My friend and new Focus on the Family colleague, Dr. Meg Meeker, is a highly acclaimed pediatrician who has spent the past 30 years treating children, helping parents, and writing, teaching and speaking on numerous issues that impact the family. One of the best things I appreciate about Dr. Meg is that she’s practical and regularly addresses the issues parents and children are facing.
Today, I pose a question to her that I think every parent has asked or pondered:
Is the affirmation you give your kids hurting or helping them?
Here is her reply:
We grew up with a generation of parents who focused on simply getting through life¬ ¬¬- making a living, getting meals on the table and making sure that our homework was done. Many in my generation felt less support from our parents, because they didn’t come to our soccer games, piano recitals or spelling bees. It wasn’t because they didn’t love us, life just kept them busy.
In order to avoid making the same mistakes our parents did, we decided to work hard to affirm our childrens’ sense of self‐worth by showing up at every event they had. We became known as helicopter parents because, well, we hovered over their every move.
This, we decided, would help our children feel loved and valued.
Our hearts were in the right place, but has this really helped or hurt our kids?
The truth is, it has done both.
Every parent wants their child to feel capable and accomplished. When kids see us give them attention or praise them endlessly when they win, they conclude that what really matters to us is their performance. I have heard many kids say that they worry that if they stop playing sports, get bad grades or drop piano lessons that their parents will stop paying attention to them.
“The only time I really see my dad happy,” one young girl told me, “is when I swim. My dad always comes to my meets. All we talk about is my swimming, my coach and how I can improve my times. My dad loves to watch me swim, and I’m afraid if I stop, he won’t pay much attention to me.”
In fact, once this girl stopped swimming after high school, her prediction came true. Without swimming to talk about, her relationship with her father seemed to fall apart. Our kids learn that their value to us doesn’t come from their existence as an individual made in the image of God; rather it lies in their ability to score goals. It makes our kids feel used.
So what can we do to avoid this? Should we stop going to our kids’ athletic events and piano recitals?
No, but what we do need to do is to applaud their character.
This makes kids feel genuinely valuable and confident. And this isn’t hard to do because every child is gifted with certain character qualities ‐ ones that Christ cares about like humility, honesty, kindness and compassion.
So the next time you jump in your van to take a carload of kids to a soccer tournament, take a moment and think about one or two character qualities that your player has. Rather than scream from the sidelines, make a point of telling him that you’re proud of his kindness toward the opposing team. Let her know that even though she sat on the bench the whole game, you admire her tenacity in never giving up.
This is the kind of affirmation that will make an impact on your kid’s life.
Thank you, Dr. Meg. What are your thoughts on this issue, friends? Do you find yourself in the car most weekday afternoons and evenings, not to mention weekends, running your children to and from practices and games? In the process, do you ever wonder if you’re helping or hurting them as you cheer them on week in and week out?
Please let me know how Dr. Meg Meeker’s perspective and advice strikes you.