Repost: Resisting the Peril of Narcissism


Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissus was a mythological figure known for his beauty, who, it is said, looked into a pool and fell in love with his own reflection.

Drawn from this story, narcissism is the term used to describe people who are excessively self-absorbed and preoccupied with their own imagined superiority. They may come across as strong and self-assured, but when their self-satisfaction and high self-regard are not honored as they expect, they are likely to react in a surge of punishing anger, insults, or even violence. The so-called big ego turns out to be amazingly fragile. (For those interested, there is a quieter covert, or vulnerable, form of narcissism, too.)

Narcissism has been on the rise in recent years. It often is manifested by a strong sense of entitlement. “I’m special and I deserve special treatment.” “I’ll not take just any job.”

So why is this in the news in growing measure these days?

Brad Bushman of Ohio State University and others have conducted various studies to understand the cause of narcissism. My takeaway understanding is that narcissism doesn’t come, as previously thought, from lack of parental warmth but instead can be traced to parents who “overvalue” their children during the developmental stage of their lives. Children between six and eight are especially sensitive to this kind of unwise parental influence.

If during those years children are continually told they are superior, are more special than others, do things better than others and in these ways are put on a pedestal, they may internalize an unrealistic view of themselves. Other people begin not to matter.

One might assume from the findings of such studies that the condition is planted by parents who have a need to reach some personal achievement of their own vicariously through their children. They believe their child can do no wrong; their child is unusual in every respect; their child deserves special attention from kindergarten on.

The need to foster healthy self-esteem in children is an entirely different matter. Self-esteem develops when children are helped to internalize the sense that they are valuable individuals but not that they can do no wrong. As they grow up, such children will get the appropriate amount of teaching, nurture, and encouragement but equally importantly, correction, discipline, and such otherwise character-shaping treatment as needed, all within the context of warm adult parental love. It is “overvaluing” that does the damage.

Christian parents are in danger of unwittingly fostering narcissism in their children by absorbing the culture around them. Thankfully, however, they can instead take their teaching from the Scriptures and Judeo-Christian understandings of fallen human nature.

Such parents know from Scripture that children are not a possession; they are a trust from God and must be raised with that in mind. Valuable as we are to God and one another we are all flawed and that fact should be kept in sight as we raise children.

Christian parents will not therefore be surprised when they catch a child in the first lie, or see the first tantrum. Dealing with these both with love and firmness is very important.

Christian parents will affirm their children’s achievements to a degree appropriate to their ages and commensurate with the actual achievement. When a four-year-old makes his bed or a seven-year-old sets the table he or she is thanked, but not raved over as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever done. And when they do wrong, the call to account should be real.

Christian parents pray daily with their children, and in this setting the Christian view of human nature may be shared at an age-appropriate level. Children can be helped to face and accept their failures as well as their successes. The early teaching of a developing child to worship God who is majestic and holy and far above them, and to say I’m sorry when appropriate, is a first line against the development of narcissism.

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A Childless Society is Not the Answer to Today’s Terrifying Fears

One night recently a large group of women appeared on television to pledge that they will not have children. They represented a developing movement centered in Great Britain.

I have since seen their leader back on screen twice for interviews. An interviewer wanted to know what was behind this group’s drastic intention. In essence, the leader said their resolution was nothing short of an act of despair.

Their particular concern was climate change and the obvious lack of alarm on the part of the public and politicians. In their opinion, all too soon the climate crisis will see the lights of civilization fading.

Indeed, climate change in the minds of many is a grave peril. But there are also other frightening trends in our world that threaten civilization as we know it — the pervasive breakdown of marriage and family, the alarming decline of civility in society, even the threat of massive destruction from determined enemies of Western civilization.

This week I have been comparing this dark view of the future with the bright light of hope found in the prologue to the Gospel according to John (the first eighteen verses of chapter one).

