We've hit a new season in parenting: unbridled honest confession of every conceived “wrong”. Dealing with this constant confessing of bad thoughts started to drain me and, make me worry a bit.
Why Children Start Confessing Bad Thoughts
Have you ever had a random thought pop into your head that wasn't expected and maybe even “bad” by your standards? A friend of mine once told me she was with her kids and as they were playfully discussing one subject a sexual thought popped into her mind about a guy walking down the street near them.
This is a godly Christian woman who is devoted to her husband and does who does not struggle with lustful thoughts. Yet this thought popped up. She knew immediately it was a distraction, a lie and a tactic of the enemy. She quickly gave the thought to God and went about her time with the children.
As adults, if we understand the three places our thoughts come from we can identify which thoughts we should hold on to and which we should let go of. The process of taking every thought captive should be a normal, natural response.
But children, have a hard time with this idea. Their brains are changing and undergoing massive reconstruction every day. Their thoughts are equivalent to their existence. Young children see their thoughts as a defining feature, “If my thoughts are bad, I am bad”.
Children often start confessing bad thoughts because they are looking for reassurance and because they are trying to connect the dots between what they are being taught and what is going on in their minds.
For example, we have been discussing how words can hurt people. How saying mean things makes people feel bad even though we can't see any boo-boos. Wyatt has started confessing bad thoughts he's having about saying, “I hate you,” or “you're a meanie head” in his mind. He's thinking these things and realizing they are not good thoughts.
I say to myself, “this is good,” and I breathe a sigh of relief that he's understanding what I'm trying to instill in him but then, the unrelenting confessions come at me like darts from a Nerf gun. To him, thinking is the same as actually saying them. He's got one part, but not the other.
We've also entered new territory with the realization that people are different. Color, size, shape, features, body parts and voices are on display to Wyatt now has he recognizes not everyone is the same. So to add to my concerns, I hear at least four or five times a day, “Mommy, she had girl parts, I thought about them,” and “Mommy, I thought about his penis.” “I thought about her girl parts.” “She kinda not nice to look at.” “He walks funny so I don't like him.”
Dear God, what is wrong with him?
That was my thought after day six of confessional diarrhea. To the first time mom with minimal exposure to young children, this can be a scary idea. The constant confessing bad thoughts, especially ones we would categorize as sexual, might lead parents to think their child is daunting and strikes at a never with every passing second of confession. When he comes to me sullen and says, “Mommy….I have something to tell you…” my flesh wants to cringe.
You got this.
“Yes, hunny, what is it?”
The Good News
I turned to some seasoned moms, and Google to read about this constant confessing bad thoughts season we're in and it turns out, it's likely a normal age-appropriate behavior. Go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief like I did……. Now that we know this is normal, how do we handle it and how do we incorporate Christ and biblical truths into such a season?
A Bit of Background
Normal fleeting thoughts sometimes get “stuck” in a child's brain. So they want to confess them as a way to ease the anxiety of having the bad thought in the first place. But this cycle continues as they confess it and it draws more attention to it focus on it even more. Like when you try to avoid cake and all you can think about is cake and everywhere you look there's more cake. Cake, cake, cake! In a child's mind thoughts come and they recognize them as bad, weird, different or not normal and then they think about what their thinking about and the anxiety is compounded.
Our job is to help them understand that they are not defined by their thoughts and ease their anxiety. Ultimately we want them to not need to confess. That may sound counterintuitive but hear me out. We want our children to tell us when they are struggling. We want them to come to us with difficult struggles so we can pray for them. But we don't want them to be dependant on tell us every fleeting thought in order to feel better about themselves. We want them to understand their identity and how to deal with thoughts on their own (in a biblical way). Confession, prayer requests, and reassurance are vital parts of living a thriving life but not for every passing bad thought.
5 Things To D When Your Child Starts Confessing Bad Thoughts
#1 – Keep Your Game Face On
Your child is looking to you for reassurance that they are not bad/weird/wrong for the thoughts coming into their minds. You want to remain calm and refrain from eye-rolling, gasps and anything that makes your child think you are uncomfortable with their confessions.
#2 – Do Not Accuse Your Child
You must resist the urge to say, “Oh, how could you think that?” or “Johnny that's a terrible thing to think.” They already know this, that's why they are coming to you. Remember, we all have random intrusive thoughts, but for your child, they are getting stuck. Thes thoughts are almost on a replay cycle and your child is looking for your guidance, not your berating.
#3 – Teach or Remind Them of the Origins of Thoughts
If you've never approached the topic of thoughts now is the time. Our thoughts come from three places: Ourself, God and Satan. Use caution though, as you don't want your child to be confused and think that Satan is talking to them which means they are bad because they hear Satan. This must be approached gently. We discuss it as Satan being a big meanie that wants us to take the bad thoughts he is handing out.
#4 – Teach Your Child to Let the Thought Go (Give it to God)
In clinical circles, struggling with intrusive thoughts is often considered obsessive-compulsive. One technique used to help children is to teach them to let the thought come and go. Our goal is to incorporate Christ into our children's lives. This is a great opportunity to teach them the biblical truth of taking every thought captive. When Satan hands them the yucky candy, they can go ahead and pass it right to God. He's got big muscles to handle the yuck.
A good illustration is to make a “thought box” and let your child “write” down thoughts and give them to God by placing them in the box. We used an old shoe box covered in white paper. I wrote some verses on it and Wyatt decorated with stickers.
#5 Pray with Them
To incorporate number four and help build the habit of prayer, praying with your children about these “bad thoughts” is an important step.
Children won't likely won't think these thoughts forever, but knowing that they can talk to God about them can be a comfort them and for you. Plus, you're building the habit of intentional prayer in all things.
Bonus #6 – Be Thankful
As hard as it is to hear the uncomfortable or the “bad” but inconsequential things keep a thankful heart. In the early years when they are confessing everything from thinking about kissing girls to squishing an ant that was one of God's creatures you are forming a bond that with nurture and prayer will last through the teen years. Your child tells you because they trust you and they feel safe with you. Don't break that trust, be thankful for it because when they are confronted with life-changing decisions (to take that drink, kiss that girl, watch that movie) you want them to still trust you and feel safe with you.
When children are confessing bad thoughts it can be a terrifying Mom experience. But with prayer, discernment, and wisdom we can help our children process these thoughts in a healthy way.