“Mom, look at me! Look at me, Mom! Hey, look!! Look what I can do!! Look at me!!”
We’ve all heard this, right? I don’t care if you are Mom, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, Children’s pastor, random stranger…when a child completes a task as incredible as jumping on a trampoline or sliding down a slide for the first time, the first and loudest thing they want is to be seen! The cry of “look at me!” rises unbidden and unhindered and unstoppable until you look AND you affirm. It’s that final part that really makes it. Just glancing their way does not stop the cries for attention but a simple, “Wow, buddy, that’s awesome!” will silence the cry and, more importantly, satisfy their little soul.
And let’s be honest folks, that whole “cry for attention” thing? That doesn’t stop when we get older. We might get a little less vocal about it and we may not draw overt attention to us, but there is something in us that longs for and desires affirmation from others that we have done well. Don’t believe me? How excited do you get when your Facebook status or Instagram picture starts piling up the “likes”? There’s just a little bit of, “Hmm, cool. People liked that” in each of us…that’s why there’s a “like” button.
Affirmation needs to become part of our church’s and home’s DNA. We affirm and celebrate everything from first steps to tooth loss in our kids life, but how often do we take the time to affirm things like kindness, generosity, and obedience? When our child shares something they learned in Sunday school or offers to pray at dinnertime, are we stopping to say, “Wow, buddy, that’s awesome”? I’m not saying you need to break out in song every time a child demonstrates growth in some spiritual area, but it would be wise to affirm it and celebrate it as often as possible so the “look at me” thing that is in all of us is finding rest in these places of growth.
Here are three ideas for creating space for affirmation in your home:
1. Celebration – Our family has a 30-second celebration, a 2-minute celebration and a BIG celebration that we use as appropriate to each situation.
- If I see one of my kiddos walking in some area of personal growth, I’ll yell out, “30-second celebration!” and the whole family will stop and join in a mini-dance party (we call it our “Oh Yeah dance”) in honor of that person.
- If the whole family has a good moment, such as working through a fight or cooperating to complete a task, it’s a 2-minute celebration which is an full-out dance party to something like “Happy” or just about anything by Toby Mac.
- Our BIG celebrations are Star Dinners where the honored child picks where we eat dinner and we go around the table, each saying something affirming or encouraging to the Star of the night.
These celebrations attach joy and affirmation to nearly every situation we experience and give space to touch that “look at me” spot in our kids’ hearts.
2. Affirmation – To affirm something is to “declare it to be true.” As Christians we have the chance to not only affirm what we know is true about a child (“You’re a great artist” or “You are really good with little kids”) but also what we know is true about them in Christ (“You have an amazing calling on your life” or “You are immeasurably, overwhelming, unconditionally loved”). Affirming is NOT the same thing as spoiling or pandering. You’re not just saying nice things so your child is proud or has high self-esteem. Rather, you are recognizing and drawing attention to TRUTH in his/her life, know that Christ tells us that “truth will set us free” from fears of inadequacy and self-doubt.
For more on the importance of affirmation, check out this article by Cornerstone for Parents.
3. Recognition – When God is doing a work in our life, sometimes it is hard for us to see it. We need a trusted friend to come alongside us and say, “You know, I can really see that you’ve grown in such-and-such.” I love the story of Peter and Jesus as the “first breakfast” where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. After three times, Peter is sad because he knows that he had denied the one he loved. But Jesus affirms Peter; he calls out truth in Peter’s life and tells him that he will be a minister to God’s flock and eventually even die for Him. In that moment, Jesus saw something in Peter than Peter just couldn’t see. Peter saw failure; Jesus saw a faithful friend and fellow minister.
Kids need us to be that for them. They need us to recognize Jesus in them and to call out those gifts and callings with faith and excitement. In our homes and in our churches sit tomorrow’s pastors, teachers, missionaries, doctors, businessmen, artists but they are today’s church, needing discipled, mentored, and encouraged in their faith. A simple note, a whispered prayer, a quiet compliment, a shared Bible verse could be all it takes for a child or youth to see who they are in Christ. Engage them; recognize for them what they can’t see for themselves. Let them know they are relevant today because in doing so, you help ensure their relevance for tomorrow.
Have you ever seen a kid’s eyes light up when you give them that little moment of notice and appreciation? Just think about how their souls light up when we engage their very spirits! It’s worth some time for us as adults to stop and really look. It’s worth even more than a “like” on Facebook.
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.