What a contrast! On the one hand a dark pessimism that Western society has no future worth contributing to; on the other, the enduring good news that a Savior has come into the world to give us hope for both this world and the next. Present perils cannot diminish this hope.

I need to summarize again the illuminating and almost transporting highlights of St. John’s prologue because they so profoundly neutralize despair.

  1. We have a Messiah — a Savior! He is the “Word” referred to in verse one. His name is Jesus, and he is coeternal with the Father. That is, whenever the universe began to be he already was. In fact, he always was and always will be.
  2. He is the agent of God’s creation. All things were made by him, declares the prologue. The Apostle Paul agrees: For in him all things were created (Colossians 1:16). But, if it is his world he will not let it be destroyed even though at times it seems ravaged by man’s evil. There is hope.
  3. Jesus our Lord is a light shining upon all mankind that cannot be extinguished. That light now shines on five continents although perceived on each to a greater or lesser degree. In some places it shines amidst persecution and even bloodshed and in many places it is suppressed by governments that threaten and persecute. Nevertheless, as shown repeatedly throughout history, the light of Jesus can be resisted but it cannot be extinguished.
  4. Sadly, the world does not always recognize Jesus for who he really is — at least at the moment of introduction. Even his own people would not, as a whole, receive him. The prologue introduces this sad information prophetically at the outset.
  5. Still, those who do hear his words and believe in him, accepting him as Creator and Lord, are given the right to become children of God! This is an event as radical as a human birth but it is a second birth, deeply spiritual in nature and initiated by God.
  6. When we know Jesus, we know firsthand what God is like. The Word (named Jesus), second person of the Trinity, forever was before time. But in time he became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us. The result? We have seen in Him, firsthand, the glory of the Father. And, like Jesus, God is full of generosity toward his creatures, a generosity that is always linked to truth.

John’s prologue closes with the marvelous statement: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God, and is in close relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).

Does this holy Word take fear and anxiety out of modern life? Not fully, for we are human, limited, frail. But in God’s inviting love he gives grace for us to endure with joy the acute stresses unleashed by wickedness, peril, and loss; he reveals truth enough to keep us from falling on the rocks of unbelief, and he gives courage enough for us to speak hope into the darkness.

A childless world could do none of these things. It would only further impoverish humanity. But the Grace of the Savior taken as a gift from God given in hard times enriches us!

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Image info: Tamaki Sono (via

Revised Re-post: How a Little Boy’s Cries for Justice Were Answered and Why

Imagine two brothers four and six. Their Uncle Carl gives them a bag of candies of all shapes and sizes.

They run excitedly to their mother for help in dividing their treasure.

She empties the bag on the kitchen table. The boys watch intently. Then toward each of them she slides one portion.

Suddenly the four-year-old lets out a mighty yelp. “That’s not fair!” he cries. He’s sure the older brother has more big pieces of candy than he. The older brother contends: “I’m older than you.”

The pleasure of the moment disappears. To settle claims and counterclaims the mother repeats the process. To them, she is the arbiter of fairness, and this time, the younger brother is satisfied.

Where would a four-year-old boy get such a distinct and insistent sense of fairness? He doesn’t even read yet.

Here’s the Christian answer: We humans are made in God’s image and fairness is inherent to the nature of God. The recurrent call for fairness is common to our humanity.

Speaking formally, when we call for fairness we are calling for justice. Justice means having a thorough review of details so as to give each party in a quarrel their dues.

Isaiah writes: For the Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18,19). He is in his very nature just, and he is the source of all true justice.

Because we are made in God’s image, both the impulse to be fair and our strong expectation to be treated fairly are inborn in us. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 32:27-29)

In Old Testament times God sent prophets to his people to awaken them to their offenses. If, for example, the rich were cheating their neighbors in business deals and the poor were being impoverished at their hands, the prophets called them to repent before God and be just in their dealings.

Likewise, in New Testament times Jesus rebuked the Pharisees on this matter of fairness: You give a tenth of your spices – mint dill and cumin, he said, But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

He insisted that both their religious practices and their interpersonal behaviors be above board and just!

