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What would you tell your son or daughter if he or she ran into the house yelling out of anger and frustration? How would you respond if your daughter vented, “I’m a failure, my friend does everything right”? What would you tell your son if you saw him having a hard time dealing with his angry emotions?
Here is a Cherokee Indian tale, “Two Wolves,” that illustrates the internal battle with which we struggle daily.
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”
This fable presents a picture of the struggle we all, including our children, face. As a parent, you play a major role in feeding the good wolf for your children. How can you do this? You can help your children grow in self-esteem and virtue by recognizing their positive behaviors. All too often, we focus on what our child is doing wrong to the point we ignore the many things he or she does right.
Of course, you can’t ignore the negative behavior of your child, but focusing primarily on the negative can lead to poor self-esteem and actually reinforce unwanted behavior. Constantly harping on your kid’s shortcomings feeds the evil wolf. Continuous harping teaches them to label themselves as “bad kids.” Your kids may play the part of bad kids by continuing the very behaviors you are trying to stop. How often do you harp on what your child does right? How do you recognize when he or she does something right? What do you do when your child sets the table for dinner, takes out the trash, or cleans his/her bedroom?
Noticing your children’s good behavior can be as simple as giving them a hug and telling them you are happy they are your children. Remember the 5 to 1 rule. Research consistently supports that it takes about five positive comments to negate a negative one in the psyche of a child. Here is a challenge: record the number of positive comments or actions your child hears from you compared to negative ones. Do the positive comments outnumber the negative comments?
Feeding the good wolf will strengthen your relationship with your child. A stronger relationship increases the possibility for communication between you and your son or daughter about important issues that might be troubling him or her. A child’s negative behaviors may be an expression of something else going on in his or her life. Something happening that they don’t know how to talk about such as a trauma, loss, or issues at school. Yes, it is difficult to focus on the positive and feed that good wolf in the face of your child’s misbehavior. However, remember, at a very young age the battle is brewing in your children between the two wolves. Recognizing, the right things your children do, will ensure the good wolf wins over time.
Billy Graham in his book, “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life” uses this same story to make his point about our internal struggle. He talks about the two natures within us and asks which one will dominate. He looks at the struggle to feed the right nature. Your comments are “food” for your child’s nature and outlook on life. Are you feeding your children’s negative thoughts? Or, are you feeding their positive outlook?
Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Cheryl Gowin and Dennis Gowin. Call us with your feedback, comments, issues, or questions; our phone number is 434-808-2637.