I’m caring for a 16-month-old a few days a week, (the sweetest little guy ever!) and I’ve been ushered back to the world of sippy cups, toys, nap times, cutting up food into small pieces, answering “what’s that” questions, exploring, and the “everything-is-new-and-wonderful” stage that the toddler years bring. “Little B” already knows the ropes around the house and has pretty much used it to lasso our hearts.
My children are mostly teens and adults (ages 12 to 21) and somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten a few basic truths that should inform everything I do in this house. Caring for Little B has reminded me of several of these things.
1. Children watch everything. They’re learning by their environment. Little B watches Holly and Hope to see their facial expressions and he responds. When they clap, he is elated. When they do their school work, he observes. When I fold my hands to thank God for the food, he folds his. It’s true of toddlers and it’s true of teens–they learn how to do life from watching you. God help us if we lead these kids astray.
2. Children want to please. Kids are easily motivated by praise. I see it so clearly with this little guy. He flashes the most adorable smile whenever we clap or say “Good boy!!” He gives me a toy because he knows I’ll give him a huge “Thank you!!” and it becomes a game to see how many times I’ll smile and say it.
Teens want to please you as well. Somewhere along the line, maybe they stopped trying because they got more negative feedback than positive or could never make their parent happy. Maybe you criticized more than praised. Maybe you used your words to injure instead of build up, causing the teen to conclude that building walls and keeping you out was safest and most peaceful route. If so, make that right and ask forgiveness. Teens are almost adults and just like all of us they want love and acceptance.
3. Children mimic. They say what you say and copy what you do. You see it more in toddlers, but it’s true of the teen years as well.
I’ve sat with mothers of teens who can’t figure out WHY on earth their teen is so sneaky, moody, rebellious, or just plain disrespectful and I honestly have to hold my tongue because it’s so obvious to me that the teen gets that behavior from one of the parents. We are often blind to our own sin, and yet we see it clearly in our kids.
Maybe the issue are different,
but if the parent lives their life as though they are above the rules
or they make exceptions or excuses–always the easy way for them– how can they complain when their kids break house rules like curfew, or sneak media, or plain disregard the instruction of the parent?
If the mom is moody (or mouthy!) saying whatever pops into her head without thought for righteousness, how can she be surprised when her child uses her mouth disrespectfully or cruelly?
A mom of a passively/outwardly rebellious child has to ask herself if she’s been joyfully submitting to the authorities in her life or if she’s taught her daughter unwittingly how to manipulate life to make it work for her.
The truth is that our kids tend to copy our own sins–the ones they grew up seeing us commit.
4. Children value what we value. When I make a big deal of going in the car, Little B catches that excitement. When my eyes light up and I ask “Do you want an ice cream?” he can’t get to the car fast enough. Our teens are the same way and learn what we value by our enthusiasm. They know when we expend energy, and know where we cut corners or make excuses. They hear it in our language about “getting to go” here or “having to go” there.
5. Children want to be loved. Toddlers come running for hugs or want to give kisses to the puppy. They snuggle when they are tired and want to sit on your lap to read a book. Closeness matters.
Teens may outgrow much of that but they still want to know that you love them more than anything else. Make sure they know it. If they doubt your love, they’ll go searching for it wherever they can get it.
The teen years are the letting go years, and independence is the goal, but one thing we should never let go of is the pursuit of our teens heart.
Do you have teens and toddlers? What similarities do you see?