Children get their first lessons on justice in their childhood homes if what they count their own is respected there — whether a small toy or a special keepsake.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, knew this. Among her rules in raising her large family, she insisted that no child be allowed to take the possessions of another, be it as little as a pin, without the owner’s permission. That’s how the experience of justice is awakened.

The mother who divided candy carefully between her two boys had an instinct for the importance of what she was doing; she was modeling to them the importance of fair play.

Fair play — justice — should also be practiced in the church — whether in a local congregation or a global denomination. Consider the application of justice in the early church, as recounted in the book Acts chapter 6:

In the early days of the church the Greek-speaking widows were not getting fair treatment in the distribution of relief for the poor. The Apostles did not brush the complaint off.

Rather, they wisely set apart seven men (with Greek names) to see that relief was distributed fairly. This ensured both fairness and the perception of fairness.

Blessed is that Christian body that conducts its business with meticulous attention to justice, honesty, and transparency.

When Uncle Carl gave two little boys a bag of candy, he didn’t know this would cause a disturbance; a four year-old boy set the stage by his unexpected urgent call for a recount; and his mother seized the opportunity to teach them a basic lesson about life.

Photo credit: James Cridland (via

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Do Adults Sometimes Get Stuck in Early Childhood?

Yesterday, a 30-year-old man, large and sturdy of build, bearded and with a shock of dark hair falling to his shoulders, was featured several times on TV News sources.

On one channel, he was with his parents, on another sitting on a recliner in the basement apartment of their home, and on yet another he appeared in a courtroom to receive  a ruling from a judge.

The issue was this: his parents wanted him to move out of their basement and get his own apartment, but they couldn’t dislodge him. Earlier he had lived away from them for more than a year-and-a-half, during which time he fathered a child. He had come back home to live, having been denied custody of the child.

His parents offered him $1100 to help him relocate and settle but he refused the offer.

As a last resort, the parents were asking for help from the law. The judge, while allowing a reasonable amount of time to make arrangements, ordered him: Move out!

I hold the dynamic view of human development — that life has stages. Nature itself decrees that each normal person must move through these stages. We are newborns, then infants, toddlers, and so forth, all the way to old age.  We develop in each stage for a time, and then must develop forward to the next. No stage is a stopping place.

And when we reach adulthood, as mature sailors on the sea of life we must pull our own oars even when it would be easier to lay back and depend on someone else’s energies. Taking responsibility for oneself is required in order to have meaning and joy in adulthood.

On yesterday’s television there was no obvious evidence of animosity between parents and son. In fact, one commentator spoke of the son’s love for his mother though it was not evident in the story. But one-sided conflict did appear evident in the man’s refusal to move out at her request.

It makes me reflect on Kathleen’s and my parental involvement at varying levels with three generations numbering 21 offspring. First it was four children, then seven grandchildren and now ten great-grandchildren.

Before they can talk or walk, little ones show on their faces and by their responses their typical reactions to people and their likes and dislikes. And if observed carefully from infancy onward, it has appeared to me that those traits tend to carry over to some degree when they arrive in adulthood.

Examples: One child has a sunny disposition from the start and this remains his or her nature growing up; another is unusually shy around all but close relatives. He or she learns excellent social skills yet remains an introvert.

One child is full of self-confidence; another takes considerable encouragement to embrace new challenges. One tends to be somewhat “contrary;” another is easier to convince to go along.

Whatever their other traits, they all seem to share to one degree or another the ability to manipulate, to deceive, even that nasty impulse to punish parents when their wishes are denied.

Likewise, they all, at a minimum, have flashes of warmth and generosity toward parents. In a word, their range of responses is wide. If development by the time of their arrival at young adulthood is as hoped, their loyalty to family should be firm.

These diverse elements seen in every child are manifestations of both the image of God in them, and the damage of the Fall of mankind.

