Identity (Part 1) - Emotional Identity

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Emotional Identity
Guest:                         Dennis and Barbara Rainey                       
From the series:       The Art of Parenting: Identity (Day 1 of 3)
Bob: When our kids act out—and they do—as parents, we want their behavior to change. But, as Barbara Rainey says, ultimately we want something that goes deeper than that—we want to get to their hearts.
Barbara: The side that Dennis and I erred on as parents is that we were focused on what we call behavior modification. It’s changing how our child behaves, rather than helping them understand, “Feeling angry at your brother because he took your toy is normal. It’s okay that you feel that way. But how can you learn to express that in a way that’s helpful and not harmful?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 28th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. 
Helping our children identify and know how to deal with their emotions—that’s a big part of our assignment as parents, and we’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. 
Dennis: I can’t lie, Bob.
Bob: No, that’s not true.                                                                                                 
Dennis: I can’t lie. [Laughter]
Bob: I’ve heard you lie before. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, I can’t lie about my grandkids, okay?
Bob: Okay. Tell me about your grandkids.
Dennis: Last Christmas Barbara and I went to Memphis and we held our new grandson.
Bob: Yes, number 20—
Barbara: —four.
Dennis: Lincoln Timothy.
Bob: Twenty-four. Wow.
Dennis: Lincoln Timothy—and what a cutie! What’d you think, sweetheart?
Barbara: Oh, cutest baby ever!
Dennis: Ever!
Bob: Don’t tell the other 23.
Barbara: No. No, no, no.
Dennis: And he was born on the day that Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address?
Bob: Is that why he is named Lincoln?
Dennis: No, not at all.
Barbara: It’s purely coincidental, because they thought it was going to be a girl, so—
Dennis: The OB doc—as she was delivering this little boy—the OB doc said, “Oh, and by the way, what’s his name?” So, Laura told her what the name was, and she said, “Well, you know this is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.”
Bob: And they had no idea.
Dennis: They had no idea.
Bob: There we go!
Dennis: So, we’re talking about parenting today—this is very relevant stuff here.
Bob: We’re going to be talking about something this week that—if you went to parents and said, “Give me your list of your top 20 felt needs of things you need to know how to do as a parent,”—I don’t know that this concept would be on that list of top 20 felt needs. This is one of those things that, as you’ve taught about it and as I’ve thought more about it, this is one of those important but not necessarily urgent parenting needs.
Dennis: Well, we’re talking about—just so our listeners understand here—we’re talking about the four pillars of parenting. Barbara and I studied the Scriptures over the past 30 years and—first of all for our own benefit, but now for the benefit of listeners—we have come up with four areas. We’re going to talk about the third one today.
The first one is relationship—helping your child develop a relationship with God and training them in knowing how to relate to one another. 
Okay? Second one is character. That’s doing what’s right and not wrong—that’s living out the book of Proverbs—which is wisdom.
This third one we’re going to talk about today is the issue of identity. You said people wouldn’t list that. Bob, I’m afraid I might disagree with you.
Bob: Really?
Dennis: I think we are in a major identity crisis today in our country as we raise the next generation of boys and girls.
Bob: Well, certainly by the time a child is in middle school there are questions about gender identity today that weren’t there 20 years ago. But you expand this, not just around gender identity—you want to talk about all aspects of a child’s identity.
This—by the way—is from the book that the two of you have written called The Art of Parenting. We didn’t get to the fourth of the four pillars—which is mission—we’ll talk about that another time. 
Barbara, this issue of identity—were you conscious of the fact that—as you were raising your kids—you were helping them—
—understand and discover and feel comfortable with who they were?
Barbara: Well, I was—on some level—but I think the level that Dennis and I understood, when we were actually raising our kids—was their gifts and talents, which is a part of a person’s identity. I think we were aware of looking for, “What does this child gravitate toward? What does this child like? What are they good at? What are they not good at?” That is a piece of identity.
