Day Twenty-one: Change a Caregiver, Change a Child

My friends who did the training in Africa recently sent back so many wonderful updates. I was able to ‘follow them around Africa’ through social media and it was such a blessing. I’d like to share one of their stories that illustrates beautifully God at work.

Angry Young SonThe training that day was for orphan care workers (social workers, house mothers, nannies, cooks) who were dealing with a particularly challenging little boy. I might be challenging, too, if I’d been through the loss some of these children have seen. This child, precious in the sight of God, was difficult, insolent, and isolationist. He preferred to be alone outside rather than with other children and was prone to temper tantrums. The dear people in the class asked for information about why this child would be this way. It may seem obvious (he’s lost his parents, etc.), but they were looking for deeper information. What does this do in the mind and heart of a child? How is he thinking in terms of ‘self-protection’? In the training, the team was able to talk through this child’s challenges and gain some practical tools for helping him. The following day they shared this:

Last night we warned him ahead of time that he needed a bath and then he needed to go to bed. We spoke gently with him, smiled at him; we were friendly with him and cuddled with him. We asked him nicely to come take a bath and he listened without throwing a tantrum. Then we praised him for coming and he loved it. We then asked him sweetly to come to bed and he came without challenge. He went to bed. No problem. It worked. Your suggestions worked. All he needed was kindness and patience and love!”

Dear readers, this is NOT a no-brainer. Yes, we know that children need love. However, parents, how many times have you wanted to scream at the top of your lungs or tear your hair out because you were disciplining your child for the same thing for the tenth time that day? It happens. Kids challenge us, no matter how much we love them. Sometimes it’s because of our own attitude that day and our focus on all that we need to accomplish; our kids can become collateral damage to our agenda. Legitimately, there are thing we need to get done. Please don’t misunderstand me. However, five minutes of a time out to hug our kids and tell them how the day needs to go helps them engage, feel helpful, and settles their need to get our attention. Sometimes kids challenge us because obeying is harder when we are weary and they just need a nap! Bottom line: being at our wits end as parents happens to the best of us.

Sometimes our kids need the hand of discipline. Direct disobedience should result in discipline. However, when we attune ourselves to what really happening with our kids and look for heart motives like these great child welfare workers did, we know when it’s more appropriate to get down on our knees so that we’re eye to eye and dole out a sincere hug that says, “I’m on your side today.” This can stave off a meltdown, softens a child’s resolve, and diffuses the frustrations of both parties. There may still be disciplinary consequences to behavior, but this single act gives a platform for doling out those consequences in love and grace. It changes the heart of a child when he knows his caregivers are as broken about giving discipline as he is about receiving it.

My son has seen me discipline him with tears streaming down my cheeks – tears of sorrow, not tears of anger. Tears because I’m doing something I don’t like to do, but that I must do because I know that if I don’t he will not grow well in spirit. Suddenly, our tears and contrition put us in it together, and after the discipline, he runs toward me. This has happened countless times. As parents it takes time for us to learn when we’re disciplining in anger vs. grace. God teaching us this is Him working in us.

In Africa last week, God gave a gift to these child welfare workers. He gave them immediate results to encourage them and to bless this little boy. He was definitely at work.

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