“Instead of trying to protect yourself through your fear, learn to live dangerously! – by doing and saying what you think, know, and believe to be right, by not caring that you may be mistaken at times” ~ Dr. Conrad Barrs, Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation
Did you grow up in an environment where it was safe to make mistakes?
Many of us didn’t and as parents, ourselves, don’t know exactly how to cultivate that environment for our children.
Why it’s important to allow for mistakes
First of all, we all make mistakes. Adults included. It’s so easy to get caught up in the way that you’ve failed to be kind, loving and compassionate toward your children. The reality is that we aren’t perfect parents and our children aren’t perfect kids.
Parents tend to be very hard on themselves and make their mistakes into something bigger than they are. This is especially true when it comes to how those mistakes affect kids.
But what if we were able to use the times when we make mistakes as a way to build up our children and teach them? What if, instead of focusing on the ways that both we fail throughout the day, we focus on the things about each other that we love and want to build up?
Creating that type of environment, where it’s safe for everyone to make mistakes and everyone has a deep sense of belonging and of being loved, takes something called affirmation.
Affirmation: What is it?
Affirmation is the process by which a person is accepted for who they are.
It’s not about what they do, how they behave, what benefit you may receive from them or even about how they feel about themselves. It’s that their identity and value is in who they are.
It seems simple, right? Of course you love your children for who they are!
But it’s probably much more difficult in practice because what that really means is to love unconditionally. That unconditional love, acceptance and delight in our children is affirmation.
The thing is, no matter how hard you try, loving unconditionally all day long is something you cannot do. You aren’t perfect.
Only God can do this perfectly. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be perfect because when you make mistakes, you show your children that mistakes are the way to learn to love better.
Mistakes and affirmation go hand in hand. Creating a home centered around affirming your children and delighting in them means that your environment is one where mistakes are accepted as a way that you learn to love better.
What affirmation really sounds like
Now, we aren’t saying to throw discipline out the window entirely. Of course, we still need to form our children, encouraging good behavior and directing them toward growth in virtue. In fact, that’s part of affirming them!
We’re talking about a deep acceptance of where they are right now instead of focusing on the things about them that aren’t yet where you hope them to be. Allow them to be who they are in that moment and take notice of their unique personality.
So how do we do that?
First, pay attention to sensitivities. Be aware of their developmental stages and set up their environment in a way that allows them to grow and explore within that stage.
For example, maybe your toddler is spilling or pouring things on the floor. Instead of taking those things away because they’re making a mess, observe them. Can you give them something else that will meet the need to learn that skill better? If so, do it!
Secondly, develop a sense of wonder in your child by observing their play or work without interrupting them. These observations allow you to be more open to their unique goodness. As you see your child the way God does, you’ll develop a sense of wonder at, and can take delight in, the child they are in that moment.
To do these two things well, parents must live a calm and balanced life. Of course, that’s easier said than done and will also take practice!
Of course, things still need to get done: you still need to run errands and make it to appointments on time. But the ways in which you respond to your children in moments of your own stress or impatience impact their sense of peace and calm. This makes it more difficult for their unique goodness to be seen.
It won’t happen overnight!
Delighting in and affirming your children is a lifelong process. It’s not something you can do all at once or that you’ll perfect right away. It takes practice. While you learn, you’ll make mistakes. Affirming yourself and your spouse in this process will be key in creating that loving, safe environment.
Not only will you be able to love and affirm your children better because you feel loved and affirmed, but your children learn through observing you and your spouse. And that’s where the safe environment takes root.
Are you interested in learning more about affirming your children? You can check out our most recent podcast episode right here.
Check out our worksheet on cultivating a family culture.