Thoughts on Affirming our Children

When my husband and I were first married, we read through the popular book The 5 Love Languages. It was an interesting read and I felt that I gained a lot of insight about myself. As I shared about what I believed were my love languages, I remember telling my husband that I couldn't really believe that anyone would care about “words of affirmation.” I remember saying something along the lines of, “Words are cheap. Who cares about words?"

Fast forward about ten years. I reread the book, hoping to rekindle a desire to better love my husband. Reluctantly I read the chapter on words of affirmation and I was completely dumbfounded to be sitting there, holding a book, and reading words that described me in such detail. I couldn't believe that I had somehow missed this – that words of affirmation, far and above the other love languages, is what my heart speaks.

So what happened in those ten years? How could I go from thinking that “words are cheap” to a realization that I longed for a regular stream of encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting words?

This is not the place to get into all of the details, but suffice it to say that when I first read the book, my life was so void of affirming words that I didn't even recognize their value in my life or in my heart. Over the past year and a half, as I have embraced this part of who I am, I can see clearly the reasons behind many of my relationship and ministry successes and failures. My heart beats to the tune of affirmation.

Not everyone has "words of affirmation" as their main love language, but everyone needs affirming words. Children need affirming words. They need to be told that there is good to be seen in them. Children need to recognize their worth and value in the eyes of their parents and in the eyes of God. Without affirmation, a child becomes cold and dead inside. If no one points out the good in what they say, do, or in who they are, it is far too easy for a child to believe that there isn't any good in them. Everywhere they look in this world they will see people who are prettier, more athletic, smarter, wealthier, more charming, and more popular than they are. If we don't affirm them, if we don't shine the light on the beauty of who they were created to be, they will always be discontent, longing to be like the person next to them. It is only when an adult can help them see the image of God within them can they begin to feel happy about who God made them and then become capable of taking who they are and using it to serve others.

In addition, without affirmation, child discipline won't do its work. Sure, you may produce obedient kids (or you may not) but they will not be kids with tender and loving hearts. Think about it. If a person cannot see the good inside themselves, how can they ever see the good in others? How can they truly believe that people were created in God's image if they can't see that image in their own hearts? And if they don't see God's image in others, they will never have compassion on those who need it, they will never see another person as worth serving, and they will never be able to look past the faults of others and see the beauty that is inside. That's what happened to me.  Growing up, as much as I longed for affirmation, I was awful at giving it to others.  Rather than praising the good in other people, I instead became critical, judgmental, and completely incapable of seeing good in anything or anyone.  I'm made some improvements, but I have a long way to go. And thankfully, affirming my children isn't something I usually struggle with.  I thank God for that blessing because with the amount of discipline that has to happen with five young children in the home, there are large doses of affirmation needed as well!

You see, affirming our children goes hand-in-hand with discipline. Discipline without affirmation leads to either self-loathing or arrogant pride. Affirmation without discipline leads to inward and outward rebellion of any and all authority. Hand-in-hand they must go.

Here are my "to remember" points when it comes to affirming our children:

  1. Affirmation is not the same as flattery or “building self esteem.” The desired effect of affirmation is that our kids will see the goodness of God within themselves and then recognize the potential of what that goodness can do in the lives of others.
  2. When we affirm our children we should be pointing out the evidences of the image of God we see in them. Every person – believer or not – has been made in the image of God and therefore is an image-bearer. The purpose of affirmation is to make much of God, not to much of our kids. Thankfully, in God's beautiful design, affirming in this way gives God the glory and our kids get the joy.
  3. Be specific with affirmation. Tell them what you see in them and how it makes you feel.
  4. Look at your children when you affirm them. There is no quicker way to make your words unbelievable than to not be able to stop what you are doing long enough to look your child in the eye.
  5. Be truthful in your affirmations. Don't tell them something that both you and your child know aren't true.
  6. Sometimes we have to praise the potential good or the smallest steps of improvement.
  7. Don't couple affirmation with a criticism. The only thing your child will remember is the criticism.
  8. Affirming in the presence of others multiplies the effect. There is nothing more uplifting than to hear someone speak highly of you in the presence of others. There is nothing more devastating than to hear someone criticize or complain about you in the presence of others. (And may I gently remind you that this includes your Facebook status updates? )
  9. When you pray with your kids, let them hear you affirm them in your prayers. “Lord, thank you for the kind heart you have given our daughter. When I see her serving others in her family, I am just so thankful that you are working in her life.” Point the affirmation back to God. He gets the glory, we get the joy.
  10. Practice it. Affirmation doesn't come easily to some people and it can be really hard when there is so much disciplining to be done. Be intentional. Be on the lookout for things to affirm. Make it your ambition to regularly point out parts of God's character you see in your children. Write things down if you have to and then look for ways to point them out.

