Kevin Leman: There’s not a kid today going to school, especially from the fourth or fifth grade up, who’s thinking to him or herself, “I hope today isn’t my day, my day to be singled out, laughed at, mocked out, whatever.”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Popular author, radio and TV guest and psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman is back with us today on Focus on the Family, sharing trusted advice to help your child navigate the hurts and disappointments and fears that they experience. I’m John Fuller, and we have a studio audience with us here. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: Hey, studio audience, say hi.
Jim: It’s good to have you here. Dr. Kevin Leman, great to have you back for the discussion. Uh, man, we hit it last time. We, uh, talked about the fears kids have. If you missed the discussion last time, get the CD or the download. Get the app – it’s free – for your smartphone. That works, too. Today, I want to dive in a little deeper into the mind of a child who’s hurting. I think this is something that’s an epidemic within schools – this idea of depression and loneliness and where kids are at today. Dr. Leman has a wonderful book titled, When Your Kid Is Hurting. And I can’t wait to hear more from Dr. Leman. Welcome back.
Kevin: Hey, it is so good to be here. As I’ve said many times…
…I’m among friends. And, uh…
John: You are.
Jim: You are.
Kevin: …There’s nothing like being around friends and trying to help families negotiate the tough waters of life.
Jim: Now, let me say part of you – you came up pretty tough. You talk about your testimony. You didn’t have a great GPA. You were the guy that was never gonna amount to anything.
Kevin: That was kind of you.
Jim: That was kind of me. But you are a standard of hope for so many parents that have difficult children. They’re going, “Hey, if Dr. Leman can do it, so can you.”
Kevin: Well, there’s truth in that. You know, we started these schools. And I wish my high school teachers, in particular, were alive to see Leman Academy of Excellence. That must be a distant relative. That certainly couldn’t have been Kevin.
Jim: They may be wiping their brow as…
Jim: …they say that. “Wow, that Kevin Leman actually got somewhere.”
Kevin: My guidance counselor told me he couldn’t get me in reform school.
Jim: That’s a bad starting position.
Kevin: Yeah, it was.
Jim: But you did it. And God’s grace and His wisdom…
Kevin: God’s grace – I had a mother who prayed for me every day. And…
Jim: Got to love moms who pray.
Kevin: …We talk about hurting kids, and I guess I’m saying I guess everybody knows you pray for your kids.
Kevin: But you have to cover your kids in prayer. And your kids are different. Okay, I have five of them. They all go different paths. King Solomon says, “And He will direct your paths.” Notice it’s plural. And so, you know, prayer is just part of – of what it takes to be a good parent today.
Kevin: And there’s parents who say, “Hey Leman, you have no idea. I’m wearing out the carpet and my knees, but I don’t see progress with my kid.” Well, hopefully you’ll live to see it. You know, you plant the seeds, and you let God’s Holy Spirit work in kids’ lives, and we get some surprises along life’s way.
Jim: Yeah, that’s so true. I think one of the great things about your story is you experienced some very low points and you felt rejection, and you felt pain and hurt. Kids can go one of two ways – they get hard about that, and then they start acting out, or that sensitivity becomes core to who they are, and they have great empathy. You seem to be that adult, who grew up in that way. Is that a fair kind of view of it? I mean, what drew you into psychology as a Christian and as a…?
Kevin: Well, I had a sister, who was perfect, a brother, who was near perfect, and I figured those were the stars. I couldn’t get in college, got thrown out of Cub Scouts. My mother took me to JOY club. I hated that sucker. That was a bad one…
Jim: You hated JOY club?
Jim: That says it all right there.
Kevin: Jesus, others and you – I remember that, but I hated it. Flannel graphs – can you imagine flannel graphs…
Kevin: …How exciting that was? Oh my goodness…
Kevin: But it’s interesting because all the things my mother poured into me as a kid, I remember them as an adult today.
Kevin: Isn’t that interesting?
Kevin: So there’s encouragement for parents.
Jim: Well, you loved your mom. That’s evident.