The part that I was not aware of—I don’t think either one of us were really aware of intentionally—was that we all have an emotional identity. That’s because we were made in the image of God. We don’t think of God as being an emotional being necessarily—we may think of Him as being aloof, we may think of Him as being even unfeeling because of His distance from us—but we are made in His image. It says in Genesis—in the creation story—that God made Adam and Eve, man and woman, “in His likeness”—like Him.
Throughout the Bible—it was really fun when we wrote the book, because I just went through the Bible to find all these instances where it talks about God’s emotion. He laughs, He cries, He expresses anger—those are common emotions that all of us as human beings feel. So, a part of raising a child is helping a child know that those feelings he has are designed by God—they’re made by God in him for a reason, and parents have the responsibility of training that emotional side of their children, too.
Dennis: You know, as I was thinking about this, back to your question, Bob—I think we were pretty clueless. I think we were like most parents—we began this journey thinking, “Yes, we need to give our children a spiritual identity, we need to think about sex education and their sexual identity,”—but this area of emotional identity I don’t think was even on our radar screen.
Interestingly enough, I think it was Barbara’s own upbringing and some of the—
—deficits that she experienced as a little girl growing up—and what we experienced early in our marriage of having to work through some tough issues around this—I think we assumed that everybody kind of had a healthy view of their emotions and understood them. I think the problem today, Bob, is I think we’re more concerned with our kids’ I.Q. than we are with their E.Q. 
Their E.Q. is their Emotional Quotient—their ability to relate to other people, to have an understanding of their own emotions, to understand other people’s emotions as broken people. What do you do with it when people get angry? How do you respond? If you do the wrong thing, how do you correct that at that point?
Bob: This is something that, again, wasn’t on our radar screen, either. In fact, I think as we were raising our kids we were probably more focused on trying to mold their identity than we were on trying to discover their identity. That’s a key calibration that I’ve gotten from you guys.
As parents, we need to figure out, “Who has God made these kids to be?”
Dennis: Right.
Bob: “What are they good at? What are their gifts, talents, and abilities—and how do we help shape that?”—rather than, “How do we turn them into little versions of us,” or, “How do we make them achieve the things that we were not able to achieve, and try to live our lives vicariously through them?”
So, while that’s on our radar screen—“Who has God made them to be?”—we also need to be thinking about helping them have a healthy understanding of this area of emotional identity.
Barbara: The reason that’s so important is that as people, we experience emotions, and if we don’t know what to do with them the temptation in our flesh is to express them in negative or hurtful ways. The side that Dennis and I erred on as parents is that we were focused on what we call behavior modification. It’s changing how our child behaves, rather than helping them understand—
—“Feeling angry at your brother because he took your toy is normal. It’s okay that you feel that way, but how can you learn to express that in a way that’s helpful and not harmful?”
That takes a lot of thinking for moms and dads. That means you have to be planning ahead, you have to think ahead, “How am I going to handle this?” rather than reacting. It’s being proactive rather than reactive, and it’s being intentional rather than responding in your own flesh as a parent.
Bob: I was just thinking about a three-year-old I spent time with recently, and—
Barbara: Who will remain unnamed, I assume? [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, but he and his parents know who he is. This three-year-old, throughout his day, he’s in touch with his emotions. It’s like, “Am I happy in this moment? If I am, it will be pleasant for all of you. If I’m not happy in this moment, it will be unpleasant for all of you.” But he’s pretty sensitive to whether he’s enjoying the moment or not.
How do you help a two-year-old and a three-year-old—who are just responding impulsively to whatever their circumstances are in the moment—how do you help them with this issue of learning their emotional identity?
Barbara: I think this is where parenting becomes really a challenge for moms and dads, because we want quick fixes, and quite honestly, this is the kind of situation—and there are multiplied hundreds of them over the years of raising children—where it’s both correcting their behavior, because they often act in ways that are harmful that need to be corrected—but it’s instructing at the same time. 
