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Can you reach the unlovable child? Yes, and here’s how.

 
 

Defiant

Many children who are unlovable have experienced a crisis such, as the divorce of their parents or the breakup of their cohabiting parents. These children can be standoffish. They hold back and don’t seem to want to get involved in relationships with their leaders at church and school. This makes it difficult to love them and incorporate them into your church family.

Connecting with these children on their level is important. Connection is the basis for forming relationships with them.

Many of these kids are out of control, so our default response is to try to control them. What they really need is connection.

  • Connecting with others gives them impulse control.
  • Impulse control allows children to be cooperative and care about others.
  • Once they can connect with someone, their impulse control is engaged. Then they can better understand cooperation issues.

If you want to impact these children, then let go of preconceived mind-sets about them—divorce, shy, angry, no impulse control, victims, etc.

These children are intuitive. They sense what you are thinking and feeling. That means you shouldn’t roll your eyes when these children walk in the door. Rolling your eyes negates the tentative relationships they are forming with you.

Remove the judgment

  • About divorce or the child’s living situation (cohabiting parents)
  • About how you think the child should act
  • About the child’s parent
  • About the parent’s situation—don’t label single and alcohol- or drug-addicted parents
  • About what you think about the child with ADHD or other behavioral diagnosis
  • About the child (“He’s just acting out to get attention!”)
  • About the importance of these children feeling safe

Another look at removing judgment

When you praise a child many times, it is your judgment that is doing the praising. Remove your preconceived judgment, and just say,

  1. “You did it!”
  2. “Look at you!”
  3. Or describe what the child did: “You put the lids on the markers. That was helpful.”

Many children with challenging behaviors feel they don’t deserve praise and set out to prove they don’t deserve it.

Keep in mind

  • Every aggressive child is a hurting child.
  • Every hurting child is a child who doesn’t feel safe.
  • Develop God-like empathy.
  • Empathy can move a child from a non-developing relationship to a strong relationship with you.

Dress the part—wear compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24)

 

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on March 5, 2015.

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