Q: Our 4-year-old son has started acting out in ways that perplex us. He's taken to shouting when he gets angry and has said some words that seem beyond his usual vocabulary -- not swearing, but just different. We're not sure where he's getting this. What can we do?
Jim: Well, the first place to look might be close at hand. Let me share an illustration. My friend Michael Hyatt remembers noticing as a child that his dad walked with a significant limp. So at four years old, Michael decided he should shuffle along that way, too. That lasted until his mother said one day, "Michael, you don't need to walk with a limp. Dad walks that way because he was hurt in the war."
Hyatt calls that innocent copycatting the "law of replication." Broadly speaking, it means that children will often copy the behavior of those they look up to. This idea has direct application for parents. It's not a question of if our kids are picking up behaviors from us (or someone else) -- it's what they're picking up.
And that's where things can get challenging for moms and dads. For example, if your child yells when he's angry, ask yourself, "Is this behavior something he's learned from me? And if not me, who?" Children ought to be held accountable for their own actions, of course. But it's wise to remember how easily a child can be influenced -- and by which role models.
The good news is you can use the "law of replication" to your advantage by modeling the positive behavior and attitudes you want to see in your kids. It's a great way to pass your values to your kids -- and, if necessary, do a "reset" -- because beliefs are often caught rather than taught.
Q: My husband has hurt my feelings many times. I don't think it's necessarily intentional -- it's more just neglect and preoccupation with his own priorities. I keep hearing that I need to forgive him. I just don't know if I can!
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Forgiveness is a personal choice. It's also one of the most challenging things each of us must do regularly in marriage. There may be only minor damage from occasional disappointments, or we may have deep emotional scars from years of back-and-forth mistreatment. Over time our hearts can become so hardened that forgiveness can seem impossible.
Even if we truly want to forgive our spouse for unresolved offenses, we may stubbornly insist that they should make the first move toward reconciliation. They often feel the same way, which leaves us in a deadlock.
The truth is that if we desire a more loving relationship, we must learn to keep short accounts and forgive on a regular basis. Reconciliation and healing won't take place overnight, but forgiving can be a turning point in any relationship.
Forgiveness communicates to our spouse that we value them, and it can soften our hardened hearts toward each other. It doesn't erase what has happened, stop the pain or magically heal the wounds. But it allows our relationship to move toward deeper levels of intimacy.
Forgiveness starts when we make the decision to forgive, regardless of whether our emotions necessarily line up with our decision. In other words, we can choose to forgive even when we don't feel like it.
Forgiveness is not only a choice, it's also a process. Our society tends to demand instant gratification; we want things immediately. But forgiveness doesn't work like that. Depending on the gravity and magnitude of the offense, it can take weeks, months or years -- even a lifetime. But regardless of how long it takes, forgiveness is always worth it.