Parental Affirmation

Children need parents to warn them against wrong behavior and to provide them with consequences when they make wrong choices. But they need more than warnings and consequences related to bad behavior. They also need parents to encourage good behavior and to recognize when they make good choices. We may call this affirmation, and for whatever reason, parents often struggle to provide this.

The Precedent for Affirmation

Many unfortunately view the Bible as a book filled with difficult instructions, elusive expectations, and judgment from God. This limited perspective fails to recognize that positive affirmation runs throughout God’s revelation, whether in the Old or New Testament. In the beginning, God announced that he would make people to reflect his image and to accomplish significant things in the world. He repeated this sentiment soon after he created them and called his creation “very good” (Gen 1:24-31).

Even after the Fall, positive affirmation continues, in addition to difficult instructions and judgments for wrong behavior. Consider what God said about Job. “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8)? Also consider what godly people say about others, as when Paul affirms Timothy: “You know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel” (Phil 2:22). As you study Scripture for yourself, you will discover frequent statements of this nature.

The Twofold Basis of Affirmation

As you encounter affirmations in Scripture, you should notice two important facts about what you find.

Affirmation Based on Reality

First, affirmation is based upon reality. In other words, it recognizes what is actually the case and does not resort to wishful thinking or fictitious platitudes. Attempts at affirmation which do not reflect the truth are nothing more than flattery or dishonesty (Psa 12:2-3; Eph 4:25). In contrast, true affirmation notices something that is true about a relationship, an action, or a pattern of behavior and responds with personal recognition.

To each of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3, God says, “I know your works.” On this basis, two of the seven churches receive only positive affirmations, Smyrna (2:8ff.) and Philadelphia (3:7ff.). One, Laodicea, receives no positive affirmation (3:14ff.), while four get mixed reviews: Ephesus (2:1ff.), Pergamum (2:12ff.), Thyatira (2:18ff.) and Sardis (3:1ff.). This demonstrates that affirmation is important, even when correction is also necessary, but only when there is really something to affirm.

Affirmation Based upon the Work of God

Second, affirmation should account for God’s role in the good that you observe, for there is nothing good apart from God. For instance, notice how Jesus affirmed Peter’s spiritual discovery that Jesus was the Son of God. He didn’t merely say, “Good job, Peter! I knew you could do it!” Instead, he said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17). Minutes later, Jesus would correct Peter for his subsequent wrong behavior (Matt 16:23), mixing affirmation and correction together in the discipleship process.

Parents should learn to do the same. As you correct your child’s wrong behavior, learn to point out what you see God doing in his or her life. You can do this in at least two ways. You can remind them about what God is doing in a general but real way. For example, you can say, “I love you, and God loves you even more” (John 3:16). Or you can say, “I am looking forward to what God will do through your life” (1 Thess 5:24).

You can also recognize specific ways that God is bringing about real, observable change in your child’s life. You can say, “I’ve noticed how patient you are with your brother lately. I can see that God is working in your life.” Or you can say, “Remember how you used to keep on playing when I called you? Now you are coming right away. You are really growing in the Lord.” Whatever the case, look to God for wisdom to know when to say things like this and to know what to say. Thoughtful, God-focused words of affirmation, in addition to correction, go a long way towards guiding a child in the right direction.

Some Means of Affirmation

Parents may provide affirmation to their children in a variety of ways. Here are three possibilities. A good approach will certainly involve words, but other means as well.

Affirming with Words

Words may be the most powerful form of affirmation and should not be neglected (Prov 18:21). As presented previously, a parent should continually recognize opportunities to say things to their child that build them up in general and specific ways, while acknowledging God’s personal involvement (Eph 4:29; Phil 2:13).

Affirming with Eye Contact

Focused interaction is a powerful form of affirmation. Give your children concentrated eye contact when they speak to you, and give them the same kind of focus with your ears when you listen to them, as God does for his children (Psa 34:15; Jam 1:19; 1 Pet 3:12)

Affirming with Physical Touch

There is a time to embrace (Eccl 3:5). A big hug, a kiss on the cheek, a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back –repeated expressions of affection give affirmation, especially in significant moments. (Gen 33:4; 48:10; Psa 139:5, 10; Jer 31:3; Mark 8:22; Rom 16:16).

Review Questions

  1. Did your parents provide you with affirmation? How or how not?
  2. Are you providing your children with a regular flow of affirmation? What ways do you do this and how can you improve?
  3. How can your family put into practice what you have learned from this lesson?
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