Kevin: And you – and you do the right thing. And yeah, so a lot of people wrote me off. But, see, it was a teacher who pulled me aside and said, “Kevin, do you think you could ever use those skills you have for something positive in life?” Well, I’m not making this up – that’s the first time, the only time a teacher ever said to me…
Kevin: …that I had skills. And she said, “I’ve seen you take over a class. Do you think you could ever use those things for something positive?” And when I’m speaking in front of 10,000 people, I think of old Eleanor Wilson, God rest her soul, who said, “Kevin, do you think you could use those skills?”
Jim: Look at the power of that comment. You remember it like it was yesterday.
Kevin: Oh, I do. It brings tears to my eyes. That’s what I call vitamin E encouragement. Parent, do you realize what you have in your back pocket…
Kevin: …With just the words you choose to use with your kids? Look at your kids. They’re all different.
Jim: What about that parent – and I want to speak to that parent that is trying to serve the Lord, sees the world in black and white ways – righteousness and – and sin. And I get all that. And certainly, as a believer, I understand that. But speak to that parent that is relentless with the rules and doesn’t understand the heart of a child, that they’re in a tough spot, that encouragement goes a long way for that little boy or that little girl.
Kevin: Well, I stole it from Josh McDowell, my friend. He said, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” And by the way, I don’t know who Josh stole it from but…
Jim: And we repeat that often here.
Kevin: But it is so good, because it’s just not rules. The Pharisees had the rules but didn’t have the relationship. You know, King Solomon uses the word “heart” three times in Proverbs 3:1-6. And it’s easy to have it in your head. I tell businessmen, CEOs, when I go and speak to YPO groups, “You see yourself as a visionary, Mr. CEO. Well, let me tell you something – you can be successful, with a vision that comes from your head. But you really want to be successful? Have it come from your heart and your head. Now you’ll be successful.” So, you have to speak to the heart. And kids today – I think we cripple kids by doing far too many things for them, by snowplowing the roads of life for them, by not letting them face the realities of the peer group. We don’t give them the psychological muscles they need that when they leave our home they can face the realities. We make excuses for kids at every turn. It’s crazy what we do.
Kevin: You wanted to talk about depression. Do you realize how we drug kids today, early and often? It’s crazy. I’m a guy that – I don’t like to take any kind of medication. I avoid it as best I can.
Jim: But we need to recognize, in some children, there are issues going on. I want to make sure we’re fair…
Jim: …in that regard.
Kevin: Oh, right. No, here’s the question – are they depressing, or are they depressed? In other words, what I’m saying is there are kids who will work you.
Jim: That’s true.
Kevin: They’ll play you like a violin. And my sweet mother, you’ve – you’ve heard how important she was in my – she was a registered nurse. And I had aversion for school. And I found ways of – I would just give the expression like I didn’t feel good at breakfast and – on her. “What’s wrong, Honey? Anything wrong?” “No, no, Mom, I just got a little pain.” She’d always ask me, “Is it high or low in my stomach?” To this day, I don’t know why she asked me that question. And sometimes I’d say high, somedays I’d say low, just to change it up. And so, “Well, Honey, are you not feeling well?” “Mom, no, I really don’t feel that well, Mom.” “Well, maybe you ought to stay home from school today.” “Now – yeah, Ma, now you’re talking.”
“Maybe I oughta stay home from school today.” As soon as she went out the door – because I had a working mom – she was a director of a convalescent home for children – I went fishing. I took my fishing pole, and I was gone, across the street and down to the creek. But I’m just telling you, kids are capable of working their parents.
John: That kind of shows, just to give the other side of what you were saying about oppositional defiant disorder, that kind of shows the flip-side of that, which is kids – there are kids who act out, and sometimes it’s not the parent’s fault.
John: So give – speak to that parent who is throwing their hands up saying, “Wait a minute…”
Kevin: Okay. You can read…
John: “…It’s not all on me.”
