The guiding principle for us as parents from the beginning of a child’s life should be “let us live with our children”, not merely in bodily presence, but by maintaining a heart to heart relationship. Here, there is an understanding spirit and a Christ-like response to the child. Most of us love our children. Many of us exert ourselves to the utmost extent to provide the best possible advantage for them. Some of us labor and sacrifice, but fail to establish a sympathetic relationship that ties the child’s heart to ours. If we live for our children, feeling deep love for them but lacking the understanding and power for shaping the character, which comes when genuine sympathy exists, we will not develop a real heart relationship with them.
The importance of sympathy is often misunderstood. It is far more than feeling pity for one who is in trouble. The word is derived from two Greek words: sun, meaning “with” and pathos, meaning “feeling”, and it is beautifully expressed in the following thought: “Sympathy goes right down and stands shoulder to shoulder with the tried and tempted one, saying, ‘This is our trial: let’s face it together. I have been through the fire, and I have experienced this before. I know what you are suffering and now I will suffer with you.’” Sympathy is also a “feeling with” our children in their joys, hopes, ambitions and purposes of life, as well as in their trials and troubles. It is a Christ-like attitude that we need to possess if we are to gain the hearts of our children.
A little child naturally craves sympathy with his interests. “Look Mama, look!” he calls at every new thing that he discovers. He wants to share all his joys and discoveries with his mother and father, and if he is not turned away they will be first in his heart. When trouble comes he will run to them for comfort and consolation.
This is a beautiful relationship! If nurtured and developed it will be our strongest hold on our children. A sacred trust and intimacy is formed between us. When the child comes with things that are a problem to him, his questions are met with patience and consideration. He is free to open his heart to us, and whisper his personal thoughts to us. He is given wise and loving counsel and inspiring sympathy and his heart is drawn even closer to us.
This beautiful outgrowth of genuine living with our children, this trust and confidence begun very early and kept throughout life will prove one of the strongest barriers against evil that can be erected. It will enable the child and the parent to work together for the good, and overcome and correct the faults that the child has. The child will struggle harder against temptation because our loving sympathy makes him feel that we are working with him. We will take counsel together over faults that need to be overcome, weep together over failures, and rejoice over victories.
Where true sympathy exists, our children will have no more problem coming to us with their failures and wrongdoings than they would coming to us with their joys and victories. Our children will feel somewhat as we do when we take our troubles to our Heavenly Father. They will feel that we are a refuge and a help in time of need. A wise parent will lead his children to God for help when the problems are difficult. It is here that we can begin to teach them that God is always available for help to overcome temptations.
Sometimes we, as parents, are so busy with what appears to be more important matters that we fail to take the time to be interested in the child. We are “too busy to listen.” When the child comes running to us, excited about a new discovery, we see the mud on his feet but not the joy in his eye and we quell his spirit with a “Take your muddy feet out of here!” When his little mind, hungering for knowledge, asks ceaseless questions, and we rebuff him and tell him “go and play, I am too busy right now”, we chill his sensitive spirit and turn him towards others for his supply of information.
If we could only realize what a tower of strength living in this way with our children may become, we would spare no effort to cultivate it. This must be cultivated if we are to grow with our children. It must broaden with the years and take in their play, their work, their friends, their reading, and their pleasures. It must grow through their joys and sorrows and their deepest feelings.
Many of us who live in close touch with our little ones, allow them to drift away as they grow older through failure to respond to their heart’s cries. In this way we discourage them from coming to us for their needs and problems and joys. Then, as the child becomes a youth, we wake up to the fact that we do not have the young person’s confidence and we wonder anxiously how it may be won. At some point in life we failed to live ‘with’ him, and hence lost that precious birthright which every child gives in the beginning of his own accord. We failed to prize the gift of our child’s confidence and through carelessness, indifference, selfishness or lack of knowledge, we have erected a barrier which prevents the child from turning to us.
This kind of living with our children requires our infinite patience. It is far easier to keep the child’s confidence and our hold upon him than it is to regain the treasure when it is gone! Let us prove ourselves worthy of trust and this relationship will be ours. Enter sympathetically into the child’s hopes, desires, joys and fears. These things are as important to him as the cares and details of your life are to you. When he has been working for hours to make a small toy and it insists on not working right, and he vents his feelings with an outburst of tears, do not scold him. Instead put yourself in his place. Look at the problem from his standpoint. Stand shoulder to shoulder with him and help him to find his mistake and rectify it, and start again with fresh courage, patience and happiness.
Never make fun of your child’s ideas, talking them over with others in his presence. Do not refuse an honest answer to his questions or deceive him in any way. When he comes to you with things he has heard, even though they may be revolting to you, do not reprimand him, but hear him calmly, and lovingly show him the wrong. Tell him how glad you were that he came to you and urge him to always come to you with things that he does not think seem quite right.
A little old book, “Answered Prayer” by Mrs. S. M. I. Henry, tells a precious story of a wise mother’s experience with her child who was going to go to school.
