t do better in the moment.
Prevention is always something to look at. A good way to prevent whining is to prevent their systems from getting overwhelmed in the first place. Make sure they aren’t hungry or in need of a protein-rich snack. Check if they are thirsty. Be a detective to identify the unique unique body signals your child demonstrates just before they are get overwhelmed, and notice if there are specific times of the day, or specific events that typically precede the whiny response. If you can identify specific situations or events, you may want to take a break from them for a little time, while you help your child work out their voice.
Give Your Child Voice to Feel Powerful:
There is a Catch 22 with whining because it is often due to feeling powerless that a child whines. So, if we are verbally harsh with them for whining, send them away from us, or we ignore their behavior in hopes it will go away without attention, this only increases their feelings of powerlessness, leading to more distress for them, not improved behavior. That is kind of an intense sentence. But then, this whining cycle is also intense.
The antidote is giving them more power.
Remember, you are really sharing power with your child, not giving up your power. Power sharing can come in the form of letting your child know he/she is heard even if you cannot give them what they want. “I know you wanted to go to the park today and you are so sad it is raining. It is hard when your plans get changed suddenly isn’t it?”
Your child will also experience power when you encourage a strong voice, such as “let me hear your big boy voice’ or, ‘let me hear your strong voice’. This lets them know you value what they have to say. Some parents have had success creating their own scripts to say to their child in the whiny moment, which they have taught to and practiced with their child at an earlier time, such as during family night. Using a favorite toy, “Can you show me Stuffy’s ‘weak voice’?” (whining). “Can you show me Stuffy’s strong voice?” (asking with words). If you make a game with this during moments of calm, your child will have the language to understand what you are expecting of them in the hard moment.
Your child will love your playfulness and exaggerations when you ‘help’ the stuffed toy look for his voice “I wonder where Stuffy’s strong voice went? It was here just a minutes ago! Is it under the table? The chair? Hiding in the toy box?” After the toy finds its strong voice, practice asking for things in a strong voice.
You can then playfully use these same questions to your child when they first start whining. Playful correction keeps connection at the forefront and disarms their moments of distress.
Whiny children may feel alone in their powerlessness. We are created to connect. When something disrupts their connection with you (whether real or imagined) this feeling can easily overwhelm them with feelings of loss they cannot manage in healthy ways. Sometimes all it takes is your momentary attention directed at little sister, or them not getting something they want, to set them off spiraling into aloneness and despair.
Pre-emptive connection means you seek out connecting moments with your child before the need arises; you fill their ‘connection tank’ before it runs dry. This means you don’t wait for your child to ‘ask’ (which will usually be through whining or maladaptive behavior of some kind, which many parents call ‘attention-seeking behavior”) before you offer to snuggle, cuddle, or the teenager-equivalent milkshake run to McDonalds. You can build in connection rituals throughout the day and evening that your child can count on, to keep their tank full.
But you can also connect with your child at the first sign your child needs you, before behaviors really escalate. “Hey son, you look like you might need some one-on-one time with me, let’s go spend some time together.” No, this is not rewarding bad behavior, it’s meeting their immense needs for connection with you.
Be Aware of Parent Triggers:
The sound of whining can create anxiety in parents, not unlike scraping fingernails on a chalkboard. Be mindful of what’s triggering you, so that you can remain calm to be there for them in their need. A whiny child is a needy child. When we see whining as an indicator of a need instead of willful behavior, we can respond with compassion and connection. Don’t feel like you have to solve every problem (that just sets us up for failure) – just let them know you are there for them. “I hear you. You are important. ”
I don’t know anyone who likes to accept ‘no’ for an answer, do you? Even us parents get that internal churning feeling when we’re told no about something in the grown-up world. And let’s face it, all children want what they want, when they want it. How much more so for our children from hard places, coming from early trauma, neglect, and loss. These hurt children of ours can react to ‘no’ with intense physical and emotional pain in a way that completely overwhelms their system, causing them to strike back with intent to take us down with them. A simple ‘no’ from us sends them into a tailspin of defiant behaviors, and we have no idea what underlying pain they are feeling when all we see is their anger. Oh, the intense anger. Or maybe your child shuts down instead, saying, ‘that’s ok, no big deal, I didn’t really want it anyway.” This response is tricky because it appears he’s fine. In the future I’ll write about this ‘freeze’ response.
Something that adds to this brewing mess is our expectations that our children should just accept ‘no’ in obedience to us. Traditional parenting says ‘do it just because I said so’. That may seem to work in kiddos who are very securely attached to parents, but demanding obedience is the special sauce of disaster for our insecure children. Why can’t they just trust us that we know what’s best for them?
