Do you remember holding your first baby for the first time? Were you struck, almost immediately, with an acute awareness of your infant’s helplessness? I remember feeling incredibly humbled, and a little overwhelmed, by my new responsibility for the life of another human being. Although normal, for some of us those feelings don’t diminish with time and experience.
I have seven children, living now in six states. My oldest son is serving as a Special Forces Medic in Afghanistan. These grown children are all successful, and living joyfully. They know how to love, laugh, and live well, in spite of the fact that each one has faced incredible obstacles in their lives.
What can parents do to strengthen their children’s character and help them achieve success through the years? One suggestion is to tell them three things, every day, that will mold their character and help them become kind, caring and productive adults.
Just like the accomplished sculptor can take a piece of clay and – day by day – create a work of art from his careful attention to every part of the design, I believe that daily parents can add to the inherent goodness in their children.
I suggest three things parents should tell their children, every day. Like the sculptor’s efforts, voicing these ideas to our children will to help them feel, in the innermost recesses of their beings, that they are loved, they are appreciated, and they can contribute to the world in meaningful ways.
First, and foremost, say “I love you.” Every day.
These words are magical in their effectiveness to assure children that, in spite of misbehavior or mistakes, they are loved. Children need to know that. They need to know that our love for them isn’t predicated on good grades, winning a race, or even on their obedience. Children shouldn’t feel the need to “earn” our love; they should feel confident that they already have it. Additionally, children need to know that nothing will diminish our love for them. Yes, we may not like their behavior at times, but that shouldn’t affect our love for them. Parents need to kneel, if necessary, and look directly into their children’s eyes, and say, “I love you.” Every day.
Second, tell children they are appreciated. How good it feels to hear the words, “Wow! Look at what you did….that’s great!” Each day parents should tell their children, “I appreciate the way you…..” Or, “Thank you for the good job you did with….” We should look for things to sincerely appreciate.
William James, well-known American psychologist, wrote a book on human needs. Years after the book was published, he remarked that he had forgotten to include the most important need of all – the need to be appreciated. We should create an atmosphere of appreciation in our families by overlooking the negative and “catching” one another doing good things.
Imagine yourself trying to learn a new game. You’ve been told the rules by an official, and you are now on the field ready to play. The game begins and you start playing the way you think you’re supposed to, when suddenly the official blows the whistle and calls you over. The official explains what you did wrong. You were trying your best to play by the rules, as you understood them! The game begins again. However, the action is again stopped almost immediately, and the official gives you a warning. Imagine this is repeated each time the game is started. You would quickly begin to feel frustrated, and you may decide the game isn’t worth playing, because your honest efforts to play by the rules aren’t appreciated. Is this perhaps how our little children feel? They try so hard, but in spite of their best efforts, they make mistake after mistake. How much better it is to acknowledge their every good effort, and shower them with appreciation.
Third, encourage progress toward their goals. How is this done? Talk to your children like this: “I like the way you’re reading your book! That’s going to help you reach your goal of becoming a better reader.” Or, when your child speaks nicely, say, “It’s just like you to talk so kindly to your brother! You’re helping with our family goal to have more peace in our home.”
During my 30 years of parenting, I’ve learned that goals are seldom achieved unless they’re discussed frequently. The first step is to meet as a family and set long and short-term goals. Second, actively work (individually and as a family) on reaching those goals. And third, regularly evaluate your progress and set new goals when you’re ready. Working toward worthy goals is one of the primary ways children become productive adults.
Let’s review the daily doses of love and encouragement that help create happy, successful children:
1. “I love you.”
2. “Thank you.”
3. “You’re making good progress!”