Monday, September 21, 2020

Caring for the Souls of Children

Caring for the Souls of Children: A Biblical Counselor's Manual, edited by Amy Baker

This great resource, edited by Amy Baker with numerous contributors, speaks to many situations that children face, and provides biblical counsellors and parents with tools and advice to address them pastorally and with care. 

It begins by addressing foundational and methodological issues, first noting that the implications of the gospel are as relevant for children as they are for adults, and then some implications of counselling children:
“For children, the struggles, desires, and hopes are no different than for those of us who are adults. Therefore, the counsel we provide for them should lead them to the same place—the good news of Jesus Christ.”
“As counselors, we need to be reminded that the answers from Scripture are not too hard for children to grasp... Like adults, children need to wrestle with sin and suffering and be led to see a sovereign, merciful God at work.”
Her first goal is to counsel parents to counsel their own children.

She then outlines “seven structural components for counseling that can be a backbone for your counseling. These key elements are 1) show love and begin to build a relationship, 2) gather relevant data, 3) evaluate the problem biblically, 4) share biblical hope, 5) provide biblical instruction, 6) assign practical homework, and 7) involve the parents.”

Then there are charts of covering six stages of development from age 3-18, covering physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual changes.

All of these provide a framework, which is then used as the focus turns to numerous specific counselling issues that are addressed by different authors.

Children and their relationships includes leading children to Jesus, the relationship with parents and friendships.
“Parents and children alike often feel they are in a bitter struggle against each other. Parents want respect and obedience. Children want freedom and independence. These two desires clash in most parent-child relationships, even in the households with the healthiest dynamics. In all families there is a level of tension and a pull to navigate the issues of authority versus emerging independence.”
I found comments on friendships insightful, including that:
  • friendships are hard and often require sacrifice 
  • friendships ultimately point to someone greater 
The next section was children and their emotions, and included helping those who are anxious, angry, dealing with shame, and what to consider after a suicide attempt.
“Let your child know they are not alone. Pursue meaningful conversation with your child. Be proactive in addressing hard topics they are bound to face in their world. Be a redemptive guide speaking into the corruption they will be forced to weed through. Let them know there is One who fights on their behalf.”
“To solve a child’s anger problem, you must target the source of his anger—his heart... While it is true that anger ultimately stems from the heart, it is crucial to ask what other contributing factors may be present. Considering the heart gives a deeper understanding of anger problems; considering the situational factors gives a wider understanding. Understanding the wider context of your counselees’ lives will help you be more patient, compassionate, and creative as you work with them. Discerning these various facets of a child’s struggle requires wise, patient questioning and good listening.”
Children and their bodies addresses talking about sex, sexual identity, children who self harm, and those with a disability or disease. All were balanced, helpful, compassionate and contained wise advice.

While the following quote was related to self harm, it still applies in numerous circumstances:
“Most parents experience at least one shocking discovery about one or more of their children. Life is going along as well as can be expected and with a blinding flash and deafening roar trouble strikes. When that happens, it’s easy to lose your bearings and to react with fear and anger to the trouble you see in front of you. But when you discover that your child is self-harming, remember at that moment in time, you will be your child’s first counselor. Whether you wish to or not makes no difference. The option before you is to either occupy that role as best you can by God’s grace, or to do poorly by responding with all your fear, hurt, and disappointment in plain view. You get one opportunity in that moment to respond in a helpful, biblical way. Start with asking God to help you and then listen to your child.”
The final section, children and trauma, covers abuse, children of divorce, facing grief and death, and children not living with their biological parents.

I come to this book more from the perspective of a parent, rather than a biblical counsellor, but I think there is application and relevance for both.

Some of my observations were:
  • Each chapter is structured around an actual example, containing the detail as of a child and their situation. This is then used as springboard to consider the wider issue. It’s a helpfully concrete way in to considering the issue being addressed. 
  • Numerous authors refer to the Psalms as a way in to talking with children and giving them the language they need. This reflects the reality that children can gain as much truth, comfort, instruction and wisdom from Scripture as adults, and we should desire to lead children to these truths and help them find ways to absorb them and apply them to themselves. 
  • Every chapter has a ‘word to parents’, making this book extremely accessible to carers as as well as biblical counsellors. These assist parents to reach out and care for their children, while being aware of their own struggles. 
  • It's a little surprising there is no chapter on depression, or mental health challenges generally.  
  • You shouldn’t read this and then expect to be fully equipped to counsel children. This would be one of many resources you would want to have before you proceed. However, the wisdom and insight contained within will encourage those who counsel children (both ‘officially’ and ‘unofficially’) to consider how the gospel impacts all aspects of a child’s life and circumstances, and how to journey with them to see the Lord is for them and with them. 
  • Similarly, it’s true that God’s word is indeed sufficient, but it needs to be applied wisely, well and appropriately. This book is a help to that end, but not the only resource and skills you would want. Some chapters (eg the one on abuse) really only started to address the issues, rather than being comprehensive. 
In conclusion, this is a good guide for parents, caregivers and counsellors as they reach out to children, helping them to see God is at work, is in control and loves them, through the complexities of life.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Note: I use the Australian spelling for counsellor myself, but when quoting the book, use the American spelling counselor

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