They’re delightful one minute, demonic the next. One moment their mantra is “By Myself”; the next they are the helpless baby again. One of the most important things we have to do for our two-, three-, and four-year-olds is help them develop emotional self-control. They have to learn to handle disappointment, frustration, and delayed gratification—all of the feelings—without flipping out (ahem, screaming, kicking, hitting, falling on the floor in a writhing heap).
Emotional self-control is not something kids achieve after a one-time punishment or conversation, and kids don’t just automatically “grow into it” without guidance—it’s one of those things they only develop with consistent, patient help from us. Which means that we, the parent, must also learn a whole new level of patience and emotional self-control, ha!
How to Handle Temper Tantrums
So if you’ve got a three-year-old in the throes of throwing him- or herself on the floor screaming every time they don’t get their way…keep working on it. Be firm and consistent every time they shout, or flop on the floor, or hit, or stomp their foot—if they realize that tantrums NEVER achieve what they want, over time they’ll give up the tactic. But don’t just discourage tantrums; encourage patience and self-control (encourage them with praise, reward, etc.). Try equipping your child with simple strategies to help them get control of wild feelings (count to ten and breathe; go sit in the other room for a minute and calm down; squeeze your hands together).
But we can’t just deal with them in the crisis moment—if we want to see real growth, we have to take it deeper. In calm moments, talk to them about patience, sharing, being calm, about explaining their feelings in words rather than acting them out, about good and bad ways to deal with big feelings. Teach them, in simple terms, about the deeper, heart-level concepts of patience, not always getting your way, being unselfish and loving, and not being mean to others. Use simple scriptures to reinforce these principles. Preschoolers are smart, and they really do understand when we talk to them about these things—we just have to catch them in the right moment. They often “get it” in their heads, but then we have to help their feelings and self-control mature and catch up. (And watch “Daniel Tiger” together—seriously, that show and its little songs help!)
If we hang in there, our preschool days will be more delightful than demonic, and one day, this crazy emotional roller coaster ride will flatten out…at least until the preteen years…but that’s another post another day.
I recently spoke about helping kids with whining on Facebook Live—you can watch the recording here!
Where is God when life gets hard…and…what to do when kids whine!
Need a family devotion to help your kids understand God’s love for them? This devotion is simple, brief, and meaningful, and is appropriate for kids of all ages. (Confession: I totally cried when we did this devo with our kids. )
Start by reading Zephaniah 3:17—I love the old NIV version (NIV 1984):
“The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”
(This is where the waterworks started for me. I just can’t. It’s so beautiful. So overwhelming. So comforting. It sets my heart to singing every time.)
Explain to your kids that God takes great delight in them. Just as Mommy and Daddy put them to bed each night with a song, so God, our Heavenly Father, sings over us. Then tell each child one thing in their character that brings God great delight—be as specific as you can be. For example, with our four kids, we shared:
Kid 1: Your compassion, kindness, and concern for others’ feelings
Kid 2: Your soft heart towards God, the way you are always seeking Him
Kid 3: Your amazing patience and kindness to your younger sister, even when she drives you crazy
Kid 4: Your deeply loving spirit—you give affection so generously to others, and make us all feel loved
Talks like this are a wonderful way to encourage our kids and show them the height and depth and breadth of God’s astounding, mind-boggling, often undeserved but absolutely devoted love for all of us.
This image is taken from my new Instagram account, @elizabethlaingthompson, where I am posting scriptures, encouragement, and humorous thoughts to help you through your waiting journey. I’d love to see you on Instagram!
Want a simple family devotion that will build your kids’ faith (and your own)? This makes a great family devotion for Christmastime, but of course you could do it any time of year.
Start by reading Isaiah 9:1–7. (Try reading the New Living Translation version if you have younger kids—it’s a little easier to understand. I’m quoting the NIV here.)
