Did you get a call from the teacher today? Or worse, from the principal? How many days has he been on “red” so far this year? How are YOU doing?
Everyone knows, don’t they? He knows, you know, the teacher knows, his classmates know, it feels like the whole world knows—that YOUR child is the “problem” child. You see the glances from the other parents. Their well-meaning smiles hide what must be judgmental thought-bubbles. I used to imagine that they thought, “If only you disciplined him better.” Or, “You act like you care, but at home you must be a lazy mom who refuses to teach her childhow to act in school. You have probably never served an organic meal in your life. THAT’S probably what’swrong with him.” Or, in my case, some people actually said to me, “You don’t spank him hard enough.”
If you can’t tell, I’ve been there. In fact, I spent years as the mom of the “problem” child. I read all of the books. I sought advice from other moms, pastors, teachers, and doctors. I cried countless tears. I hid from classmates’ parents and teachers and principals. I made excuses for his behavior.
In my heart, I knew he wasn’t a “bad” kid. If anything, he was a “normal” boy. He gave the biggest hugs, and he wasn’t looking for attention. He had all of ours—mine and my husband’s. We played with him every afternoon, but we didn’t spoil him. We worked to be consistent in discipline, and we did all of the “right” things, as much as we knew how. We took every scrap of advice we could get and we sure did try everything. He enjoyed mischief, risky behavior, and having fun. Doesn’t that describe almost every little boy you’ve ever met?
But he was the “problem” child in his class, year after year. He was sent to the office, kept out from recess, and put in a corner desk. Nothing worked. Nothing. He wore his “problem child” identity like a badge. We used to joke that he would consider the consequences, decide it was worth it, and jump into trouble with both feet. Every measure of discipline we metered out failed. He wasn’t perfect at home, by any means. In fact, like most children are, he was probably worse at home. But truthfully, there was little comparison to be made.
When he was 4, he was kicked out of daycare. Yes, you read that right. My husband and I nearly died from embarrassment. Something had to give.
Unfortunately, it took us about 2 more years to finally see a significant change. In that time, we had taken him off of all food dyes, which helped some. By his 1st grade year, we had decided to try homeschooling him. In the end, that was both a miserable time AND the answer for our “problem” child.
To make a very long story short, I thought I was going to lose my mind homeschooling him. My husband didn’t know how to help me, and to complicate matters, we had a 2-year-old little girl now, too.
We met with our pastor and his wife, and they gave us some of the same advice we’d heard over the years, with one major addition: they also suggested that we begin to pray over our son and ask God to show us the root of his behavior.
Over the course of that school year, I prayed over his heart, faithfully, every day. I asked God to take out his stony heart (one of his issues was that he didn’t trust authority figures whatsoever), and give him a soft heart. (Ezekiel 36:26) I begged God to turn his heart toward us, toward pleasing us. I asked God to replace the anger—in him, and in us, as parents—with a newfound grace and mercy. I pleaded with God to change my son’s identity from “problem child” to “warrior for Christ.”
Until that time, Asher had not seen his need for salvation. He believed he could save himself from anything. I know that sounds crazy for a 6-year-old to believe, but he did believe it. He would quickly change the subject anytime we discussed spiritual things with him.
Maybe your “problem” child looks different or acts different from the one I used to have. But I’m here to tell you, prayer changes things. It took a very long, hard year of diligent prayer, but I can say unequivocally that his heart changed completely. Little by little, he began to try to please us. He respected what we said and he obeyed. It didn’t happen overnight, but day after day, small things changed, and he began to soften inside. God had showed us the root of his anger and mistaken identity, and we began to pray that he would be healed from those heart-wounds he had suffered. Things changed. His behavior was still somewhat mischievous, and he still wanted to play outside more than he wanted to do schoolwork, but his heart was different. Softer. Pliable. Open.
Momma, I’m not saying I have all the answers. Taking him off food dyes helped. Homeschooling (for a year) helped. But I can tell you that NOTHING helped more than prayer. I don’t walk in your shoes, but if my child’s story sounds anything like yours, I urge you to begin today to pray over your child. Ask God to show you the root of the behavior. We can discipline behavior all day long, Momma, and it can work for a minute, but tomorrow, our children may wake up with the same stony hearts. If we don’t ask God to help us see the root of the problem, that hard heart will never soften. There’s not enough behavior-altering medication in the world to fix a heart hardened by invisible wounds. Our “problem children” need heart surgery, performed by the Great Physician.
Don’t give up on your child. They need you to see beyond the outward behavior. There may be no teacher, principal, doctor, or friend who will advocate for them. As parents, we can intercede for our children in ways no one else can. Bring their little hearts before the throne of grace and find the mercy you and your children crave. It’s miraculous, and our family is a living testimony that it is possible.