Nurturing a secure child with the gift of your affirmationWritten by Cara Plett
Picture this: you hold a magnificent gift for your daughter, one to enhance several core areas of her life – relationships, academics, career and faith. You clutch the gift, carry it and admire its beauty. But you bury it in your closet, unwrapped, unlabelled and never given.
Your child senses the lack of the gift’s benefits in her life, but struggles to diagnose her need. Confused, she explores fraudulent sources of emotional fulfillment.
She dates chronically for fear of being alone. Her D- in history class offers camaraderie with her peers. And an alarmingly shrinking reflection in the mirror exposes her starvation diet. Why is this happening? She missed feeling unconditional love and acceptance in childhood, and her confidence and security suffer as a result.
Are you holding or withholding the blessing your child craves? Does your child intimately feel your genuine love and acceptance? It’s not too late to excavate the gift from the closet and to present your child with the blessing God desires for them.
Five elements of effective blessing
In their book The Blessing, Drs. John Trent and Gary Smalley encourage and equip parents to actively bestow the blessing today for a secure child tomorrow.
Drawing from the Biblical illustration of Jacob and Esau, Trent and Smalley invoke the Hebrew concept of blessing: treating someone as valuable. The bestowal requires action. And the action requires wisdom, says pastor and author Ted Cunningham. He writes in Trophy Child that while parents want their child to excel, a relentless "drive for the best" exhausts the child and parents. But the blessing shouldn’t seem like a curse. To fend off fatigue, Trent and Smalley outline five key elements of effective and sustainable blessing:
1. Meaningful touch
In an eventful era, a cluttered culture and a hectic home, your family may be more digitally connected through technology than physically connected through touch. Jesus was busy during His life on Earth too, but He made time to convey worth to little children: "He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:16).
Admittedly, you aren’t Jesus. And your teenagers know you aren’t. If you have a resistant teen, plan to start small with a meaningful pat on the shoulder or a high-five.
2. A spoken message
In my family of origin, I love you was shown, not spoken. We weren’t skilled compliment givers, or receivers. And sacrificial acts came more naturally than letter writing. But after my mom was hospitalized in critical condition, my family realized the urgency of saying today what we may not have a chance to say tomorrow.
Although children are intuitive, you can never assume they know you love them without saying it, just as you can’t assume a child knows the contents of a gift they’ve not yet seen. To Trent and Smalley, withholding verbal affirmation is inexcusable: "If we can open our mouths to talk, we have the ability to communicate the blessing through spoken words." Even without speaking aloud, you can bless by writing a letter, or even a sticky note. The key is quality, not necessarily quantity.
3. Attaching high value
My parents frequently remind me that I’m one of the three greatest people they know. Well into our adult years, my two siblings and I continue to hear, "You kids are the best!"
Cunningham emphasizes the Biblical basis for esteeming your child: he or she has "intrinsic value because God created them in His image." With this in mind, value your child with genuine acceptance for who they are, not merely for what they do.
Remember the gift illustration above? Trent and Smalley encourage the use of word pictures like this gift analogy to communicate value. Animate a comment such as "Timmy, you’re long-suffering" with an inspiring and memorable picture: "Timmy, you’re a rock, patiently withstanding the daily onslaught of stresses without waning or giving up."
4. Picturing a special future
Growing up, my parents didn’t merely picture, they richly painted and sculpted a special future for me. They held optimistic, but realistic expectations. And as a result, I strove to be the best I could be with what God’s given me.
Maybe your parents teased, calling you a lazy good-for-nothing. Trent and Smalley warn that jest can reap destruction. Negative predictions, even in fun, have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecies, they say. Proverbs 26:18-19 cautions against jiving too, comparing the phrase "I am only joking" to a fool throwing "firebrands, arrows and death."
You aren’t prophetic, but you can offer your child "the hope and direction that can lead to meaningful goals," say Trent and Smalley. As Cunningham reassures, you can leave it "up to the Lord . . . to water and grow that hope." Be expectant. With small seeds of encouragement, and God’s tender care, the tree of your child’s life can bless you with fruit exceeding what you sow!
5. An active commitment
Trent and Smalley call this the mortar holding the other elements of the blessing together. Mortar isn’t the most appealing image: rigid, gray and gritty. But it’s appropriate. Conveying the blessing takes time and effort – it takes "being willing to stop what [you] are doing to minister to [the] needs" of your child, they explain.
There’s no substitute for the sacrificial dedication required to continually affirm your child. But today’s culture ruthlessly challenges this urge to persevere. Our products are disposable; relationships, noncommittal; and time, misused. But don’t give up on your family! Along with the call to bless, Trent and Smalley also provide tips that will help you more intentionally live out your commitment to love and value your child. With many small actions and words, you can have a big impact on your child’s heart!
Just as our character is manifold but unified, so too is the blessing. Objective, fill-in-the-blank love templates won’t work. Why not? Because the blessing is successful only to the extent it’s genuine and personalized. The meaningful touch, spoken words, high value, special future and active commitment mix and match into customized combinations. What is your child’s formula for fulfillment?
Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada.
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