The “Change Your Attitude” Time Bomb (vs. Change Your Perspective)

cookies-1264263_960_72030 Seconds for Hope:

Have you puzzled over Suzie’s protest? Or Johnny’s pout? And then wondered, “Whoa! Where did that attitude come from?”

Have you reflexively commanded, “Change your attitude”? But what does that even mean?

I was slow to realize that children can’t just magically poof themselves into perfect internal peace by hearing those three words. A deeper work of a changed perspective was needed. And isn’t that true for you, too? Examining frustration and uncovering its source gives rise to truer perspectives, and new perspectives impact attitude. Neglect this change of perspective and a time bomb ticks. But if you attend to perspective, then encouragement will grow.

And now the full story:

“Time for dessert!” I reached to the kitchen counter, grabbed a plate of chocolate chip cookies and handed them to the nearest child. John took the platter, and before you could blink, he’d snatched the biggest cookie. Chomp.

Charlie raged his protest, “Mom!!!!”

Joy burst out, “It’s not fair!”

And the fight was on. Over cookies. Of all things. Every cookie looked fairly equal to me, yet each child was demanding to be given that one cookie with just milligrams of extra flour and sugar. A dubious difference, at most.

As the fiasco unfolded, I inwardly groaned over my children’s attitudes. John had wanted the biggest and had taken it. But obviously everyone had wanted the biggest, which was why they were all complaining. My conclusion? They were all takers, not givers—all of them.

So how did I respond? Well, pretty much like every mom. “If every one of you will just change your attitude, this will not be a problem! Change your attitude!”

Can you relate?

Is that command a problem? Well, no. Bad attitudes do create battles, so attitudes do need to be changed. But that three-word phrase isn’t an agent of change. Rather, new perspectives need to be understood for deep change to happen. I was late to understand this. For much too long I thought those three words, “change your attitude,” could inspire kids to access a magical ability and transform themselves. Poof.

I wish!

If you never give your children the tool of digging deeper to discover truer perspectives, those three words eventually will become just a frustrating phrase. (Ask my kids!)

Do your children argue over the color of their cups?

“I want the purple one!”

“No, I want the purple one!!!”

In the moment it’s okay to enforce “color doesn’t matter,” but later make the effort of going one extra step. Dialog with your children from time to time to interact about their feelings and discuss the beliefs that underlie their attitudes. After all, even though you know color doesn’t really matter, for some reason they believe it does.

Empathize with their feelings. Are they feeling angry at the prospect of losing something they want? Feeling unimportant? Not chosen?

Explore their reasons. Does purple give them a feeling of power? Do they hope to be the one who gets the “better” color?

And help them think about truth. Does purple change the function of the cup? Does purple actually make them more important? Does God have a viewpoint about purple competitions? Can they believe those new, truer perspectives?

Change your attitude? Yes, that is needed, but ultimately it’s not enough. Do three words deeply change you when you’re struggling with a grudge or a frustration? If they do, you’ve probably done previous ground work that challenged your underlying assumptions. Perspective is key.

When Charlie was a baby, I had more than one occasion of grappling with perspective. Since infant Charlie cried a LOT, I struggled with feelings of anger and resentment. But instead of wearing a shallow “good” attitude (faked), I pursued the deeper work of a changed perspective.

I analyzed why I was angry (…namely, because I’d lost control of my schedule and my sleep patterns).

I considered why I was resentful (…because though God knew my need for sleep and “control,” He wasn’t coming through and instead was withholding good things from me, or so I thought).

By acknowledging my feelings and looking for the reasons behind those feelings, I was able to address frustrations and land on new perspectives. I considered how precious this baby was to me and concluded I was grateful to have him. He was worth every ounce of sacrifice it took. I reflected on the fact that sometimes God has a bigger purpose in mind than just meeting the immediate need. In his goodness, God uses hard times to help us grow in maturity. This season would help me, not hurt me. God is still good even in the bum times.

Result? My attitude changed—not by saying “change your attitude,” but rather by digging deeper to discern the sources of my frustration. I don’t know why I thought it would be any different for my children, but I was slow to understand their similar need for changed perspectives. Yet what’s true for you and me is true for our children as well.

To be sure, a surface change can be helpful in the moment. Suzie becomes sweet in order to comply. Johnny might even take the smallest cookie without being prompted. But without a deeper change in internal perspective, the veneer of a “changed attitude” may become a time bomb. When it finally explodes, the mom is left wondering, “What happened to my sweet Suzie?” What happened is that it’s impossible to conceal false perspectives forever. Eventually they blow up.

A note of caution here…Rome was not built in a day, and neither are changed beliefs. You’ll probably repeat the same things year after year. Your two-year-old won’t understand the purple perspective for several years. Or more. And actually, even into adulthood they’ll still be sorting out and trying to understand true perceptions. Aren’t you still doing that? So give your children some space.

Why does it take so long? False beliefs die hard because everyone tends to interpret life based on their own limited experiences and inaccurate assumptions. Children have a small framework for interpreting life, so they’re tempted to reject mama’s wisdom (bummer!).  They also tend to process life inaccurately, making assumptions that just aren’t true.

Case in point—as a child I was required to wash the dishes from time to time, but in my imagination I thought my parents made me do this because they were lazy. So I hated it and told myself, “I’ll never make my children wash the dishes.” In reality, my parents were just trying to help me become a responsible citizen. If I’d understood (and believed) truth as a child, I wouldn’t have been so resentful of supper dishes. (And yes, I did land on requiring my children to wash dishes—to help them become responsible citizens, of course.)

“Change your attitude” is only a surface fix. In reality, it’s “change your perspective” that goes deep—to impart truths that can counteract all those reasons for wanting the biggest cookie.

As a pre-teen, one of my children had a change of heart about being a “taker” by unexpectedly understanding a Bible verse like never before:

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”[i]

The implications were clear. “Since my siblings are valued and loved by God, He wants me to value my siblings, too.” Because this child had already developed an appreciation for God, that one paragraph was enough to change perspective. Motivated by a new viewpoint, my child began to think differently about siblings. Loving brothers and sisters became a way of demonstrating love for God.

And suddenly the smallest cookie became okay. And not only okay, but preferred!

Attitude had been changed. By perspective.


[i] 1 John 4:20-21

Photo credit:

StevenGiacomelli  via pixabay.com


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