Last night I sat at a MOPS meeting and listened to moms in my small group talk about their daughters’ struggles with making ‘true’ friends. Around the table, us moms of little ones were surprised, disheartened, and maybe even a little fearful as we listened to the moms of school-aged children talk about how early bullying starts. After listening to several stories from moms who faced issues with their daughters being bullied their very first year in school, a kindergarten teacher confirmed that ‘mean girls’ really do start in kindergarten nowadays.
As a mother, this breaks my heart. Life should be happy, uncomplicated, and sweet for our children, shouldn’t it? Especially when they’re still in elementary school.
But the reality is, even as toddlers, they’re going to encounter people who treat them poorly. Whether it’s other children who refuse to share, an assumed friend who hits them at preschool, or an all-out bully on the playground, our little ones are going to encounter hurtful behavior from their peers. Unfortunately, they will likely encounter it from adults as well. Whether it comes from being on the wrong end of favoritism, the bi-product of a teacher’s bad day, or a family member crushing them with insensitivity, our children will have the wind taken out of their sails.
When I look at my sweet babies, that realization breaks my heart and the mama bear in me wants to protect them from it all. Sadly, that’s not realistic. What I can do, though, is prepare them to handle those moments with grace, forgive, and move on.
As a mom of three girls, one of the best ways I’ve found to do that, is to speak into my daughters’ identity and self-worth every single day. When they’re confident of who they are, they are less likely to take life’s hurts personally. When they’re confident of who they are, they tend to realize more quickly that someone’s behavior is more about that person – their personality, circumstances, or frame of mind – than it is about themselves.
We do this in lots of ways throughout our day, but one of my favorites is setting them up on the bathroom counter while I do their hair in the mornings, and having them look at themselves in the mirror and repeat statements after me. We say things like, “I am confident. I am brave. I am strong. I am kind. I am smart. I am a leader. I am beautiful. I am unique. I have a purpose. I am loved. God made me and loves me.” The list goes on and on. And when we’re braiding, the list goes on and on and on. It takes a little bit of extra effort when we’re getting ready for the day, but hearing them say, “I am bootiful. I am bwave. I am stwong,” is totally worth it. Every. Single. Day. Additionally, I recently heard that it’s been scientifically proven that we believe our own voice over anyone else’s – good and bad. When they repeat these truths about themselves, they are listening to their own voice say positive things about who they are.
Another time I like to get in some positive words about them every day is right before bed. I make them look me in the eyes and I say, “(Their name), you are loved. You are wanted. You are enjoyed. You are adored. You are delighted in. You are treasured. You are cherished. You are valued. I love you so much.” Again, it’s easy to add to your nighttime routine, it doesn’t take long at all, but it helps create emotional security and a positive self-image.
Doing these two simple things can start their days and end their days with uplifting and encouraging truths that will shape their self-image and help them feel safe and secure.
Riding in the car is another great time to get in some powerful verbal affirmation. We don’t do this every day, but at least once a week, we take our car time to talk about what we love about each other. So we pick a person and I ask everyone in the car what they love about that person. Once every one has listed something they love about them, we move on to another person. Even our two year old gets in on the fun, even though she just learned to talk. Of course her favorite thing about everyone is ‘tickle!’ (which I think it truly is!) but it still gets her participating and it makes us all laugh.
Lastly, whenever we go to an activity, I try to make note of any positives. Then, when we get back in the car after the event, I tell my girls what I liked about what they did. We absolutely do that first and spend a lot of time there, before I ever bring up suggestions of how they could do better. I feel like they respond so much better and are so much more teachable when I bring up areas I would like to see improvement on, if they know that 1.) I was actively engaged and watching, 2.) I was looking for the good, and 3.) I think they’re great. Once we’ve established those truths, then they can hear what they need to work on without it being hurtful. (And of course I make a point to phrase suggestions kindly.)
My kids are still young, and I am well aware that I don’t have this crazy adventure called parenting figured out. But I do know that my daughters look people in the eyes and feel comfortable talking to both their peers and adults when spoken to. I know that they feel confident and free enough to sing through the aisles of Walmart. And I know that when they encounter hurt from another person, their first response is to pray for them, rather than internalizing that hurt and taking it upon themselves. Well…they either pray for them or else the two-year-old socks them in the nose! …We’re still working on that one.
The point is, verbal affirmation is incredibly important and can make a huge difference in the self-image of our children. Whether good or bad, your words about your kids become the words they say about themselves, and that shapes who they believe themselves to be. We can’t protect our children completely from the hurts others will inflict on them, but we can lessen the sting by making sure they have an emotionally healthy, intentionally positive self-image, so that they can keep harsh words, unfair treatment, or bullying in a healthy perspective, knowing it does not speak as loudly about themselves as it does about the one it stems from.