Nurturing Children with Love and Respect

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When you become a parent remember: To be in your children's memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today. Our words, reactions and non-verbal language skills are very powerful tools, especially with impressionable children. When we pause and think before correcting and/or providing feedback on what our children are doing, we can choose positive reinforcement over negative putdowns.

Nurturing messages are those, which convey to the child that he is worthy and valued for just being alive. The message doesn't increase his value in your eyes because, hopefully, he is already precious beyond belief. However, it does increase his value in his own eyes.

Many parents I encounter in the scope of my work assume that their children know they are loved. The reality is that unless you say the words and give the hugs, children do not know they are loved. They may assume that love and acceptance is conditional on good behavior.

Young children especially, tend to think that if they are yelled at or correctly harshly, they are "bad."

Children tend to categorize their worth into bad or good rather than degrees of behavior. It is an adult's challenge to help them to understand the difference between the deed and the doer.

It is important to help a child understand that, while some behavior is unacceptable, he or she is always loved as an individual.

The most valuable message you can share with others, no matter how old they may be, is unconditional love.
"It is not what I think about myself, it is what I think you think about me that worries me."-- Tyler, 10 years old.

Raising a Resilient Bounce-Back Kid
How does your child handle disappointment? What happens if they don't win the game, election or friend? Do they want to quit the team when they're not picked to play?

Have a Plan B
Resilience helps people deal with disappointments, stress, even trauma. Resilient people see an obstacle as a learning experience. Have a plan B and possess the confidence to keep going.

The road to success has lots of pebbles and potholes and a few unexpected big rocks and scary curves. The ability to bounce back from disappointment or failure requires life skills that can be taught. Having this ability begins with teaching children to assume responsibility for their actions, and not blame others, or themselves, for circumstances beyond their control.

Self-blame can be a spiral toward low esteem and lack of confidence. Explain that sometimes its just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and that things can just happen. Help them understand that they cannot control how others think or act.

What are you doing to help your child keep going?

Help Them be Problem-Solvers
Wise parents, teachers and caregivers help children problem-solve. They help children be prepared with coping skills for next time. Be a good listener. Disappointed children often need to talk, don't interrupt or put words in their mouth. It is their problem; show confidence in their ability to solve it.

At the appropriate time, tell them, "I have confidence in you. You have a good mind and soul. You will find a solution. If you need assistance, I am here."
Allow them time to reflect and look at a problem realistically. Ask if they need time alone to think about what happened and how they should handle a similar situation next time. Your role is to offer support and guide, not lead, them to a solution.

What are you doing to help your child be a problem-solver?

Help Children to be Optimistic About the Future
A resilient child bounces off a strong self-esteem to come up with a plan B. Teaching esteem building skills - having the honesty to apologize when they're wrong, courtesy in asking for what they want, setting boundaries on how they're treated - helps a child to cope. Resilient children know disappointments and setbacks are temporary. Adults modeling resilient skills and strategies are a child's best teacher.

What are you doing to help your child be optimistic?

Assuming personal responsibility is a cornerstone of confidence. Knowing that you are a capable independent individual is empowering. One does by trying. One succeeds by doing.

Once you succeed at something that at first may have seemed hard or insurmountable you feel confident about attempting other tasks. The emotional feedback or "buzz" that comes from achieving something will then remind you how good it felt. When those feelings are reinforced by encouraging words from others, the impact is felt on a cellular level and imprinted in the subconscious.

Teaching Children Responsibility
What does it mean to teach your children responsibility? Every parent has a different answer and a different expectation of when and how their child will assume personal responsibility.

One thing is for sure; responsibility must be taught. It is not a natural skill, but it can be learned at any age. Just as confidence is a life skill that can be learned, so is assuming personal responsibility. You do not become responsible when you are mature, but rather you become mature when you are responsible.

