At the beginning of every school year I pray, “God please keep the children in our schools safe from violence and anyone who would desire to do them harm.” This year has been a particularly rough year. February 14th in Parkland, Florida, seventeen were killed by another child.
This is our worst nightmare as parents and a nation. When we kiss our children goodbye and send them out the door to school, we prayerfully ask God to protect them. Our school systems work diligently with local police to keep our children safe.
As my friend Randy Wright posted, “Every parent of a school-aged child knows that getting their kid out the door in the morning becomes a series of daily rituals, whether it be having breakfast on the table at a certain time, leaving the same amount of lunch money by the door, or even throwing in a hurried hug and a quick kiss at the door. Today those rituals suddenly ended for several families in the community of Parkland, Florida. No breakfast on the table tomorrow, no lunch money, no hugs…no kisses. All tragically replaced by the unbearable pain of loss and the overwhelming grief that no parent should ever experience.”
The gun control and access issue can be debated on a different day on a different blog. Guns are simply the weapon of choice. Guns do not plot, do not plan, do not hate, nor do they seek to kill. Children and adults do.
The problem in our schools is the hearts of our children. The problem with our children begins with parenting and the structure in the home. The problem in our homes is the destruction of the family and the neglect of faith in God.
To fix the problem of violence in school begins with the home and parenting, because the hearts of our children are both impacted by what takes place at home and through their interaction with their parents.
Parents, learn to treasure hunt
The heart of every child is what generates behavior; behavior helps reveal the heart. There is a tendency to primarily focus on the behavior of the offending person, and by extension, keep our attention at the behavior level. However, the heart of your child is where the real action is.
Learn to ask heart-searching questions. My good friend Paul Tripp suggests the importance of asking questions that are similar to conceptual velcro. Ask a question, that when it drags across the heart of your child, brings with it information you can use to help your child.
- Ask your child about school, friends, and his or her day with patience, listening carefully for all the facts (Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17). You do not want your child to believe you ask questions as a judge; instead, ask questions as one who seeks to get past opinions and desires to really hear the child.
- With compassion, help the child to participate freely and without fear in the conversation. Many children are afraid to engage their parents in conversation because of the response of the parent. It is essential to seek to understand your child. Compassion should drive you to want to listen in a way that makes the child sense a freedom to express his or her ideas openly.
- Let questions grow out of facts received. Often when discussing issues with children, parents speak from destination or conclusion rather than process. It seems as if the parent’s mind is made up before the conversation begins. Instead, listen carefully for the facts and then let your next question grow out of what is heard – not what you believe you will hear or what you have already determined.
- Ask follow up questions that help you understand the child’s vocabulary, clarify the meaning, and help you understand the series of events. Often what the parent understands a word to mean is not what the child means. Here’s a series of questions and statements that could help you. “When you said ____, did you mean ____?” “Let me rephrase that back to you to make sure I am hearing you correctly.” “So walk me through not what normally happens but what happened today.”
- The kind of question you ask is vitally important. How/What/When/Where questions tend to work better than Why or Yes-No questions. When you ask a Why question, you typically encourage an excuse of some kind. For instance, “Why did you respond the way that you did?” The child will answer, “Because ____ did this.” Instead, you could ask a What question and get much better information. “What did you hope to accomplish when you …” Now the question can pull across the heart and provide you information regarding the child’s motive, not just an excuse.
- Do not settle for vague answers; get specifics. Your goal is not to hear what typically happens in your student’s day; rather, it is to learn what happened today. What is on the child’s mind today? What has the child’s imagination, thoughts, and heart captured today?
Learn to follow through with questions that give hope, instruction, and direction. The parent teaches the child how to process his or her day, thoughts, actions, and reactions as the parent asks the right questions and follows up with even better questions and comments.
- “What is important to you right now?” Followed by the question, “What should be important to you right now?” If the child has had a tough day at school, if someone is picking on him or her, if there are instances of bullying, if the activities of the day were unpleasant, this question seeks to discern the child’s priority. Are they bothered most by being frustrated or embarrassed? Do they believe someone was wrong for blaming them? Do they hate the way another person is treating them? Potentially what is important to the child is not what is most important, what God would have them think or want, or what actually honors God.
Also, parents be very aware here. What is most important to you may not be what is most important to God. We want our children safe and should respond appropriately with the right authorities and with the right attitude. Potentially we have the wrong priorities. Our poor attitudes toward others, pressure, authority, and circumstances generally may be teaching louder and with more clarity than the words that we use.
- Ask questions from a logical flow. What is going on (situation)? What did you do (response)? What did you think (thoughts)? What did you want (motives)? In the way you ask your questions, you are giving the child an opportunity to both learn how to ask questions to self and are helping the child learn a process for the future.
- Furthermore, ask questions that help with a logical flow of planning for the future. When this goes on…, what should you want (motives)? What should you think (thoughts)? What should you do (actions and reactions)? Then help the child make a plan for the future.
Parents, Learn to Understand the Heart Under Pressure
In everyday situations, pressures, and circumstances, God desires to grow your child through them. As your child then responds to his or her daily pressures, you want to consider the areas where God desires to work. What does God want you and your child to see about your child’s heart in the way he or she responds to the situation? How can your parenting be more precise and effective? Is your and the child’s goal to change the circumstances or respond to the circumstance in a way that honors God and builds Christlike character? How can you pray for those involved at school (or wherever the pressure is from)? How can you pray for your child? How can you bring glory and honor to God for how we return good for evil?
Parents, Think Carefully Through Your Goals
Your child will typically want to respond in four ways: 1) Out of a strong feeling-orientation rather than a pursuit of faithfulness to Christ; 2) From a negative self-perception that results from responding to the pressures rather than an accurate view of self in the midst of suffering; 3) From an unforgiving spirit rather than a forgiving spirit; and 4) From fear of man or pride rather than fear of God.
In each of these areas, there is much work to do in order to help you and your child both respond to these various pressures in ways that honor God.
For Your Consideration
Will you begin to pray for our children, our homes, our culture, our school systems, and our local police?
Parents, will you seek to engage your child every day in open and honest conversation that seeks to teach your child how to deal with pressure-filled circumstances in ways that honor God and help your child grow in Christlikeness?
School children being led away from school by police in Parkland, Florida.
 I appreciate my good friend Tim Keeter and his thoughts on bullying. Tim is working on a book related to this topic. I appreciate his willingness to share with me in order to help us think through this issue.
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