One of the reasons accepting ‘no’ is so hard for children from trauma backgrounds is that, despite now living in safe homes with caring parents, our children often remain haunted by feelings of being unloved, unwanted, and un-cared for in the past. And when the abuse/neglect happened to them before they were verbal, these memories get stored in their bodies absent conscious awareness of time and place.* Research tells us these earliest memories of neglect and loss are buried deep within and are carried as vague impressions and feelings without clear events associated to them.* What can happen then is, they can react to today’s ‘no’ by reliving all the ‘nos’ of yesterdays gone by. They react to you saying ‘no’ in this moment but heap on all the past times when they did not have what they needed. “No, you may not have a cookie 10 minutes before dinner time” feels to them like the years of having to go without any food for long periods of time. No wonder they freak out.
There are several proactive strategies to gently lead your child to accept no. Today I’ll focus on just two. This works preventatively not only for accepting no, but for any number of behaviors that stem from feeling of loss and pain. Again, these are pro-active, meant to build trust and internal resources before events occur. They are not stop-the-behavior-when-it-happens strategies. We can talk about those in later posts.
Offer lots of practice accepting ‘no’ in a gentle and kind way. If meltdowns, whining and screaming have been the ways your child communicated in the past, it may be the only thing they know to do. Sometimes they need to see a better way to know what you expect. One of my favorite ways to teach new skills to a child is through role playing with puppets or stuffed animals/toys. This turns into not only a great teaching/reinforcing lesson, but it is also an amazing connecting activity. Puppets or stuffed toys help to not make the activity about your relationship with the child, or what they have not done correct in the past – the toys do all the talking; they do the hard work.
You start by ‘teaching’ one of the puppets/stuffed toys how to be gentle and kind when accepting no, as your child watches the puppet ‘practice’. Take turns with your child and let him also teach to a toy. Then repeat with showing the toy the not gentle and kind way of accepting no. Here is where you can get as silly as you want to, demonstrating funny ways of not accepting no very well. Your child can come up with a few more ‘wrong’ ways, and don’t be surprised if they may even include some of their own. You and your child’s toy could then role play mom saying no, and child accepting no in a kind gentle way. The idea is to make it fun and connecting, not shaming. Keeping it fun and silly when you practice will help in the real-life moment too by helping to diffuse the situation next time you do have to say ‘no’. The key to this kind of learning is that you do it when your child is calm and regulated and stop before it loses it’s fun. Practice often with the gentle and kind way to reinforce positive behavior. Praise your child when you see any improvement in real life.
Give lots of ‘yeses’ whenever you can. This is like ‘money in the bank’ or in this case, good feelings in the bank. The more times you can say yes to even the little things, the better it will be when you have to ‘withdraw’ from the emotional bank by saying ‘no’. I have been guilty of telling my children ‘no’ just because it was easier for me, when really it would have been ok to let them have or do whatever it was they asked for. What helped me was to take a breath before answering their request, so that I have that extra time needed to think about it before the automatic ‘no’ that all of us parents sometimes get caught up in. This won’t make you a permissive parent, but it will open your eyes to more opportunities to say yes to them. Some families find success in creating a YES JAR. Once you fill your jar, tell your kids about it and be willing to say yes anytime they ask. Watch as Kayla North of Empowered to Connect discusses the simplicity of adding YES to your communication with your children:
Van Der Kolk, B., (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin Books.
Quite frankly, our children have a lot of issues they face daily. And they bring a lot of issue to the family. When we are trying to find the root cause of their pain, which is expressed through their behaviors, we can come at it in any number of ways, but I have found that one of the best ways is to frame it as a curious question, “What do you need?” When I coach parents, I usually ask them to pick one or two issues they are particularly troubled by that they want support in. And, in essence, this is me asking, ‘What do you need?’
A big part of my coaching approach is to teach parents to see into their children’s actual needs by seeing beyond the behavior. Meeting their needs builds trust and enhances attachment. This is especially true if we can be pro-active and meet their needs before they express the need. But even in the midst of a behavior, asking “What do you need” is far more productive than “why are you acting this way?”
This hasn’t always been easy for me, I’ll admit. One of my stumbling blocks was that I thought I already knew the answer to the question. I’ll TELL you what you need:
You need to stop acting up. You need to get over it. You need to do what I say.
I could let go of those beliefs when I began to cultivate an attitude of true curiosity about what is underneath their behavior that in the past I just wanted STOPPED. When I understood the importance of honoring who they are, where they’ve come from, and Who is in charge of their healing, I change. I knew their voice mattered, so I knew the question had to be “what do you need?”.
What an amazing, 75 year study on what contributes to happiness. It’s under 13 minutes.
The brain is plastic, which means it adapts to these situations that the child faces. Responses to these environments are ‘wired’ within their brain and are changeable to suit the needs of the specific situation. The bad news is that the behaviors that helped them cope in their early environment can become mal-adaptive once they are in your home and safe. They no longer need the behaviors for survival, but their brains are still wired to feel that way. Thankfully, the brain remains plastic throughout our life and still adapts to new situations. What this means for your child is that, with help, he or she can heal and learn to function in your home.
The TBRI® Empowering, Connecting, and Correcting principles help you enhance your home environment to bring about even more felt safety and love. Look for an introductory workshop in Missoula coming this summer.