. . .because this is worth every penny. . . . .
A wise man once said. . . dogs and kids can smell fear.
Okay, I made that up, but I think it's true. One thing I've learned with 4 small kids (but still mess up all the time) is to make your kids feel comfortable with the situation. If your kids are nervous, they will either start to act out, or go into a shell depending upon their personality and what has happened in the past in those situations.
Here's some things you can do to help your kids not be nervous.
1) Let them know what is going on.
This includes not keeping the truth from them just because you don't want to talk about it, or you don't think you have time or are up to it. If kids don't know what is happening, or what a certain issue is that you're talking about. . . they get nervous. Sure, you might need to give the "4 year old" version of a topic. But, silence or lying breeds nervousness.
2) Don't fight ugly in front of them
I think it's healthy for kids to see their parents disagree and "fight" a bit. But, when your marital spats get loud and ugly. . you should probably push the pause button if the kids are around. I know this first hand from my parents' divorce. But, even in my own life. . . one time Jody and I were having one of those fights and I saw Providence walk off and kind of hide herself. I said "I'm sorry mom and I were fighting like that. . . we're just working something out. . . . how does that make you feel". And, she flat out told me. . "Dad, that makes me nervous". That was one of my worst days as a Dad.
3) If you're talking about dying, moving, or something important to them. . . sit down and look them in the eye.
Once we were talking about the fact that we might have to move, (the girls were excited and jumping around). . .Sam closed up. After a few minutes he said "Enough with all of this moving stuff" (exact words). "Why", I asked. "It makes me nervous" says Sam. 'nuff said. Moving is stressful on kids. Figure out what other things cause your kids stress and try to be really close, quiet, and reassuring to them in those moments.
4) Teach them the sovereignty and love of God
After Sam's moment, I told him "I don't want you to be scared about moving to another house because God's in charge of everything, and I"ll be here and we'll all be together". I think that helped, it looked like it did.
Let your kids know that God isn't Santa Claus in a robe (don't get me started on Santa), Grandfather woos-boy, or anything else. . . . Tell them that God is in charge of the universe and that they don't need to be afraid.
Especially after you discipline your kids, (which is a must, and if your kids don't have boundaries, that's making them nervous). Give them a hug quickly, and restore the relationship. Show them what Grace is after you show them what obedience is.
5) Give your kids boundaries and schedules
You can take this one overboard and get crazy. In fact I think parents get more stressed out than the kids sometimes when the schedule gets off. Oh yeah, by the way. . . that makes kids stress out when you're stressing all over them. Dad's, this is on you. Man up and define what is and is not a crisis. If it isn't a crisis, give everyone a hug and tell them it's going to be ok. Set the tone in those moments. Having lunch an hour late is not reason to freak out, get in a marital fight and feel guilt over ruining the day's schedule.
Having said that, if your kids are running over you and everyone else, and aren't getting proper sleep or nutrition. . .guess what. . . they're going to get stressed out. You know, like YOU do when you don't get enough sleep, eat poorly, and run yourself ragged. Let your kids know how it's going to go down, in a quiet way, . .and then hold to it.
None of this is an excuse for sin from your kids. They need to be disciplined when they're acting out, and need to be shown how to act and react properly even in weird situations.
But, as parents we can set an environment that helps kids react well, and helps give them confidence in us and in God.