Who knows when it really starts. Maybe it’s after that first kid on the playground bops them on the head or the first child takes their toy away without asking. At some point though, kids begin to learn that not everyone is as big of a fan as their parents and grandparents. In fact, pretty early on most kids realize that some kids are really mean and will do and say ugly things to them for no apparent reason at all.
It’s human nature to want to avoid pain and that includes the emotional, mental and sometimes physical pain another person can cause us. Your kids are no different. Unfortunately, often the people that are mean to them are unavoidable because they have to sit next to them all day in school or play with the same kids in the neighborhood. Over time, your kids’ natural inclination at avoidance will probably turn into dislike as they are constantly exposed to the ugly words and actions of the person who is mean to them.
If the negative interactions continue, the dislike can become very strong indeed and even border on hatred. As parents we would love nothing more than to protect our kids from all of this pain and ugliness, but in reality we can’t for very long. As Christians, we are expected by God to love our enemies. Yet, I imagine if we were all extremely honest with each other, it’s one of the biggest struggles many of us have – and we are adults!
As with many of the things we teach as parents, God may ask us to train our kids in godly behaviors and heart attitudes we still haven’t mastered ourselves. Often, parents shy away from those topics entirely. I would encourage you though to step up to the challenge. Admit to your kids you are still working on loving your enemies like God would – even as an adult. Encourage each other as you tackle these 6 important actions and attitudes.
- Remind yourself love is a choice, not a feeling. Romance novels and movies have ruined the American ideal of love. We think it’s that wonderful warm, fuzzy feeling when you are with someone who clearly adores you. God teaches us though that love is a choice. We choose to treat others in loving ways – even when it doesn’t feel so great and they “don’t deserve it”. This is such an important lesson for your kids to learn. Not only will it help them in loving their enemies, but it can also save their future marriage.
- Assign positive motives to others. Granted, this is not always the case. Most people who hurt us though, don’t start out thinking they want to make us miserable. Often, the things that happen that are hurtful are more a result of ignorance, inconsideration, misunderstanding, lack of a good night’s sleep or some bad thing happening in the life of that person. You and your kids are more or less the people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it helps, ask your kids if they love you. Then, remind them of the last time they said or did something hurtful to you. Ask them if they can remember what happened that day that may have put them in the mood to be so mean to someone they really love so much.
- Consider the “why”. Most people do have a reason for being mean or ugly to others. Quite often, it is because they themselves are in a lot of pain. Or they are just mimicking the unhealthy communication and interaction practices in their own home. Or perhaps they are insecure and feel the need to exert power over others. People who are generally loving, kind people rarely are actively and intentionally mean to others. The reason doesn’t excuse their negative, sinful behavior, but it can help you and your kids to soften your own hearts towards them a little.
- Realize that no matter their actions, they need God’s love – and yours. You don’t have to be best friends with your tormentor, but those who hurt others often don’t have anyone in their lives to truly love them the way God loves them and wants them to love and be loved. God’s love can change their hearts and actions. Your love can make them more open to learning about and accepting God’s love for them. (This is also a good time to review your own words and behaviors to the other person to make sure they were all loving.)
- Pray for them. It sounds weird, but it’s true. Over time, praying for your enemy by name can soften your heart towards them. At times, you may be tempted to pray some of the Psalms David did about his enemies and there’s a time and place for that, too. Try to teach your kids though to focus on prayers that ask God for the other person to get the love and encouragement they need to be more loving to others.
- Challenge yourself to create positive interactions. Once again, I’m not suggesting your kids should seek out opportunities to hang out with kids who are actively mean to them. When interaction is unavoidable though, challenge each other to think of something kind and loving to say or do. There are no guarantees, but often people who are consistently mean to others expect and are prepared for equally negative reactions. Saying or doing something loving can totally throw them off and force at least a temporary change in their behavior. You might even leave them speechless! There are even stories floating around that some people when treated regularly with love by those to whom they have been mean, make drastic changes in their own attitudes and actions.
Loving our enemies is hard – for us and our kids. In today’s world though, it is a critical need. We really must be more intentional about encouraging ourselves and our kids to actively love our enemies. It won’t be easy, but in the end, it can change everything.