Several years ago, Dan took our kids to a local event with Danny Wuerffel, the Heisman trophy winner and University of Florida quarterback. Wuerffel told how, as he grew up, he always felt that he was strong and fast and he carried an inner confidence when he raced or played sports. One evening, as a new father, he walked past the nursery where his mom was holding his son and overheard his mom softly telling his son that he was brave and strong. He realized in that moment where his confidence had come from. The power of his mother’s words spoken over him when he was little and as he grew had taken root and helped him have confidence that he was fast and strong and good.
Dan came home from the event and relayed this story to me. Dan was so moved that he began telling Matt, then just an infant, words of affirmation every evening. After Annalise was born, he did the same, with special words of affirmation just for her every evening.
I thought it was sweet and was glad Dan was intentional in his parenting. But neither of us could have predicted how precious his investment of words would become. Matt was 6 and Annalise 4 when Dan died. That’s not very much time for very many memories. I’ve hugged them many times and reminded them of the special words their dad said over them.
Words of affirmation are so important for kids to hear. They take root and help build strong families. In addition to the kinds of words spoken by Danny Wuerffel’s mom, here are 6 things every parent should say regularly if we are going to build strong families.
I love you.
This goes without saying, but I’m surprised how often I meet someone who says this was rarely expressed by a parent. These three huge words give life. The more you say them, the more natural they become. Keep saying them as your kids grow and need these cushioning words in the teen years and keep saying them after they become adults. They should be the core of any love relationship.
I’m sorry repairs and restores. It’s so important to acknowledge when we’ve hurt or offended and to repair the relationship.
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As parents, apologizing to our children keeps our relationship authentic. Our kids know when we’ve blown it and there’s no use trying to act like we were entitled to it. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t mean hanging your head in shame. It means that my love for the other person is bigger than my pride and that our relationship is valuable enough to warrant being fully restored.
Being part of a strong family doesn’t mean the absence of conflict. It means being able to reconcile despite conflict.*
I’m on your team.
I’m pretty sure I learned this one from my very smart sister. She has kids a step ahead of mine and has been a continual source of insight into kids and how to go about raising them.
This phrase is especially important as kids grow older. Even when I disagree with my kids, and particularly when there is an issue that needs ongoing correction and discipline, I remind my child that I am on his team. It might not feel like it at the time, but it’s a good reminder to both parent and child that we’re on the same side. And that side would be looking out for the child’s best interests.
I’m proud of you.
Catch them being good. “I love how y’all are playing together.” “I’m proud of how you’re encouraging your teammates.” “Good job on getting up and getting to work on your own.”
Most kids really want to please their parents. Telling them we are proud fills their love tank and encourages them toward good behavior. Isn’t that what believers are longing to hear when we get to heaven? “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
I appreciate you.
This is different from telling kids that you’re proud of them. Telling someone you appreciate them means that you value what they have done and who they are in the family.
This weekend in our home was a prime example. I think every single one of my kids pulled together and helped my weekend travel go smoothly. Rachel swung by for an hour in her busy day and played with Matt and Annalise while I was packing. Seth drove Zach to classes and then school for his football game. Nick came home, cheered Zach at the game and stayed at the house while I was gone. Matt and Annalise sat quietly for almost 3 hours with only paper and pens (and the dessert table) while I spoke at a home school meeting. And Ben spent most of his Saturday with Matt and Annalise in all kinds of fun while I was speaking at a ladies conference. I wasn’t just proud of them; I appreciated their help!
Words of endearment.
This I learned from my parents. Both my mom and my dad are still especially good at calling their children and grandchildren by terms of endearment. I remember thinking it was typical until a childhood friend remarked one day how my day kept calling me “sweet pea.”
I’ve used many of those same terms of endearment for my children. And we have fun nicknames for each of our kids. None I can divulge here. (Except that, thanks to a big sister, Matt was introduced on the basketball court as “Matt-Matt Appelooooo” for the entire season.) But they help knit our family together and are just one more way to express my huge love for each one of my kids.
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*This excellent point was made in a sermon by Dr. Mac Brunson.