Parenting the Heart

April 2022

by anna rogers

Sometimes as a parent, I feel like I need to pay for a ticket to ride out of the everyday and up into the sky for a bit of perspective. If only there were a balloon that could lift me out of the messes, questions, and schedules, I'm certain I'd be able to see the big picture and maybe even the future. Yet here I stand, feet on the ground (or a LEGO), consistently missing what really matters. 

I’m up to my ears in the “right now,” telling myself I’ll come to the “down the road” once I get down the road a little. One step at a time, day by day, I embrace the repetition and consistency, hoping to see the behavioral fruits of my labor. And they come. But alongside these behavioral changes, I’m catching glimpses of my children’s hearts that make my heart break. They are selfish, envious, easily angered, and flippant. They make a lot of mistakes that hurt themselves and others. So while I'm noticing changes in performance on the outside, I’ve still missed opportunities to tend to the part that matters the most – their hearts.  

Understanding 

One of the greatest challenges I've experienced in parenting my children's hearts and not just their external behavior is getting my own heart in check. Do I have unrealistic expectations? Am I prioritizing outward politeness over deeply rooted kindness to others? Am I viewing the mistakes as a chance to talk through what’s going on in their hearts with them?  

If I’m waking up expecting behavioral perfection and nothing less, I’m not only setting myself up to be disappointed, but to be impatient, lose my temper, and feel defeated as a parent. If I’m facing the day excited to shape and mold my kids through loving correction, there’s a chance we might make some real progress!  

I try to go through this mental checklist before reacting to my child’s poor behavior: 

  1. CONSISTENCY: Is my reaction to this behavior consistent with times before? Am I reminding them of the “why” behind my behavioral expectations and approaching them with love and patience?
  2. COMPASSION: Am I recognizing that my child is learning and potentially hurting in this situation and handling it accordingly? How can I show compassion while also being consistent in my expectations for them to trust me and feel safe even amid consequences? 
  3. THANKFULNESS: What can I be thankful for even in this moment? How can I translate my own thankfulness to my child amid discipline? 
  4. HUMILITY: Does my behavior model this well for them? Does what I say and do reflect a caring, joyful, thankful, truthful, and patient heart? How can I have a conversation with them that is encouraging even in a trying situation? 

Armed with understanding and the mindset that I’ve been given the role of “Mom” to gently teach and nurture, guiding them through the journey of these young years, I can recognize that the goal isn’t perfect performance. My desire becomes deeper than just altering the outward actions. I can see through the fog of repeating the rules and reminding of routines, and play the long game.  

Shaping 

With my heart in check, I’m ready for some shaping. I view shaping as active correction and teaching. It’s introducing concepts to them and helping them develop the emotional capacity to live out those concepts with intent and purpose. 

This is the part where we cultivate in them those same characteristics that we are actively working to develop in ourselves. 

  1. CONSISTENCY: Is my child consistently putting these principles into practice through his or her actions? How can I give them more opportunities to shape their heart through consistent practice? 
  2. COMPASSION: Is my child well-mannered but lacking in noticing the needs of others? Talk together about ways to show compassion in everyday life. 
  3. THANKFULNESS: Does my child exhibit a heart of thankfulness or one that is rarely settled and content? Encourage daily “I’m thankful for…” sharing time together or journaling for older kids.  
  4. HUMILITY: Are my child's actions always centered around what they want? Encourage hearts that seek to help others. Look for opportunities to do this in your neighborhood or community as a family. 

Nurturing 

If the shaping feels tough, the nurturing is the payoff. In nurturing, we are building up and encouraging, highlighting the gifts and tender places that we already recognize in our children’s hearts. As a result, we're helping them grow emotional intelligence and empathy.  

We're reacting to the good and not just the bad as we nurture. Actively seek out opportunities to recognize the moments that your child displays a heart of gold and build on their confidence to exhibit kindness and gentleness even if it isn't cool among their peers.  

Praise attributes like consistency, compassion, thankfulness, and humility. Notice when they are brave and courageous, especially when it’s hard for them, and even if they didn’t perform perfectly. Be intentional in your encouragement, remembering that you’re building up the heart first and foremost and that from that solid foundation, behavior can flourish. 

Originally printed in the April 2022 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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