How to Encourage Your Kids (Especially When Life Gets Tough)

Life can be tough.

Not just for adults, but also for kids.

Jackson plays video games while his parents watch the news, but he’s still listening and all the reports about terrorists and the economy scare him.

Emma knows her grandpa is seriously sick and that her mom is sad about it. Emma is sad too and lies awake nights worrying that he will die.

Caden is in so many activities, he needs a calendar to keep track. Is this the day he takes chess lessons or swimming lessons or karate?  Plus his dad wants him to go out for the basketball team and every night he has two or three hours of homework. He’s only 10, but already his schedule is stressing him out.

Childhood, a time of life that we think of as cheerily carefree, can instead be a time when kids are stressed-out, discouraged and frightened. As parents, we naturally want to encourage our kids, but sometimes that’s difficult because we’re discouraged ourselves.  We’re discouraged because of job loss, a sickness or a situation at church … and our kids are clicking into our feelings even though we aren’t directly discussing them as a family.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the Apostle Paul wrote: And we urge you, brothers, … encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. He was writing to the church at Thessalonica, but we can apply that verse to our own lives and to those of our children. They can often be “fainted hearted and weak” because of emotional triggers that result in fear and discouragement. Just a couple verses earlier, Paul wrote: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

The question is – how do we do the building up/encouragement in our own families with our own kids?

1. Openly discuss difficult situations. Of course, use your judgment – a four-year-old doesn’t need to know the details of Aunt Jan’s cancer, but let him know that Aunt Jan is in the hospital. Pray for her together. Turn the discussion into something positive by suggesting he make a card or draw a picture for her or letting him help you choose a bouquet of flowers for her room. Sometimes kids think a situation is worse than it really is. Ask them what they’re thinking so you can alleviate their concern. “Yes, Sophie, Grandpa is in the hospital with a broken leg, but the doctor says after some physical therapy, he’ll be as good as new.” Or, “Dad lost his job, but he has some other places that want to hire him. We’re being careful with our money and need to cut back on some expenses, but you do not need to worry about this. Dad and Mom are taking care of you.”

2. Be intentional in finding a balance. Yes, we live in a tough world and even adults get discouraged listening to the news. Isolating our kids completely isn’t good, but keeping them from watching adult newscasts or hearing adult conversation is a wise. You might need to explain to them why Aunt Jill and Uncle Mike aren’t living together anymore, but they don’t need to be in the living room while Jill is going through all the details.

3. Evaluate their schedule. Maybe Jonah is involved in too many activities. Can you drop some?  Can he choose just one or two he’s really interested in? Can you help relieve some of the activities that are causing him stress? (Maybe a math tutor or some one-on-one help with writing skills would help him not be so stressed about grades.)

4. Remind your kids (and yourself) that God is in control. Floods, tornadoes, earthquakes happen. People get sick and sometimes people die. Parents lose jobs. We live in a world that is messed up by sin and doesn’t function the way that God originally intended. But God is not surprised. He is in control and when we put our trust in Him, we can have peace.

A final thought – Have you thought about making encouragement a family project? Each day, look at and study a verse about putting our hope and trust in Christ rather than in other people or our surroundings.

Because not only do our kids need encouragement, but we do, too.

Lisa Bohn

Lisa Bohn

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