“Is it too late for me and my child?” a single mother of a 17-year-old daughter asked me after telling me how her daughter won’t listen to her or talk to her, and is going against all the standards of her home. Just like so many other parents, this mother wanted to know if learning and using the principles of good communication and relationship-building that I teach would really help an older child have a change of heart. Could she change her old habits of frustration and anger, too?
“It’s never too late to learn to control yourself and to repair or improve relationships,” I told her. “We can’t ever give up on becoming who we are meant to become or helping our children meet the measure of their potentials, too. No matter how old or young we are, we are always learning,” I explained. This is what I suggest parents in the same situation as this mother do to help their children and themselves have changes of heart and improve their relationships.
Love isn’t something that happens to us when someone likes us or pleases us; a person can love someone who doesn’t please them. Love is an expression that comes from deeply valuing another person. Being liked or pleased is not a principle. However, love is a principle because it can exist no matter how someone behaves.
I was once informed that there was a woman dishonestly talking behind my back at church. Even though it hurt to know that she was telling others lies about me, I knew the woman had value in God’s eyes. She had a potential that was far beyond what I could see and I knew it, because I also knew that I had potential beyond what other people could see about me at the time, as well. So, what did I do? I prayed to love this woman every time before I would see her. I purposely tried to find ways to be kind to her and speak to her. I told other people nice things about her so that my heart would increase in love and appreciation for this woman.
Sometimes children do and say things to their parents or behind their parents’ backs that feel hurtful, just like the report of this woman’s words felt to me. Sometimes when we invest so much love and service into a relationship with a person, it can either feel comfortable to keep our distance from the person, or can feel justifiable to make them express love to us through force. These tactics never turn hearts.
What to Do
To create a teaching environment where a child can have a change of heart, and desire to see your potential and not judge you for past mistakes, I suggest doing these four things.
First, remember who they are and who you are. Our self-evident, eternal identities (or roles) of mother, father, 17-year-old daughter, etc. are unchangeable. Our eternal identities are great truths that give us purpose and allow us to see our potentials and the potentials of the people around us. A 17-year-old daughter is a learner. She is launching into adulthood, but she isn’t there yet. She needs guidance and love from parents to thrive in this phase of life. Never forget that what you see her do or say and who she really is can be two different things. Focus on her potential, not her bad behaviors.
Second, in order to influence your child to change her heart, you have to set the example. Your primary focus as a parent should always be on being ready to touch your child’s heart. This means you need to have the spirit of love with you. When you’re full of love, you’ll trust in her ability to change, have patience with imperfections, not take mistakes personally, have calmness when talking to her, and continually point her in the direction of her full potential through example and instruction. The most powerful force for changing the heart of a child will always be the condition of the heart of the parent. When your heart is pure, you’ll have more confidence in all your parenting interactions, because to have a changed heart is to focus on living the truth, not emotional manipulations.
Third, part of focusing on the truth is being honest about where you want your relationship to go and what problems are getting in the way. Have a deliberate discussion with your child. Don’t be nervous. Talking openly is the hallmark of a healthy relationship. You and your child can talk about anything unless you decide you can’t. In this conversation, talk about what you want your relationship to be like at a certain point in the future. Talk about the details of how you will know you have created a good and lasting bond. Then, talk about what is getting in the way and make plans to change those communication problems. This type of assertiveness is called leadership. Since a parent’s role is to be the leader, it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable for anyone. In fact, it makes everyone feel more secure when parents lead out in understanding and open communication.
Fourth, preparing for future good relationships will naturally lead to planning how to communicate on a daily basis about problems to be solved and instructions to be followed. Having regular meetings and teaching children principle-based skills are effective ways to turn instructions and “no” answers into family successes instead of daily drama. One of the Four Basic Skills of self-government that we use in our family is Following Instructions. This is the skill set.
Look at the person
Keep a calm face, voice, and body
Say, “Okay”, or disagree appropriately
Do the task immediately
This skill, and others like it, are principles of good communication, not just rules. They are skills that can be broadly used and lead to a change of heart and behavior. Rules are just for people management and overall safety.
Remember Who You Are
If your child is already an adult, and you don’t see a way to teach principle-based skills now, don’t worry. Your example will always pave the way for them. Live the skills yourself and use the skills with younger children. The adult child will see the principle and the wisdom in using skills in their life if the family environment feels calmer and loving. Calmness and love are the byproducts of having a plan for how you will communicate and solve problems.
Your child’s choices may not always be perfect. They’re learning and growing. They may even end up following bad influences. But, you can always have hope because you are dedicated to being a good influence. The parent influence is greater than we realize. Even if they push you out from their lives, you’ll always be there. You’re part of them, so your love can even be felt when you’re living far away.
Stay happy and focused on who you can become and who they can become. Both of you have eternal identities and potentials that unite you together forever, even if things don’t seem perfect now.
Need more calmness? Here is a FREE Calm Parenting Toolkit for you!