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Raising Resilient Children: An Interview with Lea Ann Garfias

September 4–8, 2017   |   Vol. 131, Week 14

We all want a perfect world for our children. But the reality is that life can be hard. Everyone will experience pain at some point.

So how can we raise our children to thrive no matter the challenge? Author Lea Ann Garfias has the answer on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat.

In this podcast, you’ll hear:

  • Lea Ann’s personal story of growing up in a broken home
  • How to create a safe environment for your child
  • 2 strategies for helping your child process emotions
  • How to help your child open up and feel comfortable asking tough questions
  • How to balance protecting your children with giving them room to fail

“There are times when we all have those negative emotions, and children and teens need to know that their parents are right there with them, dealing with the same emotions and trying to find ways to biblically respond to difficult situations.” — Lea Ann Garfias

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We all want a perfect world for our children. But the reality is that life can be hard, and everyone will experience pain at some point. If you want to raise your children to thrive no matter the challenge, hear some wise advice from Lea Ann Garfias on this week’s on Homeschool Heartbeat.

Diane Kummer: My guest today is Lea Ann Garfias. In addition to homeschooling her four children, Lea Ann is a blogger, speaker, professional violinist, and the author of Rocking Ordinary: Holding It Together with Extraordinary Grace. Lea Ann, welcome to the program!

Lea Ann Garfias: Thank you so much, Diane. It’s great to be speaking with you.

Healing wounds: Lea Ann’s story [0:37]

Diane: Lea Ann, this week we’re going to be talking about how homeschooling parents can raise resilient and confident children. But first, let’s talk about your background. Can you tell us about your personal story of growing up in a broken home?

Lea Ann: My family was a Christian family. We went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, every single night of revival meeting. My parents were extremely involved in the ministry of our local church the whole time we were growing up. And I was homeschooled from 7th grade through graduation.

But at the same time, behind closed doors, there was abuse and a lot of conflict in our home. I was physically abused by my mother for over 10 years, and then verbally abused throughout my teenage years.

So this difference between our public life and our private life did cause a lot of pain and confusion, then, in my young adult years, as I tried to reconcile “What is real Christianity, and what should a real home life actually be?”

Diane: Lea Ann, thank you for being so open with us. What were some of the biggest factors in helping you move past your painful upbringing?

Lea Ann: I think one of the biggest graces of God in my life has been my husband. The Lord just brought us together miraculously and gave my husband a lot of wisdom. At the same time, he sought counsel very early in our marriage for how to best shepherd me through healing and through renewing my faith in God and my trust in Him. His unconditional love and his constant forgiveness and his consistent grace toward me over time began to crack through my own cynicism and began to heal those wounds in my heart—that and the gentle routines that he instilled in our marriage: serving me coffee or breakfast every morning, reading some Scriptures but not in this “you need to change this in your life” [way]. Just opening the Bible, reading a few verses, praying over me, and then starting our day. These simple routines of our normal life, coupled with his unconditional love and outrageous forgiveness really went so far to heal my heart and became an example to me of what God’s healing in the lives of those around me can look like.

A safe environment [3:11]

Diane: Lea Ann, while it’s true that stability and security offer children the best chance to flourish, instability and uncertainty are an unfortunate part of life. How can parents raise confident and resilient children who are able to thrive even in the middle of hard times and unexpected setbacks?

Lea Ann: You know, I’m going through this right now in our family, Diane, as we’re transitioning into a brand-new adoption. I already have four biological kids, and several of them are already teenagers. So they’re going into an adoption with their eyes wide open, realizing now they have to share their space, share their parents’ attention, share their belongings with these brand-new strangers. And that has been a very big adjustment in their lives and in their relationships with us even as parents.

So some of the strategies that my husband and I have used during this time, just like we’ve used when we’ve gone through cross-country moves, or when we’ve gone through illness in the family, is first of all, [to] make sure we have an open communication with our children—that we make it safe for them to tell us how they really feel and the problems that they’re really going through. Because if they know that they’re safe and they’re loved and they’re forgiven, no matter how ugly their feelings might look at that time, then they’re going to be more confident to receive the forgiveness of God and to receive wise counsel from those around them, so that they can continue to overcome any hurdles that life throws at them.

2 strategies for processing emotions [4:47]

Diane: Lea Ann, one of the keys to resilience is being able to manage your emotions. What strategies have you used to help your children keep their emotions in check?

Lea Ann: I think we notice this a lot in the early years when our kids start throwing temper tantrums because they don’t have a way to explain what’s going on around them, or to be able to reason why they don’t understand our “No” as parents. And then we also go through this again when they’re teenagers and they might shut down and just not want to have any conflict with their parents, so they don’t talk at all.