Good parenting includes helping children to recognize and express their image-of-God traits but at the same time to recognize, acknowledge and restrain their traits bequeathed by the Fall.

Noting and coaching on the latter is sometimes quite neglected or overlooked — with consequences. God’s grace, however, when acknowledged and asked for, can harness good traits and mitigate the damage of the Fall.

One might guess that the apparent narcissism manifested by the thirty-year-old bearded man might have been in evidence early in childhood and through the teen years but was not adequately confronted by community and family, and worked with. Or that narcissism may have been so resistant that all efforts made to teach him to give others in his company their dignity had failed.

As for our growing family of 21 offspring, from infancy onward we have not only wanted them to be honest, respectful, obedient, and accountable. Even more, we wanted them all to know Christ as we have known him. We pray to this end every day.

None of this simply happens. Quality of character must be trained into children, and of course they must be introduced to the Lord Jesus and reminded of his call on their life to salvation and discipleship.

Let’s hope the thirty-year-old man being interviewed on television makes the move to his own apartment uneventfully and learns even yet how to work and otherwise navigate the rapids of life while giving others their dues — all as a mature adult.

Hope springs eternal and a loving God wants all humans to move through the seasons of life and in doing so properly to love themselves, and also to love others and contribute to their wellbeing.

On the horizontal plane it would appear this young man’s first step in that breakthrough might be a proper love and respect for his parents.

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Photo credit: Martyn Fletcher (via

Boys Must Become Good Men

Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been in the news for several weeks. It appears that he used his powerful position in the entertainment industry to abuse in unspeakable ways women striving to rise to stardom.

Close associates of Weinstein claim complete ignorance of his offenses, but a large number of women believe his abuse was widely known by them but was protected, not rebuked.

Similar scandals have erupted at Amazon, Fidelity, and NBC News, but we don’t have final information on any of these.

As the stories unfold, however, we are likely to hear counselors explain rightly that the evil conduct of these men is driven not by sexual desire but by an excessive need to dominate women in cruel and humiliating ways.

If charged, these men are likely to experience long days, even months, in court leading in some cases to jail time or other punishments.

For the offended, it will take years to achieve justice and some measure of healing. The expertise not only of lawyers, but also psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation centers, therapy groups, ministers, priests, and rabbis will be called upon. Such wounds go deep.

It seems to me that parallel to all this two questions deserve the attention of large numbers of citizens: First, when do grown men take their first steps towards character-grounded respect for womanhood? Second, What are the resources Judeo-Christian understanding provides?

First, the training for respectful conduct toward women begins unconsciously with what boys learn in early childhood — particularly what they learn from how their dad treats their mother.

But the boys’ learning is cumulative over time from a great variety of sources such as: the strength of family cohesion, what goes on at the playground; the influence of a kindergarten teacher; what their friends laugh at; what they learn in Sunday School; the friendships they develop: print media; endless television; and pornography. The influences are numerous.

Second, the primary Christian resource is the Bible and the primary classroom is the home. Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything that exists.

It is God’s world, and he is everywhere present and all-knowing. Little boys can grasp early that he sees our every thought and action. Thus, conscience is reinforced and respect for others engendered.

The recent news has been dark, and impresses upon us that we have an oncoming generation of little boys to train to show respect across gender lines.

The oft-repeated saying, Boys will be boys usually used to excuse some mischief — needs to be changed to Boys will be men — fine men — because that’s where we should be leading them.


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Photo credit: Frank Boston (via

In Your Opinion, Was Buckie Treated Properly?

Angry childWhen Kathleen taught preschool she started each new group of children with a little exercise. Addressing one of them, she would say, “Betty, please pick up this piece of paper.” When Betty complied, Kathleen would lead the children in a round of applause saying in a musical voice, “Oh, Betty obeyed me!”

Soon afterwards she might say, “George, would you mind closing the door?” George would respond and the class would be led in another round of applause. This is how she taught the meaning of the word obedience.

