My children are older now and I’m more able to engage them in conversations. When they were younger, say two, three, or four, it was simply hard to engage them intellectually. In a homeschooling household of six children where we’re always together, conflict naturally ensues on a daily basis. It is as if we live and breathe conflict, whether big or small. These days I’ve been very intentional in talking to the children and drawing their hearts out whenever a conflict occurs. It is very easy and simple for me to just say:
- Stop acting that way!
- Quit complaining!
- Just do your work.
- Stop pestering your brother.
- Quit whining.
- Will you just get on with it!
- Stop turning around and eat your food!
Truth be told, taking the time to draw their heart motivation out is very time consuming, and sometimes emotionally draining. After all, there are many things that demand my attention. Certainly there are dirty diapers to change, lessons to be taught, meals to prepare, emails to answer, laundry to be done, etc. However, I’m convinced that taking the time to talk to the children has long term benefits. After all, we’re not here to do what is expedient but to do what is right and beneficial.
Just this week I was informed by one of my sons that I must tell one of his siblings that she must not follow him whenever he goes to his room to play. He had already told her not to but she had not obey his wish. At this point I’m just proud that this son of mine has actually internalized the proper steps of how to resolve conflicts
, which is to first go to the offender before coming to me. Yay! Brownie point for this little man! Even though he now knows how to resolve conflicts, I wanted to take him another step further. I took this opportunity to speak to him and ask him many questions, hoping to draw out his heart motives.
Q: Is it wrong or bad that she follows you to your room, wanting to know if she can join in on whatever you’re doing?
A: No, but I don’t want her to.
Q: Why not? Since it’s not wrong for her to do so. (I can see his brain ticking, trying to avoid saying what may appear to be unkind. I encouraged him to go ahead and say what’s on his mind and not be fearful of what I may think of his answer)
A: She is very annoying and is always asking what I’m doing.
Q: Why does she annoy you? Put another way, what does she do specifically that annoys you?
A: Well, I just don’t like it. I don’t want her to ask me questions when I’m playing. Plus, she doesn’t play by the rules even though I explained to her many times how to play right.
Q: Ok, I can understand that. I can see why that would be annoying when one doesn’t play by the rules. But, do you think you ought to be more patient with her?
A: Yes (My son looking a bit downcast now for he knows that “yes” is the correct answer but that’s not where his heart is)
Q: As you know, Jesus died for sinners. What if Jesus died only for people He liked instead? Or how about He died for people who would like Him back? There are certainly people who aren’t desirable or are just plain weird. What if you’re the kind of person who has an awkward gait, and every time you take a step, you slap your butt? (He now laughs and thinks it’s an hilarious example. You see, I have to throw in crazy examples like this to keep my boy engaged. This is just one of the tactics I use with him. A boy will always love something bizarre like this) So, what if Jesus says, “I don’t like such a butt slapper type of person. I don’t want to die for him.” If that’s the case, none of us would be accepted by Jesus because all of us have flaws and we’re all awkward one way or another. Not only that, we’re all sinners. We’re not perfect.
How you feel about your sister tells you what about your heart. What does it really reveal what you think of her? Do you think it reveals that you don’t love her as you ought?
Q: Do you think you can be more forbearing and loving towards her even though she definitely has annoying habits?
A: Yes (This time he looks more cheerful)
I went ahead and gave him some pointers on how to play with his sister more lovingly. I explained to him that his sister definitely has annoying habits and we need to help her see that and help her to change. I told him that in the process of asking him so many questions to understand his heart condition, likewise he needs to take the time to ask his sister questions to draw her out. Ask her why she does the things she does and whether her actions are good ways of achieving what she desires. I exhorted him to love her and accept her just as Christ has accepted us. My son got it and I saw his Socratic method at work right off the bat because the same sister had just caused someone else to be discontent. I chuckled when I saw my son questioning her, trying to draw her out. Yay! Another lesson learned. I’m not so naive to think that we’re done with this lesson once for all. It is a lesson that needs to be taught again and again because our human hearts have the tendency to do what is desirable to us instead of what is right.
I know first hand that having a long extended talk such as the above is almost a luxury and not practical whenever a conflict occurs. However, this is not an excuse for not doing it at all. I believe we as parents ought to have these heart conversations as much as possible. If the timing isn’t right, then saving the talk for another time is a good idea. I’m very well aware that writing a post like this inevitably causes people to think that I must have this kind of conversation all the time. If this were true, I’d be sitting on the couch all day talking to every kid and not get anything done. You see, we have a total of eight sinners in this house and if one is not sinning, you can be sure that another one is, mom and dad included.
The goal of these conversations is to point my children to Jesus. I want them to understand that we are all messed up, mom and dad included. I’m very honest with my children. I told my son that as much as he struggles with his sister’s annoying habits, I too, struggle with it. I reminded him that he’s seen me completely flip out and totally lose it in the past. I’m just like him. But we are not without hope because we have a Savior, One who is more than willing to save us and heal us. Just as He first loved us despite our gross sins, we ought to love others. I want my son to act and behave out of his heart motivations. I want him to love his sister because he wants to, not only because I laid down the law that he must. I want him to be patient with his sister because he desires to do what is kind and right, and not because I told him that this is the law of the land. Most importantly, we have a wonderful savior in Jesus who loves us and who can change our hearts of stone. Thanks be to God for his indescribable grace!