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
You might need to take a minute to give a BRIEF, basic, broad-strokes explanation of the meaning of the passage after you read—it is an earful. Our 9- and 10-year-olds grasped it pretty well on their own; the 8-year-old was a little confused and needed more explanation. We explained that this was written during a difficult time for the nation of Israel, and it was meant to comfort God’s people by predicting the end of fighting and war. This passage tells us that a special child would be born to save God’s people.
Once you’ve clarified the meaning, ask:Who do you think this scripture is talking about? Our kids immediately shouted, “Jesus!” From there, ask why they think it’s about Jesus. (Details you can draw out: Jesus came from Galilee; he was a special child even when he was first born; he brought us peace with God through his death; he now reigns over God’s kingdom. If your kids’ attention span allows it (ours didn’t!), you can briefly touch on how Jesus was a wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and prince of peace.
Hold that thought…
Next read Isaiah 7:14:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Again, ask:Who is this talking about? Why do you think that? Take a few moments to draw out the connections in this verse to Jesus’ birth. Even if they don’t understand the word “virgin,” most kids already understand that Jesus’ mother, Mary, wasn’t married, and it was impossible for her to be pregnant, but she got pregnant anyway. Jesus’ birth was a miracle. Kids also understand that Jesus was a special baby from the beginning, and that his birth was a sign of God’s love for us.
Hold that thought again…
Then ask them:When do you think these passages in Isaiah were written—before or after Jesus was born?
Here’s the part where you blow their minds (and maybe your own, too): These words were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born! (Without getting too technical here, scholars date these chapters in Isaiah to somewhere between the 500s and 700s BC!) These passages are prophecies, telling us what God had planned for the future. Isn’t God amazing? He knows everything! He can plan things many, many years before they ever happen. Scriptures like this strengthen our faith in God, Jesus, and the Bible. They show us how powerful God is, and that the Bible is true.
Simple devotions like this are powerful because they expose our kids to basic apologetics, and give them strong, concrete evidence for their faith besides just “take my word for it; believe it because I tell you to.” Devotions like this also introduce kids to the Old Testament prophets, and help them make connections between all the different parts of God’s story.
If you try this devotion out with your family, I’d love to hear how it went! Feel free to post in the comments below!
Because we all have it. Maybe you experienced loss or hurt or abuse as a child; maybe you carry regrets from poor decisions you have made in the past. Sometimes our baggage can make us doubt ourselves as parents. We become tentative, insecure, inconsistent. We worry so much about hurting our kids—either by repeating mistakes other people have made with us or repeating our own mistakes—that we freeze up. Instead of leading our kids confidently, with a godly balance of firmness and grace, we hang back. We may become so afraid of coming on too strong that we back off altogether. And so our fear of hurting our kids becomes the very thing that hurts our kids! They are left feeling insecure, wondering why the boundary lines keep moving—or if they exist at all.
I don’t know what baggage you carry, but I hope you find encouragement from these Bible-based truths:
–Our children won’t get any other parents. We’re all they’ve got. Our kids need us—want us—to fill our God-given role.
–“Love each another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). If we are generous with affection and encouragement, our kids will still feel loved and secure even when we make mistakes. Children are wonderfully forgiving people.
–God is the only perfect parent; the rest of us make mistakes.
–It’s better to parent imperfectly than not at all.
–Our weaknesses and regrets can become wonderful parenting tools, teaching our kids about forgiveness, grace, and salvation.
–Never underestimate the parenting power of two simple words: “I’m sorry.”
I have lived most of my Christian life with a constant voice in the back of my head saying, “But what if it’s not true?” These days, the voice is mostly just a whisper (some days I don’t hear it at all); at other times, it’s been a full-on shout.
The voice started in high school, in Mr. Gus’s class, where we explored the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Mr. Gus dared us to answer hard questions, to prove why we believed what we believed. His questions made me stop and think, “Why do I believe these things? Is this really my faith, or have I blindly adopted my parents’ faith?”
