Words of affirmation
So much of parenting involves direction, instruction, and discipline. Depending on the age and stage of the children, it can feel like half your time is spent telling them what needs to happen next, reminding them when they’ve forgotten, and then nagging them a dozen times until they finally get things done.
Sometimes it seems like “conversation” with my children is essentially one long disciplinary monologue: “Can we keep the yelling to a minimum, please? We don’t need to yell inside. And don’t hit your brother. It’s never okay to hit. Are you kidding me? Why is there toilet paper unrolled all over the living room? No, if it’s being derogatory to women, you may not listen to it. Turn the computer off. It isn’t screen time. You can’t spend your whole life on a screen. Don’t play with the ball in the hallway. Balls are for downstairs and for outside only. No, you may not have a snack right now. It’s just a few minutes until suppertime. And candy doesn’t count as food anyway. You need protein and vitamins and fibre. You know, nutrients and stuff.”
Your “conversation” might sound a bit different, but much of parenting involves this kind of talk. It’s mostly about steering children into good decisions, helping them form good habits, making sure they’re not hurting themselves or others.
To a kid, however, all this can sound pretty negative. When all they hear is, “Do this. Now do this. No, not like that, do it differently. Now do it again,” and so forth, it can feel as if they’re always being nagged and never encouraged. Don’t believe me? Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. If your boss nagged at you like you nag at your kids sometimes (or maybe your boss actually does), you’d be annoyed and frustrated pretty fast.
I know it’s not quite the same. Kids, by definition, still need a fair bit more direction and instruction. They’re still not able to make mature decisions on their own. They can’t yet be treated like adults for the simple reason that they’re not yet adults. The fact is though, that they probably feel just as nagged and pestered as we would.
The solution isn’t to stop instructing and disciplining and reminding and guiding, of course, because that would be to stop parenting. The solution is to make sure that we also do enough encouraging, affirming, and building up, because that’s part of parenting too. They need to hear both that they have to get their work done and also that we’re proud of them for doing it. They need to know that hitting their siblings is unacceptable and also that playing happily with their siblings is appreciated. They need to be reminded that they need to clean up their stuff and also that they’re awesome kids who are loved very much.
It’s all too easy to fall into the habit of just being critical, especially when our kids seem to make the same mistakes and messes and problems over and over again. We’d do well to remind ourselves that they need to hear affirmation from us just as much or more. They need to hear that we still love them and support them, even as we’re reminding to pick up their clothes off the floor or wipe their pee off the toilet seat. Good parenting should to be both together, all at the same time. It’s a hard balance to strike, but it’s what will grow kids the best.
Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.