Four variables in this exciting venture;
1. Your child (learning style, age, motor skills, interest, hot buttons or incentives)

2. Your expectations (perfection or ever-learning, Do you punish for the truth?)

3. Your example (use the 4 R's, Recognize, Remorse, Restitution, and Resolve to correct mistakes)

4. Consistency and follow-through (natural and logical consequences)

Outward responsibility deals with everyday things (life skills) chores, brushing teeth, returning videos on time. These are habits that make us productive and reliable.

Inward responsibility deals with attitudes, beliefs and values. This is where we look at the heart. It means admitting mistakes, being unselfish, caring for other people's health, property and feelings.

2-step process
1. Teach them the skill until it becomes a habit and then eventually it will become automatic action. Automatic action is action without conscious thought or planning. This is the difference between pre-decisions and situational ethics. For example, clearing your plate from the table, brushing your teeth, putting your bike away. You don't have to decide what to do every time.

2. Praise the attitude, performance and effort. Use natural and logical consequences to reinforce the lesson. "Thanks for picking up your toys without being asked. It makes it easier for the whole family to maneuver when we don't have to step over toys on the floor."

Competent Children Become Confident Adults
You cannot expect a 35-year-old job from a 10-year old. You also cannot expect a 10-year-old job from a 10-year old who isn't clear on what is expected of him. We will have to occasionally jump in and help them do an unpleasant task, but not do it for them.

The more the child has the opportunity of "owning" the decision or problem, the more he/she will learn. The purpose of allowing natural consequences to occur and of designing logical consequences is to encourage children to make responsible choices, not punish them. This method permits a child to choose and then to be accountable for the decision whether it comes out well or not.

Most children, when permitted to make poor choices, learn from the consequences. The most effective method of teaching is for you to remain matter-of-fact and non-punishing. This means separating the deed from the doer.

If you were trying to teach your child a new skill, such as piano or tennis, you would probably be patient. You would expect and accept some mistakes.

Teach responsibility the same way. Regard slipups or wrong choices as a learning experience rather than a personal affront on your ability as a parent or teacher. Everyone will be happier, more cooperative and responsible when they know it is okay to screw up occasionally as long as you keep trying.

Criticism is Punitive
Our children judge themselves based on their perceptions of the opinions we have of them. When we use harsh words, demeaning adjectives, or a sarcastic tone of voice, we literally strip a child's core of self-confidence and reduce the likelihood they will try to please us. It becomes easier to just quit trying, especially if they perceive they are a disappointment to us.

Studies show that verbal abuse is more likely than physical abuse to damage children's self-esteem. Not only does it damage their soul, it is counter-productive to cooperation and lasting change.

The power to build or destroy lies in the
power of the tongue.
Be careful what you say to others.

Encouragement is Uplifting
Encouragement is the process of focusing on children's assets and strengths in order to build their self-confidence and feelings of worth. Using nurturing messages shows that you believe in their ability and capacity to grow, learn, and change.

Adults need to convey through words and gestures that we appreciate a child's efforts and recognize improvement, not just accomplishments. We need to make sure the child understands that our love and acceptance is not dependent on behavior or winning a prize in soccer.

I have faith in your ability to find a fair solution.

Nurturing Better Behavior
Some parents and caregivers, particularly those who did not receive much love or encouragement in their childhood, often fail to see the importance of nurturing the inner core of a child. Many would like to use encouraging words but don't know the right words to use. They fall back to parenting as they were parented, even though they hated being treated with disrespect as a child.

The sad part of this is that encouragement and kind feedback will always bring about positive change, whereas criticism brings about rebellion, anger and loss of self-worth.

It has been my experience that you can learn to make an effective response by watching body language and listening to your child's tone of voice before responding. Give yourself a few seconds before responding to determine, "What is my child feeling? What do they really want? What is it they need?"

It may be the child simply wants your attention, a reassuring hug, or a specific need to be filled. Don't rush in to solve problems or tell them what they are feeling or what they want. Let your intuition guide you for the child's highest good.

