Building Emotional Strength in Our Kids

All of us, as parents, want our kids to be strong. Physical strength is a value that has been raised to a virtue. What I observe often is a lack of emotional strength in families. It’s as if we didn’t see the need for that kind of strength but it is surely necessary for healthy development for children and adolescents as well as maturing adults. We will look at emotional strength in the next few blogs.

One of the things born in the late 1950’s and early 60’s was the discipline of Family Therapy. 25 years later I am sitting in a family therapy class with world-renowned Family Therapist, Uri Ruveni, who says, “All families, in order to be healthy and emotionally strong, must be able to deal effectively with these four issues in their home: anger, love, loss, and forgiveness.” The scriptures have no shortage when it comes to these four issues.

Emotional strength can be a little difficult to describe or observe because it takes on many different faces. We primarily view emotional strength in the character traits we observe. What would be the character traits that God would want to establish in our lives and have us pass on to our kids?

The first one is: I am grateful.

I want my children to grow up with the capacity for appreciation, gratitude, and generosity. The apostle Paul writes about this: “Be thankful whatever the circumstances may be, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Part of the problem we face is that much of our culture, and most of our economy, is built on making people feel entitled to what they want but don’t already have. I met a man once who did marketing for a custom home builder. He told me his job was to persuade people to buy what they do not need.

One of my daughters asked me a long time ago, “If God wants us to be happy all the time, why doesn’t he just give us everything we want?” My first thought was “who told you God wanted us to be happy all the time?” It nonetheless is an interesting question. Think about this: if you want to develop a child with the capacity for gratitude, is it a good parenting strategy to make sure they always get what they want? See, in the short term, getting what they want always produces a burst of gratification, so it always seems like a good thing. But in the long run, if I gratify every desire, it will inevitably lead to selfishness and a sense of entitlement. It will destroy the very capacity for gratitude that we want so much to build.

A psychologist by the name of Don Baker says that we are raising a generation that’s wrestling what he calls “enriched deprivation”. Kids are given way too much stuff that they don’t need and that’s not good for them, and not nearly enough of what they desperately crave.

Now, we have to teach our kids wisely about this. Some time ago, one of my kids wanted something. Financially I could have said yes. It wouldn’t have been a big stretch, but it would not have been a good thing for this child’s character development and would not have reinforced the right stuff. What was interesting in this moment for me was the biggest barrier to saying no was that I knew if I said yes, I’d be the hero for a moment. And I love to give to my kids, not just because I’m wonderful and generous, but also because when I do, I get a burst of gratitude and joy. And who doesn’t like that? Who doesn’t want to be Santa Claus? Saying no to my child meant also saying no to me. I put the long-range character development of my kids ahead of my own short-term gratification because what I prize and desire most for my child, far more than any particular thing, is the development of a really good character and a really grateful heart. I want my children to go through life with a sense of wonder and appreciation, and not to be a slave to the spirit of entitlement that is a plague in our day. The issue is development of character, not financial affordability.

Parents, we have got to be utterly clear and unapologetic about this. We have to ask questions like:

  • Is this child developing a good work ethic, appropriate to their age?

  • Do they have appropriate chores to do around the house? Are those being monitored well?

  • Is this child more characterized by a sense of gratitude or by a sense of entitlement?

  • Is this child growing in servant hood?

  • Do they notice and serve the needs of other people?

Sometimes this is the toughest around our house, but I want this engraved in my kid’s hearts. I want them to have the capacity to go through life as grateful people. To go through life with a sense of entitlement is a miserable way to live. And it is not God’s will for any human being.

Over the next month I will continue to discuss the ways in which we can give our kids emotional strength and build their character in order to help them safely experience anger, love, loss, and forgiveness in the home.


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