We all know that life is full of unpredictable events, some of which are painful and may have long-term negative consequences. Fortunately, there are things we parents can do to prepare our kids for the unexpected and to increase the likelihood they learn from those circumstances rather than being damaged by them.
Suffering Is a Normal Part of Life
God’s Word is full of references to the pain and suffering that comes from living in a sinful world. We’re told that heaven is our eternal home and we’ll never be fully at peace in this world. History has taught us that no generation or people group has been—or ever will be—immune to pain, suffering, decay, destruction, and death. In fact, suffering is probably more prevalent in life than joy because so many things are out of our control.
Paul understood this well. In Romans 5:3-5, we read how Paul learned to view persecution and difficulty in his life. He used a growth mind-set to develop perseverance and character. Throughout the Psalms, David also displayed a growth mind-set. He leaned on God to help him respond to his enemies, pain, sorrow, and difficulties in his life.
Why, then, do people so often respond to painful circumstances with disbelief, denial, and anger? The answer to “Why me, God?” in the face of suffering that isn’t self-inflicted is, “Because you’re a human being.” Chuck Swindoll once wrote, “The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.”1 This is important to remember as we help our children learn to manage the hurts of life.
A Growth Mind-set
This is where you get to model and teach your child the concept of mind-set. What is mind-set? Mind-set is how your mind filters what’s happening. Kids with a fixed mind-set will say, “I stink,” or “I’m a loser.” Things are set in stone and can’t be changed; end of story. But a person with a growth mind-set will say, “I didn’t do so well this time, but I can’t wait to try again next time.” They may also say, “Today didn’t go so well, but tomorrow is a new day and could be a better one.” There’s an attitude that things can, with time and effort, change and be different and better. With a growth mind-set, it’s not the end of the story.
The Word of God is filled with reassurances that God is with us, even when things feel as if they’re falling apart, or when we feel completely alone.
Teaching a Growth Mind-set
There are several practical things you can do to foster a growth mind-set in your children.
Avoid praising intelligence and sheer effort. Instead, acknowledge the importance of planning and trying new approaches. Rather than saying, “You tried your hardest and that’s all you can do,” say something like “Don’t worry if you don’t understand something right away. Focus on the next step. What do you think the next step may be?”
Present things in different ways. Expose your kids to a variety of instructions, tactics, and principles. Focus on the process not just the outcome.
Teach the value of challenges. Take time to explain the purpose for abstract skills and concepts you’re asking them to understand.
Ask them to elaborate on their thoughts and responses. Encourage your kids to expand their answers and responses.
Answer their “why” questions with a good reason and not “because I said so.”
Develop learning or growing goals. Sit down with each child and help him or her come up with learning goals he or she wants to pursue (within reason, of course).
Ask questions more often than you offer answers or statements.
Help them learn to use the word “yet.” If your child says, “I can’t do long division!” have him restate his frustration by saying, “I can’t do long division yet.”
Keep a record of their successes. Make a folder or a computer file and routinely enter any kind of achievement your children gain, whether it’s academic, behavioral, athletic, or in an extracurricular activity. Review their successes often.
A great way to lessen the impact of an unpredictable crisis in a family is for each family member to make a “comfort bag.”
This can be done in three easy steps:
- Find a small backpack, purse, or other bag.
- Fill the bag with about five items that bring you comfort. Some ideas are nonperishable snacks, comfortable socks, favorite photographs, music, letters or messages that make you smile, a book, or a reminder of pleasant memories. You can put anything in the bag as long as it isn’t hazardous to your health or safety.
- Keep the bag easily accessible at all times. If you feel sad, anxious, or are just having a bad day, take out your comfort bag and use the items to remind you of happier times and good feelings.