How can we support a child who is struggling?
What’s the best way to support our kids when they’re not the best at something? Do we reward effort and encourage them to keep trying? Steer them toward areas in which they excel? Praise mediocrity? Offer honest feedback? As with so much of parenting, the answer probably changes depending on the child and the circumstances.
This month’s authors give us some go-to options when our children are struggling with the very real feelings that go along with realizing that they are not going to be the best at everything, that some things are hard. If you don’t have time to read all three articles, I’d encourage you to at least read the last paragraph of each one. A wealth of godly wisdom is found in those final paragraphs.
My husband and I have raised three boys who are incredibly different from one another and have very different gifts, despite their shared DNA. It has made parenting them interesting . . . and challenging. What came so easily to one was a struggle for another. One lived for the grade school science fair and eagerly cultivated bacteria in petri dishes for weeks. The other started his project the night before it was due.
Sound familiar? As parents, how do we support our kids when they don’t excel in a certain area?
First of all, remind your kids (and yourself!) not to believe everything they see on social media. A scroll through your Facebook feed will convince you that everyone else’s kids are destined to be doctors, pro athletes, rocket scientists, etc. Don’t buy into the lie! Discuss with your kids how social media can be about sharing “mountaintop” experiences—the perfect facade people present to the world. In reality, all kids fail, feel excluded, and struggle with self-doubt. They just might not show it.
Help your kids realize that struggles in this sinful world are inevitable. Satan has made sure of that. The important thing is what we do with those struggles. We don’t let them define us; we let them teach us. Sometimes our kids’ struggles will lead them down a path they never would have chosen for themselves. Help them identify the valuable life lessons that can be learned from struggles.
Remind your kids that struggles are in God’s perfect plan for their lives. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Remember that God knows what our kids need better than we do. In our time-bound, earthly thinking, we cannot comprehend how all the disparate pieces of our kids’ lives—their successes and struggles—are part of God’s divine plan for them and fulfill his purposes.
Gently help your kids deal with failure. Kids no longer know how to fail! This sounds odd, but think about our society. It rewards kids with medals and trophies just for participating. Our attempts not to let any child’s feelings get hurt are doing kids a disservice. When they get older, they will not always be #1 or #2 but might be #27 or #1,127. Kids need to learn how to deal with failure and how to work through the depression and anxiety they might feel when they realize they aren’t #1 at everything they do. At the same time, remind your kids that the “place” or “rank” the world has assigned to them in no way changes the way you, or their heavenly Father, love and cherish them.
Help your kids identify and cultivate their God-given gifts and areas where they excel. Think about what motivates them. What makes them come alive? What can they do for hours without looking at the clock? Sometimes it’s easier for us, as parents and observers, to see where our kids’ gifts lie. It is our job to help them discover and use those gifts for God’s glory. Remind them that God gives everyone different gifts (Romans 12:6-8) and that they shouldn’t compare their gifts to the gifts of others. Assure them that God’s love does not depend on their success and neither does your love for them.
Ultimately, let’s pray for God’s guidance in teaching our kids that their most important status is that of redeemed child of God, purchased with Jesus’ blood on the cross.
Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest
My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.)
So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?
Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.
Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.
Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy.
Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles.
Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.
“I’m no good at anything!”
“Sam is the best. Why can’t I be like him.”
“Everyone else can do it but me!”
Do these words activate your parent panic alarm? These phrases and others like them are a common and normal part of the growing process. However, as a parent I feel the need to spring into action and do something. My child feels like he/she is not good at anything. No way! This can’t happen! My natural instinct is to argue, “You are good at many things.” Enter kid response: “No, I’m not.” Followed by my educated, all-knowing parental response, “Yes, you are.”
Perhaps in my panic of seeing my child hurting in some way, this “No, you aren’t/yes you are” approach could turn into more of an argument than anything else. I have found it a little (maybe a lot) more challenging for me to take a more unnatural approach during times like this. In fact, I have had to tell myself to STOP—and just listen. An expression of feelings associated with not excelling in a certain area can first be acknowledged—then argued with (kidding about the arguing). Here’s my secret template.
“Sounds like you felt a little (insert feeling word here) when (insert event here) happened.”
It feels a bit unnatural to me, but I have found that if I do not give our kids an understanding of how they feel, nothing else I say seems to be heard. It makes me think of the accounts in Scripture when Jesus sat with the woman at the well or walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples. He seemed to join them and express his understanding before teaching them a new way.
So what’s next? I’ve joined my child and expressed an understanding of how he feels about not excelling in a certain area. Now it’s time to debate, right? Set this child straight and tell him what he is good at and he will walk away with new confidence, right?
Maybe sometimes that approach is needed. Maybe it helps at times to minimize a mistake or encourage hard work and practice. Maybe sometimes it is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and not the end result. Lots of helpful approaches can be used at different times and special situations. As I keep my radar up for a teachable moment, one thing I tend to be on guard for in my kids is the sense that Mom and Dad will only love me if I am the best. Wrong! I think there may be a sense of that conditional acceptance in all of us at times. This becomes a great opportunity for a reminder of God’s unconditional love. He loves us all with our successes and failures. That’s how we as parents try to use that as our guide. While we were still sinners (failures, broken, not good at anything), Christ died for us. There was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. It is unconditional.
As parents, we can remain watchful for opportunities like this to express understanding when our kids experience disappointments and do not excel in a certain area. Let’s ask for the Lord’s guidance to help us use the best tool of redirection at the right time and always be aware of the moments we are given to remind them of God’s unconditional love.
Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.
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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 08
Issue: August 2018
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