The title of Dr. Kevin Leman’s newest book, When Your Kid is Hurting: Helping Your Child through the Tough Days, admits right away that hurt in childhood is a question of when, not if.
“This is probably the toughest book I ever tried to pull off,” Dr. Leman, author of over 60 books, told Crosswalk. “There’s a lot of kids that are hurting.”
Of course, pain in life is nothing new, but the book confirms what many parents may already suspect: the world that kids experience today is vastly different from the one their parents grew up in. This realization may trigger fear in parents. How are people supposed to know how to help their kids navigate unfamiliar situations in such a fast-paced world?
Here are some situations Dr. Leman mentions in his book:
- Your teen withdraws and won’t talk.
- A mean comment about your child pops up on social media.
- You find out the hard way your teen is sexually active.
- Your son is bullied for being “different.”
- Your oldest says she hates you and wants to live with her father.
These tough situations can seem daunting to parents who desperately want to help their child, but don’t know how. In When Your Kid is Hurting, Dr. Leman walks parents through both helpful and harmful responses to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations that children struggle with today.
“Number one: you listen,” Dr. Leman said. “Listening is a key to helping your hurting kid.”
This solution might sound obvious to many parents – maybe even frustrating. Because parents who want to help their hurting children already might try asking questions to get a conversation going, only to receive one-word (or side-eye) responses. In the midst of relational frustration, Dr. Leman gives advice on how engaging humbly and honestly with hurting children can help create an environment where it’s easier for them to open up and receive the help they need.
He suggested in his book that a child can quickly shut down or get defensive when the parent starts firing panicked questions like these: “What’s wrong with you?” and “Can I help?”
Instead, Dr. Leman said that asking the child’s opinion or feelings on the issue is one way to engage without intimidating them. And if parents have advice to give, offer it gently.
He said before making a suggestion that would help your hurting child, start with, “I might be way out of left field” or “I may not know what I’m talking about,” then share your idea.
“It just makes it go down easier,” he said.
When parents notice their child going through a painful season or situation, Dr. Leman said two common reactions occur. An authoritative parent may attempt to control the issue by telling the child what he or she should do to fix it. Another, permissive parent may step in to fix the issue themselves for the child.
“If you’re too authoritarian with it, you’re just going to end up with all kinds of power struggles,” Dr. Leman said. “And [if] the parents basically try to solve the problem for the child, that prepares kids for a world that doesn’t exist.”
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