I don’t know if Satan has a top ten list of the ways he tempts people to sin, but if he does, I would imagine relationships would be on it. Your kids have lots of relationships they are trying to navigate – you (their parents), siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbors, coaches, teachers, ministers and more. With their lack of knowledge and life experience, it can be easy for them to make poor choices in how they handle the difficulties that often arise between two people.
As Christian parents, you are probably spending a lot of time reminding them to be kind and loving. You are hopefully having conversations about which words and behaviors are loving and kind when interacting with others. You are probably spending time correcting them when they make poor choices in how they treat others. Did you know though, that there are some special skill sets and habits you can teach your kids that will help them continue to improve in the ways they interact with others even long after they are adults?
If you can work with your kids on these areas, it is much more likely they will avoid developing bad and even sinful habits in how they interact with others.
- Keen awareness of the emotional states of others. There are a few people in the world who are what is known as an ”open book”. They are extremely open and honest. If you say something that hurts their feelings, they will usually let you know immediately and give you an opportunity to resolve any misunderstandings in the moment. Most people, however, are emotional poker players. They are afraid to be vulnerable enough to share their emotions with someone. That can be good, if they are doing it in an effort to have self control over their words and actions. It can be toxic when they never let the person who has upset them know so they can make amends or they tell everyone else how angry they are with someone who literally has no clue anything is wrong. Teaching your kids how to read facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and tells can help them recognize when someone might be upset with them. They can then be proactive in checking to verify the emotional state of the person and correcting any issues. Being aware of the emotional states of others can also help them choose times for having difficult conversations when everyone is emotionally calm and not already upset, tired, etc.
- Ask for feedback. This is scary for everyone. We all know we aren’t perfect, but who really wants to hear a list of one’s faults and mistakes? Feedback from others, however, is the quickest way to correct mistakes and grow – assuming the feedback is trustworthy. Help your kids find people they can trust to be kind, but honest about how they interact with others. Often a teacher, coach, best friend or relative can point out little things your kids can change in the way they treat others. Remind them to reject any criticism that would have them disobey God (Like ”Everybody would like you a lot better if you would do drugs with us.”) or is problematic in other ways. Often little things like taking a step back when talking to others or letting the other person talk first don’t require a lot of practice, but can make the people with whom they are talking feel more loved.
- Spend time in reflection. Encourage them to spend time replaying difficult interactions in their heads. Not to be overly critical of themselves or others, but to identify things they did well and the things they still need to practice. In the middle of a conversation it can be hard to determine what made things turn sour. Replaying it later can help your kids figure out what they need to change the next time they are having a similar conversation.
- Ask for help. Some kids are socially awkward. They aren’t really being unkind, but it might seem that way to others who don’t know them as well. When your kids feel as if they are getting negative reactions from more than one person, but can’t seem to make needed corrections on their own, they may benefit from some coaching. Usually an adult is best suited to analyze the situation and help figure out any changes that may need to happen. For children who really struggle, reader’s theater social scripts can help. You can find plenty online for free that illustrate a positive way to handle the interactions that are a struggle. Your child can read through these scripts with you or others until the desired changes are comfortable.
- Conflict resolution skills training. The worst parenting advice consistently given by ”experts” is to let kids work out their own conflicts. Children need to be actively taught strong conflict resolution skills and be given practice in using them. This skill alone can save them a lot of relational difficulties. We have a free printable parenting sheet walking you through a method on our website that you can access here.
- Analyze the interactions Jesus had with others. Sometimes the world’s view of how to treat others isn’t very kind or loving. Your kids will be a lot less confused if they regularly go back and read about the encounters Jesus had with others. How did he interact with people who were hurting or upset? It can also help if they memorize passages like the fruit of the Spirit and 1 Corinthians 13 so they can remind themselves in the moment of how God wants them to treat others. (Repeating ”love is patient, love is kind” over and over in my head while dealing with someone difficult has helped my own self control more than once!)
So the next time you become exasperated your kids aren’t being as loving and kind towards others as you had hoped, take a step back and teach them these skills. It might just be exactly what they need.