5 things you should consider saying to your kids more often
“A few months ago I attempted suicide.” This was what a girl I met in Minnesota while speaking at a youth conference told me. In shock, I looked at her; she appeared to be a well put together young lady, clearly liked by her friends. I said, what would make you ever think to do that?” She replied, “The only time my parents ever told me they loved me was when I was 13. I am 15 now and they have never said it since.” She didn’t think she mattered. Hearing “I love you” regularly from her parents was the language she needed to validate her worth.
I met another teen when I was a youth leader who I got to know well. There was a girl-asks-guy dance coming up at her school, and I asked her if she was going to ask the boy she confessed she liked. She replied, “He would never go out with me, not after everything I have done.” She seemed to be referring to her reputation and choices she made in the past. I stopped her, and said, “There is nothing that you could do to change your worth. Don’t believe that lie.” She saw the level of her worth on a sliding scale, comparing herself to others and feeling like the choices she made in the past defined her value.
I met another teen at a conference who was cyber-bullied for many years by some “mean” girls at her school. She lived day-to-day feeling worthless, wondering what was wrong with her. These girls even created a website with the web-address titled “wehate” and then put her name before the .com where others could post messages about this girl. This attack on her character brought about depression. But luckily, it did not go unnoticed and her parents found out and took action. But the scars on this child’s heart run deep.
You may think I go overboard with my affirmation and maybe there are books that warn against praising children too much, but I have heard too many stories that make me want to throw those books out the window.
There is an epidemic happening in society that is attacking young people and creating a deep uncertainty about their worth and value. We can place some of the blame on obvious causes like social media, TV, movies, magazines, and so many other things that play off the fears of young people in order to make a dollar. When people are made to feel less, they will buy more.
But although I do believe these things contribute to people questioning their worth, I think there is a deeper cause. How does a society convince a person that they have worth and value when right from that human being’s conception society has promoted the idea that they are so worthless that their mothers can legally abort them? How do we convince young people that their lives really matter, when from the beginning they have been told they are exterminable?
Young people hear you society, load and clear! They have heard the message that they don’t matter and they are worthless, and it is affecting them in heartbreaking ways.
When I tell the teens I speak to that they are unrepeatable, irreplaceable, and unique, and that the day they were born the world changed for the better because they are in it, the response is always heartwarming. Something softens inside of them. Some cry. Some run up to hug me. Some write me emails to tell me how much it meant to hear someone say that to them. They long to hear affirming words. The language we use with young people impacts them. The question is, will our language be life-giving to them, or will it be another lie that tells them they’re not good enough?
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After working with and speaking to teens for the past 15 years, their stories have impacted the way I parent. And, when I hear their often heart-wrenching stories, the parent in me has an internal struggle as I think, “Where was this child’s parents. What could they have done differently to help their child navigate through this life feeling a sense of worthiness.” I understand that there are and always will be circumstances outside a parent’s control that will attack a child’s sense of worth, but I have heard too many personal accounts where the parent’s absence of words or absence in general was the very thing that contributed to the lack of worth their child feels.
These conversations have informed my parenting and I consciously and intentionally say to my own children different statements and phrases that I pray have a great impact on their hearts. I hope my husband and my words and affection for our children are the shields they need to combat the lies they will hear one day. Along with the unrepeatable statement I shared above, here are five more phrases we say often to them.
1. “You matter.”
These words seem so simple, but many young people doubt they do, so I make it a point to tell my children often that they matter to not only their dad and me, but to God especially.
2. “I love you all the time, no matter what.”
As all children do, sometimes our own let us down with poor choices. And when we discipline them, they say certain things or look certain ways that seem to suggest they think I like them a little less for what they did. I want to be firm in helping them make good choices by giving them proper consequences, but I don’t want them to feel horrible about themselves because they know they have let us down. So, I follow my discipline measures with, “I love you all the time no matter what,” or I ask them, “When do I love you?” and they answer “All the time no matter what.” I repeat this often, so they know that regardless of what they do, my love is always constant; it doesn’t change whether they make good choices or bad choices.
3. “What did God know? That you are the perfect son/daughter for me.”
My friend used to say this to her child and I thought it was beautiful. My children light up when I say it to them. It assures them that although we’re not always perfect towards each other, we are perfectly made for each other as a family. God knew we needed each other to help one another love and grow. They often say it back to me, “Mom, what did God know? That you are the perfect mom for us.” It makes my heart melt.
4. “What do you make me? Happy!”
I actually never say this when they do something to make me happy. I say it at really random times when they least expect it, so they know that their very existence brings me pure joy.
5. “I love you.”
I tell my children I love them many times throughout the day because I can’t contain it, but also because I never want them to doubt it for one second. My parents told me they loved me often, and it always made me feel safe and protected. I hope it has the same effect on my children.
You may think I go overboard with my affirmation and maybe there are books that warn against praising children too much, but I have heard too many stories like the ones I shared at the start of this blog that make me want to throw those books out the window. In a world that is telling our children at every billboard, TV show, movie screen, song, and magazine that they’re not good enough, our affirming words must be large in number to counter the lies.
These are just a few of the words and phrases I use to assure my children that they matter and their worth is immeasurable. Feel free to use them with your children and in the comments share with me the inspiring words you say to your children to give others and me more ideas to help us positively impact our children’s sense of self-worth.
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