So one of the early strategies when we’re just noticing this in our children, no matter what their age, is: my husband and I try to help them put words to their emotions. Are you frustrated? Are you angry? Are you disappointed? Are you sad? Are you tired? Are you hormonal? Helping them to be able to just identify what the emotion is helps them realize that it is a genuine emotion, and there’s nothing wrong with that feeling.

And then the second thing that we do is try to help them understand how to deal with those emotions. You know, “Oh, you’re feeling hormonal this week? Then you might need to extra, extra think about what is coming out of your mouth before you say something. Or maybe spend a little extra time away from people who are going to set you off.” Or if they’re angry when they’re young or when they’re older teenage boys, saying, “You know what? This is not an appropriate way to respond to anger. But when you are angry at your parents for a decision that they make, this is how you can say it to them respectfully: you can say, ‘Mom, I don’t agree with the decision you made. Will you reconsider it for these reasons?’ And that’s an appropriate way for you to appeal.”

So I think helping them to name their emotions, and helping them to know that there is a biblical, respectful, obedient way to respond to those emotions are important skills for the rest of their lives.

Helping your child open up [6:51]

Diane: Lea Ann, when children are faced with a traumatic event or just a really hard time, it’s natural for children to want to throw up their walls and close themselves off to the outside world. Have you ever had to work through that sort of a situation with your children?

Lea Ann: About every other day. Especially with teenagers. It seems like that’s their go-to, often—is just to not talk. Or when you notice they’re upset, it’s “Nothing, nothing.” And it’s never nothing. So one of the strategies that I’ve come to realize is: speaking to them face-to-face, head-on, feels confrontational to them, even to young children. And so they might not be willing to say it because they’re intimidated by the fact that their parent is coming face-to-face with them, while they’re working on a difficult problem. So angling myself, making sure that my body isn’t face-to-face with them, or even if I’m side-to-side with them, saying, “Will you take a walk with me?” or “Do you want to run some errands in the car?” so we’re side-to-side. They don’t have to look me in the eye, and they can deal with their emotions and at the same time feel a little bit safer speaking about what’s bothering them.

Diane: What are some ways that parents can offer hope to their struggling children?

Lea Ann: I think validating their emotions. You know, I have a daughter who’s working through some, some emotions right now and some difficult situations. And at first, she felt very afraid to talk to me. She told me, “I’m afraid [that] if I tell you how I really feel, that you’ll be angry or disappointed in me.” And so I challenged her to give me one try. And so she told me how she felt, and I told her, “You know what? I feel the exact same way about this situation.” And that was a huge relief to her, to know that she can feel angry, he can feel disappointed, and she can express that to her parents and not be immediately judged for it. There are times when we all have those negative emotions, and children and teens need to know that their parents are right there with them, dealing with the same emotions and trying to find ways to biblically respond to difficult situations.

Experience is the best teacher [8:55]

Diane: Lea Ann, as parents we instinctively want to protect our children from danger—and that’s a good thing. But we also know that a big part of raising resilient children is letting them experience failure—it’s how they grow. So how do you find the balance between protecting your children and giving them room to fail?

Lea Ann: We have a unique opportunity as homeschoolers to let them fail, just by simply grading their work honestly, letting them see that sometimes they get 100% and sometimes they get an F on that test, and letting them have to suffer the consequences of having that grade on their record. That can be sobering, to realize that what they do counts.

Also, in the workplace, you know, as our teens start going out of the home and doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, or establishing relationships with people outside our family, letting them build their own personal reputation is an opportunity for them to experience success and failure. You know, I had a young son who was working for a neighbor and then one night, the neighbor came over and knocked on the door and had in his hand a plant that he had, that my son had failed to water and was dying, and it looked hideous. And so I took a big step back, pushed my son forward, and let him deal with the disappointment and the talking down that he had to receive because he had failed to do his job correctly.

So I think it’s sometimes a temptation to stand in front of our children and take it for them, or to make excuses for them. But instead, letting them realize that their actions have consequences on the community around them, in their own personal relationships, that’s how they learn and grow. I would rather them make these mistakes while they’re teenagers or young adults than not learn them until they’re 40 or 50 years old.

Diane: Lea Ann, it’s been so wonderful having you on the show this week to offer insight and encouragement to homeschooling parents. Thank you for joining us. And listeners, thanks for tuning in. I’m Diane Kummer, and I’m cheering you on.

Lea Ann GarfiasPhoto of Lea Ann Garfias

Author Lea Ann Garfias helps women recognize the extraordinary impact they make with their seemingly ordinary lives. A homeschool grad and homeschooling mom of four, Lea Ann fuels her roles as author, professional violinist, choir director, and soccer mom with a whole lot of coffee.

Connect with her at lagarfias.com and facebook.com/lagarfias, where she shares the Rocking Ordinary message through Facebook Live chats.

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