This weekend, after reading a portion of the book The Mother at Home, I had a revelatory moment. (Currently I am re-reading this book with some other ladies over at Candy's site). The lightbulb came on when I realized that I am to be a more active emotional participant in bringing about the good attitude of my child. As opposed to laying all of that burden on the child. To elaborate, consider the following scenarios:
4-year-old Bobby comes into the kitchen, grumpy and irritated. He walks with his head down and shoulders slumped. He kicks a toy into the table, and is obviously dealing with some negative emotions. Mother comes up to Bobby and decides to remedy the situation. "Bobby, stand up straight." Bobby is distracted and agitated. But he straightens up a little. Mother is firm. "Bobby, a joyful heart is good medicine. Smile and let go of your grumpy attitude." Bobby obediently smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. He goes into the living room and looks at a picture book while mother works on lunch.
Bobby comes into the kitchen, grumpy and irritated. He walks with his head down and shoulders slumped. He kicks a toy into the table, and is obviously dealing with some negative emotions. Mother comes up to Bobby and ruffles his hair and rubs his back. Bobby responds immediately to the affection by drawing near to his mother. She looks him in the eye and smiles at him. Then she gets out a number game. They sit and play a few rounds. By the end of the game, Bobby has forgotten whatever was making him grumpy, and his eyes smile up at mother. Soon it is time for lunch, and Bobby, feeling closer to Mom, asks "Mama can I help?" They work together in the kitchen getting lunch.
In the first scenario, the child is expected to do the brunt of the emotional "work". In the second scenario, the child is helped by the mother to become cheerful again. It reminds me of a few scripture verses...
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." -Proverbs 15:1
"The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand." -Psalm 37:23-24
I think it is easy for a mother to respond with aloofness to a child's emotional trauma, as she attempts to be the firm disciplinarian (for some moms, being a brick wall is harder than others :-). Granted, each situation is unique, but responding instead with gentleness, and upholding the child as he gets his "emotional footing" seems to be a much more loving and Biblical position. I think Proverbs 15:1 speaks for more than just "wrath". A gentle answer has the power to turn away all manner of negative stirrings in the heart.
As I considered this, I realized that I desire the same thing from my husband. There are times when I am dealing with some difficult emotions which are hard to just shrug away. I remember telling him, "Nathan, you don't realize what power you have! Just looking in my eyes and giving me a gentle touch is all it will take to melt away the struggle I'm having." Surely my emotional reactions are not the responsibility of my husband; I consider it my duty as a wife to be pleasant and cheerful. Yet learning to be sensitive to one another, to "let our gentleness be evident to all" is something extremely beneficial to any relationship.
About 6 years ago my life was forever changed by a new understanding that I am not a slave to my emotions. God suddenly opened my eyes to the fact that I was being emotionally manipulative at times. It was a huge eye-opener for me and the catalyst to a sweet and precious aspect to my relationship with my husband which continues to this day.
Soon after that, I latched onto a teaching which encourages parents to correct negative emotional patterns in small children. Now as I consider this change, I realize that it was like a swinging pendulum. I was on my guard against the emotional manipulation, and so I adopted a no-nonsense attitude in regard to negative emotions (crying, whining, grumpiness); I believe I was so focused on preventing the bad emotions that many times I forgot to foster the good ones!
Now God is bringing balance, and it is surely His delight :-).