Attention is the Greatest Gift
Children need strong affirmations of the love that you have for them. Open your heart and share your deep emotions with them in word and deed. Below are some non-verbal ways to express your love and appreciation to and for your child.

Hugs, kisses, pats on the back, thumbs up, touch on the upper arm, holding hands, squeezing hands, smiles, a wink, grin, nod your head, mouth WOW, mouth I Love You, squeeze their shoulder, clap your hands, bow to them, have a secret signal that means I love you (Like Carol Burnett did when she pulled her ear. She was sending a signal to her grandmother.)

Ruffle their hair, touch their neck, tickle the inside of their hand, give butterfly kisses, give raspberries on the cheek, and wrestle around on the carpet if they like it. Dance with them, play tag with them, have water fights, play with them, have tea parties, sit close to them when watching TV, put your arm around their shoulder when you walk together. Listen to them and look at them with eyes filled with love, especially when they first come home from school.

Build Confidence, Not Fear
Zig Ziglar, an internationally known motivational speaker says, "When we have positive input, we have positive output, and when we have negative input, we have negative output."

As a parent educator, mother and grandmother, may I suggest that you need to be very careful of the words you choose to motivate your children?

The word encourage can be broken down to read "en" courage. The prefix "en" means to give the gift of courage, the courage to keep trying, to keep up the good work, to focus on next time, and not give up. This type of "en" couragement helps the child realize that they can make mistakes and will still be loved and valued.

A good code of conduct to remember:
I will not covet, criticize, complain, or condemn.

As a side note, for everything a child does wrong, he does 19 things right! How often as parents do we notice the wrong and miss seeing the right? Try commenting on the things done correctly and overlook the others and see what happens.

How about at dinner tonight you ask family members to take turns telling about things they can do.

Can you find matching socks? Can you make a PB&J sandwich? Can you walk? Talk? Read? Can you count to 100? Backwards? Can you tell a flower from a weed? Can you find the Milky Way? Can you snap your fingers on both hands? Fix a leaky faucet? Use a computer? Can you take digital pictures? Play a musical instrument? Conduct a board meeting? Remember the punch-line in jokes?

Have fun listing the obscure and wonderful things you can do that took some time and practice to learn. Most involved some risk and lots of practice until we became comfortable. Soon it becomes automatic action and we no longer even need to think about it.

In contrast to this view of "en"couragement is "dis" couragment or criticism. Either directed or perceived, "dis"couragement takes away a child's courage to try new things or work harder for fear of getting in trouble and displeasing adults.

Everyone Deserves Do-Overs
Help, both the child and you, recognize that mistakes are not always final and frequently people get a "do-over" or a second chance. The past is done; learn from it and then focus on the future.

There is such great power in actually saying the words "I am sorry, please forgive me" when we make a mistake or even speak without thinking.

When we know better, we do better. Now that you have new information, how do you handle it when you fall back into old patterns?

1. "Whoops, I blew it! I really am trying to be more kind when we talk. A better way to have said that would have been ."

2. "Wow that came roaring out just like it used to. Now, I recognize how that might have hurt your feelings. Hope you will forgive me when I slip up. I really am trying to put things in a more positive light."

3. "Okay. I know that is what you heard and probably what I said out of habit. What I meant to convey was."

4. "Give me a few minutes to reframe and change my words into something that is fair and respectful to both of us. I don't want to say anything that I would be sorry about."
5. "How about a do-over? What I could have said was."

6. "I'm sorry, I was wrong. Will you forgive me?"

People will go out of their way to help you when you acknowledge a mistake, take responsibility for your part, and try hard not to make the same mistake again.

Tell your family-Y.M.T.M.- You Matter To Me!

Next: Appreciate and Acknowledge Success 

Previous: Correcting Others in a Supportive Way

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator, family coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. You are invited to visit our blog at for answers and suggestions which will enhance your relationships. You will also find a full listing of free tele-classes and radio shows held each Thursday just for you at

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