In a culture where words are cheap, it’s crucial that we build our children up with encouraging words. Our choice to do this will leave a lasting impression on their lives, and change the future.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve made my children cry. It’s happened a handful of times over the past decade. It breaks my heart to see any of my children hurting, even more so when I’m the cause. Back when I was in college, I swore I would never do that, but as you know, life just doesn’t always work out the way you think it should, or will. Mind you, there are times when my children are crying because they screwed up and are in a lot of trouble, and their tears are warranted. But other times, I lost my temper or was distracted or became too critical over something they were excited about. It’s a big responsibility to carry their tiny, fragile hearts in your hands.
I remember driving along, several years ago, with my wife and my three youngest children. It was a spring day, the sun was high in the sky, it was warmer than usual, and we were headed to a graduation open house. My wife and I were having a disagreement over something, and I muttered under my breath (or so I thought), “Well I guess I’m just a terrible person!” Almost instantly I heard sniffles from the back seat. It was my 6-year-old daughter. She was crying. “I don’t think you’re terrible, Daddy,” she exclaimed. “I love you very much!”
My heart sank to the deepest pit possible. I was crushed. I had made my little girl cry for no reason other than my foolish words. It was one of those moments when you realize, even as an adult, how much growing up you still have to do. Words are powerful. I’m sure in your own life you know how true that is because you’ve either witnessed their power, or made a choice with your own words that caused destruction. I’m learning just how closely our children watch us and how intently they listen to every word we say. If you think your kids are not paying attention, think again. They’re storing everything they see and hear in the endless vault of their heart.
That’s why it’s so important, as fathers, that we use our words to build our children up. The most important thing a father can do is invest in his children. One big way you invest is by being present in their lives. But a close second to that is encouragement. You and I must take every opportunity to encourage our children with words. Words without action are dead, so it’s important to back everything we say up with an action step.
It all begins with some important phrases that our children must hear …
1. “I’m proud of you!”
There’s nothing more powerful than an “Attaboy!” or “Attagirl!” In fact, when it comes to building their self-esteem, saying “I’m proud of you,” is like building a skyscraper in seconds. You cannot begin to imagine how powerful these words are to their little minds.
A few days ago, I cupped my 8-year-old’s face in my hands, peered into his eyes, and told him, “I’m proud of you, buddy!”
A grin crossed his face from ear to ear, and his eyes lit up. I was moved but I was also convicted. I realized that I needed to make a point to say that to him, and all of my kids, more often than I do.
2. “I love you!”
We don’t say this enough. And often, we say it flippantly, as if it’s on a checklist. I’m pointing at myself, by the way. “I love you” is one of those statements that must be backed up with action. In fact, it’s critical that we do so. Words can be cheap and over-used to the point of becoming shallow. So, let your kids know you love them in both word and action!
3. “I believe in you!”
Very much like building a skyscraper of self-esteem with “I’m proud of you,” letting our children know how much we believe in them also builds mountains of self-confidence. We live in a world that tears our children down every day and makes them believe that they will never succeed at anything. Unfortunately, they begin to believe this. A father’s belief in his children can change all of this. You and I become a forcefield of sort, that surrounds and protects our children as they walk through a cold and broken world.
My 13-year-old daughter likes to perform in musicals; she’s been in eight musicals straight since September of 2013. She has a voice that could rival any you see on The Voice. But she keeps getting passed up for lead roles. It’s defeating. Our hearts break for her every time the list is posted, and she’s in the ensemble.
One of the things that we do routinely is let her know how much we believe in her, regardless of the role she gets — or doesn’t get. We tell her how talented she is and how we would have chosen her for a role. We’re not blowing sunshine in her ear. We’re realistic, and we never sugarcoat anything. But we let her know how much we believe in her. It makes a world of difference and has helped her to keep going in spite of rejection.
4. “I’m in your corner!”
If believing in your kids had a close cousin, “I’m in your corner” would be it. Through the ups and downs and defeating moments of life, our children need someone who’s on their side, even when everyone else walks away.
Dads: this is where you and I come in.
Your children, and mine, need us in their corner, believing in them, cheering for them, and lifting them up, even when the world tells them they’re not good enough.
A strike out? Stand in their corner.
A college rejection? Stand in their corner.
A close friend stabs them in the back? Stand in their corner.
They try something new and unknown? Stand in their corner.
Let them know you are behind them regardless of the curve balls life throws at them.
The influence of a father surpasses nearly every influence in this world. That’s why it’s so critical that we are involved in our children’s lives. But more than that, it’s critical that our children hear our voice of encouragement, letting them know we believe in them, we’re proud of them, and we love them!
It’s easy to get busy and lose sight of this. In fact, I go through times where I forget to speak words of encouragement and I justify it by thinking that my children already know. They do, but they need to hear it from me over and over again. Your children need to hear these words from you as well.
So, what are you waiting for?