Kevin: You’ve got a kid who has some real physiological, biological built-in problems; you can read every Kevin Leman book you can find, okay? And you can employ all those principles. And I’m here to tell you – and I’m the author those 61 books – you’ll find some success. And the best thing I’ll tell people is this: don’t let the diagnosis, whatever it is, be the excuse for antisocial behavior, for disrespect, for lie-telling, anything. So, with that in mind, you come around the kids, and you try to give that son or daughter the best training that’s available today – we have great training. Name a malady – there’s people out there, there’s support groups, there’s professionals who work with people to bring them along. Because, the fear is – of a parent is, how is this kid gonna make it on their own?
Kevin: And then, you’ve got parents who are talking about putting their kids in group homes. I mean, if you want to list the maladies, just go to Merck Manual and have at it. They’re all there. You can read about them. But I’m just saying, as a parent, your heart goes out to this kid. You want to help this kid become everything that kid can be.
Kevin: And do you do it by making excuses for them, or do you do it by holding them accountable? And so it’s – like I say, I said yesterday that writing this book was a challenge. I think it’s the toughest book I ever took on, because it’s hard to get your arms around everything, because it has so much to do with the words you choose to use with your kids. And parents, you need to understand this: kids do not gravitate to people where they feel uncomfortable. And I would ask you, how comfortable is your home? Is it that safety net? Is it that safe harbor for your kid?
Jim: Kevin, sometimes, though, you’re – I’m hearing you say it needs to be comfortable, it needs to be a place of encouragement, and other times I’m hearing you say your kids shouldn’t be comfortable. So balance those out for me.
Kevin: It’s the balance beam. It’s the vitamin E, encouragement, okay? Thank you, St. Paul – and then it’s vitamin N, which is no…
Kevin: …That we have limits and responsibilities. And that is what I call the balance beam of life.
Jim: And it’s not a specific dot on a continuum. This is just the art of parenting.
Kevin: It is. There is an art form to it. You know, kids hate questions.
Jim: Did you like dinner?
Kevin: No, but they hate questions. You know, we could learn something. I wrote a book called, Have a New Husband by Friday, which I would tell you was probably one of the most fun books I ever did because I got a chance to tell women that they’re clueless in understanding their husbands. And it felt so good just to say those words: “Ladies, you’re clueless.” Because they are the Energizer Bunnies of communication. They use three and a half times the number of words we do. But ladies, you have to understand, your son has the same positioning as your husband. He hates questions.
Jim: Some women just screamed, “Nooo!”
Kevin: Women love questions. They have inquiring minds. They want to know, you know? Men hate questions. They have – they hate the “why” word. A kid comes home from school. “How was your day today, honey?” “Fine.” “What’d you do in school today?” “Nothing.” You know, I mean, please, don’t do that.
So, if you want your kid to talk to you, you have to change the way you talk to a kid. Say to your kid, “Honey, could I ask your opinion about something?” Your kid’ll talk your ear off.
Kevin: Late, breaking news – say it to a husband – “Honey, I’d like your opinion about something. Honey, can I tap into that logical ‘A comes before B’ mind of yours? I have a problem, and I think you can help me with it.” He’ll jump in with both feet. That’s music to a man’s ears. So take some tips from your own marriage, apply it to these kids. These kids are not gonna engage if they don’t feel comfortable with you.
Jim: So true. Kevin you mentioned seven realities kids need to face. Let’s hit those, just quickly. We’ll tap into a couple. But you’ve already touched on them. The first is bad things happen, even to good people.
Kevin: They do. And it’s unfortunate that your kid comes home and tells you about these kids who were cheating in class, and they all got good grades, and he got a C-plus. And now you got a discussion on your hands about honesty, the right thing to do. How do you handle that situation? Do you want to be the nark in fifth grade? What’s the consequences for that one?
Jim: Meaning the tattletale.
Kevin: The tattletale.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, there’s all kinds of opportunities for us to be teachers. And what I’m telling parents across the world: there’ll never be a better teacher…
Kevin: …than you.
Jim: That’s it.
Kevin: And they’re watching you. And they watch how you talk to other people, and they watch how you talk to each other, and they certainly know how you talk to them.
