Helping a mean or hurtful child



Many children that have experienced some type of trauma will have challenging behaviors. This is particularly true for the child of divorce. These children that come across as being mean or hurtful many times need help regulating their behavior.

How do you help a child like this? I have a strategy to help. As a bonus, this technique is a great tool to use to deepen your relationship with every child. There art two parts to this strategy:

1. Confront the child about inappropriate behavior

Recently I posted a blog about not forcing kids to say, “I’m sorry.” I got a lot of comments on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media. One man said,

“Do you tell them they have done wrong? I think we should at least teach  them right from wrong? Is there a punishment for what they did? I always explain that what they did is wrong and not acceptable and if the child  apologizes willingly much grace can be applied.”

Yes, I believe it is right to tell a child what they have done wrong. If we don’t tell them how do they know what they did is wrong? Sometimes the action is so overt that they know but there are times a child might be left wondering, “Hey, what did I do? I didn’t know I was being hurtful. I didn’t mean to hurt any body.”

2. Use the grace card

I also believe we need to teach children about grace and the grace that can be applied to them personally. And that, my friends, is what I call the “grace card.” The “grace card” is an important concept that can help a hurting child.

Christ gave us grace on the cross. He died to forgive our sins. Let me tell you, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t sin in some way – probably hundreds of ways!

Makes no difference to Jesus because He loves me and continually gives me grace and forgives me. Even if I keep on sinning the same sin grace, mercy and kindness is applied. So with some of these children you might need to allow grace to be bestowed upon them.

Understanding the grace card

The grace card is an act that you can use to teach children about forgiveness. When you apply the grace card there is no punishment for the wrongdoing other than perhaps a natural consequence that happens due to the child’s actions, such as the child falls and scrapes their knee when running.

If you are a single parent think about allowing your children to play the grace card once a week or once a month. If you work or minister to children, use it when the situation calls for it.

Using the grace card in the single parent home

The responses below are only examples of things a child might say. At the beginning you may have to prompt the child and help them word their repentance and asking for forgiveness.

  • The child can ask for the grace to be extended or you can extend it when you deem it necessary.
  • The child needs to repent of the wrongdoing.“I got mad when my sister was teasing me and I hit her. I’m sorry I did that.” (This is said to you not the other child.)
  • The child needs to ask for forgiveness,“Forgive me for hitting my sister. I know it was wrong.”
  • The parent (or teacher) needs to develop a plan so the child doesn’t feel like they are left to their own defenses to solve problems.“Son, next time you get mad come to me and I will help you calm down. Together we’ll figure out how to handle things with your sister when she is bugging you. Hitting is not allowed. It is hurtful and we don’t hurt others in   this house.“
  • If you feel like the child needs to follow up with the other child say something like, “What do you think you can do be helpful toward your sister?”

One thing you need to keep in mind is that every hurting child is an individual. They have individual needs and they need personal attention. You have to accommodate each child’s needs differently even if they are in your own family.

Hurting children need boundaries and understanding. They need forgiveness modeled for them. Keep in mind they might not see forgiveness from their other parent so the idea of forgiveness is a harder concept for some kids of divorce to truly understand.

Playing the grace card in a group situation

Here is an example of how I played the grace card several years ago in a DC4K group in Raleigh, NC. We had an older child who was very angry with his dad for leaving him when the child was a baby. After weeks of ministering to this young man he began to blossom and take a leadership role.

One evening he was leading a game when he got so caught up in being the leader that he got excited and while everyone was laughing and following him in his leading he began running through the room.

Me, “J-man, we have talked about running through the room. It’s not safe.”

J-man, “I know. I didn’t mean to run. I just got so excited. I’m really sorry.”

Me, “Hmm, I can tell that you are sorry and I can see how you got really excited being the main man in that game and you got carried away. I am going to give you grace and forgive you for the running. Try to remember, though, that I count on you to be an example to the younger kids especially when you are the leader in a game.” Hug, hug!

The “grace card” can go a long way in helping a child heal. It can also help calm a child in a single parent home.

It won’t work when

  • The child only uses to get out of a consequence
  • The child doesn’t repent of the wrongdoing
  • The parent is lenient and can’t set boundaries
  • There is no follow up conversation from the adult

When using the grace card remember you are teaching children about the love of Jesus Christ. You are teaching them about the saving grace found in salvation. It is serious business so it is important to bathe the entire concept in prayer before you extend the grace card.



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