Category Archives: Affirmation

We Need to Listen

The hearts of children are full—full of dreams, hopes, fears, questions, and excitement.  They have so many thoughts and ideas that run through their minds and they long to have someone to share them with.  Sure, these thoughts might be about wondering if they truly are the best Lego-builder in the world or what they will eat at Wendy’s or McDonald’s in the States since they don’t serve rice, but still, they are real and true questions and our kids want someone to share them with.

We need to be the one listening.

We need to be attentive to our children.  We need to give them our full attention.  It is so easy to just let them talk while we intently focus on our screen, book, or dirty dish.  It is so easy to throw in an occasional “Mmm Hmm” and hope they don’t notice that we have no clue what they have said. It’s easy to do this, but it isn’t right.

I could list many reason why we as parents need to be good and active listeners, but here are my top four :

1. We can’t expect them to listen to us if we don’t listen to them.  When I speak, I want my children to put down what they are doing and look at my eyes.  That’s how I know that I have their full attention.  And so I need to do the same for them. When they are speaking to me, I need to stop what I am working on, look at their beautiful eyes, and make sure they know that I am fully engaged in what they are saying.  Kids do what is modeled for them. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that if we aren’t attentive to their words that they will be attentive to ours. When our kids seem to be not hearing a word we say, maybe we need to ask ourselves how many of their words we have heard.

2. Actively listening and engaging with our children affirms them and builds love, trust, and a deeper relationship.  I once had a friend who I really enjoyed being with.  We had a lot in common and we got along pretty well, but there was one problem. About half the time I spoke to her she would be looking around the room, obviously not the slightest bit interested or engaged with what I was saying.  Our relationship stagnated and as much potential as there otherwise might have been, it just didn’t work out.  I felt insecure and embarrassed that I couldn’t hold her attention. After a while, I just stopped talking.  She never even noticed. It can be the same with our kids.  After a long time (minutes or moths) of speaking without capturing the listener’s attention, kids will just stop talking.  And we might not even notice.  On the other hand, if we give our hearts and eyes to our children then they will see that we care, that we are engaged, and that we want to know them.  They will know that we value who they are.

3. If we don’t listen, they will go to someone who will. Every person longs to share their heart.  It doesn’t matter if they are naturally quiet or chatty, everyone wants to be able to reveal themselves in a safe place and to be known, understood, and accepted.  When we turn away from our children when they speak to us—no matter how trivial the matter—we send a message that we don’t think they as human beings are of value.  And since people want to feel valued and affirmed, they will those things from other people.  They will head to their peers, to chat rooms, to other adults—really, to anyone who will listen. When my children have a concern, fear, misunderstanding, or just a plain ‘ol bad day, I want them to want to come to me. My job as a parent is to teach my kids to walk through those moments in light of the Word of God.  How I can I teach them if they won’t come?

4. Preparing for the future. I’m not a parent of teenagers yet, but I am firmly convinced that if I don’t actively listen to what they have to say when they are six (no matter how silly it seems to me), then I have no reason to ever believe that they will want to share their hearts when they are sixteen.  Parents gripe all the time that their teenagers won’t talk to them.  I have to wonder, how many of those teenagers aren’t talking to their parents because when they were little and they tried to talk, their parents couldn’t be bothered to listen? Listen now when they are little—listen with an open heart and open mind—and I am willing to bet that they will still be talking to you when they are teens.

I am not trying to say that this listening comes easily.  I have been guilty of having to say, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” to a child because my email seemed to be more interesting. This attentive listening, like so much of motherhood, often involves sacrifice. It means that I have to remember what is eternally important (my children’s heart and souls) and to remember what is not eternally important (whatever I happen to be doing at the time).  I may have to sometimes ask them, “Can you give me five minutes to finish __________ so that I can make sure to give you my full attention?”  But I do strive to fully give them my ears and heart.  I don’t always succeed, but I am actively and intentionally striving.

And so, this morning as I took my morning walk and Caleb came with me, chatting the entire way, I silently prayed that his little boy soul with be filled with the knowledge that his mama loves him and cares about what is on his mind — even if it is all about our dog Lucy and how amazing it is that she can do so many things when she is only one year old.  And someday, I hope that he will walk next to me as a teenage boy, sharing about his hopes and dreams and the questions of his heart.  I have a feeling those might be more important than Legos.

 

 

 

 

Water Some Hearts Today

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!

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!

Thoughts on Child Discipline

Dealing with the behavior of children is a tricky thing. It is complex. It is ongoing. It is crucial. It differs for every family and with every child. No two children can ever be treated exactly the same and therefore both discipline and affirmation will look different when applied to different kids. That said, I believe there are some key points to remember with both. This topic is far too deep (and far too important) to try to summarize in one post and therefore it will be a topic I return to regularly.

However, even with the enormity of this subject, I challenged myself to be succinct with what I believe are the main “to remember” points. I pray that these will be brought to my mind on a daily basis.

When disciplining a child, always remember:

  1. Kids are kids. “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a fact. Time, maturity, and diligent parent training are the cure…not our angry words.