Jim: And it might be good – we’ll post that with your permission. I mean, I’ll just read ‘em quickly – the bad things happen even to good people, life isn’t always fair, don’t encourage a victim mentality. Third, you have to live with the hand you’re dealt with. These are good life lessons to make your children resilient. Four, you aren’t the only person on the planet – there’s a good one. Five, facing hardships together is better than trying to go solo – two are stronger than one. And six, B doesn’t happen before A – you touched on that one. Seven, your attitude does make all the difference in whether you win or lose in life. Let’s touch on that one. Then we’ll move on. What are you driving at there about attitude, win or lose? You kind of hitting that with the cheating aspect, but are you really saying it’s okay to lose?
Kevin: Yes. The Christian home ought to be a place where kids learn to fail. Can you name a better place for a kid to learn to fail than in the Christian home?
Jim: Why is it sometimes the least likely place that kids can fail?
Kevin: Because, we’re too rule-oriented. We know exactly what the kids ought to be like. We…
Jim: Before they know it.
Kevin: We project our unfulfilled dreams and wishes on our children, particularly our firstborn child. They’re lab rat of the family. But let me just contrast for you the enabler parent. Now listen to this, here’s a small list: overprotects the child, speaks for the child, reacts to emotional outbursts, tries to fix things, makes excuses for the child’s behavior, does what the child should do for themselves. Well there’s the enabler. Now the flip side – the helpful – is authentic, honest about the truth, listens and doesn’t judge, is compassionate, affirming, supportive, responds rather than reacts – there’s a huge one.
Jim: Give that for illustration purposes, because some parents may not even know which category they fall into.
Kevin: Well the responder – the respond-react thing is just powerful. A kid says – he announces – kids announce things – 15-year-old says, “I’m going to a rock concert in Denver,” you know.
Jim: “And you can’t stop me.”
And you live in Colorado Springs. You’re thinking about driving up I-25 in that traffic with another 16-year-old kid. Your visceral comment is what? “Hey, we’re not sending you to some rock concert and listen to you some of the wackos up there in Denver and using our hard-earned money.” Yeah, you know, you say it one form or another, but you’re giving them a big vitamin N – you’re giving them a no.
Jim: It seems reasonable to me.
John: Yeah. What’s the problem?
Kevin: Well (unintelligible).
Kevin: Hey, heads are shaking across Canada and the U.S. as you just said those words.
Kevin: “Hey, that Daly guy – hey, Leman, listen to Daly. He’s got the right attitude.” Well, let me just give you a little flip on that.
Kevin: “Wow, you want to drive all the way to Denver and spend how much money? Wow, that group must be really important to you. Hey, um, can you download some of their music? I’d love to hear it.” Now, am I telling you to let the 16-year-old kid go on I-25 for 62 miles to hear this? No, that’s not what I’m telling you. I’m saying hear your kid out, listen to ‘em. You need to have relationships with your kids. And just shutting kids down – “Hey, I’m the boss” – and this goes back to the difference between being authoritarian and being in authority. And here’s the kicker, okay? Is God, the one we praise and worship daily, is God an authoritarian? There’s our model for parenthood. Does He grab Jim Daly by the scruff of the neck and rub his little nose in it and remind him of the sins in his life?
Jim: …He’s the authority.
Kevin: He’s the supreme authority. His Scripture says, “Every knee shall bow.” But most parents, Christian parents, they love rules. I mean, they’re the Pharisees of the modern day. And I’m just saying there’s this wonderful balance beam. And if you underscore the fact that your child is not the center of the universe, okay – if he is, how does he ever have a faith in Jesus Christ…
Kevin: …if he sees himself there?
Jim: I agree. But let me play that out for you a little bit further, because I want the parents to – to have the tools and be equipped to manage this. So let’s take your rock…
Kevin: Play it out.
Jim: Let’s play the rock concert thing a little further.
Jim: So you listen to it, and you’re going – internally, in your mind you’re going, “This is horrific. This is not good.” And your kid is – you’re asking questions. Now, why would you like this kind of music? Tell me again why this is important to you. You’re getting to the point where the – the teenager still wants to go.
Kevin: Okay, but I’m not…
Jim: So what…
Kevin: …asking him a question.
Kevin: I’m gonna take him back to opinion: “Honey, I want your opinion on something.”
