Read an ExcerptWords Kids Need to Hear To Help Them Be Who God Made Them To Be
By David Staal Zondervan Copyright © 2008 David Staal
All right reserved.
Chapter One "I Believe in You"
This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Matthew 3:17
Say the word "camping," and you'll get a variety of reactions. Some recall hours filled with breathing fresh air, watching stars, and battling bugs on a back country, three-day hike. Others will conjure up a visit to the great outdoors in their recreational vehicle, munching micro-waved popcorn around a campfire before making a three-step escape back into air conditioned, bug-free comfort to watch a movie. In our family, though, camping is shorthand for two annual events: one week of father-son camp with Scott and one week of father-daughter camp with Erin.
The camp we visit, which our church holds each year in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, lacks luxuries such as plumbing and electricity. But that fact is vastly overshadowed by its abundance of bugs and stars. And life-changing lessons.
A Journey of Inches
On the first day of our inaugural father-son camp, my then-seven-year-old son, Scott, enthusiastically climbed a twenty-foot ladder to the high ropes adventure course waiting at the top. I reluctantly followed him, concerned over how quickly the solid ground I love so much fell further away with every step. The thin safety harnesses digging into my waist and legs provided a constant reminder about the fear I face whenever I battle gravity.
Once on the platform, I worked to hide my fear from Scott, from our sixteen-year-old safety guide, and from several fathers and sons who watched safely from the ground-that wonderful place I sorely missed. A light wind dried the perspiration on my forehead as I squeezed my face into a fake smile. Then that wind blew harder. The platform swayed. And I prayed.
The first leg of the ropes course required us to face one another, place our hands on each other's shoulders, and walk sideways on what resembled dual telephone cables. Loose telephone cables designed to carry calls, not people, I thought. With every side-step, we swayed. The more I tried to steady us, the more we wobbled. My cheap smile shrank, and Scott's fear grew, as did my feelings of inadequacy to protect my child. RV camping suddenly seemed so attractive.
Halfway across the forty-foot cable, Scott froze. He refused to go farther. He looked down, looked at me, looked down, looked at me-and, in a voice so soft that only I could hear him, said, "Dad, I'm too scared."
Oh, how I wanted to shout, "So am I, son. What on earth are we doing up here?"
Instead, I whispered back, "You're right-this is very scary. We can quit if you want. But I believe you can make it one more step because you've gone this far. Do you want to try?"
"You really think I can?"
"Buddy, I believe in you-you can do it. I'm sure."
Confidence overpowered fear as Scott slid his right foot six inches. "You're right," he said, and we inched our way to safety on the next platform. A mixture of cheers and tears erupted. Part of them were mine-for our safety, certainly, but even more for the words that had so unexpectedly come at just the right time, words that would mark the beginning of an incredibly powerful confidence inside my son.
My mind vividly captured that moment. Fortunately, so did another dad's camera. With computer-design help from a friend, I used the photo to create a poster for Scott that declares, "Bravery is when you keep going even though you're scared."
A couple months later, my family sat around our dining room table, enjoying a meal with neighbors. During conversation that jumped from one topic to another, Scott mentioned a career option he might consider: the military.
"You, a soldier?" one of the neighbor girls mocked.
Scott shot out of his seat, ran to his room, and came back with his poster.
"I'd be a good soldier," he said, "because I'm brave!"
Four simple words-"I believe in you"-whispered during a brief encounter twenty feet above the ground had redefined Scott's view of himself. That phrase gave my son the confidence he needed to move forward through life, even if just one small step at a time. Why? Because when a parent believes in you, you begin to believe in yourself. It bolsters your self-worth. And self-worth matters.
Wobbly Steps and Long Strides
Every child needs to feel accepted and valued. He constantly wonders about himself and wrestles with competing self-perceptions-his abilities versus his inabilities. Ideally, the people closest to him will help tip the scales in this internal battle. When a parent or other respected adult rises to the challenge, the healthy self-worth this creates can help the child's confidence to blossom. The thought process works something like this: "My dad believes in me-so I should believe in myself." Sometimes the result is a wobbly step only six inches long. Other times, larger strides take place.
A child propped up by such confidence will face the inevitable challenges of life with resolve. Such was the case with Wilma Rudolph. Early in life, doctors told her mother that, due to a debilitating disease, Wilma might not walk again. Wilma decided to embrace a different prognosis. "My mother told me I would, so I believed my mother." And that belief became the foundation that later enabled her to become a U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in the 100, 200, and 400 (relay) meter races.
While the phrase "I believe in you" seems simple, let's take a closer look, because the message it conveys can actually be rather complex.
Kids constantly listen to their parents' views on a multitude of topics. Along the way, curiosity about what mom or dad thinks of them naturally arises as well. In fact, "What does Mom think of me?" or "What does Dad think of me?" can be one of the most persistent questions looming in young minds. And when the question is not answered to their satisfaction, kids can spend lifetimes wondering if they have mom or dad's approval.
In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldridge says that boys long to hear "You have what it takes to be a man." Girls too need to hear they're making praise-worthy progress toward maturity-and receive parental approval along the way.
Fail to share such messages with a child, and he or she can grow up missing a healthy self-worth and looking for that elusive assurance from others. Instead, express your belief in a son or daughter early and often, and confusion can yield to confidence. Take it from Duke University's legendary basketball coach, Mike Kryzyzewski, who is a big fan of the power of "I believe in you." He says, "Those four words can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try."
The sooner your son or daughter hears those four words, the better, because your belief in your child is every bit as powerful in elementary school as in college. Arguably, more so!
Phil and Gail saw this truth pay off with their sixth-grade son, Ryan. He tried out for a drama team, but didn't make the cut because he lacked important vocal projection skills. While he was disappointed, the setback didn't cause him to quench his desire to perform. Instead, only a few months later he boldly tried out for his middle school's spring musical-and landed the lead. Where did his confidence come from? When Gail asked Ryan what made him go after the role, he told her, "I believed I could do it because I knew you and Dad believed in me!"
Ryan's parents sent him the right message. A child will hear and trust "I believe in you" when the words feel authentic-in contrast to canned, overused statements such as "You're a great kid." Here's why: a platitude such as this-while well-intended-can sound cheap, impersonal, and plain too easy to say. In contrast, "I believe in you" communicates a parent's personal conviction and will last significantly longer in a child's memory. A kid like Ryan wouldn't benefit from hearing he's great-he needed to know someone sincerely believed in him so he could have solid footing to believe in himself.
Or put another way, hollow words can neutralize noble parental intentions. To prevent this unfortunate reality, psychologist Chick Moorman encourages the use of descriptive praise instead of shallow evaluation. "Descriptive praise describes accomplishments or situations and affirms the child rather than evaluates what he has done," he explains.
Excerpted from Words Kids Need to Hear by David Staal Copyright © 2008 by David Staal. Excerpted by permission.
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