May 14, 2014

Taking every thought captive, Jr. edition


We joke about my childhood emotional instability, but watching my six year old struggle to hold on to any kind of rationale when strong emotions are swirling and bubbling out of control inside of him is no laughing matter. Lately he has fallen apart over quite a variety of things, most fairly inconsequential.
Somehow, when my son is losing it over things like slight frustration with his shoes, or not getting to play the game he wanted, or running into a tiny bit of difficulty with his math, any shred of patience and perspective seems to vanish from his mother, too. Once again, I am thankful I married NP.
NP and I have been talking a lot recently about examining our thoughts and feelings, accepting (aka, not living in denial!) that we are thinking certain thoughts and feeling certain feelings, but realizing that those feelings do not define us, our thoughts are not necessarily true, and we don’t need to act on them. In so many words, we’ve been talking about taking our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and choosing to believe what is true even when our feelings tell us otherwise. After all, our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).
This hasn’t magically cured LB of emotional outbreaks, but it has given me more tools in my toolbox for how to respond to him. And more importantly, we are laying the foundation for him to understand that his feelings are real, but he must take his thoughts captive and make them obedient to truth.
Have an emotional exploder of your own? Here are some of the approaches we take.
1. Recognize the reaction-mismatch. NP talks often about matching the size of the response to the size of the problem. Big problems need big responses. Little problems need little responses. When we mismatch those and overreact to small things or underreact to big things, trouble ensues. This has been a good reminder to me in my own life (not that this mom ever overreacts to small things… *ahem*), and it has also given us a vocabulary to use in pointing out to our kids that while the problem may be valid, their response needs to be in proportion.
“Wow. That is a big response! It looks like you are feeling frustrated with your shoelaces. Do you think this is a big problem, or a small problem? If it’s a small problem, what kind of response should you have?”
2. Identify the thoughts. This one has been huge for us. When a math problem stumps and shoulders slump and utter despair seems to leap out of nowhere in the schoolroom, we spend a lot of time identifying the thoughts behind the reaction, and pointing out lies in our thinking. [This works best after step 1, when they have had time to calm down a bit!]
“What are the lies in your mind right now that are causing you to react like this?” {I can’t do it, this is too hard, this isn’t fair, etc.}
3. Replace the lies with truth. After we identify the things we are telling ourselves in our minds, then we work at taking that thought captive and replacing it with truth.
Is it true that you can’t do it?
No.
What could we replace that thought with?
This is challenging, but I know there is a solution. Maybe there is a different approach I could take to help me figure it out.
Yesterday we went out geocaching – which turned into a long, hot hike in the sun, with all of us wearing rain boots that had started to chafe against our legs. We were uncomfortable, but the reaction was definitely mismatched to the size of the problem. BW was literally screaming, LB was overly-dramatically limping and whimpering, AG was oozing eight-year-old-girl-attitude, and Mom… was unhappy with her unhappy campers. So we identified the thoughts.
It’s too hot! It’s too far! This isn’t fun! I don’t want to do this anymore! My feet hurt!
Then we talked about true things we could replace those thoughts with that would help us change our attitudes.
It is really warm outside, but we will be back to the van in a little while and the air conditioning will feel so good! My feet are sore but soon I’ll take these boots off. It’s fun to spend this time together as a family! God’s creation is beautiful – listen to those birds singing!
It took a while, but AG’s face brightened, LB stopped complaining, we celebrated BW’s explorer skills when he found a tiny and well-camouflaged toad, and the last hot, sweaty leg of the hike was much  more enjoyable.
At this stage of life, working through this process is sometimes about surviving the day, to be honest. I just need everyone to CALM DOWN! But, it also falls into practically teaching them what it looks like to take their thoughts captive – to realize that their hearts are deceitful, and that it is very easy for them to lie to themselves and not live in faith and truth. Right now, we are talking about shoelaces… but one day, we’ll be talking about much bigger things with huge ramifications. One day, they will be grown adults who will desperately need to live out the practice of being STILL and KNOWING that He is God.
O Lord, teach them – teach me – to take every thought captive and cling to what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Teach us to cling to you and your Truth.