One day she said with mild excitement, “Okay, everybody please stand up.” Four-year-old Buckie refused. She asked him three times to be sure he understood his own response. Each time, his response was, “No, I won’t.”

Recognizing this as a challenge, Kathleen picked him and his chair up together and moved them gently to the nearby wall. She explained, “Everyone in my class must obey me. If you can’t obey me then you can’t share in what the rest of the class is doing.”

Buckie’s face clouded. Even for a four-year-old isolation from the group can be unpleasant.

Needless to say Buckie soon relented and joined the class. He never balked at Kathleen’s instructions after that day. Children are pliable and learn quickly what does and doesn’t work.

Resistance to authority is an inborn trait and must be addressed, brought to consciousness, and appropriately restrained in the early years of life. Teaching a child to obey is actually the child’s first step toward freedom.

A significant number today might see Buckie’s treatment as controversial. “A little child should be allowed to assert himself,” some may say. Or “leave him alone and he will figure it out for himself.” Or even, “Humor him a bit.”

Christian parents, however, should see their children with Christian realism. Early in life every human being is prone to resist authority and we all must learn, as Buckie was learning, to obey the requests of parents and teachers and eventually managers, bosses and civic officers.

We take our tips on these things from the Scriptures. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Parents are to be the teachers, insisting on obedience.

Recall that, to raise the child, Jesus, God chose devout parents, who as pious Jews followed the requirements of the law toward him (Luke 2:39). “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). From such parenting, we are told that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

A recent rash of teenagers physical attacks on teachers in the classroom and vulgar hate songs against law officers in the streets should alert us that children left to grow up however they please makes for incivility and even violence as a way of life.

Picking a child up, chair and all, and isolating him for a brief moment is not a bad way to tell him in the earliest years that legitimate authority must be obeyed. The four-year-old learns early what is true throughout life: that we all face boundaries and comply with rules and we must be taught the art early.

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Photo credit: Mith Huang (via

The Father’s Day Drama at the Kitchen Door

2901132111_0c8127ab04_mWhile pastoring in Western Canada in the second half of the 1950s I often went out in the afternoon to visit shut-ins, hospital patients, or newcomers to our growing church.

In 1956 our children were ages eight, five, three and one. Kathleen was home with the two younger children during the day and as the older two arrived home from school mid-afternoon she was there to receive them.

When my afternoon calls were coming to an end, and I was ready to start for home, I would use the nearest phone to tell Kathleen my approximate time of arrival.

For that arrival she had a ritual she practiced with the children. She would turn from the phone and say to them with excitement, “Daddy’s coming home! Daddy’s coming home!” The children would go into a dance of joy and be at the door to greet me when they heard the car in the driveway. Being treated with such enthusiasm was a father’s joy.

This tale is really a very thin slice of our family life. It may scarcely seem worth recalling, but in retrospect, with two of those four children now grandparents whose children are raising their own children. I get pleasure from reliving such a thin slice of life.

It seems to me that Kathleen’s ritual nourished in the minds of our young children respect and appreciation for their father. After all, children should get their first prompts on how they should feel about one parent from the other parent.

I know that life is much more complicated now than during the 1950s. For one thing mother may not be at home, and to get there she may have to leave from work and go first to the daycare to pick up the youngest child. And she may have to carry out this errand as a single parent.

Or a father may not have the luxury of coming home every day or at the same time every day. And when they do, both parents may arrive home frazzled and under pressure to meet the basic needs of a hungry child or two. What parent in such circumstances has time for the niceties?

But I recall that back then in the 1950s we too had our frazzled moments. Four young children are a handful in any home. In our case, the youngest had special needs that demanded great and constant attention.

Moreover, we lived next door to the church building and at times the parsonage could seem like an extension of the church. As well, both of us were greatly involved in the activities of church life. I worked many evening and weekend hours at pastoral tasks; my wife sang in the choir, taught Sunday School and often served meals to visiting speakers or other guests.

