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Protecting Kids from Lies – Part 3

February 8, 2011

My father struggled all his life to believe he could finish anything. As a boy, he took on the idea that he was destined to be a great starter and a lousy finisher. My grandmother saw this and determined she would do a better job the next time.

Next time? She had already raised four kids, so when was this “next time” going to happen? When my Mom and Dad moved my brother and I with them into our grandparents’ basement, Grandma saw her opportunity. She was going to do it right with us.

Dave and I heard two constant themes from Grandma. She always told us we could do anything we put our minds to. Not only did we hear it like a daily mantra, she would celebrate everything we did accomplish as if it deserved a major award. If I was drying the dishes, she would praise me for finishing them so quickly (even if she had to wipe half of them after for all the water left on them). If I took forever to finish the dishes, she would praise me for getting them thoroughly dry. I couldn’t lose. My brother would take off his shoes at the door (we were Canadian, after all) and he was the world’s smartest kid.

The second thing she wheedled into our brains is that we should finish what we start. She never said the words, “unlike your father”, but my Mom and Dad knew why she was pushing these things so hard.

And my brother and I did grow up with two beliefs firmly entrenched: I can do anything I put my mind to, and I need to finish what I start. These are not necessarily always accurate beliefs (or always helpful), but they are better than a lot of alternatives. What my grandmother did is what I call Preemptive Parenting. She instilled solid truths into us early and often, so that when the false beliefs attacked, we were immunized to their power and appeal.

As with any cure to a problem, preventative measures are the best. The ideal way to prevent lie-based thinking from taking over a child is to solidify the truth as early as possible. The problem is, there are thousands of errors a child can conjure in their head. How can a parent prevent them all? Well, we can’t. But I think there are a few principles that can help inoculate against the worst of them. In order to do that, follow these guidelines.

  1. Anticipate Each Childs’ Weak Spots: It is not impossible to determine what areas each child is going to be attacked by the Father of Lies. One of our kids is much quieter than the rest. We could accurately guess he would have trouble making friends and would obsess over every relational failure. So when we talked to him about his life, we emphasized how much people liked him (they did, by the way) and how valuable he was to have as a friend. Because of this, it helped to sway some of the more egregious false ideas from taking root in the fertile soil of his young mind.
  2. Look No Further Than Yourself: When the bible talks about children being ‘born in sin’, it means that each child inherits a bent towards certain sins. It is clear, for instance, that habitual activities run in families. Families often give birth to recurring problems that seem eerily similar from generation to generation. If you struggle with a false belief, there is a better than average chance your kids also will be susceptible to that same belief. By instilling counter-active truths early, they will be less likely to follow your example.
  3. Look How Siblings and Playmates treat them: Here is a stark reality. What we believe about ourselves will be the same conclusion others draw about us. I’m not sure if it’s because we send out “vibes” on how we see ourselves, or if there is a darker spiritual principle at work. I knew one young man who, from the first time I met him, I didn’t trust. After getting to know him, he blurted out, “don’t put too much faith in me. I’ll just let you down”. He believed something no one can really know – that he would fail before he even acted. And I picked up on that without even knowing him. If you spot patterns in how others treat one of your kids, ask God how to bring counter-active truth. If they seem to be easily rejected, talk so much about belonging and acceptance. Drive the point home through repetition.
  4. The Value of a Personal Story: When we tell our own story of how we worked through a lie or a false belief, our kids can see they are not the only ones who struggle with this. A parent needs to learn the art of transparency. Our kids fight false beliefs primarily because they think they’re the only one ever to go through the things they do. I remember sitting down with both my sons and telling how puberty affected me. I will spare you the wonderful details. But it helped both of them to understand their sexual identity and that struggles were not only normal, but universal.
  5. Pray for God’s Input: One mother I know well told me a story of her daughter I will never forget. The girl loved the other kids in her class and she was always buying little gifts for her friends. One day, Mom was sitting on the couch and she fell asleep. While asleep, she had a dream about her daughter grabbing hold of other schoolmates and having them all push her away. When she woke up, she knew what it meant. Her daughter was trying to bribe people to be friends with her. After school, she sat down and told a story of how her own father would buy gifts for her mother only when they’d been fighting. Her mother left because she accused her husband of “buying her off”. She told her daughter that it was dangerous to try and buy other people’s love. Then she started telling her how loving and caring her daughter could be and she should just focus on that. I know the daughter now and she is one of the nicest 1st grade teachers you could ever want. She credits Mom with moving her from being a briber to a lover. But Mom and I know that it was God who showed her the path. He’ll show any parent that same path if you ask.
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