An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life… “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”
This parable seeks to explain the spiritual struggle we all face between living according to the Spirit and giving into the temptations of the flesh. “Flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Gal 5:16-17). Our children and teens are similarly engaged in a struggle to find their identity and choose which paths to follow.
As parents we can play a major role in feeding “the good (virtuous) wolf” of our children from an early age. How can we do this? We can help our children and teens grow in self-esteem and virtue by recognizing their positive behaviors. All too often, we can be so consumed by what our child is doing wrong that we ignore the many more numerous things they do right.
In child therapy, we of course have to talk about the negative behavior a child is displaying, but focusing primarily on the negative can lead to poor self-esteem and actually reinforce unwanted behavior. Feeding the “bad wolf” by constantly harping on our kid’s shortcomings, we can teach them to label themselves as “bad kids” and they may play the part by continuing the very behaviors we are trying to stop. Instead, if we really take notice when our child does something right—like setting the table for dinner without having to be asked or helping his little sister get dressed—we are increasing the chances they will continue this good behavior.
Noticing our children’s good behavior can be as simple as giving him or her a hug and telling them we are proud. Research has consistently shown that it takes about five positive comments to negate a negative one in the psyche of child. I challenge you to record for even one day how many positive comments/actions you direct towards your child compared to negative ones and commit to making a change if your negative comments outnumber positive ones.
It is also important to note that often a child/teen’s negative behaviors are an expression of something else going on their lives, something that they don’t know quite how to communicate such as a trauma, loss, or issues at school. Feeding their “good wolf” will only strengthen your relationship with your child, increasing the communication you have about important issues that might be troubling them.
I know it can be very difficult to try and focus on the positive and feed that “good wolf” when your child or teen is being disobedient or engaging in other harmful behaviors. But remember: At a very young age the battle is brewing between the two wolves in your children. Recognizing the right things they do will ensure the virtuous wolf wins over time. I will end with words from the Apostle Paul: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thess 5:11).
About the Author
Daniel received a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marymount University in January 2013. During his training, he completed a practicum placement at Fort Belvoir’s Chaplain Family Life Center where he worked with members of the military and their families. He collaborated with clients on a wide range of issues, including those struggling with depression, addiction, couples seeking marriage counseling, and children coping with the deployment of a parent.