Kevin: “Just give me some insight into why that band is so attractive.”
Jim: And they say, “Oh, I like the beat. I really don’t listen to the words, I just like the rhythm. And my friends and I have listened to it for a long time, so we’re really planning to go. I hope that’s okay, Dad.”
Kevin: Yeah. And, you know, that was true of me in a song that was released way back in 1963…
Kevin: …Called “Oh, What A Night.” And I…
And I never listened to the words.
Kevin: I didn’t even know…
Jim: I’m just saying…
Kevin: …It was about…
Jim: …These are things…
Kevin: It was about a night that young man had with a prostitute.
Kevin: It had great – it was a great beat. We danced to it as kids.
Jim: Right out of Proverbs, I guess.
Kevin: Yeah, right out of Proverbs.
Jim: But, you know, the point is if they continue to want to do that, and you – what do you do as the parent?
Jim: That’s the question.
Kevin: “…But this is what you have to understand – as a parent – and surely you understand we do have authority, and we have authority over you. And you’re not always gonna like decisions that we make. But I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna talk to your mom about it. She ought to be in this conversation. I’d like to play that for her. Could I get back to you tomorrow, and I’ll give you a definitive answer?” Come tomorrow: “Honey, we’ve thought about it, we’ve talked about it, and you’re not gonna like the answer, but the answer is no.” Now, you know what? There’s some kids who are relieved that you just said no, and that’s what you have to understand as a parent. Because in the peer group, that kid can go back and say, “My mom won’t let me go. My dad won’t let me go.” Don’t be afraid to be the fall guy. Give your child an excuse. But you are the captain or co-captain of the ship, and you’re gonna have to make tough calls.
Kevin: And the really great calls you make for your kids aren’t easy ones. They’re tough ones.
Jim: Right, and it’s okay to do that.
Kevin: It’s okay.
Jim: Just do it respectfully.
Kevin: It’s called discipline.
Kevin: But you hear them out – tremendous difference. Tell me more about it. You’re a married man. Have you ever said stupid things to Jean?
Jim: Never once. Never once.
Kevin: You sinner.
Jim: Wait a second, I have to pray.
John: I haven’t confessed…
Jim: Lord, forgive me.
John: …in a few hours.
Kevin: But you know what? I always tell women when your husband says something really stupid, don’t – you know, he’s a man. Don’t jump all over him. Just say, “Wow, wow.” Look at him.
Jim: But there’s a reason grace is from God…
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: And that’s for sure. Listen, Kevin…
Jim: …I do want to – with all the – the things you’re doing in education with your charter schools…
Jim: And here in Colorado Springs, we’ve had a number of teen suicides, et cetera. And it seems to be a pandemic, when it comes to the loneliness – all the things that we’ve talked about the last two days. Speak to that issue and how we, as parents, need to dial in with our kids hearts.
Kevin: Just for fun, let me ask you both a question. What do you think my answer will be – this is sort of fun – flipping the tables here.
Kevin: What do you think my answer will be for the reason for so many suicides? It’s gone up about 170 percent in just the past…
Jim: Think of that.
Kevin: …Year – yeah. Uh, why? What do you suppose Kevin Leman’s gonna tell you? I’m gonna give you one word, so that’ll be a clue.
Jim: It’s – well, okay. One word. John, you go first.
…I’ll guess broadly and say family.
Jim: I’d say maybe boundary.
Kevin: Okay. The word I’m thinking of – you’re not far off at all – is authority.
Kevin: I think authority anchors the home, not authoritarianism, not “you’re going to do what I tell you to do as long as you live under this roof…”
Jim: But knowing there are truths.
Kevin: …And not permissiveness, because permissiveness plants the seeds of rebellion in a kid’s life. Authoritarianism does the same thing. And again, I take you back to this – here’s a statement. Put this out: there’s only one way to rear a kid. Do you know how many people you’ve had in the Focus on the Family studios talk about parenthood over the years?
Jim: Quite a few.
