Dealing With a Child's Hurting Heart

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Kids can often be cruel to each other. Adults can be cruel to kids. And the events of daily life can seem cruel and overwhelming to a child.

Most kids aren’t going to bring up to their parents that they are struggling with discouragement or disappointment. More likely, you will notice things that indicate sadness, like your child might be withdrawn or sometimes argumentative over what seem to be trivial things.

Here are some examples:

  • You and your say harsh words to one another, and the child overhears this – but not the apologies and resolutions that take place later.
  • A friend moves away.
  • A pet dies.
  • A group of children at school seems to exclude your child.
  • Your child isn’t a “winner” in a school competition.
  • A camp session or athletic team fills up before your kid can sign up.
  • Someone says something unkind about your kid on social media.

Parents can begin a conversation by saying something like, “I notice that you seem down,” or “You’re looking a little sad today.”

1) At whatever level of detail your child will talk: listen, listen, listen, and listen.

2)  Don’t discount or play down the effect this is having on your child. Your “no big deal” attitude will show even if you don’t say it. Your child will learn from this that you’re not the one to entrust with their disappointments.

3)  Say, “I’m on your side,” or “I’ve got your back on this.”

4) Resist the urge to talk about a parallel situation in your own childhood or adult life. Instead, say affirming things like, “I would get discouraged too.” “I know it is really hard when things like this happen.”

5) Try to see the situation from the child’s eyes. The Bible tells us to “bear one another’s burdens,” and see it as a precious gift that your child is entrusting you with tender feelings.

6)  Ask, “What could I do to help with this situation?”

7)  Listen, listen, and listen before speaking.

Follow up the conversation with overt ways of showing your love.  Put a sticky note with an encouraging scripture on his or her bathroom mirror. Draw a heart on their lunch sandwich wrapper.  Pick up a small gift for your child. Do one of your child’s chores.

The most important thing you can do is make sure your child knows he or she is not alone.  Remember, if the sad feelings persist and/or your child won’t communicate what is wrong, it may be time to seek out a professional counselor.

Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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