So Kathleen carried out this ritual greeting for my homecoming because it was too important to her to neglect. She and I both now think there was something in it that strengthened parent-child bonds on into adulthood, however slight the exercise might seem in the telling.

The memory of that kitchen door greeting comes to mind because Father’s Day cards are being selected in the stores and great numbers of wives and children are wondering what sort of gift to buy for father as June 19 approaches. That search is all to the good. A well-chosen card or a little gift can speak volumes, too.

But Father’s Day is a good time to review the rituals we incorporate intentionally into family life to enrich relationships, quell storms, and reinforce with the vitamins of caring whatever family laws we have.

For the little ones, a ritual like the drama my wife enacted at the door made father’s home-coming both surprising and precious. Even such a simple spontaneous exercise can strengthen bonds between parents and growing children.

So, happy Father’s Day to all fathers who read this. If your children are young, may they greet you not only on Father’s Day but often at the door with a ritual family dance of joy! But, whatever the children’s age, may this day renew your precious family connections.

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Photo credit: Ryan McCullah (via

Helping Children to Listen to Their Conscience

481064169_03dc6507e6_mMy memory for this one winds back 58 years. The place was a parsonage in New Westminster, British Columbia.

Bobby, our first grader, and Donnie, our third grader, were settled in bed for the night. I went upstairs to their bedroom, as I often did when at home, and sat down on the braided rug between their beds for a few minutes before lights out.

It was a good time for reflection, and sometimes significant issues bubbled to the surface before sleep came.

How did the day go? I asked. Anything special happen for either of you? I then prayed with them and went downstairs, stopping in the kitchen for a glass of water. The house was quiet.

Breaking the stillness, I heard footsteps descending the stairs. Around the corner into the kitchen came Donnie. He had something he wanted to tell me.

“Remember the money you asked the people to give to the missionaries last Sunday?” he asked his pastor father. “Yes,” I said. “Well,” he explained, “I went to some neighbors and asked for money for the missionaries but I really was going to keep it for the bike I want.”

“Did you get any money?” I asked. He said Mrs. Bird had given him a quarter.

“Do you want me to go with you to take that money back and say you’re sorry?” I continued. He thought he could do it alone. With that he turned and I heard the sound of his bare feet mounting the stairs.

Almost immediately I again heard footsteps descending. Around the corner into the kitchen came Bobby. He too had something he wanted to tell me.

Apparently his first grade teacher had placed some attractive packets of blank paper for classroom use on a table near the classroom door. Upon leaving school in the afternoon Bobby had picked up two packets and brought them home.

“Do you still have them?” I asked. “And are they unopened?” To both questions the answer was yes.

I remember thinking to myself: it’s a pretty stiff assignment for a first grader to go on his own to his teacher and face his wrongdoing. So I asked if he would like me to go to the teacher with him. He replied that he could do it by himself.

I waited a couple of days and then phoned Mrs. Bird. She confirmed that Donnie had been to see her and had returned the quarter with an apology. I also phoned the teacher and learned that Bobby had carried out his assignment by returning the two packets and saying he was sorry.

A father’s interest in the daily experiences of two boys had moved each to own an otherwise concealed wrongdoing. Two developing consciences had been quickened. The offenses were never spoken of again during their childhood.

I recognize that one such encounter will not bring about the full ordering of a child’s conscience. There must be many prompts, given by at least one external authority on that child’s pathway, preferably a parent. This will encourage honesty and give positive stimulation to the child’s developing moral signals.

As well, there must also be many occasions when such authorities in a child’s life help the child to say “I’m sorry,” or, make amends. Saying I’m sorry is a factor in teaching growing children to know right from wrong, and to understand the principle of “consequences”.

Blessed is the growing child who has at least one parent to lead the way — a parent with a healthy conscience, warm but firm relationships with the child, and the will to persevere when the issues are clear.

Parents must be careful not to laugh at a developing child’s little deceptions or brush them off as cute. They are stuff to be directed toward character development.