  2. We must have realistic expectations for our children, based on their age, ability, level of tiredness, and level of hunger.

  3. Child training doesn’t take place in a moment. It takes place over hours and days and weeks and months and years. Don’t be surprised to hear yourself saying the same things over and over again. How many times does God have to tell you something?

  4. Discipline must not just be reactionary (they do the behavior, we react). Scripture tells us that there are four types of discipline: teaching, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Two of these are proactive. Two of these are reactive. You must make sure both kinds are taking place in your home.

  5. Discipline and training must be consistent. There is no excuse to ever simply ignore bad behavior.

  6. That said, often a gentle reminder or a quick compassionate glance can be enough to remind the child. There are many ways to discipline and we need to pray for wisdom and discernment for which is the best method at a particular moment.

  7. There is a big difference between disciplining for inappropriate behavior (behavior that goes against Scripture, including the command to obey mother and father) and disciplining because we are annoyed and/or inconvenienced. One is crucial. One is selfish.

  8. The purpose of discipline is to help the child grow in Christ-likeness, not to “get them to do what we want.” Discipline needs to be done in a way that the child knows and understands that our unconditional love for them motivates our discipline.

  9. We can never expect a child to display behavior that we don’t consistently model.

  10. There always needs to be forgiveness offered freely and easily.

Child discipline and training is not optional. It is a Scripture-mandated job of parents. It isn’t something that can be simply overlooked or passed off to teachers, principals, other parents, counselors, or Sunday School teachers. As parents, it is our job. It isn’t always easy. It definitely isn’t fun. However, one of the outcomes of diligence in this area is being able to truly enjoy our children and to be excited in knowing that they enter the world beyond our homes as a blessing to others. “Even a child is known by his actions, whether his conduct is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11).

Please, please come back on Monday when I share the other side of the coin: affirmation. We must affirm our children. We must recognize and voice the good we see in them. Discipline without praise and affirmation will lead to an obedient– but dead– soul. A dead soul cannot love. A dead soul cannot give. A dead soul cannot empathize or sympathize . A dead soul cannot feel or recognize happiness, even when it is right in front of them. A dead soul cannot grasp that there is a heavenly Father that loves and cherishes them.

And that, my friends, is a scary, scary place.

What if the Numbers Translated?

I have been reading a lot lately about recognizing our natural and God-given personality and giftings.  I think it is something that is very important. By knowing ourselves, we are better able to minister to others in effective ways. I am sure that I will, at a later date, be sharing about some of the things I have learned.  For now though, I wanted to highlight something else that caught my eye in one of the books on knowing your strengths. In the book Strengths Finder 2.0, the author was speaking of engagement in the workplace.  Years of research has shown that employees are far more likely to be actively engaged in their jobs (i.e. work hard and enjoy them) when their supervisors focus on their strengths.  The information presented looked like this:

If your manager primarily:                          The chances of your being actively disengaged are:

Ignores you                                                      40%

Focuses on your weaknesses                        20%

Focuses on your strengths                               1%

Although I am not in the working world, I found this information fascinating. And, it was easy to understand why the results looked the way they did.  Who would want to work hard in a job that they hated and with a supervisor who only mentioned to them what they needed to improve in?  I wouldn’t last.

And it got me thinking…I wonder how closely this research would translate to the home.  What if the numbers looked like this?

If your PARENT primarily:                          The chances of your being actively disengaged (from family) are:

Ignores you                                                      40%

Focuses on your weaknesses                        20%

Focuses on your strengths                               1%

I am not saying that research does say this, but I bet it wouldn’t be far off.  What child would want to live in a home with a parent who only focuses on what they do wrong?  (I am not even addressing the issue of a parent who simply ignores their child). Parents that only mention where a child falls short can’t even begin to hope that their child will actually enjoy being with them when they are older.  No one wants to be around someone who makes them feel bad about themselves all the time.

The problem is, our job as parents involves a lot of bringing attention to the negative.  We are not only mandated by Scripture to train and discipline our children, but also we are doing a service to society and to every single person our child comes into contact with if we teach them qualities like kindness and self-control.  Proverbs 22:15 tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”  As parents, we are expected to bring attention to the negative.  But how can we do this without making children feel defeated?  How can we do this without a child feeling like he or she doesn’t “measure up” to a parent’s standard? If the above research is revealing, we can see that focusing on our child’s weaknesses can easily lead to disengagement from the family. No one wants that.  Is there something that we can do to prevent it?

As I have been thinking and praying on this issue, I have been trying to focus on what a healthy balance between praise and correction looks like. I know that I need to do both and I want to do both in effective ways. I’m not interested in raising puffed-up and arrogant kids who think they can do no wrong and neither am I interested in raising kids who cannot see or understand that they were created in the image of God and that they bear a unique part of His personality in all its glorious worth.  So please bear with me over the next few posts as I “think out loud” on these issues and take stock of how I am doing as a mother.

If you have any words of wisdom for me, I’d love to hear them.