It’s not just correcting behavior or just instructing—it’s both. It’s helping them know, “It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay that you feel this way, but the way you expressed it was not correct. Here is how you can express how you feel correctly next time.”
You coach and you role-play and you go over and over these things. You don’t do one without the other; you don’t just correct the behavior—
—or just explain how to do it right the next time; you do both of them in tandem. The hard part about it is you have to do it over and over again before they get it. It’s not a quick “flip a switch” lesson that you can teach your kids.
Dennis: Here’s the problem: it’s not just the three-year-old—
Barbara: It’s not just the three-year-old—it’s mom and dad.
Dennis: —who is in process of learning how to handle his or her emotions—we’re still not grown up either!
Barbara: That’s right. What was your favorite quote? “God gave us kids to help us finish growing up”? 
Dennis: Yes.
Barbara: Isn’t that what you used to say? It’s really true!
Dennis: I think He gave us six kids to finish the process of saying, “Hey, are you going to become an adult or not? Are you going to become an adult before you die?” Because there are a lot of people who move into old age, and they’re carrying negative emotions and the expression of them all the way to their graves.
Bob: Barbara, Dennis has hinted at this. Did you grow up in an environment where you didn’t feel free to explore or to express your emotions?
Barbara: Yes, absolutely.
You know, I think it’s because my parents didn’t know how to, either. I mean, they grew up in an environment where it was not healthy to express how you feel, whether positively or negatively, whether you’re happy or sad. My home was not that much different. It was not a safe place to express when you were angry or hurt—it wasn’t a safe place to cry.
When you suppress your emotions—when any human being suppresses emotions, you can’t just push down one; they kind of all are connected together, and when you push them down they all go down. So I spent a lot of my mommy years learning about my own emotions, before I could even teach my kids. I had to learn to name them—I had to learn what they were.
As I learned and began to understand that “this is the way God made me, and how do I use it correctly?”—because I didn’t use it wrong, necessarily, in a behavioral way—I didn’t yell at people, I didn’t hit people. But as I began to understand those emotions—
—then I could finally begin to teach my kids, “This is angry,” “This is sad,” “This is happy,” and the other ones, “And here are positive, helpful ways that you can express that—but you can’t express it in hurtful ways.”
Bob: And Dennis, you talked about helping kids list and put names to the emotions they’re feeling, so that they become aware of what’s going on in their own hearts.
Dennis: Yes. We have a daughter who—we’ll leave this family unnamed, because we have a lot of grandkids that might listen in to the broadcast someday—but we have a daughter who decided she was going to take a couple of her children—who were teenagers—through a dinner table experience of naming their highs and lows for the day and describing the emotion they had experienced, and why. The child couldn’t figure it out.
Barbara: One of the two—
Dennis: One of the two.
Barbara: —had a hard time expressing, even identifying, what he felt in these situations he encountered in school. 
He had a really hard time putting names on them. He would say things like, “Well, I felt okay.” Well, what does that mean?
The other one, it was quite easy. So it was interesting, because it was a lesson to our daughter and to us that God has made us all very different. I was really proud of her, quite honestly—for beginning the process of helping that son of hers begin to name his emotions—because someday he will be an adult, someday he will probably be married and be a dad—and he’s going to have to do that with his own kids.
Bob: I’m watching parents today do this with two- and three-year-olds, where the three-year-old’s fussy and throwing a fit, and the mom is saying, “I know what you’re feeling is anger,” and trying to process this logically. I’m thinking, “Is that really going to work with a three-year-old?” I mean, what’s your thought—is that—
Dennis: Well, it may not work with the three-year-old, but by the time they’re 19 years old and they leave the home—
Bob: —that’ll be imprinted?
Dennis: I would think they would know what they’re experiencing. I think, Bob, the Christian community kind of gets a little edgy when you start talking about naming your emotions, because I don’t think we know what to do with this category of life. I think one of the reasons for that is we’ve really never studied who God is. 