Even the most careful cultivation of a clear sense of right and wrong in a child cannot promise with certainty to bring the right long term results. God has made us all with wills that can resist goodness. Yet the odds are very high that faithfulness in training will have its positive effect in character formation.

It’s a joy to us that, “Donnie”, now “Don”, is today a father, a grandfather, and a churchman. As an editor he has dedicated the whole of his vocational life to making words speak clearly and he is the owner of Bastian Publishing Services in Toronto.

To God be the glory!

And it is an equal joy that “Bobby”, now “Bob,” is an active Christian, a husband, parent, and laryngologist who owns and practices in the Bastian Voice Institute in Downers Grove, Illinois.

To God Be the Glory!

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Photo credit: Mandy Frediani (via

What to do With a Screaming Child in a Busy Diner

On the news this morning, tucked between reports of world-shaking events both at home and abroad, a simple human interest story made it onto TV screens all across the country.

It was about a two-and-a-half year-old child’s behavior in a busy diner. To the dismay of all patrons, this little girl screamed incessantly for 40 minutes, without effective intervention from her parents.

The screaming, the reporter said, continued until the overwrought owner of the diner pounded her fists on the counter and shrieked, “This has got to stop.” The two-year-old went quiet.

The TV crew, who must have been nearby as this took place, made a feature story by interviewing the patrons one-by-one. Several gave forthright opinions about parenting strategies for such a situation.

One said “Ask the family to leave.” Another said: “Correct the parents, not the child;” another offered: “The manager should have stayed out of it.” No one advised, “Let the child scream.”

This morning’s television newscast reminded me of a lovely dinner my wife and I were a part of several years ago with young parents and their two children, ages four, and two-and-a-half. The setting was a scenic restaurant beside a river.

The younger child, a little girl, was at the same time delightful, precocious with language, and strong-willed, and she had a knack for trying to take command of a situation when its public setting put her parents in an awkward position. But they had figured out a strategy for managing such moments that we were able to witness.

Our host had made reservations by telephone for a table for six but had not said that two of the six would be children. They knew this information would have netted them a table out of sight of the river.

We arrived by car and walked a distance to the restaurant. The father, carrying the little girl in his arms, talked softly to her. He said quietly, “If you don’t do what Daddy says or if you make any fuss in here, I will carry you outside”. This was apparently not the first time he had said those words. He was repeating them quietly now as we walked toward the entrance.

We were hardly seated before the challenge began. My wife and I noticed that at the first contest of wills, long before anyone around us could possibly be disturbed, her father quietly picked the child up and headed for the door.

He told us later that his strategy, as she struggled and cried out of earshot of the diners, was to speak lovingly but firmly to her. When she quieted down, he would ask: “Are you ready to go back in?” To her nod he would say, “Okay, but what will happen if you don’t do what Daddy says? “Out,” she would reply.

He told us that this approach had allowed them to go out on occasion for more than fast food, and they were very careful that their children did not spoil anyone else’s evening.

After a while the two reentered, the little girl’s cheeks wet with tears. There were no further challenges at that meal. We enjoyed a quiet repast together, and it turned out to be a happy time, even for the little girl.

As we were leaving, patrons eating nearby commended our host and hostess for their well-behaved children. Our hosts told us later that on other such occasions, diners had said things like “How on earth do you do that?” Or, “When you arrived, we thought that our meal would be ruined!”

So, what should parents do with a screaming child in a busy restaurant?

Here’s how I see it. You can’t reason with a two-and-a half-year-old child in the midst of such an emotional storm. The child will have the high ground. But a warning in advance that a certain behavior is sure to bring a certain consequence and then a calm but certain carry-through makes for quick learning, even if the treatment has to be repeated several more times as the weeks go by.

Back to the performance in the diner featured on television: a couple of calm trips outside with the child in the father’s arms taken within seconds of the start or restart of the screaming could have worked wonders – for parents, for child, for neglected older brother, and for diner patrons.