I came home asking questions—lots of them. I am forever thankful for my parents’ wisdom. They didn’t freak out: “How dare you doubt God and the Bible?!” They didn’t panic: “Oh, no! Our daughter is falling away from God!” They didn’t blow me off: “Huh. Those are hard questions. Good luck figuring things out.” They didn’t write me off: “You’re just going through a weird teenage phase—it will go away in a week or two.”
They took me seriously, and let me dive deep. They didn’t offer quick, shallow answers. My dad, who has wrestled with a number of faith questions himself, said, “I understand why you have those questions—I’ve had them too! So let’s study them out together.” He gave me books to read, and gave me freedom to ask all my questions. We worked through them one by one, step by step. There was no pressure, no guilt, and no rush. I went back and forth on some of these questions for months—some for years—and Mom and Dad were always there to listen, to discuss, to reason, and to point me to helpful resources. And it’s not like I grew up and stopped asking questions—I still ask a ton of questions, but now I know enough about the Bible and apologetics that I know where to turn when questions crop up.
Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to over the years—maybe they will encourage you if you find faith difficult:
1.It’s okay to have questions about faith—in fact, questions are good. Doubt means you are thinking. Doubt means you don’t just blindly accept everything you hear from the pulpit or from popular Christian culture. God encourages us to love him “with all [our] minds” (Mark 12:30)—he doesn’t want us to check our brains at the door when we become Christians! Thinking and study are an integral part of our faith. Doubt only becomes a problem if we don’t take the time to address it—if we are lazy and unwilling to put the time in to read and study and seek answers.
2.I’m not the first person to have this question. Whatever question I am asking, some other Christian has asked it before me. Which means: 1) I’m not weird or sinful for having this question, and 2) I can find helpful writings (and podcasts and videos) on this topic. Chances are, great Christian thinkers and apologists have already produced a wealth of material on this exact question, and somewhere in their words, I can find the help I need. (My go-to person for faith questions is my longtime friend Dr. Douglas Jacoby, whose website is a vast resource for Christians with questions.)
4. We don’t have to accept the easy answer. Some questions about God and the Bible do not have quick, easy answers. Warfare in the Bible? Senseless suffering? Predestination? These are hard, complex topics. Simple blanket statements like “Just have faith” or “Just trust God” won’t do it for questions like these.
I need more than pat answers to keep my faith healthy: I need Scriptures. Logic. Honest analysis of the contradictions and difficulties. And you know what? God designed me this way! He made me to think. To question. To explore. He doesn’t expect me to settle for easy answers to hard questions. If you’re like me, and you’re a thinker, a questioner, a wonder-er, that’s not a bad thing. Let’s embrace who we are, and take joy in the journey of working out our faith.
5.It’s okay to live with some questions and uncertainty. I have come to realize that some of our faith-related questions may never be completely resolved. The big questions are resolved: Do I believe in God? YES. Was Jesus really the Son of God, and did he die for sins and resurrect from the dead? YES. Can I trust God with my life? YES. (But even in those questions, doubt can occasionally resurface, and we have to go back and remind ourselves: This is what I believe, and why.)
But some other questions—about tough topics like suffering, or predestination, or how God’s will works in daily life—are up for debate. God hasn’t explained every nuance of who he is and how he works—if he tried, the Bible would be a gazillion pages long (plus, our brains might explode). We can keep thinking, keep reading, keep debating and discussing, but we might have to settle for “This is the best answer I can come up with for now. And I reserve the right to change my thinking on it over time.”
6.Faith is an adventure. I used to feel guilty when a new doubt or question cropped up; now I see those moments as opportunities to study and grow. Questions are a chance to dig in to Scripture and some new books, and to have some deep conversations with trusted thinker-friends. Doubts are an opportunity to be honest with God about what we’re working through, and to ask him to point us in the right direction.
Let’s take comfort and joy from Jesus’ words to Thomas, our fellow doubter, because they are written about you and me (how cool is that?!): “Because you [Thomas] have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:28).
Okay, your turn: What faith questions do you have? Do you view doubt as a weakness, or an opportunity for growth and exploration? If your kids have questions about God, how do you plan to handle them?