In putting together this book, Barbara put together the emotions of God, and we have them listed out. I’ll not hit them all, but He’s love, He feels delight, He laughs, He’s kind, He enjoys, gives pleasure; He feels gladness, has compassion, feels grief, deep sadness and loss. We’re made in His image, and I think a part of the Christian faith is that we reflect who God is and how He responds to people that are in tragic situations and that we can come in and step in and wrap our arms around them and express emotions that identify with what they’re feeling.
Bob: So, there feels like a tension here between wanting your children to express and know and embrace and live out their emotions, but wanting them to handle those appropriately, maturely—not just to give free reign or free bent to their emotions. Trying to find that spot where, “Let’s talk about what you’re feeling, let’s validate what you’re feeling, but let’s also handle that with wisdom and maturity.” You understand the tension I’m feeling?
Barbara: Yes.
Bob: What advice do you have for parents in that area?
Barbara: Well, I think there’s a lot of back-and-forth, and I think you’ll make a lot of mistakes as parents—I mean, we did. You just are going to go overboard in one way or the other, and then you’ll realize that was too much, not enough of this—I mean, there’s a lot of trial and error, because no two kids are alike, and no two parents are alike, and no two situations are exactly alike.
I mean, I think the mom you were talking about—of the three-year-old—saying to her child, “I can tell you’re feeling angry right now”—
—I think that’s really good, because she has to help him have a name for that emotion that he’s feeling. Now, she shouldn’t be able to reason with him, because kids don’t have the ability to reason with logic at three years old. 
But if you are going to God as your Father and saying, “I want to parent the way You want me to parent. Will You help us? Will You help me? Will You help my spouse represent You well? Will You help us communicate to our kids well who You are and who You’ve made them to be?” He’s going to guide you. You’ll make mistakes, but if you’re doing that—if that’s your goal—God’s going to get you to the right place with your kids.
Dennis: I just want to remind our listeners—if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, if you’ve trusted Him as your Savior, Master, and Lord—then you also have the Holy Spirit. Now, why did the Holy Spirit come? He came to guide us—
Barbara: —help us.
Dennis: —comfort us, to teach us, and to point out when things aren’t quite right with our kids—
—and that we need to step in and help our children.
I’ll give you a great illustration of this, and I’ll just ask Barbara this question and she will know immediately what the story was. I have to tell you—at this point Barbara was brilliant beyond human understanding with one of our daughters.
Bob: You already know what he’s talking about?
Barbara: No! I don’t!
Dennis: It was when you were about to undergo a major heart surgery to correct a congenital problem—
Barbara: Now I do.
Dennis: —where you might die, back in 1990. Remember the situation that happened with our daughter?
Barbara: Yes. Dennis and I knew this was coming up. We’d scheduled the surgery, we’d met with the doctors, we’d done all that. But we had not told our kids—our six children—very much, because…as a parent you’re thinking, “How much do we tell them—how much do we not tell them?” So our kids knew a little bit about it, but they didn’t know a lot. This was one of our younger daughters—
Dennis: Let me interrupt you there, because they knew that Mommy’s heart had taken off on a number of occasions and had beat 300 beats a minute.
That’s five beats a second. So they knew their mom had to be rushed to the ER on a number of occasions, and they knew this procedure was going to take some time. So, they knew enough that they had to have these little ripples going across the pond emotionally, not knowing exactly where to take all of what they were feeling.
Barbara: But they didn’t think about it on a day-to-day basis, because this didn’t happen daily. But anyway, I asked our kids to go pick up their rooms after dinner and to get ready for bed. One of our younger two had picked up her room in record time and was ready for bed, and I don’t remember exactly what she was doing, but it just didn’t make sense to either one of us—to Dennis or I, either one—that she could possibly have cleaned up her room that fast. I mean, something was just not adding up.
So we went in and talked to her and we said, “How did you clean up your room so fast?” Then we figured out—and I don’t remember how right now—that she had just—
—scooped everything up that was out—clothes, toys, books, everything—and shoved it all under the bed in a huge wad—literally, was burying—was getting rid of it. We just started talking to her—“Why did you do that?” 