Both while watching this incident and afterwards at home, we felt for the parents. And, what a waste of a wonderful teaching moment for the child in the diner. The message to her out of the event should have been that her parents loved her and for that reason couldn’t allow her even at that age to misbehave so as to intrude on other people.

Still, in our culture, there is no clear agreement on this matter. Opinions range from extreme permissiveness and lack of consideration for others in public settings to over-exacting sternness.

But, this much is clear to me at nearly 90 years of age: Parents who set loving boundaries, and children who have been taught to recognize them – even in a crowded diner – raise happier children who live in happier families.

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Raising Wholesome Children

tumblr_mcgll0TL1N1rt0kevo1_1280(Not necessarily brilliant, handsome, or talented, and certainly not perfect, but wholesome.)

In 1950 the Gallup organization gave a questionnaire to a large sampling of high school seniors. To the question: “Are you a very important person?” 12 percent said yes.

In 2005 Gallup administered the same question to another large sampling of high school seniors: 80 percent said yes.

The large increase in percentage may seem remarkable to some. Others will quickly relate the upsurge to the great increase in narcissism in our culture.

Remember Narcissus? He was the handsome young man of Greek mythology who gazed at the reflection of his image in a pool and fell in love with himself.

Narcissists are self-absorbed. They betray a sense of grandiosity and self-importance. They have a need for praise, and often show an explosive anger when their fragile sense of self-importance is in any way met with reserve or disbelief.

(Anyone who wants to know more will find a great deal of information by googling not only “narcissism,” but also terms such as “narcissistic injury,” and “narcissistic supply.”)

My understanding is that a majority of teenagers show narcissistic traits (as our generations before them did). But for most, the wear and tear of fighting their way into adulthood rubs away these traits or reduces them greatly.

Also, people of any age may have narcissistic moments or blind spots, but only a small percentage reach adulthood with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Some experts suggest one percent.

What resources can Christian parents draw upon to assure that their children grow up with a wholesome sense of self-respect and at the same time a proper interest in and respect for others?

Perhaps a key insight is given us by Jesus when he said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is apparently a proper sense of self-love — perhaps called self esteem. So parents should be concerned that children develop appropriate self-esteem but also neighbor-love. To encourage the development of a healthy sense of both, what practices should parents attempt to follow?

To begin with, we must recognize that children are a gift from God and that they bear God’s image. Therefore they are to be treated with respect even when we are correcting them. Sometimes we need to sit down and prayerfully review our child’s value to God so as to check and amend our own vexation over their slips.

At the same time, Christians believe their children (and they too) are members of a fallen race. So early in their lives they will show a “bent to evil” and this will manifest itself early and require parental alertness as well as readiness to instruct, restrain, and discipline.

Parents will be alert and respond in a correcting, teaching way, for example, to their child’s first intentional untruth, the first conscious disobedience, and the first unkindness to others or selfishness.

Parents will want to provide a home where there is lots of warmth, love, and laughter but never lose sight of the fact that moral instruction and Gospel claims are serious tasks.

The tendency to romanticize human nature, strong as it is in our culture, may cloud the minds of Christian parents, making them overlook or see as cute or charming the sinful conduct in the developing child. This laxity could easily plant early seeds for narcissism.

Countering the tendency for our children to be narcissistic calls for a 24/7 alertness so that we can show appropriate but not overblown approval when growing children do what’s right, and appropriate and pointed correction when selfishness creates trouble.

By these means parents help children to form a realistic sense of themselves — that they bear God’s image and have gracious gifts from Him, and at the same time along with all of humankind, they have a sin nature.

At the same time, the deepest remedy for curbing narcissistic tendencies is the embrace of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That must mean true repentance — a turning away from sin; and faith — a deep turning to Jesus Christ, declaring him Lord and Savior.

Nothing short of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ can begin life’s transformation at the center.

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Image credit: John William Waterhouse