Loving a Wild Child

by Christine Stahl

“Stop acting like an animal!” I shout exasperated. “You’re a BOY; not an animal!” When I envisioned parenting, I could not have imagined those were the words I’d say to my 6-year old son on a daily basis. But some days, it seems as if a silverback gorilla, the animal he’s typically channeling, has invaded my house.

I have a wild child. Sure, he is often hilarious. And he is incredibly sweet to his little sister. And sometimes when I am not looking, he’ll take my breath away with his perspective on life. But most of the time, the majority of the time, he’s a wild child. A whirlwind of stubbornness and unpredictable emotions. Slamming doors. Flailing arms. Airborne shoes. Angry words.

And to be honest, sometimes I simply don’t know what to do. Oh, I have read books. Talked to experienced parents. Completed several sessions with a Christian counselor. Attended conferences focused on raising kids from hard places. Time-outs. Re-direction. Consequences & rewards. And when all these techniques don’t work, I must confess I  respond in ways that are probably worse than his. Sometimes [often] I shout. And sometimes I cry. And often I say things I wish I hadn’t. And then it’s not only the boy that’s a mess but his mommy, too. 

The past year has been especially challenging and in recent weeks my heart has been uber-discouraged. I love my boy like crazy & I want him to be a man after God’s own heart. But there are days when I whisper, “Help me God, I can’t be a parent today. It’s just too hard…” It is at times like these that I am reminded that God’s pursuit of our hearts doesn’t stop when we are difficult.

I recently read an article by Sarah Mae [sarahmae.com] who shared some advice that is both simple & immediately applicable, reminders of how to love a wild child [or any child for that matter]. 

  1. Tell your little one that they are a delight. Sometimes with this one, the words have to come first. I say the words, “You are a delight!” and in my head I pray, “Oh father, please make these words true.”

  2. Spend more time, one-on-one. I began spending more time, making more time for my child. Yes, that means less time for ME but if I want to win the heart of my child, sacrifice will be a daily requirement. 

  3. Show more compassion. When my child hits, I take his/her hands and say, “Hands are for loving, not hurting.” And when my child yells, I bend down and say, “Let’s use our words kindly, gently.” I am not saying not to discipline your babes, but I am saying to be intentionally compassionate and gentle. Love them! At the same time you’re pleading with the Father for wisdom, love them! As you seek to find a wee-bit more patience, love them! When you’ve tried everything you can think of without positive results, love them! When they spew words that break your heart, love them! When it’s the last thing you want to do, love them!

  4. Remember who you are: a sinner and a saint. You and I, we mess up. We try. We fight. We are stubborn. We believe lives. We sin. But we love God, and He loves us with a wild, unyielding grace. He is slow to anger and abounding in love, graciousness, compassion and faithfulness [Psalm 86:15]. Remember who you children are. Little ones with a sin nature, and yet made in the image of God. Train them up in love and discipline, with compassion, kindness and grace. Just as your Father does to you.