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During my twenty years as a parent, I have had the pleasure of being a parent to over 50 children. Yes, 50 plus children; biological, adoptive, foster care, and homeless youth. Children from all walks of life, backgrounds, cultures, and appearances have come to live with me, and become a part of my family. During this time, I have discovered that there are some things, some words that every child needs to hear from their parents.
As Yehuda Berg once said, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
Words DO have power. Words Can heal, and they can hurt. Words can encourage, and they can destroy. The power we have when we speak is indeed significant, and can be life changing, mountain moving. Words of affirmation, of trust, and of compassion are building blocks in the life of a child. Words of patience, of kindness, and of love are essential to the well being, mental health, and emotional stability of each child.
As a parent, I understand that what I say to my children is detrimental to their development. Now, there are five things every child needs to hear from their parents. Let’s look at these.
1) I love you
Sadly, I have found over the years as a foster parent that so many children have never heard these three important words. Yet, these three words are the most important words that they need to hear. Indeed, one can never say “I love you,” to a child enough times. They need to and deserve to hear it several times a day. “I love you,” reminds children that they are valuable, that they matter, and that someone truly cares for them.
2) I’m proud of you
Children need a cheerleader. They need to know that someone believes in them. They need to know that what they do matters. When you tell a child that you are proud of him, it only encourages them to work even harder. Celebrate each little success a child has, no matter how small it might be.
3) I’m sorry
I am in no way a perfect parent. Despite parenting over 50 children, I am no expert, and have made countless mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes, because, quite frankly, I am human. When I make a mistake and when I disappoint or hurt a child in some way, it is important for me to say that “I’m sorry.” Pride should never get in the way of this. You should never be too proud to ask a child for forgiveness. Not only are we letting children know that we have accepted our own poor choices and mistakes, we are teaching children that it is important to take ownership of our mistakes.
4) I forgive you
Children are bound to make mistakes, just like you and I are. Forgiveness is a powerful gift that we can give each other, and one we certainly need to give to our children. Love and forgiveness are two actions that are intertwined, and cannot be separated. If we truly love others, then we need to forgive, as well. Without forgiveness, there is no love. When a child makes a mistake, or makes a poor choice, they need to hear that they are forgiven. They need to hear from their parents that no matter what, you forgive them, and you love them.
5) I am thankful for you
As a parent, I understand that what I say to my children is detrimental to their development. Each day, I try to find something positive to say to each child, and to thank each child for something they did throughout the day. Whether it is praising a child for unloading the dish washer, or how their hair looked, I understand that my children crave a kind word from me. As a former high school teacher, I tried to find some way to compliment each student on a regular basis, never speaking harshly or negatively, and showing kindness in my deeds and my words. In both worlds, as a parent and as a teacher, the words “please” and “thank you” were a large part of my vocabulary, and I tried to not only use them throughout each day, but model them as examples for their own way of speech. I do the same with each child that lives in my home. “Thank you” reminds the child that what they are doing is recognized, is appreciated, and does matter. Like “I love you,” a parent needs to find something to thank their child for each day.
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