Again, I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but it came out that she did it because she was afraid. “What are you afraid of?” “I’m afraid Mommy’s going to die when she has her surgery.” It was—her way of managing her stuff was to bury it all and to hide it all and to put it all under the bed.
You know, it doesn’t make sense to us as adults, but we know that that wasn’t normal for her. So by asking some questions we got to the bottom of it—that in the back of her little mind throughout the day, she was worrying about this. She never said it, she didn’t communicate it to us, but that abnormal response to “pick up your room” communicated to us that something wasn’t right.
Dennis: I don’t think she could communicate it to us.
Barbara: She may not have.
Dennis: I don’t recall exactly how old she was at that point—
Barbara: Seven.
Dennis: So, how much does a seven-year-old know about their emotions, to say, “I was feeling afraid”? She finally was able to express that after we questioned her a bit.
Here’s kind of the bottom line that I want to challenge parents with—this thing called parenting is really a challenge. I mean—the remarkable assignments you’re going to be given in these boys and girls that are gifts—by God, to you—are going to challenge you to your core. But I want to encourage you—don’t give up! Make your home a safe place where emotions can be expressed and can be experienced and where children learn a lot about God because of their emotions.
A second application here, Bob, is I want to encourage some couples to go on a date and talk about where you’re taking your kids emotionally and—by the way, start with yourselves. 
Just do a little evaluation. What kind of model are we demonstrating before our kids? If they handle their emotions like we do, would that be good enough? Would you have done a good job if your kids did that?
And then finally, a third thing is—if you’re a single parent, call a friend and say, “Could I just tell you what I heard on the radio? Maybe let’s get that book and let’s talk about this together, and let’s discuss how we’re developing our children’s emotional identity.”
And the one last challenge—I have a bunch at the end here—one last challenge is, there are a number of listeners who need to get The Art of Parenting video series and lead a small group of parents through this. I’m running into parents all over the country, and they are going through this video series that Bob Lepine created. It’s not a lecture—it’s highly applicational—it’s a lot of fun, and it’s eight sessions long.
It will be one of the best things you’ve ever done for the parents of the kids your children are hanging out with, because you need them to be singing off the same song-sheet, too.
Bob: The video series is connected to the book that you guys have written called The Art of Parenting. We should say you can read the book and go through the videos, and you’ll get a different experience. The video is not just the video version of your book. The fence posts are the same, but the content—
Dennis: Yes, you even changed the order of the four areas. [Laughter]
Bob: The sacred order?
Dennis: The sacred order that we came up with originally. You’ll just have to read the book and get the video series—
Bob: And then you can write us and tell us which one was right.
Dennis: Write us and be the first one! [Laughter] Be the first one who writes me, and I’ll send you an autographed copy of the book.
Bob: The book is called The Art of Parenting, and in fact, right now we’re going to make the book available to FamilyLife Today listeners who want to make a donation to help support the ministry.
So, you go online and donate to support the ministry, and we’ll send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara’s book The Art of Parenting as our thank-you gift. You can also order a copy from our FamilyLife® Resource Center at Either way, make a donation to get the book or purchase a copy. Go to and the information is available there. There’s also information about the video series, and you can order that from us. 
Again, the website——you can go there to make an online donation and get your copy of Dennis and Barbara’s book, The Art of Parenting—or you can call to donate and receive your copy of the book. The number is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
And by the way, thanks for supporting the ministry of FamilyLife and the work of FamilyLife Today. Thanks for helping keep this program on your local radio station and on stations all across the country. Your ongoing support is appreciated and it is needed—
—and we’re grateful for those of you who partner with us to make this ministry possible for your friends and your neighbors, people in your community, and people all around the world. Thanks for supporting this work.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to talk about another aspect of your child’s identity—we’re going to talk about his or her spiritual identity—and how as parents we can help cultivate the spiritual identity of our children. That happens tomorrow—hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today
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