by Sue Frisbie, Elijah House Spiritual Director
One day when our little granddaughter was two and a half, our friend Michael came over for a visit.
As young children often do, our granddaughter ran headfirst into the situation to see the new person, but as the excitement died down, she grew shy and curled up on my lap, peering over at Michael with some trepidation.
“How do you feel?” I asked her.
“I feel shy,” she replied.
Michael showed our granddaughter such tenderness. “Sweetheart, I feel shy many times too.”
It is amazing how many decisions and conclusions we make about life when we’re still very young. Social psychologists tell us that by the time we’re six years old, we have pretty much determined what relationships are going to be like in our life moving forward.
Can you imagine a six-year-old being charged with assessing the world and deciding what the rest of their life is going to look like? That’s a tall order! But that’s essentially what happens. Most of the painful inner vows and bitter-root judgments we wrestle with today as adults began when we were still in the single-digit age bracket.
“I get in trouble when I’m loud, so I need to be quiet. I will always be quiet. I won’t speak up, because I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“I am not as important as Daddy’s job. Jobs are more important than kids. When I grow up, I’m going to be just like Daddy.”
As parents, it’s important we help our child sort their feelings, so they can understand what is actually true. If they are left on their own to understand their emotions, they will likely end up coming to believe certain things that hurt them later on. That is what happened with many of us. We are still trying to figure out what the truth of God is versus what our heart believes.
What Is the Child Feeling?
When a little child reacts emotionally, we help them when we ask simple questions about their heart. “How do you feel? What are you feeling? What is happening inside you?”
We show interest in their feelings and help them discern what is true and what is not. This helps the child grow, and it empowers them to step into relationships with their feelings, instead of shutting them down or starting to believe their heart doesn’t matter.
If they don’t understand what they’re feeling or how to express themselves emotionally, they can wind up in a place where they have trouble connecting how they’re feeling with what they’re experiencing. This disconnect can push them away from their heart, which is the opposite of what we—and the Lord—want to happen.
What If the Child Is Overreacting?
What about when a child throws a temper tantrum? What about the meltdowns that sometimes happen over very “small” things?
Even when a little child makes an outrageous statement about their emotions—something completely untrue—it’s important for parents to help the child understand what their small but fiery heart is feeling and what the truth is.
“Mommy doesn’t love me!”
“Daddy, you don’t care about me! You don’t talk to me, and you won’t play with me!”
A child might say any number of things, but what is the truth of the situation? That is what we help the child discover.
“Honey, how do you feel? Tell me about it.”
“You don’t love me!”
“Oh, honey—I love you so much. You never need to worry about my love, because I just have so much of it. I can’t take you to the park today. We’ll go to the park tomorrow.”
This is not guaranteed to stop the emotional outburst, but if we keep responding with gentleness and affection, they will come to see they are loved no matter what they say or how they act. This will give their young heart the nurturing it desperately needs.
They will start to realize, “I feel this way, but Mommy really does love me.”
An Environment of Truth in the Home
One of our most important needs in life is to be nurtured as children. Many of us didn’t receive the nurturing we needed in our childhood, which is why we’re going after heart healing today.
When we’re sensitive to our child’s needs and listen to the Holy Spirit, we can build a loving, truth-based environment that helps the child grow and prosper. Taking just a few minutes to talk to them about their feelings helps protect their heart from wounds and gives them the opportunity to see how safe they are with us.
For more on this topic, check out these Elijah House resources:
- Restoring the Christian Family by John and Paula Sandford
- Introduction to Inner Healing by Paula Sandford