The impact of loneliness
Because you’re an alert and aware parent, you can’t help but hear about two words that keep showing up everywhere when it comes to parenting. One is the terrible reality of the word “loneliness.” Perhaps you’ve seen that it in your life. The number of “friends” people report having today is “1” or none. Just two decades ago, people could name on average 4 people with whom they were closely connected.
The negative impact on what loneliness means in a child’s life is even more grave. Children today are not only establishing fewer “face-to-face” relationships, but a cascade of recent studies showing the health risks for deeply lonely children are real and devastating. A sobering study out of UNC Chapel Hill shows that the lack of close-knit, face-to-face relationships for children is now actively linked with high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, heart disease, stroke and even cancer risk!
At the same time, perhaps you have heard about the word “attachment” or “attachment science” springing up everywhere. Every one of those negative physical measures listed above all go down as you model for and help your child experience and learn to build close-knit, strongly “attached” relationships and friendships. With you and others!
But here’s the problem
If “attachment” is so much of the answer to the disconnection of our day, just how do we do that at home? Especially when, as parents, we tend to be so disconnected ourselves?
Apparently, the answer isn’t going to be found in online relationships. A recent article came out with a provocative title: “Parents’ smartphone use could be the new secondhand smoke.” It’s an article based on a recent YouGov poll commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. It found that for parents with children ages 8 or younger:
- 95% say their tech use interferes with daily opportunities for talking, playing, and interacting with their child without distraction at least a little.
- 82% are at least a little concerned that their own use of technology might impact their child’s communication health and development.
And the finding that is most telling, was
- Half would not want their child to develop their screen-time or tech habits, now or in the future.
Yes, there are benefits to having screen-based relationships. And no, we’re not asking you to ceremonially smash your smart phone here at the start of this article. But what we are asking is for you to become a student of what does build healthy relationships when you do put down that screen!
The timeless truths wrapped around biblical concepts are the best ways to beat back loneliness and build strong “attachment” in your home. For at the very heart of how to do “attachment” is something the Bible calls The Blessing.
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What is The Blessing?
The Blessing is something you can choose to give and live out in your home. Parents make the “choice” to use five distinct elements to impact a child’s life. Each one is a way to help a child understand his or her incredible worth to you, and to God.
5 elements of The Blessing
Those five elements, which again, are at the very heart of “attachment” are:
- Appropriate and meaningful touch
- Spoken words of love and acceptance
- Seeing and attaching high value to your child
- Picturing a special future for them
- Genuine commitment to not just say the words, but to live them out
What The Blessing could look like for your child
Although there are five elements to this blessing, each child is unique and will interpret those five elements differently. Meaning it’s not a “one, two, three…” type formula. But know that each element of The Blessing, from meaningful touch to genuine commitment, is a powerful way to build attachment, closeness, caring.
For example, for our oldest daughter, who has an enthusiastic personality, appropriate touch looked like one big hug in the morning and then she was ready to dash out into life. For our youngest daughter, the way she liked to receive appropriate touch was 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. Here then are some examples of how you can build attachment by applying The Blessing in different ways and different times in their life.
Blessing preschoolers and kindergartners
A fun and helpful thing parents can do is sing a blessing to a young child, even if their children don’t understand all that’s being said (and even if singing isn’t your main talent). 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 out each day with words that spoke of our love and God’s love for them.
Young children long to hear “spoken” or even words sung to them that say they have “high value,” to you and in how God looks at them. They’re going to run into plenty of negative words in real life. Looking for ways to build a tradition, like a morning song or putting them to bed with an evening Blessing can be a great way to impact their life.
Affirming school-age children
As our daughters grew older, my wife and I looked for ways to continue blessing them. A great time became when we drove them to school.
First, we let our kids pick out a song 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.
As they got older, we started using stories to encourage them, and to talk about issues they were facing at school, and in life. For example, many mornings on the drive to school, I’d tell them a story about “Bungee Bear.” Bungee Bear was an imaginary character who lived in the clouds, but could never fall out — or be separated from God’s love — because he was attached by a Bungee chord. On each drive to school Bungee Bear would experience something that our kids were dealing with. No friends to sit with a lunch, a hard class, a teacher who didn’t like them, and so on. By the time we got to school, both our girls and Bungee Bear had been reminded that no matter what challenges they faced, we were going to be there for them — and so was the Lord.
Bungee Bear was such a favorite, with our girls and their friends when we took them to school, that we got a group of parents together to do a “Bungee Bear” breakfast once a year. Each parent took turns giving their child a blessing, and reminding them that just like Bungie Bear, they were connected to a God — and parents — who loved 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. I waited for what I expected would come next. I had just received a D- on my huge, major term paper. Of course, my smart twin brother had already showed her his paper with his usual “A.” I was always glad for my brother. But I was so worn out from hearing from teachers, “Why can’t you do as well as your brother? You’re twins, right?”
This wasn’t my first D I’d received, but I’d worked really hard on that project. I waited for my mom to finish reading my paper. And for the lecture I was sure would come about my not trying hard enough or worse. Instead, she chose, in that tough time, to “bless” me. To see value in who I was, even when others didn’t.
Finally she spoke. “John, look at me.” She was great at making me lift up my head and making eye contact with me.
When I did, she reached across the table and took my hand. (Meaningful touch)
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, I don’t care what your teacher said or wrote. You do a wonderful job of using words when you write. I wouldn’t be surprised if God used your words someday to help other people.”
Using blessing to show worth
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 touch, she said, “I love you. I believe in you.”
- Spoken words of love and acceptance — I needed to hear those words that day. I’d heard plenty of words saying I’d fallen short. Her words bought life and addition to me, not subtraction.
- Attaching high value — She saw potential in me, even when others didn’t.
- 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.
Attachment for a child is based around three questions:
- Will you reach back to me when I reach out?
- Do you see value in me?
- Are you committed to staying with me, even when I may fall short?
Those 5 timeless elements of The Blessing answer those questions every child needs you to answer. To help beat back loneliness and build a strong attachment with your child, learn how to give and live out The Blessing. It is a great way to apply your love and the Lord’s love and acceptance.
You can learn more about giving and living The Blessing at TheBlessing.com. There you’ll find the latest version of Dr. Trent’s million selling book, The Blessing, newly revised for parents today with John’s oldest daughter, Kari Trent Stageberg. It’s a book that shares 150 ways to apply these 5 elements. It’s also a place to take The Blessing Challenge. It is a simple, free, powerful first step in learning how to take just one strength you see in a child’s life and turn it into a blessing for them.
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