About 10 o’clock at night a few years ago, as I sat on the couch dozing in and out of sleep, I heard these words from my 13-year-old son’s rather serious and concerned voice: “Dad, can I talk to you, by yourself, in the other room?” Instantly, my heart started pounding and my mind started racing (I’m not sure which went faster). This, I knew, is what a child says before he or she confesses bad decisions. I braced myself for the worst. As we made our way to talk in private, I silently prayed for wisdom for how to handle the unknown that was about to follow. In those moments, my son shared his heart with me about a mistake he had made. It was bittersweet as I felt pride that he would tell me mixed with disappointment at his unwise decision.
As a parent, you can mark it down—all kids mess up, and when they do, your response can have just as big an impact as their mistakes. How would you handle this situation? Would you automatically think the worst? Or would you say something sarcastic like, “Great, what did you do this time?” Would you actually just listen to what he or she had to say? In this situation with my son, I learned 3 things not to do.
1. Don’t be quick to speak. Be quick to listen.
My temptation when my son told me how he’d messed up was to interrupt to tell him what I immediately thought. Thankfully, I didn’t do that. He was willing to pour out his heart to me about how he’d blown it. In that moment, the worst thing I could have done is cut him off and speak all that was on my mind. The best thing I could do is simply listen to my son and hear him out. When your kid messes up, ask him or her questions and listen first.
2. Don’t react. Respond.
When a kid makes bad decisions, a parent’s first response is often to react by flying off the handle. And nothing could be worse. If your children are willing to tell you they’ve blown it, or even if you catch them, an intentional response is far more effective than any irrational reaction. Your children have to know that you are on their team and that their coming to you with their problems or mistakes will not be met with rejection. That won’t happen by accident.
3. Don’t condone. Do show unconditional love and acceptance.
While no parents should ever tell their children that wrong choices are no big deal, nor should they excuse necessary consequences, all parents should always show their children unconditional love. Your child should know that no matter what wrong choices he or she may have made, he or she is loved no less because of it. Especially after they’ve blown it, children need the reassurance that they are your child and you will always love them. Something as simple as a calm tone, a tight hug, or saying you love them can go a long way toward accomplishing this.
A great principle for parents comes from Scripture: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” May this be our intentional response the next time our children blow it.
Sound off: Of these 3 things, which one do you have to be most intentional about?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Do you feel comfortable telling me when you mess up?”