If this is an area you struggle with or are unsure about, I would highly suggest reading Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree.  This book is so enlightening, so refreshing, and so needed by someone like me.  It opened my eyes to new (and better) ways to affirm my children and convicted me of my complete sinfulness in my lack of affirmation of others.

I'll be back in the coming weeks with more thoughts on discipline and affirmation. A number of these points deserve a closer look. If we don't take these two needs of discipline and affirmation and diligently work on using them effectively, we are missing out on a huge part of our role as parents. God disciplines.  God affirms.  If we are supposed to be like Christ, then we need to practice both.

Next Post: Family Night -- A Hotel Night at Home!

11 thoughts on “Thoughts on Affirming our Children

  1. Kristin

    This is absolutely beautiful! I grew up in an alcoholic home…a home where words of affirmation were not spoken. Guess what my Love Language is? Words of Affirmation. I know that I need them for many different reasons. I, like you, can become critical of others. I also think it’s incredibly important to give our children these precious words so they begin to understand the power that our words have to build each other up…to speak life into one another. Thank you again for the past two days of posts. Parenting advice is very needed and appreciated. Blessings to you.

    1. Janet Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, Kristin. I hope and pray that out of your deficit in the past, you have an abundance for the present. That’s the prayer I pray for myself as well.

  2. Kristy

    I want to thank you for opening my eyes and bringing me back into a better mindset. I am a mother of 3. I recently vented on facebook about the struggles I am experiencing with my children and a wonderful woman I went to high school with, Erika, gave me the link to your website. My household dynamic seems less typical than the average family if you ask me. I have 2 boys and 1 girl, my 12 year old son is autistic and has a long list of behavioral and learning disabilities. My 6 year daughter is inflexible and in my opinion intolerable. My 5 year old son is a very busy, inquisitive prankster that manages to get himself in trouble quite frequently. I am an exasperated Christian, and I believe I am spiritually slaying my children with my negativity, frustration and exasperation. I am not a “words of affirmation” person. I grew up in an emotionally and spiritually dead family. I speak and show love to my children as often as I can or remember to (it doesn’t come naturally to me) but more often than not I vent my frustration on them as well. I grumble and mumble about how they are driving me insane and I am directly hurting them and God by sinning against them like that. So, I hope I can turn this around and I pray they will forgive me and I am so thankful for reading your post about affirmation.

  3. Anissa

    I am really touched by this post. I was brought up in a home with parents who were physically and mentally abusive and this left scars…but if it wasnt for the love of my nanna who filled me with affirmations I could have become someone else and led a bad life also…sure I have made mistakes along the way raising my 3 children but I love who I am and let me tell you it has taken 39 years to admit that one!

    I too grew up in alcoholism and drugs but I can look back and say that none of my children have gone down the path of drinking,gambling or drugs and I am truly blessed but they have the love of the Lord in their lives…I didnt.

    Affirmations is something that I speak into my children’s lives each day. You can see the smiles on their faces when you speak something wonderful over them. I am far from perfect but having come through a long and tiring journey, making many mistakes with a wicked tongue from what I was taught, God has done some amazing work in me. I wouldnt be here without the love of our Lord.

    1. Janet Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing, Anissa. My growing up years were filled with hard times as well, but I determined in my heart to break the cycle and start something new. I read something a few months ago that totally described the choice we have. It was something along the lines of, “When bad things happen, you have two choices: you can get bitter or you can get better.” Looks like you chose to get better and your children are blessed because of it!

  4. Sara

    Oh this post resonates with me. Words of Affirmation is my primary love language as well…and I can see that is true for my daughter as well, even at 5 years old. I am grateful of your reminders to “make much of God” in our affirmations. What a grounding truth that is. ♥

  5. Jocelyn

    These few posts that go together are such a blessing at just the right time for me. I am struggling with raising a step son and these posts are just what I needed to guide my prayers. Thank you for your efforts to share what God obviously has laid on your heart!

    1. Janet Post author

      So glad I can help, even if it is just a little bit. I am sure raising a child that you haven’t known since the beginning can be tough. But stick with it and I am sure the hard work will pay off.

  6. Husna

    “Growing up, as much as I longed for affirmation, I was awful at giving it to others. Rather than praising the good in other people, I instead became critical, judgmental, and completely incapable of seeing good in anything or anyone. I’m made some improvements, but I have a long way to go. And thankfully, affirming my children isn’t something I usually struggle with. ”

    That sounds very much like myself, until God showed me otherwise – by making me get to a very low point and realising I *have* to turn this around….the last sentence is what I’m now working on, now that I ‘get it’

  7. Little A's Teacher-Mom

    Thank you so much! My muscle for affirmative words is weak from disuse! We all need to learn to exercise this trait and strengthen it!
    I am praying that God will keep this before me and transform our home atmosphere!


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