Recently, I had a chance to sit down with a new friend and talk about life, purpose, parenting and Africa (she currently lives in Uganda with her family). Janel is one of those people who inspires. She worked at Family Life Today for years, served on the team at NavPress that wrote the Message Bible and has important stuff to say. My kids have had their fair share of bad days around here and I’m taking notes on her guest post that she is sharing here today.
by Janel of A Generous Grace
We’ve all had them, and have certainly been the object of them: one of those days. Ugh. Could be a grade on a test (ouch), flushing the family goldfish, a snub by that boy (you know the one), no nap, or good old-fashioned waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Some are legit, some…not-so-legit.
Of course, I have my own days like this (although admittedly, the goldfish thing might feel like one less responsibility. Is that terrible?). On my more legit days—and a handful of the not-so-legit ones— my subtly fantastic husband may occasionally have brought home a skinny decaf Caramel Frappuccino with whip (in my pre-Africa days). Some days, he’s my rearview mirror, alerting me to the wake I’m leaving. On most days, he pecks me on the forehead and wraps me in a hug—despite that the reason for my general malaise might just be that string of bad days at a particular time of the month.
Because what we, or our kids, experience is still a call to grace, even when the reasons are poor.
So how do we deal?
Interacting with our kids on their bad days is a tutorial to them on how God deals with our bad days. So maybe that’s a good place to start: How do you think God responds?
Well. We know He’s faithful. Gracious. Compassionate. And still holy—i.e., He still loves enough not to say, Shoot. Go ahead and give into temptation. By all means, trample your family. (Translation: Your kid’s anger or weepiness doesn’t run the house. Self-control on bad days is a pretty core lesson.)
In using these ideas, consider
- The depth and nature of what’s going on. Do we shake it off, or process this? Don’t add unnecessary drama, prevent your child from learning perseverance, or slap an emotional Band-Aid on a gouge that should be disinfected. But sometimes we just need a reboot, folks.
- The heart issues at hand (make sure to check out #7).
- What’s grace look like here? Does grace mean creating some allowances for a day that just went terrible—or the “kindness that leads to repentance” by dealing head-on with some sin? Pray through it, remembering that “mercy triumphs over judgment”.
- The long-term. I remember my mom, in dealing with one of my sisters’ teenage slumps, being careful to address her character, but not crush her spirit. I think the Bible backs this up: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children” (Ephesians 6:4). On the whole, are you the “no” voice in your child’s life, or the one in their corner?
The goal’s not to coddle our kids. It’s to create a remarkable environment of grace, and an atmosphere that helps kids process their emotion honestly, prayerfully, and thoughtfully—or move on, whichever is appropriate. Either way, it’s an opportunity for everyone in the house to love each other a little more.
- Stop by on the way home from school for her favorite beverage.
- No matter how he’s treated you—look him in the eyes and gently say, “I’m sorry you had a rough day.”
- Bake some cookies together (or just for her!).
- Make an impromptu outing: mini-golfing, bowling, to the park to feed the ducks.
- Cuddle on the sofa for awhile. Talking optional.
- Read some books together.
- Use the opportunity to understand your child better. What’s at the core of their frustration or hurt? What’s the loss that they feel? Are they simply fatigued, in pain, hungry, or dealing with other physical causes? Did they lose face, approval, acceptance? Have they fallen short of their own standards? Consider the heart of your child’s bad day so you can love them even better and pray more intentionally. (See here for more insight on understanding your child’s “holes”).
- Go for a walk together.
- Give him space.
- Commit to yourself to only completely gracious responses. Read: You’re not a doormat, but you’re not going to take the bait of her anger. Remember: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
- Keep a copy of a hilarious/feel-good movie in your mental back pocket. Pop some popcorn, grab some chocolate, and veg out.
- Ask wise, compassionate questions—and listen.
- Before attempting to “fix”, ask permission.
- Rub her back, or paint her toes.
- Take him on a casual date: to get milkshakes, see a movie, grab an appetizer.
- Create a fun family night, maybe with a little distracting competition like a game night tournament.
- Allow an evening without chores, dish duty, etc.
- Brief your spouse before he or she comes home, to prepare your spouse to be understanding—and to unite on your approach.
- Ask gently to pray with them (i.e. this is not an opportunity to sermonize).
- Pray for them on your own—and for a godly response.
- When appropriate—and not in front of the frustrated child—explain to siblings that she’s having a rough day, and ask for extra kindness, space, and patience for their brother or sister.
- Hold your ground. This may or may not be the time to lay down the law—but it’s also not the time to lay down in front of your kid’s wrecking ball of a temper. Calmly say, “I know you’re having a day. But you can’t talk to me [or my son, or my daughter, or my spouse] like that. I respect your frustration, but you need to see this as a warning to have self-control.”
- Time to channel your inner [insert name of kid]: What does he need when he’s fried? Think about what energizes your kid. Pray for wisdom to love him well.
- Make sure you address heart issues, and not just gloss over junk. Is today the day they need to be dealt with? Ask God for discernment and generous wisdom (see James 1:5-6).
- Add one of her favorite dishes or desserts to dinner.
- Suggest a warm bubble bath.
- Use Scripture well (using it as a club doesn’t count…). Encourage your kid with God’s truth on a day when the world’s lies can feel overwhelming.
- If this is a consistently recurring event, consider preemptive measures. Is your child getting enough sleep, or having enough down time? Do they have sufficient coping mechanisms for stress? Is this a character issue, or even a health issue (low iron, poor nutrition, hormones, depression, etc.)? Is it time to speak with a professional?
- Play some jazzy tunes on the way home.
- If it won’t seem inappropriate (i.e. if you’re just trying to shift moods), relay a hilarious anecdote.
- Push a note under the door, or send a text: Sorry you’re having a tough one. Praying for you—and love you no matter what.