When you think your children are giving you a hard time, they may be having a hard time!

Stan and I recently participated in a discussion panel for parents of school-aged children. The panel addressed what is foremost on everyone’s mind right now–managing all of the daily life changes this global pandemic has brought us. Along with schooling at home and working from home comes the need to be increasingly aware of our children’s fears and sense of loss. Barbara Boyd, a pastoral counselor and staff member with The Navigators ministry, encouraged parents to look beneath negative behaviors to possible causes.

This does not mean parents should compromise their expectations for appropriate behavior, but understand and regularly acknowledge their child’s thoughts and fears. Adding that extra bit of intentional sensitivity can help our children emerge from this unique situation with greater emotional health.

We appreciated Barbara’s insight and asked if she would be willing to write a guest post for this blog. Here are Barbara Boyd’s thoughts…

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary is one of my favorite children’s books. Ms. Cleary, with her perception and gentle humor, shows that Ramona’s sometimes ornery behavior makes perfect sense in the mind of a child. In the following excerpt, Ramona has just been sent home from kindergarten and then sent to her bed because she would not promise to stop “boinging” her friend’s irresistibly curly hair:

“Suddenly everything that had happened that day was too much for Ramona… Ramona wanted the whole world to know she was so bad she kicked the wall and left heel marks on the wallpaper. ‘Ramona, if you’re going to do that you had better take off your shoes.’ Mrs. Quimby’s voice from the living room was tired but calm. Ramona drummed harder to show everyone how bad she was. She would not take off her shoes. She was a terrible, wicked girl! Being such a bad, terrible, horrid, wicked girl made her feel good! She brought both heels against the wall at the same time. Thump! Thump! Thump! She was not the least bit sorry for what she was doing. She would never be sorry. Never! Never! Never!”

What is a parent to do in the face of such “terrible, horrid” behavior? Fortunately, Ramona’s mother says, “Poor little girl. She’s upset. She’s had a difficult day.” This wise mother must have had Proverbs 14:10 in mind:

“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.”

Sheltering in place has certainly been a bitter time for people of all ages. I think children might be hit the hardest since they have so little control over their lives. Without the ability to grasp abstract concepts such as social distancing, they have a limited framework to understand the loss of normal routines. Even teenagers, who have a better grasp of the purpose behind sheltering at home, are suffering greatly from loss. Consider all they have anticipated and worked toward for many years, such as sports competitions, school proms, spring break trips, academic functions, graduation ceremonies and parties — the list goes on and on. Babies and toddlers have the same sense of loss, not understanding why they can’t hug Grandma and Grandpa anymore, go to the park to play, or see their teachers and friends at daycare.

Scripture provides a wonderful guide for ministering to our children during their time of grief and loss. Whether the children are grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of a hoped-for event, wise parents validate their sorrow, encourage its expression, and offer appropriate comfort. Here are some verses from Proverbs that speak about grief:

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (17:22)

“The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but who can survive a broken spirit?” (18:14)

“A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (15:13)

Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us that “there is a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Romans 12:4 goes on to say the we are to “mourn with those who mourn.” The Bible uses rich vocabulary to describe a wide variety of grief, mourning, and lament:

  • to groan inwardly with unexpressed sorrow
  • to beat the breast or head
  • to weep
  • to show a gloomy or sad countenance
  • to wail
  • to feel pain

Like Ramona, our children might not always be able to “use their words” to explain their feelings. We might have to look below some strange behavior to see the grief. Let us be patient and gracious, validating their grief even if it seems like a small loss to us. Let us give compassion even if we don’t understand why they are grieving this particular loss. A parent’s empathy precipitates resilience in children and creates a window of opportunity for ministry. Our children will remember our kindness long after they have forgotten the uncomfortable details of sheltering in place.

Comfort us, O Lord,
in the wake of what has overtaken us.
Shield us, O Lord, from the hurts
we cannot bear.
Shelter us, O Lord,
in the fortress of your love.

Shepherd us, O Lord, as we wake each
new morning, faced with the burdens of a
hard pilgrimage we would not have chosen.
But as this is now our path, let us walk it in
faith, and let us walk it bravely, knowing
that you go always before us.

[“Every Moment Holy” by Doug McKelvey]

“Our children will remember our kindness long after they have forgotten the uncomfortable details of sheltering in place.”

Barbara Boyd is a pastoral counselor and on staff with The Navigators ministry.

See Related Posts:

Validating Your Child in Everyday Parenting

Fostering Emotional Safety in Our Homes

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