“He says he doesn’t believe in God anymore.” 

Those words came from the mother of a troubled teenager in our congregation, one with a history of acting out. “Will you come talk to him?” she asked. 

I met with her son for hours but didn’t do much talking. I barely had the chance—he poured his heart out. Isaiah (name changed to preserve anonymity) didn’t just talk about his faith. He talked about all the things he was struggling with and bared the emotions that went with them. Frustration. Disappointment. Rage.  

When our conversation ended, I asked if he would like to pray. He said yes, we did and then the Spirit took over.  

From that day on, Isaiah became one of our most active youth. His crisis of faith and acting out had not been what his parents thought but were a cry for help. Isaiah was overwhelmed by his emotions, and what he really needed was to be heard.  

Listening is hard. Rostered ministers are trained in seminary to be good listeners, and I still struggle with it. It’s the hardest with my children. I love them so much, and I’m desperate to help them.   


From that day on, Isaiah became one of our most active youth. His crisis of faith and acting out had not been what his parents thought but were a cry for help. Isaiah was overwhelmed by his emotions, and what he really needed was to be heard.


Advice, wisdom, insight—wanting to share it all, I rush to talk instead of listen. But listening is what kids need when they’re overwhelmed. It’s the best way to help them when their emotions become too much to handle, say Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk (Scribner, 2012).  

The following practices are a few things I’ve learned that help children process intense feelings.   

Practices 

Be calm. When I’m with a child who is experiencing difficult emotions, I try to stay centered and calm. Deep breathing helps. So does letting go of my desire to fix the child’s problem.  

Really listen. As I listen, I focus very narrowly on the child’s words and body language. I don’t dismiss any feelings or give advice. I let children do the talking, listening with an ear toward being able to help them name their feelings. Once they name what they are feeling, I validate it, whatever it is. There are no wrong feelings.  

Ask why. I try to understand why they feel that way and let them know I understand. When children know how they feel, why they feel it and that their feelings are normal, they usually realize themselves what to do next. If not, they are at least calm enough to understand a loving adult—and God is there for them. 

Pray. If the child is open to it, pray together. Here is one option you could use: Lord, you alone know the desires of our hearts. Help us remember you are always here for us, even when we encounter troubles. Wrap us up in your loving arms and comfort us, now and always. In your name we pray. Amen. 

Scott Seeke
Scott Seeke is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Livonia, Mich. He is also a writer best known for the film Get Low and the follow-up book Uncle Bush’s Live Funeral, now available on www.amazon.com. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and at scottseeke.com.

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