We do a lot of disciplining in our house. We also do a lot of affirming. The two go hand-in-hand. Parenting with one and not the other is a recipe for disaster. I really don't know which would be worse—and I don't want to find out!
Yesterday I wrote about discipline and today I want to balance it out today with affirmation. I imagine that's how I will tackle the rest of the points in the original posts. I can't overemphasize how much we as parents need to practice both discipline and affirmation. Back and forth. A little here, a little there. A lot here, a lot there.
I mentioned in my original post on affirmation that "my life was so void of affirming words that I didn’t even recognize their value in my life or in my heart." I truly had a void of affirmation for a good part of my life and it was crippling. My high school journals are filled with broken-hearted cries such as:
"Why am I such a horrible person?" "Why am I so unloveable?" "Why can't I just get my act together?" "Why am I not good at anything?" "Why do I try so hard and never see any results?" "Why do I ever bother? No one sees any good in me."
I didn't see anything good in myself. I couldn't name one thing that was special or important about myself. I couldn't see any value I held in anyone's life. When a long-term relationship ended, it only strengthened my belief that I was really just wasting space on the planet. I knew of nothing good within me. And just so you understand, I was a Christian teenager living in a Christian home. And I thought I was worthless. And the next few years of life were spent proving just how worthless I was.
Thankfully, God in His mercy, sent along some incredibly special people into my life and showed me through their words and actions that I was a beautiful child of God who had something to offer the world. One woman taught me how my past could be used to encourage others in their future (2 Corinthians 1:4). One professor took me under his wing and regularly made a point to tell me the positive qualities he saw in me. A sweet friend told me over and over again how I was going to be the biggest blessing to a husband some day. Words of life were spoken into me and I started to breathe again. I started to see that God made me for a purpose. It's still an area I struggle with daily, but God continues to bless me with a few dear friends who speak life into me—usually right when I need to hear it most.
I am now passionate about affirming my children. And I am passionate about helping other parents learn how to affirm their own kids. It doesn't always come naturally or easily, but with a resolve and a purpose, it is one of my greatest joys of being a parent.
When I wrote about child affirmation, my first "to remember" point was this:
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.
I don't say things just to make my children feel good about themselves. I don't say things that will build up arrogant pride. I affirm my children so that they can see the value and worth within them and so that they will come to understand that those positive qualities are meant to be built up, strengthened, and then poured into the lives of others. These qualities and their amazing potential—both gracious gifts from God—aren't meant to be selfishly hoarded and used for personal gain. Just this morning I read 1 Peter 4:10: "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Using our gifts to serve others is being a good steward of God's grace.
If I don't point out the positive qualities about my children, they may never see the potential within themselves. And if they don't see their own potential, they won't be able to bless others with it. What a waste of grace!
So what does this sound like in our home?
It sounds something like this:
"Caleb, you are so creative with your Legos. I am amazed at what you can build. I am so excited to see what God plans to do with this creativity and precision when you get older. You can do some amazing things for other people!"
"I love your heart and compassion, Alaina. I can see you in a few years, sitting in an orphanage, rocking babies and playing with the kids."
"Levi, I love seeing you play with Katie and Bethany. You are such a good big brother. I bet you are going to be an amazing father some day. You are so sweet and gentle and fun-loving—just like your daddy!"
"You are being such a good helper, Katie. I love that you like to help me. Did you know that helping others is really important? It's so great that at age three you are already so good at it!"
I never, ever want my children to wonder if there is any value or worth in who they are. Instead, I want them to grow up hearing—on a daily basis—about all the qualities that God is building within them and to plant seeds of ideas on how they might use these qualities to bless others.
Your children have positive worth as well. They have beautiful parts of their God-chosen personality that can be spotlighted and strengthened. Look for them. Watch for them. Expect them. And when you see them, make sure to intentionally share what you see with your children. If you remember, the whole point behind the title of this blog is to remember that the state of our children's hearts is what makes a difference in how fruitful their lives are. The seed (the Word of God) is always the same. When it falls onto your child's heart, what kind of soil is waiting for it? A soft, tender and nourished soil or a dry, brittle and broken one?
Let's water some hearts today!