Sunday, November 25, 2012

Courage for the Dark Trail

Did you know that a rabbit's eyes are red when a light shines on them in the dark? But, a deer's eyes are bright green? At least I hope it was a rabbit and deer in the woods while I was walking not long ago!

My new headlamp let me walk in the deep dark. On the trail where I have walked a thousand times. But which looks very different at 6:00 in the morning in October. Things I have never seen or felt before and a lot of things I could not see, like eyes without bodies and whatever else might be standing inches from me. Elevated senses and jabs of fear were new, in the dark.

My headlamp gave me courage to walk boldly forward.

It took some adjusting. How far out should it shine? At my feet, a couple of car lengths, or as far as it could reach?

I found that a couple of car lengths was about right. Enough light to place my feet. Enough to feel secure that I wasn't sharing the trail or its proximity with a monster ready to pounce. And, if I set the light too far, I didn't get enough light up close to see small items like snakes, turtles, and rocks. Not pleasant to step on those.

Two car lengths of light let me have the courage to move boldly and quickly, confident in my safety and free from danger in my steps.

We can give our children courage by helping them see some things, helping them look far enough ahead that they have confidence in the next steps. Looking ahead with them and planning is like a light on the trail, they can put down their feet and anticipate the near future. Young children can learn to think through the next few minutes, elementary to talk about what is going to happen today or this week in school or with family, and teenagers can look even further, thinking of months and years. Most children crave knowing what lies ahead, as do adults, so they can prepare mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.

It is frightening to go into an hour or a day or a year and see nothing except red and green eyes shining out of the darkness. Help them see and plan, within our human limitations. Sit down with them and talk about today, or look at a calendar together. Or a road map on a trip. Help them prepare so they have courage and can do their best.

Obviously, our headlamps only shine so far and don't show everything that might jump in front of us. Learning to know that God is in control gives courage when things change and to walk past the limits of our eyes. Proverb 16:9 reminds us that "the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." Learning to look ahead is an important courage-giving skill for children, but an even greater life changer is that God is in control, even of our plans. I am so glad of that!

As we help our children look ahead, and trust God, let's not forget to use God's "headlamp." Psalm 119:105 says: "They word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path." As we understand His word, we see our path more clearly than anything we can create. He gives light and lights our path, step by step.

Take aways?
1. Help our children look ahead so they aren't afraid of the eyes glowing out of the dark. Help them prepare and plan, an important skill for giving courage to take the next step.
2. Know God is in control. Things will change, but He is never surprised and He takes care of His children.
3. Use God's word to light your path and your child's path, a lamp they can always depend on.

The courage to try depends on these.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What a Child Needs

Protection, Relationship, Discipline, and Failure
I am not sure if we have a good understanding of what a child needs.

Or, if we really know and it's just hard to deliver.

I think we know. I think it is hard to deliver.

In his excellent 2012 book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough does a good job summarizing what a child needs by applying research results to his son:

"First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress; then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent, and ideally two. That's not the whole secret to success, but it is a big, big part of it."

Let's stop there. I understand this, but how do I do it?

What creates trauma and chronic stress in homes? Not war, right now. Family dysfunction? Mom and dad at odds? Constant pressure to perform? Chronic stress is not only a killer of physical health, but thwarts a child's success. Some things we can't control, like health loss. But what can we control to prevent chronic stress? Certainly our own emotions, with God's help. What else?

And, even more, a secure, nurturing relationship with a parent, ideally two. Are we too distracted to make sure each child has a secure relationship? Are we too unsettled ourselves to provide a secure relationship? Can we give up our own interests enough to take the time to build a real relationship with each child? It costs. It is worth it. And, it is a pleasure, which only gets better over years.

Tough goes on with the third and fourth:

"He also needed discipline, rules, limits; someone to say no." It is hard work to consistently discipline. Our job isn't to make our children happy or be their friend, but to make them great people. Loving, consistent discipline now makes the future easier and allows for positive, joyful relationships as time goes by.

Last: "And what he needed more than anything was some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help."

A braveheart!

For some reason, this might be the hardest for many of us. Tough thinks so:

"This was harder for Paula and me--it came less naturally to us than the hugging and comforting--and I know that it is just the beginning of the long struggle we face, as all parents do, between our urge to provide everything for our children, to protect him from all harm, and our knowledge that if we really want him to succeed, we need to first let him fail. Or more precisely, we need to help him learn to manage failure. This idea--the importance of learning how to deal with and learn from your own failures--is a common thread in many chapters of this book."

1. Protect from trauma and chronic stress.
2. Give a secure relationship with a parent.
3. Discipline, rules, limits, "no."
4. Let him fail and learn to manage failure.

Which is hardest for you?
I do think we know the basics.
I think they are hard to deliver, day after day, year after year.
All through childhood, adolosence, and teen years.
It is only by God's grace and power that we do these.

A beginning point is to know the list. And, to know that, for our children to succeed, we may need to change ourselves and some things in our lives.

It is hard work.
It pays off.
It is worth it.