Some time ago I wrote a post about girls and their emotions entitled “The Spirited Rider.” In the aftermath of that post, it became clear that emotions are a real topic of interest! My goal in this post is to share with you a few of the practical ways we try to teach our children to ride.
Fussing has got to be one of the biggest issues with little kids, whether boys or girls. It doesn’t much matter whether it is fussing about the food that you put on the table, fussing about who has had which toy for how long, fussing about how hungry they are 15 minutes before dinner, or fussing about whatever else they happen upon. Fussing is definitely an issue, and it really is an issue for all ages. The older you get, the better you get at hiding the actual fuss behind a blanket of tired eyes and headaches, but fussers are everywhere.
Christian parents very rightly want to target this sin and be rid of it. No one likes a fusser, and no one likes to be fussed at. It is a very unseemly little problem. But let’s go back to that 15 minutes before dinner scenario. Let’s say that I am finishing up the prep for dinner, and some poor little soul lies down on the kitchen rug and launches a fuss. If I just fire off a little “Stop fussing!” what do you think are the chances of it bringing about a change ? Have you by any chance tried this technique? Have you noticed its overwhelming success? This is why fussing is such a total bane in the life of the parent. The more you try to get rid of it that way, the quicker it comes back.The quicker it comes back, the quicker you are ramping up the punishment, and the whole thing can become one heinous monster of a sin snaggle.
This is because as a parent, you are dressing up in police riot gear and trying to block the horse from getting off the path. This is, incidentally, a very tiring thing to do. If the horse thinks that it smells a sweet meadow of clover over there, it will be motivated to get around you. You will, despite how tough and steely you look with that shield, probably fail. The Christian parent needs to be coaching the rider at this point, not blocking the horse. If the horse wants to barge, you need to make sure that the rider doesn’t. But how to motivate that little rider?
My dad has always said (quoting some Puritan or other) that there is a difference between the birds flying over your head (temptation), and letting them build a nest in your hair (sin). But in between flying and nest building there are a few steps. The first fuss from your child is often a sign of the bird arriving with a twig in its beak. The fuss itself is not the sin, but rather a little alert to the parents that there is a nest project (from some unidentified bird) underway. The thing that is truly important is that you teach your children to get rid of the birds, not cover them up under a hat.
We are big on metaphors in our house. They are often long, drawn out, story-like metaphors that sound pretty silly when you get on a blog to tell adults about them. We change them up a lot. So while our children are all familiar with the horse metaphor, it is not mentioned every time we have an emotional issue. I figure that the more metaphors I use to explain the same concept, the more likely it is that one of them will stick.
The most recent way that we have been working with our kids about fussing has really been a blessing to all of us. It involves a silly story about a big old nasty black spider that has hairy legs. He is very, very sneaky. He has a whole box of costumes that he uses to try to trick you. He is always looking for ways to get into your heart so that he can steal something. Sometimes he dresses up as a sheriff and tells you that if you let him in, he will help you get that toy back. He shows you his guns and says that he can do it with you, if you let him in. (For dramatic effect this spider also strokes your cheek with one hairy leg at this point.) But if you let him in, he will just run away with all your joy, and probably some of your love too.
Sometimes this sneaky spider dresses up like a teacher, and tells you that you are right about something, and everyone else is wrong. Let him in, and he will steal your patience and your kindness. Sometimes (mostly at Church) he dresses up like a P.E. teacher and blows his little whistle and tells you to “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.” Sometimes he is a doctor, and tells you that you will die if you don’t eat or drink something right this very second. But invariably, if you let him in, he will load up his little bag with some of your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self-control, and then he will run for the hills – leaving you in a pickle.
The main reason we have loved this story is because we use it as a task for the kids. If a fuss begins, I will tell them to go figure out what costume the spider is wearing, and then to come tell me when they have figured it out. I have LOVED seeing my little people take a second to identify what temptation they are dealing with. Recently our four-year-old was fussing about a crust situation while I was making lunch. I asked her to figure this out, and she came back to me with the news that he was dressed up as a chef and telling her that he would cook her something delicious (we hadn’t used this one yet). I asked her if he was right. She laughed, and we talked about how he was just wanting to sneak off with her joy in the lunch that she was having. I had her go ahead and tell him to scoot. She said “Get out of here Mr. Spider! I know who you are, and you can’t come in! I can eat crusts! No biggie!” I try to emphasize the transaction involved: the deceiver is taking something from you. He is confusing you, and lying to you. Don’t believe him!
This is essentially a way of getting around to the side of the horse, to talk to the rider. No matter how close you are to the horse, it is only the rider that has access to the reins. Get the rider to see clearly, and then turning the horse is simple.