29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #9

#9  Teach your child to compensate.  As children grow up, their view of themselves is the product of two important influences.  First, the quality of life at home.  Second, their social experiences outside of the family setting.  Influence number one is something we can generally control ourselves, but what strategies can we implement for influence number two?

The world judges us by three primary standards; beauty, brains, and brawn.  That the world judges by outward beauty needs no explanation.  It is woven into the fabric of our culture.  As for brains, despite being sometimes ridiculed as nerds or geeks, intellectual acumen is a highly-valued talent.  And every bully knows the value of physical strength.  We also value strength of personality and are attracted to the magnetic types who command attention wherever they go.

As children grow up and move more and more into social interactions outside the home, they soon learn where they stand in the beauty, brains, and brawn pecking order.  We want to attack the feelings of inferiority that rise out of this pecking order on two fronts.  First, we need to teach our kids from a biblical perspective the value of the attributes that God deems important.  Second, we need to teach our children to compensate.

What do I mean by compensate?  Simply put, we are not going to be unduly influenced by the world’s standards of value and we will compensate for how our kids are judged in the beauty, brains, and brawn department by helping them develop unique skills that they can excel in.

Let me give you an example.  Your child is a kinesthetic learner.  She struggles with academic achievement.  However, she excels in figure skating.  She puts all her kinesthetic ability into a graceful routine that has her literally floating across the ice.  Encouraging and developing that skill helps her compensate for the challenges she faces in other areas.

Ellen Ripstein won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 2001.  When her boyfriend later dissed her interest in crossword puzzles as nerdy, her comeback was golden, “Well, what are you the best in the country at?”  This line really stuck with me.  I or my kids or you or your kids may never be “the best in the country” at anything.  But there is something we are very good at.  And encouraging your child to develop what they are very good at is a great affirmation weapon against inferiority and low self-worth.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #8

#8  Develop your child’s gift.  As a follow-up to discovering your child’s gift, the next goal in the affirmation process is to help them develop their interests, talents, and skills.  If your child has the gift of service, find a place for them to serve.  If your child is the mechanical type, find something for them to build.  If your child likes to read, find material that teaches and challenges.

For our family, some of these situations looked like this.  Our oldest son, Josh, had an early interest in computers.  He took a class in junior high where he built a 386 computer from scratch.  (Thank you Mr. White).  He soon had a business designing websites while still in high school.  This interest led to a four-year degree in graphic design and his current job at Travelocity designing mobile apps.

Similarly, our daughter, Elizabeth, enjoyed babysitting in her teenage years.  But babysitting seems such a lame word for what she really did.  She was more like a cruise director taking her young charges through hundreds of cool planned activities and hours of random fun.  She was so skilled and comfortable in her job that by the time she was thirteen clients were asking if she would be driving over or needed a ride to their home.  Today, she is a sought after nanny and personal trainer in Boston, Mass.

This interest-to-life’s work progression became a common theme at our house with Annie’s service and prophet gift now being put to use, with her family, as overseas workers with Wycliffe Associates.  Bethany volunteered at Cy-Fair hospital during her high school years and followed that interest all the way to becoming a registered nurse.  Joe’s design skills with Legos and video game structures bode well for his engineering major.  (Although his mom thinks they look more like the skills of an architect.  I think the original Artist is just trying to get one more artist in the family.)

Can I encourage you?  Don’t try to force your interests and talents onto your children as a way to recreate your life through them.  They are each unique.  And a parent who helps them discover and develop all they were gifted by God to be will experience the joy of discovery alongside their steadily maturing young people.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #7

#7  Discover the gift in your child.  One of the most affirming things we can do for our children is to help them discover their gifts.  Again, as with almost every one of these suggestions, we would all nod in agreement that this is a good idea.  But will we also agree to take the time and effort to make it happen?

Discovering your child’s gifts takes the time and desire to know and study your child.  This may take getting “outside” our own personality.  We often view our children and our expectations for them through the grid of our own gifts, talents, and bent.  In short, through the lens of how our personality sees the world.  Discovery may take some flexibility on our part.

For example, if the number one rule at your house is, “Don’t make a mess”, you may miss the artist in your family.  If you grow weary of your child’s “why” questions, you may miss the scientist or explorer in your family.  You may be shutting down an inquisitive mind.  If you are too busy to play catch with your son, you may be missing the athlete in your home.  Yes, if we limit our children’s rabbit trails and ideas we may create a more orderly home, but take heed to the proverb, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of the ox” (Prov 14:4).

We found that extra-curricular activities were a good avenue to discover our children’s gifts and talents.  Choir, piano lessons, baseball, drama camp, band, gymnastics, figure skating, drum lessons, tennis, and a garage band or two uncovered a variety of interests and skills in our kids.  I’m not suggesting that all of these should be pursued at once or for every child.  Be discerning.  Take it slowly enough to hear and observe how your child responds to these things.  But overall, a variety of opportunities is a plus.

Jobs are also a good way to discover interests and skills in our kids.  Our son, Joe, took over the yard duties at our house in his teenage years.  Over time, he developed a pride of ownership in doing a good job.  He now wields a weed-eater like a sculptor with a chisel and the finished product is a combination of his artistry and his precision engineering bent.

Charles Swindoll, in his book, Growing Wise in Family Life shares this story about the impact of an affirming mother.  “Benjamin West, a British artist, tells how he first became aware of his artistic skills.  One day his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his little sister Sally.  In his mother’s absence, he discovered some bottles of colored ink and to amuse her, he began to paint Sally’s portrait.  In doing so, he made quite a mess of things…spilled numerous ink splotches here and there.  When his mother returned, she saw the mess, but said nothing about it.  She deliberately looked beyond all that as she picked up the piece of paper.  Smiling, she exclaimed, ‘Why, it’s Sally!’  She then stooped and kissed her son.  From that time on, Benjamin West would say, ‘My mother’s kiss made me a painter.’ ”

Dr. Swindoll concludes, “God gave the talent, but a very secure and wise mother gave the gift wings.”