Fostering an Open Spirit in Your Child

In The Key to Your Child’s Heart, author Dr. Gary Smalley warns against the destructive power that a closed spirit can have on a family. What is a closed spirit? Dr. Smalley defines “spirit” as, “a person’s innermost being.” A person with a closed spirit has usually been hurt and has stopped being vulnerable to others (or specifically the person who has offended them). They tend to stop communicating with others on a deep, meaningful level.

With a child who has a closed spirit, he may exhibit a variety of signs, including arguing, being contrary, withdrawing, or being unresponsive to affection. The child may even begin to rebel or act out.

This article primarily deals with a child’s closed spirit to a parent. Whether it is because of a recent situation or is ongoing, a child may harbor hurt feelings and resentments toward the parent for a long period of time. A child may not know how to address their concerns to the parent, or may feel that they won’t be understood if they do share their feelings. If a parent recognizes that their child has become closed off to them, Dr. Smalley recommends the following steps to opening the child’s spirit.

1. Become Tenderhearted.

If a parent has offended or hurt the child’s feelings, the parent should cease any yelling or harsh language with the child. A gentle voice will convey that the child is important, that he is cared about, and that the parent recognizes there is something wrong and is willing to listen.

2. Increase Understanding.

A parent should attempt to understand the child’s pain and see things from their point-of-view. A casual comment said in fun may have hit a sensitive issue with the child that the parent was unaware of. Parents should stop and listen to what their children are trying to tell them.

3. Recognize the Offense.

Even if a parent did not do something wrong, they should look at how their words were conveyed and if their attitude was wrong. For example, discipline is a necessary part of parenting, but if done in anger can have negative results.

4. Attempt to Touch.

If the child has been hurt, the parent should let him know he is loved and cared about by holding him for awhile. A parent should not be afraid to show affection to their child, although they should be prepared for him to back away if he still has a closed spirit.

5. Seek Forgiveness.

Asking for forgiveness is often a difficult thing to do, but a necessary step in regaining a child’s open spirit. However, if a child refuses forgiveness, Dr. Smalley suggests slowly working through the steps again.

In addition to teaching parents how to work through opening a closed spirit, Dr. Smalley provides a list of 84 ways that parents can offend children, based on his counseling experiences with children. A few of the ways are listed below.

Not showing interest in things that are important to the child

Breaking promises

Criticizing unjustly

Allowing siblings to pick on the child

Telling the child his opinions do not matter

Never saying, “I love you” or showing affection

Never spending one-on-one time with the child

Being insensitive to the child’s trials

Speaking harshly

Being inconsistent

Not praising a child for his accomplishments

Ignoring the child when he is seeking help

Arguing with the child’s other parent in front of him, or putting the other parent down in front of others

Not being able to control their anger and taking it out on the child

Being sarcastic to the child or making sarcastic remarks about him to others

Making fun of a child’s dreams, accomplishments or hopes

Insulting him in front of others

Showing favoritism to a sibling

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