When’s the last time you heard a child say: I had to do that. I didn’t have any choice! or She made me do it! or I’m bored… there’s nothing to do. or It wasn’t my fault… he started it! Sometimes kids find themselves in situations in which they think they just don’t have any choices.
It might not seem so at first, but kids always have choices.
That’s what step 2 in the CHOOSE tool is all about
Teach kids two important truths:
- There are always lots of choices for us.
- We may have to look hard to find them, especially when we can’t have our first choice.
Conversation starter — Try this example:
On Saturday morning, Gina’s mom told her she had to clean her room—right now, and no excuses! Gina was just getting ready to go outside to ride her bike. But now she has to clean her room. She doesn’t have any choice….right?
It’s true—Gina doesn’t have a choice about whether or not to clean her room. Mom was clear about that. But she still has choices. In fact, what Gina chooses to do next is very important. First ask: What are some of Gina’s choices? Let the child struggle to multiply options (and here are some possible responses you can drop in to help kickstart their thinking):
- She can mess around and try to avoid cleaning her room.
- She can try to sneak out of the house and ride her bike anyway.
- She can “Claim her problem” and get it done as quickly as possible so she can get on with what she really wants to do.
- What other choices can you think of? (after children exhaust their lists—help them add 2 more!)
- Can you see how the choice Gina makes will either help her or make things harder? (i.e. what are the consequences?)
Finding all our choices takes practice.
Most children (and adults) give up too soon, thinking we just don’t have any options, or we do the first thing that comes into our mind.
Brainstorming leads to empowerment.
It gives children the tools they need to protect themselves from being victimized or acting impulsively, especially in those situations in which we are not available to guide or protect them.
Growing up knowing, “I always, always have choices” is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children!
Tweetable: Many children give up too soon when brainstorming choices in any given situation. This could help. Click to Tweet
What does spiritual discouragement look like in children? No hope for a way out of a tough situation? The faith (or nonfaith) they are growing up with not aligning with what they read, hear, see or feel in school and the world around them? Tired of rituals that do not resonate?
In the depths of their spirit they might hurt because of bad religion or no religion. Maybe a young person is seeking to understand new sensations that “something other” is nearby, hoping, if they focus on that mysterious presence (of God?), it will manifest itself in their life. Or maybe they’re running away from religion or it just doesn’t make sense to them now in their current stage of life.
One man I interviewed gave four ideas for encouraging discouraged kids.
I went to religious schools—one of them in particular stunted the possibility for spiritual growth in me by putting a crabby, nasty, angry, judgmental face on God. They masked God to the point where I could no longer derive comfort from him.
Then another religious school (it was Mennonite, which is not my own faith tradition) dismantled that false, ugly face for me. Through their gentle words and humor and fun and acceptance, they drew me back to the Shepherd.
I cannot overstate what a difference this made to me: If I had continued in the other school I can conceive that it might have taken many years to journey back to the God of love. There is a distinct possibility I would have never returned to a spiritual path that includes the Christian tradition.
Gentle words, humor, fun and acceptance
Our best friends and our favorite people do all these with us when we’re discouraged! It is the same with children. When we’ve listened without judgment to their distress or doubts and returned gentle words, haven’t we sensed them “melt” into the wonder of being heard and accepted? Humor can relax our discouraged spirits, and sometimes it’s just the fun of letting laughter wash over us that can bring refreshment and a wider perspective.
Tweetable: What does spiritual discouragement look like in kids? And the encouragement they’re looking for. Click to Tweet
Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. When their questions come up, this perspective– written in a child’s vocabulary– may help you talk about it.
Even as a young child you feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain, loss. You might not like the design of your body, the parents you got or didn’t get. You are surprised when you first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind. You are sad when the people who are supposed to keep you safe don’t do their job. You feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to you.
God understands everything you feel inside.
He is always with you. He brings you comfort by being right there with you and never leaving you alone.
So why doesn’t God make it go away?
He is powerful and he could make people do what’s right. He could make people stop. He could see to it that everyone has enough food and a home to live in.
Yes, he could, if he wanted to control people’s lives. He would have to eliminate choice so that no one ever chose to do wrong or make trouble again.
What kind of world would this be if God forced people to do right?
Or insisted that they feel happy all the time? Wouldn’t God become the dictator of the whole world? What kind of person would you be? Your freedom would be gone. You could not make choices.
Trouble is here to stay, and with it, people’s right to think their own kind or cruel thoughts, feel their own hate or love, do good or bad. Remember that in your troubles you have God who shares them with you. You can put complete trust in God’s intention to bless you, not harm you.
Try a different perspective when kids ask why God doesn’t stop trouble. Click to Tweet