Kevin: Quite a few. And here’s a guy comes along and says there’s only one way to rear a kid. And I’ll defend that, because the only way to rear a kid is by being in authority over your children and understanding what true authority is. It’s not running over your kids, it’s listening to your kids, and listening to four or five different kids, or three different kids who have different personalities, and showing respect to them, but being the final – you are the final one. You are the one that God is gonna hold accountable for the decisions you make as a parent. And you are the best teacher to your child. So I think, if we could get to a point where we understand that kids are important, what they think is important, we need to be better listeners, we need to be compassionate – and all those wonderful habits of the heart need to be expressed to children, but there still has to be that final authority.
Jim: And I – I appreciate the directness. I think that’s true. And you can, you know, take a look at your own parenting style and understand where that falls short. And in fact, we have a parenting assessment that might be helpful to you. You can come online and take that, and it’ll show you where you’re doing some things right, and where you may need a little more help. So I’d encourage you to do it. It’s free. Kevin, you do mention eight ways to help your child. You touched, again, on a couple of those. I love your lists. You know, I – I just think they’re helpful, they’re grabbers. But you say don’t panic – respond. Don’t react – listen, listen, listen, and listen more. Don’t judge – that’s probably the most difficult, you’ve touched on that – provide comfort for your child. I think that’s the psychological blanket, as you describe it. What you say matters – think before you say anything. So, speak to the parent that is aiming to do well. Are you hoping for 80-20? What’s that formula look like?
Kevin: Well, let me use this – when you understand how crummy and imperfect you are as a parent, as a person, then and only then can you do what God would have you do on this earth. I think that covers about everything. St. Paul called himself wretched, Jim. If he’s wretched, would you tell me what John Fuller is?
Jim: John is terrific.
John: Not publicly, please.
Kevin: Do you see what I’m saying? And when we realize that we all fall short – so you’re the first to say, “Hey, Honey, you know, I was thinking about what I said to you. I said it in anger yesterday. I need to ask for your forgiveness.” You will never look bigger in your kid’s eyes, when you say, “Honey, would you forgive me? I was” – what? “I was wrong.” And that’s what opens the door of communication. So that empathy – getting behind your kid’s eyes is how I like to say it.
Jim: Well, we have hit it. I mean, we’ve talked about so much today, Kevin, and it’s been terrific. We’ve talked about depression and the difficulties that kids face today, and then what parents can do to strengthen them, but not to hurt them by overprotecting them. And that’s come through loud and clear. This has been so good. There’s so much more in your book we’re not able to cover in the two programs – When Your Kid Is Hurting. And I think, you’ve done, again, an excellent job. This is book number 61?
Kevin: One quick thing: perfectionism is slow suicide. For those of you who struggle with micromanaging your kids and – well, that’s the way to plant the seeds of depression in your kid’s life. I’m so glad you – you mentioned that again, because it sparked that thought – the imperfect Jim Daly, the imperfect Kevin Leman, the imperfect John Fuller are the ones who can be difference-makers in our kids’ lives.
Jim: Well, that’s what you want your children to grow up to be is difference-makers for Christ.
Jim: And that’s why we’re here today. If this has touched your heart and you want more, send us a note. We will get Kevin’s book and get it into your hands. It would be great if you could provide a monthly pledge to Focus on the Family to help us carry out the work here. If that’s not possible, a one-time gift. In either case, we’ll send you a copy of Kevin’s book as our way of saying thank you. But, Kevin, again, it has been so good to have you with us. Thank you.
Kevin: My pleasure. I always love being here at Focus on the Family.
John: We love having you here and as Jim said, we’re here to offer parenting advice and encouragement as we share practical Christian principles to help younger generations. And so I hope you’ll make us known to your friends and family members who are, perhaps, early on in the parenting process. And then, if you would, please, help us continue to create radio programs like this one and answer tough parenting questions by phone or through email, and to reach out and offer caring Christian counseling services. All of this is made possible when you donate to Focus on the Family. So please, contribute generously today and know that you’re helping families around the world. Donate and connect with us when you call 800-232-6459 – 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY – or at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you’re there, be sure to take a few minutes and fill out that 7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment as well.
Well coming up next time on this broadcast, we’re going to celebrate 20 years of creating community for single adults.