I want our home to be a contagiously encouraging environment. Some days ago I wrote about affection as a powerful motivator, but so is affirmation. My children languish under harsh criticism and negativity, but they bloom when they are acknowledged and encouraged. And if there is anything we should be sparing with as parents, it is the use of punitive words that tear our children down. I’m guilty of this at times, especially when I’m trying to compel my kids to respond to my authority. And if I am not careful, I can really discourage them.
Last Saturday, for example, I was frustrated with Elijah when he spilled chocolate milk on his white shirt. He was supposed to perform a violin piece at an event and all I asked him was, “Please don’t get anything on your shirt.” However, in the car, he carelessly forced a straw into his chocolate milk drink and it splattered on him. This agitated me. I looked at the speckled portions of his shirt and thought, how am I going to fix this?!
I turned to him and with an obviously aggravated tone said, “I warned you to be careful and to take care of your shirt. Why did this happen?” He went on to explain that it wasn’t his fault. It was the tetra pack, the angle that he was sitting at, etc. etc. And I counteracted with, “You have to use your brain. It’s not complicated to avoid getting your shirt dirty.” These weren’t the kindest words to use and I knew it, but I was so irritated that he couldn’t follow simple instructions.
When we got to the venue, I asked someone if they could watch my bag so I could go and clean Elijah’s shirt because he spilled chocolate on it. This hurt Elijah’s feelings. He started to cry when he was alone with me and he asked, “Why did you have to tell (so-and-so) that I spilled chocolate? I felt embarrassed.”
Really?! I thought. I don’t have time to massage emotions right now! I’m in the middle of trying to remedy this shirt issue.
So I dismissed his feelings and retorted, “You need to acknowledge that you weren’t careful, apologize and stop making excuses for what you did.” My heart wasn’t right. I wasn’t gentle. I was upset.
Edric noticed that Elijah wasn’t alright so he took him aside and they spoke for a while. After a few minutes, I was summoned. Uh-oh. Edric asked me why I embarrassed Elijah. I began to clarify that it wasn’t intentional. But he interjected and reminded me that I had hurt Elijah’s feelings nonetheless so I needed to apologize to him. Oh my, this parenting business can be so humbling!
Edric was right. I had to say sorry. When Elijah and I were together, I sincerely asked for his forgiveness. My insensitivity was wrong and I had failed to understand his feelings. Elijah readily forgave me. We reconciled and I gave him a big hug until he felt better.
God used this incident as a reminder to be very cautious with the manner in which I correct my children. I may not yell or shout but I can word-weave painful statements that can cut deep. Or sometimes, I blurt out brainless, tackles things without thinking of the resulting effect on the hearts of my kids (or even Edric).
“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men…from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” James 3:8-11
Parenting constantly reveals the many areas where I need to improve and taming my tongue is one of them. How can I say this in a way that will build my kids up? Should I not say anything right now and wait till later? What will the repercussions of my words be?
I think back on the way my parents treated my siblings and I, and I have learned some valuable lessons from them. Their default disposition was to be affirming. One of the things they “specialized” in was instilling God-confidence. They repeated this often: “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” (Philippians 4:13). Therefore, we had pretty healthy perspectives on ourselves — not self-esteem, which is to think of much of ourselves — but we believed that with God’s help, we could overcome obstacles or accomplish challenging tasks. We weren’t the most brilliant or talented bunch, but thanks to the encouragement of our parents, we knew that Christ was our enabler.
The second thing they did was to generously commend right conduct and godly character. This motivated us to live up to their positive expectations of us. It also made us consider the importance and value of character as a greater measure of success.
Edric and I are trying to apply the same approach with our kids. We don’t want them to have puffed up egos (which will be to their ruin), but we do want them to believe that God has gifted them for a special purpose. He is going to use their strengths, achievements, and even their weaknesses for his unique calling. Through him they can do all things.
We also applaud triumphs of character and decisions that glorify God. But it takes mindfulness and awareness on our part because we can miss those moments.
Sometimes, as parents, we can expect good character to be the minimum. Why should I compliment right behavior? That should be a given. Instead of noticing the positive, we can nit-pick on the negative. And while our children want to meet our expectations because they desire to please us, how much more joyful and motivated they are to do what is right when they are appreciated and built up…even for the small things.
On the plane ride back from Cebu, Edric and I sat the three boys in one row and Tiana was in between us. There were a bunch of kids acting up, crying and fussing throughout the plane. I looked across the aisle and saw our kids sitting down properly, seat belts on, quiet and compliant. Part of the reason was that they were dead tired from a long day of activity. But it meant a lot to me that I didn’t have to call out across the aisle for them to remain in their chairs. I enjoyed a peaceful flight to Manila. When we were alone, I told them how much I appreciated their obedience, that it was a testament to their relationship with Christ, and it was a blessing to Edric and I. Edric echoed the same thing.
Affirmation doesn’t always have to be in the form of praise for character. I’ve also noticed that it is very effective to randomly take them aside and say things like…
“I love you so much. Do you know that mommy appreciates you?”
“Have I told you lately how special you are to me?”
“I really enjoy being with you. I like to spend time with you.”
My kids eat this up. It does wonders for their emotional tanks and their sense of security.
I don’t know any kid in this world who is not motivated by encouragement. The need to train and correct is a part of parenting but it can be balanced and cushioned with generous affirmation. And if we want to have a positive home environment, we need to exemplify what it means to be encouragers because our kids copy us!
Yesterday, I heard my 2 year old, Tiana, delightfully say, “Very good, Titus!” She said this in appreciation of a drawing that her older brother, Titus, had been working on. I heard her affirm him with her tiny sing-songy voice while I was in the bedroom and it put a smile on my face. Elijah remarked afterwards, “Tiana is trying to be like you, mom!” Well, all I can say to that is praise God! Inspite of my foibles here and there in the area of tongue management, the kids are learning to be affirming towards each other. That is of the Lord!:)
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6 NASB)