As a counselor, I often see the benefits and the heartbreaking results of parental choices. Sometimes it's as if I hear the cry that Esau made when he found out his brother, Jacob, had taken his father's blessing: "Esau said to his father, 'Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!' Then Esau wept aloud" (Genesis 27:38).
Esau's desperate plea for his father's approval can be heard in families today. Kids thirst for parental acceptance — they long for their mother and father to reinforce their worth.
Meeting your children's need for affirmation doesn't have to be difficult. One way is to do what I call "the blessing." This blessing has five distinct elements to build up your sons and daughters and help them understand their worth in your family and before God. Those five elements are:
- appropriate and meaningful touch
- words of love and acceptance
- value placed on the child
- acknowledgement of a special future
- genuine commitment
Interpreting it for your child
Although there are five elements to this blessing, each child is unique and will interpret those five elements differently. For my oldest daughter, who has an enthusiastic personality, appropriate touch meant a hug in the morning. My youngest daughter felt affirmed when my wife or I would sit next to her for an extended period of time, perhaps while reading a story to her.
Age is also an important factor in how a child receives a blessing. As your child grows, he or she may require a different type of affirmation. Part of showing children your approval and their value is figuring out how to affirm them in a way they can understand.
Blessing preschoolers and kindergartners
Parents can sing a blessing to young children, even if their children don't understand all that's being said. When our girls were between the ages of 2 and 6, my wife and I would sing a song that we made especially for them. It started: "Good morning, good morning, how are you today? The Lord bless you and keep you throughout the day." The song was simple, but it helped our children start each day with words that spoke of our love and God's love for them.
Young children are affirmed and their hearts remain open to God when they hear words about their parents' and God's love for them daily.
Affirming school-age children
As our daughters grew older, my wife and I looked for ways to continue blessing them. We found we could do this during the time it took to drive them to school.
First, we let our kids pick out a CD to listen to on the drive. Then every morning after listening to this song, my wife or I would park in front of their school, turn around, take their hands and pray over them and their day. We might pray for a child's friendship with someone or about a test that day. This individualized, quick prayer included meaningful touch and linked them with God's special future for them that day. Before they left the car, they knew our love went with them.
Using words well with teens
For older children, the blessing can become even more powerful — particularly when you use all five elements as a reaction to a teen's struggles or challenges. That's what my mother did for me when I was a high school senior.
I'll never forget sitting at her old kitchen table with my head down, waiting for what I expected would come next: She would echo the words of others: "Why can't you do as well as your brother? You're twins, right?" That day, my teacher said even more than that with his actions.
He had held my senior term paper as if it were covered in mold. Then he had rolled his eyes before handing it back to me. The rest of the class smirked and hooted. On it was a large D, underlined in red pen.
That wasn't my first D, but I'd worked really hard on that paper. And while I did skip my teacher's instruction to include footnotes, he made it clear that I was a loser. I waited for my mom to finish reading my paper.
Finally she spoke. "John, look at me."
She had already read my twin brother's term paper — for which he had earned an A, as always.
"Look at me," she repeated.
I raised my head, just enough for my eyes to meet hers. When I did, she reached across the table and took my hand.
My mother was a rheumatoid arthritic, and her hands were twisted and bent. Her grip was incredibly soft, but once she held my hand, I couldn't pull away without hurting her and making her cry. I was stuck.
I felt broken and ashamed.
She said, "John, you should have woken me up, and I could have helped you with the footnotes." When I dropped my head again, she continued, "I don't care what your teacher said or wrote. You do such a good job of using words when you write that I wouldn't be surprised if God used your words someday to help people."
At that moment, she gave me a gift that continues to shape my life today. She used the five elements of the biblical blessing to let me know I had worth:
Meaningful touch – With her grip, she said, "I love you. I believe in you."
Words of love and acceptance – My mother's words were direct, and even when what she said wasn't what I wanted to hear, she spoke with a gentle kindness.
Value placed on the child – She saw the potential in me, and her words spoke of my value.
Acknowledgement of a special future – She pointed me toward a future where God might someday use my words to help others.
Genuine commitment – My mom wasn't perfect. She got tired and was frustrated with me at times, but I never doubted her love or commitment to me.
The blessing challenge
Would you like to change the lives of your children? If so, be a part of The Blessing Challenge — that's one million parents choosing to change the lives of children, one child at a time, by taking a simple, yet powerful first step: writing down and reading a blessing to their children. Share your story of affirmation or find out more about this challenge at TheBlessing.com.
Dr. John Trent is the co-author of The Blessing, a book that shows parents how to affirm their children and others.