One of my family’s weirder slogans or expressions — Self-Praise Stinketh – came into being on account of me. As the story goes, I said so many nice things about myself that they shortened it to SPS to save their breath. Later in life, I had to ask myself, “Why did I do that? Why was I constantly affirming myself?”
It dawned on me
Although my family loved me, they did not often compliment me or praise my accomplishments. When I talked to my mother about it much later in life, she said they didn’t want me to get a big head or grow up to be arrogant. But she also expressed regret and said she wished she had done it differently.
Even though a caregiver may do everything for the best of the children, providing for their needs and more, showering them with gifts– the child will experience a void unless the caregiver’s actions are accompanied by spoken words of acknowledgement.
What are our hindrances to spoken blessings?
Sometimes, it’s fear. We might fear saying the wrong things. We might fear the reaction our words will bring: rejection, embarrassment, doubt, laughter or misunderstanding.
Ironically, for many parents, it is busyness – the countless loving things parents do for their kids – getting in the way of meaningfully saying the words. Kids need to hear us say the words too.
We can learn this skill.
Educator Dr. Becky Bailey suggests five categories of what we might notice in children daily–at times like when they leave for school in the morning, before practice or rehearsal in the afternoon, at supper, before bedtime. This week, say words that:
- Affirm and approve – Cody, you held the door for Grandma. That was helpful.
- Commend and compliment –At the game I noticed how you were looking up while you were dribbling and passing the ball. Great game.
- Specifically speak love and affection – With a song you make up, “Good morning, good morning, how are you today? I love you, I love you, I love you today.”
- Invoke hope and self-confidence – Shayna, you planned the tasks involved in making that diorama. That took organizational skills. You have them.
- Answer pain and disappointment with support and faith – I can imagine you feel embarrassed and deeply hurt by what was said. I heard Taylor say some very hurtful things to you. Go tell Taylor “I don’t appreciate being called names.”
Note: The concept of the blessing is taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing. Dr. Bailey’s examples are found in her book Conscious Discipline.
- Loving acts parents do for kids can get in the way of passing on encouraging words they need to hear. Click to Tweet
- Bless children with the healing power of words. Go here for practical examples you can use right away. Click to Tweet
It’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. “Kids need to know the words,” says middle school teacher Sheila Edwards. “When you’re giving to others, that’s sacrifice. Labeling it makes it powerful. Kids can say, ‘I did this—it shows I’m committed,’ or ‘This shows I have integrity.’”
A teacher told one student: “Jake’s mother told me that every kid in the class made fun of him when his nose was runny—everyone but you. Your compassion made a difference to Jake. He came home and told his mom about it.”
Our reward for giving children words
The reward for giving children language to go with their spiritual life is that we build a bridge connecting ourselves with the child in the deepest part of their being (and ours). If nurtured, it will remain so for the rest of our lives. And the child can form bonds like this with other trustworthy people because they have language to communicate at this level..
I know, because my mother did this with me.
For instance, in a supermarket line she said, “That clerk has an amazing amount of self-control. Look how patient and calm she is with the angry customer.” Or when I, as an 11-year-old, came sobbing to her about how I was afraid she would die, after comforting me emotionally, she said, “Honey, I am indestructible until my work on earth is finished and when it is, God will provide everything you need to live a good life.”
Start with photos
A young family can benefit from a Photo Album of family members’ generous, thoughtful actions. Young children remember IMAGES, not words. Print and hang actual photos near your dining table or attach them to the refrigerator. Change them periodically to show new expressions of the family’s spiritual values.
Move on to educate them with vocabulary words that match the behaviors.
Notice and affirm loving behavior. “Sage had trouble opening her straw. You did it and poked it into her juice box. That was helpful.”
I listen for, and excitedly affirm children when they use spiritual vocabulary, such as:
justice — mercy — God — peace — helpful –moral — faith — purpose — meaning — ethical — good — right — wrong — reason — conscience — spirit — soul — mind –worship — prayer — forgive — integrity — truth — inner life — loving
Each of these words becomes part of a child’s vocabulary. Once children identify language to go with their spiritual life, they can use those words in daily settings.Their everyday acts and interactions reflect a spiritual quality.
Spiritual qualities my mother’s words passed to me:
To hear with my heart
To see with my soul
To be guided by a hand I cannot hold
To trust in a way that I cannot see
That’s what faith must be. (Michael Card)
- It’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. Click to Tweet
- Educate children with vocabulary words that reflect their ethical behavior. Read more here. Click to Tweet