My daughters stumbled out of their smoky bedroom one morning, gagging and sputtering. Our 6-year-old had taken a reading light to bed, melting a blanket and teddy bear together into a blackened mess. The smoke alarm did no good since I had forgotten it on a closet shelf.
I learned my lesson about fire safety but also found I could apply the principle to my parenting. I need to be in the right place, spending time with my kids, to be the family's emotional smoke detector. Some of the early signals of a potentially serious problem include:
One day I gave my cuddly 11-year-old a hug, and she pulled away. I broke a promise, and she reacted. I addressed my blunder and made good on my word, and the next time I hugged her, she returned my hug. Sometimes evasiveness can mean that a child has been hurt emotionally. Until I recognized the signal and dealt with the problem, our relationship suffered.
I asked my son to help clean the house. He didn't openly express anger, but he muttered and shuffled off to obey my request. This quiet alarm let me know I had trampled on him instead of finding out first what he was up to.
Some expressions of discontent, such as groaning or eye rolling, are not respectful responses, and they must be addressed. More important, we dads must recognize the reason for the anger. In my son's case, I had not realized he was busy working on a special surprise for his younger brother. We must also take into account our children's schedules, previous directions we've given and other considerations.
Our youngest daughter started screaming when she didn't get her way or when she felt like she was being left out. We realized that in a house with several older children, she wasn't feeling heard. We addressed her volume problem and started taking care not to ignore her little voice. Shouting may not be an act of war but a warning sign. Rather than simply disciplining the child who yells, sometimes we need to sit down and listen first.
Early detection prevents the most damage. Multiple times each year, I test the smoke alarms. Much more often, however, I watch all my children for warning indicators so I can help them develop into God-honoring, responsible adults.