Everyone struggles with how to deal with their emotions. This is especially challenging for children whose neurological development has not matured to the point that they can use more rational thinking to deal with their emotions. It becomes even more problematic if our children have suffered a traumatic event or experienced toxic stress.
Trauma and toxic stress impair all areas of development for children causing them to act and think below their chronological age. We call this gap “Age vs. Stage” to reference how a 16-year-old can act socially and emotionally like a 6-year-old. Often, the age that the child experienced the trauma is the emotional age they get stuck at even while the rest of them advance in years. This can open the eyes for many caregivers who are puzzled by the age vs stage problem.
Adults don’t always have good solutions to this problem, however. We may not really know how to manage our own emotions. Perhaps we have had our own trauma that shuts us down when overwhelmed by stress or we haven’t had many examples of what healthy, responsible adults do with their intense feelings and so, we limp along with our own developmental journey.
What most adults do is stuff their feelings. They might do this by dissociating from their bodily reactions and disconnect from extreme feelings of intimacy or closeness. They might push the feelings down until the boil over in a fit of rage, with everyone around the just waiting for the next volcanic explosion. They might try to be super reasonable and lecture their family and be perfectionistic with expectations no one can live up to.
The healthier answer is not to try and live from our emotions at all! The secret is that you can change your emotions by changing what you believe. When you wake up in the morning, don’t ask yourself “How do I feel today?” Ask yourself, instead “What do I believe today?”
Families who are faith-based believe many things they don’t always practice. For example, we believe that God will take care of all our needs but we spend hours being worried. Our beliefs must go deeper into our subconscious minds where habits exist. You don’t think about how to do certain things in life, like driving your car or make dinner, because those thought structures are set in our subconscious mind so that we can spend more energy on other conscious thoughts and actions. Practicing what we preach has to become a natural reaction to life’s challenges as well.
Faith-based families have a strange distrust of their own souls as well. Our souls comprise our body, mind, and will. Perhaps we distrust them because we haven’t changed our subconscious habits yet. This will be an on-going process, for sure, and one we can start modeling for our children as well. We also have to live healthy lifestyles, eating good food, engaging in playful activities, and getting rest and exercise.
Our beliefs allow us to overcome shame from our past. This is what causes traumatized children (and adults) from believing they deserve a good life because they are unworthy of love, unwanted by biological parents, and damaged in some way – maybe many ways. This negative belief results in the sabotage of success, self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, and fear. This list could go on…
God’s mercies are supposed to be “new every morning” and the same level of grace should be extended to ourselves as well as to other. We need to offer this to our traumatized children, as well. Whatever happened yesterday must be forgiven and our thought life must be taken captive.
A powerful tool for ourselves and for our families is to make biblical declarations – out loud! Life or death is on the tongue and what we say can steer the direction of our lives (Proverbs 18:21; James 3). Speaking out our new beliefs is an act of faith because we may not feel that what we are saying is true but we are not letting our emotions guide our beliefs, we are letting our beliefs direct our emotions.
Renewing the mind is how we are to live our faith governed lives and it is a continual process of maturity for our children and will help to close the age vs. stage gap (Romans 12:1-1).
Start your declarations with the words “I believe” and see what happens to your own mindset as well as to your child’s attitude and behaviors.
“I believe” that I have all the grace I need to face any challenge or problem that comes up for me today.
“I believe” that I am worthy of love and the love of God, who is love, overflows from me to everyone I encounter today.
“I believe” that I am trustworthy, kind, and tenderhearted. I am able to forgive other people who have hurt by and not live in bitterness or seek revenge.
- “I believe” that my prayers are powerful.
- “I believe” I am great at relationships and making friends.
- “I believe” that my family is blessed and I am a blessing to everyone around me.
- “I believe” God is on my side and doesn’t hate me or punish me.
- “I believe” I can think right thoughts and make good decisions.
- “I believe” that I am successful and have the ability to think and act creatively today.
- “I believe” today is a new day, full of new mercies, and I can be happy and rejoice in it.
- “I believe” that the joy of the Lord is my strength.
- “I believe” I do not have a spirit of fear and God gives me power, love, and a sound mind.
- “I believe” that I can control what I say and everything from my lips speak love, live, and encouragement.
- “I believe” that I can remember everything I am studying and will accomplish everything that needs to get down today.
- “I believe” that believing the truth sets me free of fear and depression.
Don’t worry if you don’t always feel what you say is true. Don’t be concerned or deterred if your children don’t agree with your declarations, at first. I believe that if you practice these declarations and start to create your own personal list that you will see incredible changes in your own heart and the heart of your family, today and over time!