Sunday, October 31, 2010

Solutions for Struggling Children

When a child is struggling and stuck in school or life, a simple analysis from First Thessalonians 5:14 can solve the problem, or at least get started in the right direction. In this verse, there are three reasons a child may be stuck and not succeeding. And, there is a solution for each reason. On the surface, they sound simple. But, there is power in their use and danger if used wrongly.

Paul says in 5:14, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

The first reason for a lack of success may be that a child is “unruly.” He has the ability to succeed and knows he can, but is simply choosing to be out of step. This is willful disobedience. He should be disciplined; “admonish” is used here, but I am sure other forms of discipline are fine.

The second reason for a lack of success is that a child may be “fainthearted.” This is the child who has lost heart. He can do it, but doesn’t believe he can. He has given up. This child needs “encouragement,” which means to give him courage. He can do it and needs to believe he can so he will try. This courage to try is the heart of a braveheart.

The third reason for a lack of success is being “weak.” This is a child who cannot do it, he does not have the ability.  He needs “help,” someone or something that will support him in the effort. Admonishment will simply make him feel worse since he may be doing all he can. Trying to give him courage would be like sending a short seventh grade basketball player into an NBA game: no matter how much confidence he has, he will not succeed and will be discouraged.

This is the danger: picking the wrong reason for a lack of success results in using the wrong solution which makes things worse. If an unruly child is encouraged or helped instead of being disciplined, he learns that choosing disobedience brings good results and keeps disobeying. If a fainthearted child who needs encouragement is disciplined instead, he feel like a failure. Or, if the fainthearted child is helped when he could do it, his belief in his inability is confirmed and stuck becomes more stuck. Last, if the weak child is disciplined, he is certainly wounded and a bitterness and lack of effort can result. Or, if the weak is encouraged but not able, encouragement becomes discouraging. To avoid making things worse, it is important to select the right reason a student is stuck.

Things can become complicated, especially if a child is weak or fainthearted and masks his inability or fears by looking like he doesn't care or by acting out. On the surface this child may look unruly, and may be to some degree. Or, a child who is weak may need both help and encouragement. Pulling back the layers to understand the real reason behind the problem is important to avoid further harm. As doctors are told, at least do no harm.

In God’s wisdom, He ends the verse with “be patient with everyone.” Because the real problem isn’t always clear, parents and teachers need to be patient. That doesn’t mean allowing a child to act wrongly, but it does mean to keep digging to understand the real reasons for not succeeding. And, when it is not clear, be patient. In God’s description of “love” in 1 Corinthians 13, there is a reason patience is listed first. If we love each of our children as God loves them, patience will play actively as we work to understand how to help our children succeed.

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