On Sunday evening before the child was to start to school, the mother said to him: “Now Bertie, you and I must make a bargain about these times where we will be separated. You are going to school to learn many things. You will learn from your teachers, other children and from folks on the street as you go to school and back. Some things will be good and some will be bad. If you hear a word from a boy or girl that you have never heard me use or if anyone gives anything new to you, be sure to bring it home to me; and I will remember what I hear and when we have our bedtime talk we will tell each other all about it.”
And it was so. All the things the boy heard that were vulgar or bad he brought to her. He sat on the arm of her chair and with his innocent eyes fixed on hers, he uttered with his sweet mouth the dreadful things he had heard from ungodly mouths. She alternately burned and chilled with shame and indignation at the terrible things. Sometimes it seemed as if she must cry out, “Stop! Stop!” but she carefully guarded herself lest he would be made to stop bringing them to her. When he was done she would apply the “sieve” as she called it and tell him what was bad and why. She was very honest with him and made clean work of it as they went from day to day. That careful mother had the sweet satisfaction of seeing her son grow up with a clean tongue and a face marked with peculiar sweetness and purity of expression. He was able to pass through the fire and the smell of it did not linger on his garment. He became a powerful minister of the gospel.
Perhaps we do not need to send our children out to such influences daily. But you can be sure that there will come a day when the child will hear something that will not be right or pleasing. Do you have the relationship with him that he will tell you about it so that you can sieve his heart and his mind? The day may come all too soon, where we, like men in times past, will see our children taken from us. Will they be able to stand alone as Joseph, Daniel and the three Hebrew boys, and Naaman’s little maid did? Let us live with our children and teach them and inspire them to righteousness and holiness, so that they have a firm foundation for whatever may come.
If we desire to keep a close intimacy with them we must keep our word with them and guard their trust. We need to treat them with the same courtesy as we would an older person. Many a time, when I have reacted too quickly and impatiently, the Spirit of the Lord says to me, “Would you talk to your husband or your friend that way?” How can you hope to win them if you do not give them the same respect as you do others? Then I need to go back to the child and humbly ask his forgiveness for the way I behaved. I say, “Son, I was wrong in the way I addressed you. I did not speak to you kindly. I do not want you to speak to others the way I have just spoken to you, and I must be your example. Will you please forgive me?” He does, very readily and usually with great feeling because I have recognized his hurt. Then I say, “I am not apologizing for correcting you, but for how I did it. Let me try again.” I then proceed to say the thing in a right way, just like I do when I am asking a child to repeat his performance because the first one was incorrect. I know this works because I have had to do it many times and it always produces the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
Don’t consider anything that interests the child too small to notice. Be interested in what interests him. Enjoy his treasures gathered from the brook and the field. Make a corner in his room for him to have his museum. Pay attention to the things that he makes. They are wonderful inventions in his eyes, just as wonderful as that cake you decorated or the car that you made to run again. If urgent matters demand your immediate attention make the same courteous arrangement that you would if a friend wanted your help just then. Give him an appointment for a future time, a few minutes or hours from now. Then do not forget to keep your appointment. Treat him exactly as you would wish to be treated.
If your child has made a mistake or done wrong, and comes and bravely confesses it to you, do not meet him with severe chiding. Meet him with forgiving love like our Father in Heaven meets us. If a punishment is needed, as it is sometimes for the future welfare of the child, help him to see the justice and wisdom of this. Get his cooperation so that he will not desire to shield himself from punishment by not telling you the next time something occurs. Be gentle with your child, remembering that life is full of stumbles and repentances and fresh starts.
Keep your little ones close to you. Let them share in your work even though it may slow you down and hinder your efficiency. Tell them stories about your own childhood, helping them to feel that you understand them and their feelings and have been over the same ground. Be careful about your attitudes, making sure that you do not cause the child to withdraw his confidence. Remember that when you make a breach it is easy to widen it until it is difficult to pass over.
If you have done this, what can you do about it? First, search your own life and how you have treated your children. Think about it in light of what you have been reading. Can you find the reason for their lack of confidence in you? Have you:
• been too busy to listen and care
• scolded instead of listening
• been hard to please and exacting
• put your interests ahead of the child’s
• not shown the same courtesy to your child as to others
These things and many others like them break the confidence and create a gap. When you discover where you have gone wrong, take it to God. Repent and seek His help to change your heart and your behavior. Then go and acknowledge to your child where you have been failing him and make a radical change that will clearly manifest itself to the child. You can hardly hope to win him back until you exhibit the fruit of a changed heart.
One writer says: “If your boys or girls are in their teens and you have lost their confidence and they do not speak freely to you on any and every subject, and if they do things that you do not approve of, I would do this: I would sacrifice almost everything else, for a time, to set about the work of winning their hearts. I would cultivate their society, go out with them, be with them in the home, and when I had convinced them of my true mother-love I would tell them how I felt about the past. I would ask them to give me the lost treasure of their hearts and their confidence. I would not do this without very earnest prayer and very great carefulness. But in so doing, I believe you will find that which was lost and the angels will rejoice with you.”
Taken from "The Heartbeat of the Remnant"