How to See the Heart of a Challenging Child

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Parenting a challenging child is hard, especially when discipline and traditional parenting tips don’t work. Find a child's potential by changing their heart.I felt the stares of spectators as I carried my disobedient 7-year-old, screaming and clawing like a rabid animal, into school. My body felt weak, but my heart weaker. Violent outburst were becoming a habit in my son’s life and included strangling classmates and shoving desks and chairs.

Teachers came to my rescue and brought my son to a room where he could calm down. They insisted he’d be fine, but I didn’t believe them. Talking, yelling, punishments, and rewards—nothing seemed to work.

The tears fell long and hard after that. My heavy heart prayed for the Lord to change my son’s behavior and to give me the patience to endure. But the words felt empty. I felt empty.


Have you ever experienced this emptiness? Are you struggling to survive another day with a challenging child?


I’m here to tell you something very important.

God doesn’t want you to survive. He wants you to thrive.Click To Tweet

How do I know? Because, by God’s grace, I have lived through this little storm and found the beauty of the rainbow at the end of it.

The Behavior of a Challenging Child

My son radiated peace and calm as a baby. He seldom cried and wore the “easy baby” badge.  Then—wham!—his toddler years entered our family with greater ferocity than your typical terrible twos or tumultuous threes.

Our daughter’s feistiness couldn’t compare to the chaos of our son’s catastrophic tantrus, deliberate disobedience, and dangerous bouts of rage. My husband and I somehow managed it all, clinging to the hope that the war of the toddler years would succumb to discipline.

Unfortunately, the battle marched into the school years and our “easy” baby transformed into a challenging child. Disappointment vaguely describes our hearts then.

Baffled. Frustrated. Weary. Hopeless.

Hopeless?

I confess, it crept in. How could it not when I chained myself to my son’s behavior rather than exploring the treasure in his heart.

We had it all wrong.

Wounds heal from the inside out, so how could we expect an outward change in our son without an inward change first?


Do you ever put so much effort into breaking the behavior of your child that you miss opportunities to strengthen him or her from within?


The Heart of a Challenging Child

Today, my son’s compassion no longer hides behind a locked heart and his strong faith isn’t trapped by his sin. As for me? There’s less tears and no more emptiness. I enjoy my son rather than avoid him.

It took time and many dead-end questions to get here.

But slowly, I saw the waste in studying my son’s actions and the immediate need for me to search his heart.


Do you ever focus on what is easy to see instead of searching for what wants to be found?


As I tell you all of this, I am drawn to the truth Samuel learns in 1 Samuel 16:7 (KJV):

“…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

When parenting a difficult child, maybe we should look less at the behavior and more at the heart of a child.What we observe on the outside doesn’t tell it all. The crux of anyone’s story lives inside the heart. And as I’ve learned, how we think and feel on the inside almost always displays itself on the outside. (Bad behavior more often than not stems from a hurting heart.)

We must take special care in training our child’s heart because as Proverbs 4:23 (KJV) says:

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

Perspective on a Challenging Child

Before we can care for the heart of our child, we must first let our Heavenly Father work in ours.

After much pleading with the Lord to “Create a clean heart in me… and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10, KJV), He softened my heart to see His ways rather than the world’s ways. Too long I had obsessed over having a well-behaved child rather than training a child to have a heart for God. (I promise, there is a major difference between the two.)

I praise the Lord for the new perspective He gave me this past year. It amazes me how much can change when we look from a different vantage point!

Questions to Ask About a Challenging Child

Asking questions can either help us or harm us. It really depends on the questions we ask! Below are a list of questions that you should avoid followed by those you should ask regarding your child.

DON’T ASK: WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY CHILD?
DO ASK: WHAT IS RIGHT WITH MY CHILD?

My brother-in-law collects broken TVs. He can’t bear to throw them away when simple reworking can bring the TVs back to life. We moms need this perspective when it comes to our children. (We need it on ourselves as well!)

A challenging child can leave christian woman as weary moms. We need to see the potential of a strong willed child.

When our Heavenly Father looks down on us, He doesn’t see problems. He sees potential. Click To Tweet

We will never be perfect, but we were created by a perfect God who makes no mistakes and utilizes our weaknesses for His glory.

Our perfect God doesn’t make mistakes. Did you hear that?

Moses had speech problems and God used him.

Peter struggled with impulsivity and still God used him.

Saul killed Jews and even so God used him.

How would the lives of these men be different had God placed his attention on problems instead of potential? How might your child’s life be different if you do the same?

DON’T ASK: WHY CAN’T MY CHILD BEHAVE?
DO ASK: WHAT DO I NEED TO TEACH MY CHILD?

The temptation to give up on a challenging child unresponsive to traditional discipline burdens even moms with the strongest faith. For a short while I truly believed my son wasn’t capable of behaving.

Then the question of what do I need to teach my son entered my life. Its answer repaired my broken relationship with my son.

Moms, I know the exhaustion of parenting a challenging child and the doubts that steal our resolve to keep training them. But when we ask ourselves why our children can’t behave, we head down a path that ends in defeat.

Now I hope you’re listening. This is so very important.

Don’t ever give up on your child.

Talk to him/her. Observe his/her behavior rather than trying to change it. Search your child’s heart and learn what you need to teach.

When I stopped trying to fix behavior, I found an anxious child tormented by his thoughts and feelings. My son’s behavior wasn’t him. His behavior was a symptom of his anxiety, fear, self-hatred (and of course, sin!) and my responsibility to teach his heart a new way to function meant to instill in him God’s word with not only my words but my actions.

DON’T ASK: WHAT DO OTHER PEOPLE THINK ABOUT MY CHILD?
DO ASK: WHAT DOES GOD KNOW ABOUT ALL HIS CHILDREN?

The dread of what others think still plagues me. I try to ignore it, but when my son runs away from me at church or yells at me during my daughter’s gymnastic practice, it’s near impossible to ignore the looks and whispers.

Are you quick to punish your child because dagger eyes urge you to do so? It happens to me more than I’d like. In my haste to please onlookers, I fall back to my old ways of remedying a behavior rather than teaching the heart. (For challenging children, training the heart is the most effective way I’ve found to change behavior.)

Instead of asking yourself what other people think, ask yourself what God KNOWS about His children. Viewing our children through God’s eyes can work wonders in changing our perspective. Try these two verses, for example:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:10, KJV)

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb his reward” (Psalms 127:3, KJV)

 

My prayer for you today is that these new question might help you renew your relationship with your child and with the Lord! Remember: Working on a challenging child’s heart takes time, patience, and love. And don’t we have a great example to follow in our Lord Jesus Christ?


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5 thoughts on “How to See the Heart of a Challenging Child

  1. What a great perspective, Crystal!
    I especially love the way you’ve intentionally changed the questions we should be asking!
    And, often those challenging children become the most amazing adults!
    Mine sure have!
    Came over on Salt and Light today.
    Blessings,
    Melanie

    • I appreciate you reading, Melanie. I tell myself everyday that God doesn’t participate in sprints but in marathons and that at the end of that long race the victory will be His. I especially think this when it comes to parenting! Love that you are so proud of your kids 🙂

  2. This hit home today. My husband and I have been trying to discipline our daughter who doesn’t seem to respond to discipline the way we would hope. I knew we needed to try something different but I wasn’t sure what. This article sure helps a lot. Thanks!

    • I am so glad I could help. I plan on writing a few more posts on working with children who struggle with traditional discipline. It is so very near and dear to my heart since it is something our family lives through on a daily basis and I feel the Lord has helped us through it so much. I’ll be praying for you and your family.

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