Children are resilient.
Or so we are told. But in the last few days, I’ve been reminded that children are also very fragile.
Several tweens and teenagers in my church recently shared they had friends who took their own lives this year. Others shared they knew of other teenagers who were deeply depressed. And some even shared their own struggles with liking themselves.
Many shared the horrific labels that others had place on them: fat, skinny, ugly, too quiet, stupid, not good enough, and the list goes on. And the sad thing is it wasn’t just other kids giving them these labels; it was trusted adults as well – teachers, coaches, and, sadly, even some parents.
These were 10 – 17 year olds, still learning about life and how to become adults.
It hurts my heart. As adults, as parents, we have been given the awesome responsibility to raise the next generation. We have been trusted to love and develop the future leaders of our world.
Where are we going wrong? Do we really know how to nurture a child?
Young people should not be shaming other kids.
Young people should not be struggling with depression or feelings of hopelessness.
Young people should not be taking their own lives or wishing they were dead.
Instead, they should be excited about life and the limitless possibilities it holds for them.
They should be dreaming of what they will become, setting the bar high for what they will achieve.
They should be enjoying friendships and feeling good about themselves – confident in who they are.
If you want to make a difference in the future of the next generation, start with the children close to you. Encourage them, motivate them, empower them.
Learn how to nurture a child, and help them gain the confidence they need to survive the cruel labels that will be placed on them. To get you started, here are five phrases your child needs to hear from you every day:
1. I Love You.
These words have almost become a cliché. Kids say it to stuffed animals and toys, while adults say it to their favorite foods or accessories. How can we make these words more meaningful to our kids? By letting it show in our actions.
Children, just as adults, have a love language – a way they express, and best receive, love. I can tell my son I love him, but he tells me he feels love when I take time to play with him. My daughter says she feels love when we spend one-on-one time talking or playing with her Barbies.
How do the children in your life want to receive love? Take time to study them – what makes them feel accepted and valued? Ask them when do they feel most loved?
Then do it – do what makes them feel loved.
2. I’m Glad You’re in This Family.
Children need to have a sense of belonging. They may not be accepted by the popular kids at school. They may feel like outcasts on the playground. They may feel like no one trusts them.
Let your child know you value their input in family decisions. Let them know you trust their ideas and judgment. Give them a voice and teach them how to speak up for themselves.
And then actually say the words to them: “I’m glad to be your mom/dad/aunt/grandmother. I’m so glad you’re in this family.”
3. I Believe in You.
Give your child the confidence to try new things and make mistakes. Give them the feeling that you believe they can achieve great things, but that you won’t be disappointed if they fail. Teach them how to recover from mistakes and use them as lessons.
Show them you believe in them by allowing your words to match your actions. If they fail, encourage them, don’t put them down. Share stories of how you’ve failed in the past and how you recovered. Let them see that you, too, are human.
4. I Forgive You.
Children will need forgiving. We all do. Be quick to forgive their mistakes. Tell them, “I forgive you,” and follow through with your actions.
Children will carry a burden too heavy for them if they think they’ve disappointed their family or close friends and cannot receive forgiveness. “Teaching them a lesson” should not involve failing to forgive. Love forgives.
5. You Matter.
Children need to know their existence matters. They need to be told there’s a plan for their life. With teen suicides increasing, children need to be given a reason to persevere through hard times.
I tell my daughter and my son often, “God has a plan for your life.” In fact, I tell them so often that now when I just say, “Always remember…,” they fill in the rest with, “I know, God has a plan for my life.”
Knowing their life matters to someone else – that Someone else has a need, a plan, for them – can help them make better choices when faced with tough decisions.
However you choose to teach your child, let them know clearly that their life matters and help them remain resilient.