A cold look, being ignored or laughed at, or a stuffy “You’re not invited” can be hurtful to anyone. Relationships are complicated. I am a math girl. I think in equations and flowcharts. If you do this, then the result will be that. It is very nicely organized and predictable – but it is not very realistic when it comes to relationships! Just because you smile at someone or are nice to her does not mean that she will be your friend for life.
One of the hardest parenting experiences is when your child’s feelings get hurt. We spend hours encouraging our little ones to be kind, to say “nice” words, and to respond in love. And then the other kid crushes his spirit! Our inner “Mama Bear” can come out in ways we did not expect! What can we do to mend the little broken heart?
Always start with prayer. Is this the time to rescue your child from the relationship, or the time to walk alongside her? I wish there were three easy steps to know which avenue is right, but it never seems to be that simple! Pray with your spouse or a close friend about what you should do. Sometimes a hurtful situation is the “red flag” to remove your child from this relationship. Or this might be the best opportunity to teach your child how to show Christ’s love and how to deepen her dependence on Him. Usually we parents have been through something similar in our younger years, so we can use that experience and practical wisdom to encourage the wounded heart. Whichever route we take, hurt feelings give us teachable moments to exercise forgiveness.
Consider the love language factor. Some children are more prone to getting their feelings hurt than others. For the child whose love language is words of encouragement, words of discouragement cut deeply, even when said in jest. Sarcasm is not a love language! This is your opportunity to speak life to your child. He might need to work on thinking the best about the other child. Perhaps that child is surrounded with “death words” and does not realize he is being so hurtful. Remind your child how much you love him! For a child who feels loved by physical touch and closeness, being left out of an activity or group invitation will hurt her feelings. Do something special with your child during that scheduled event so she builds family relationships. Siblings really can be best friends!
Making friends is a big deal. Introverted children might have two or three “good” friends where an extroverted child has two or three hundred “good” friends! A slight exaggeration, but introverts take friendship very seriously because it takes energy and effort to get to know someone. Because of this investment, their friends should respond with lifelong loyalty, right? Perhaps your child is looking for depth and loyalty in what we would consider a casual friendship. If a “friend” does not respond with similar loyalty, feelings get hurt. Let her know the Lord does have a friend out there, just for her, who will be loyal through thick and thin. In the meantime, practice friendship and forgiveness.
– What is her new friend’s family like?
– Does he or she like being with his or her parents?
– Does he get along well with his siblings?
If harsh words are allowed among siblings, let your child know he will probably receive harsh words, too! There is always safety in having new friends come to your house until you find out if this is a friendship you want your child to pursue.
What if YOU are the person who hurt your child’s feelings? That sinking feeling when you look into your child’s eyes is a memory that is hard to forget. Again, there is no simple formula to restore the relationship. Here are some things I did, and some things I wish I had done.
As soon as you realize something is not right,
- Pray and ask for wisdom.
- Go to your child and let her know you love her very much and that this relationship is very important to you.
- Ask her what you did that hurt her feelings.
Sometimes your child’s perception of what was said or done is completely different than yours. Help her sort out truth (what actually happened) from perception (how she processed the words or events).
Seek forgiveness. If you sinned against your child (and you will know when you have), ask for forgiveness and call the sin by name. For older children, remind them that you, too, are working on your character and will sometimes mess up. Some days, children are more sensitive to our words than other days. Sometimes our tone comes across more harshly than we intended, and this is our opportunity to ask for forgiveness and pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in using gentle words. Continue to be a student of your child’s love languages and temperament. There are situations where it takes years for a child to tell you she was hurt. One of my favorite passages is Joel 2:25. The Lord promises to restore the years the locusts have eaten. Know that He will work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), even when you are not seeing that work being done.
No one enjoys having their feelings hurt. Even as adults, we would rather everyone love us and love on us! When your child comes to you with his broken heart in his hands, whisper a prayer for wisdom. Lovingly embrace him and ask him to share, “What happened?” Be all there. Turn your phone off, look into his eyes, and let him know you love him. Hugs and a sincere “I love you so much!” start the healing process.
Glen and Jerrine Hicks have been married 31 years and live near Sedalia, CO. They have two adult daughters and one son-in-love. Jerrine’s idea of a perfect day would include a pot of PG Tips tea, some dark chocolate, a Jane Austen movie, and time reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jerry Bridges, Emilie Barnes or L.M. Montgomery. She loves couchtime with her Glen. She is an introvert. 😉 The Hickses have been involved with Growing Families since 1996.