What do you do when you can tell your child is beginning to shut down on you? I’ve looked into the eyes of countless parents who were grasping for anything that might help “fix” their son or daughter. Maybe the answer lies in understanding more of what God has done with his children.

My oldest son is now 8. As any parent would admit, time must truly fly when you’re having fun, because these past 8 years have been a blur. I carry the picture below in my Bible of when he was half his current age. His younger brother on the left side of the pic, and a friend on the other. They were in a treehouse having fun. They thought I hung the moon.

But like all kids, my oldest is starting to test my love for him in new ways. At one point he simply screamed, “mine,” or bit a sibling. We’ve worked through those things. Now it seems his target is squarely on me.

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I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It can be the eye-rolling, the misplaced, over-emphasized grunts, or the exaggerated, “Oookkaaay.” He is growing up. And as a parent, this feels different.

In some ways this is heart-breaking to me. It seems like it was just yesterday that he would scream with excitement when I got home from work. Today, it is a non-issue. He used to want to hang out with me whenever possible. Now I see him choose time with friends instead.

And to be honest, this really hurts my feelings.

God knows exactly what this is like. It was just “yesterday” that his kids were placed in the perfect environment. They were given a beautiful “playground” and were designed to simply enjoy and receive all of God’s goodness. Each day. Every day. All day. But as they grew up, they too had a mind of their own, and chose that their way would be better.

God didn’t sulk. He didn’t withdraw out of fear of being hurt. He didn’t make fun of them in an inadvertent attempt to get them to come back. No, God simply kept loving them. He pursued them. He sacrificed for them. He fought for them.

I plan to do the same.

Parents need to guard against the thought that our kids want us to back away from them. When my son grunts, rolls his eyes, or is short-tempered with me, this doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. It means he is growing up. He is breaking the smaller molds that have been confining him and trying to discover that new “normal” – and he desperately needs my help.

Here are a few things we as parents can do:

1. Keep them talking. Open lines of communication are important as kids grow up. We inadvertently make our kids shut down by pressing them at the wrong times, or insisting we talk about things that don’t interest them. When I notice kids closing up or shutting down, I choose a topic that isn’t threatening. I recently went “old school” on my son when he was in one of those moods. An old book I used to use when I was a youth pastor 20 years ago came to mind. It’s called “Would You Rather?”┬áNow there is an entire series of books and videos with this same title.

I asked my son, “Would you rather have an elephant nose, whiskers like a cat, or the tail of a cheetah?” After he laughingly considered his options, he chose the tail of the cheetah. After all, he said, he could always tuck it in his pants.

Your kids might want to talk about sports, video games, dolls, board games, or their favorite book. Whatever it is, tune in. Join them in that place of their interest.

2. Don’t take it personally. Fight the urge to take your child’s actions toward you as a personal attack. They don’t really mean it as such. They are being a child. They need you to be the adult.

When our kids seem the most unloveable are the times when they need love the most. Pursue them. Listen to them. Love them.

3. Apologize regularly. We have five kids. It seems that at some point almost each week I hurt one of their feelings. When I do I have the opportunity to show them what humility and taking responsibility really looks like.

I remember when my parents apologized to me when I was little. I want my kids to see that same example of me recognizing I am not perfect and that I need to seek their forgiveness. It’s amazing to watch their countenance change when I ask for their forgiveness. It’s like pressing a “reset” button on our relationship.

What do you do when your kids push you away, or continually give you an attitude?

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