July 13, 2024

Last month, we began considering the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of love. We explored communicating the Lord’s love using the Shema (Deuteronomy 6) template: repeat, recite, bind and write. This month, we explore the love language of words of affirmation.

The best way to speak words of affirmation and love, especially to younger children, is to unite our words with affectionate feelings and physical closeness. We train them to know our love and God’s love for them when we connect our words of encouragement with warmth and affection.

There is a precious conversation in the book “The Help” by Kathyrn Stockett where Abileen, the maid, holds Mae Mobley, the 3-year-old daughter of her employers. She is face to face with Mae Mobley; as she rocks her, she repeats to the child, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” And Mae Mobley recites them back to her. Mae Mobley, ignored by her parents, only had Abileen to nurture her. She loved Mae Mobley and knew she needed verbal affirmation to counter her mother’s intolerance of her. Encourage means to instill courage; Abileen instilled courage into Mae Mobley; those words of affection and endearment communicated to Mae Mobley: I care about you. They nurtured her inner sense of worth and security, which she would never forget.

Gary Chapman writes, “Affection and love mean expressing appreciation for a child’s very being, for those characteristics and abilities that are part of the person’s total package.” This is different from praising a child for what they do, such as achievements and conscious attitudes. When we recognize their character, we affirm who they are and how God created them uniquely. We instill courage and envision a unique future for them when we bless them with our words. How can we do that?

The Holy Spirit, our Counselor, comes through with good counsel as we meditate on the Word of God. The Books of Wisdom are timeless with counsel. The Spirit also uses others’ knowledge and insight to guide us; Gary Chapman is a reliable voice to listen to.

Affirmation

When you observe a characteristic you want to affirm in your child, say, “God created us in his own image; you are God’s masterpiece!” (Gn 1:27; Eph 2:10). I can see the image of Jesus in you when you … Or I feel like I’m looking at Jesus when you act … do … (mention their acts of mercy, service and sacrifice).

Highlight your child’s natural inclinations: I appreciated how you showed kindness to … or I liked your positive attitude during … Your choice reminded me of something God tells us to do: Say what helps build others so that you make them feel better about themselves (Eph 4:29).

Leaning toward your child when you listen to them communicates interest. Holding them as you plan your day communicates camaraderie. Keeping your eyes fixed on them (instead of media) while you talk with each other communicates, you are more important to me than anything else; I enjoy you, I like listening to you, I love you!

Affirm your child’s being when you are running errands or doing chores together: You are so refreshing to be around; it makes me smile, and I bet God smiles, too, as we hang out with him (Prv 11:25).

Regular conversations with our older children about the future can help to assuage any fearful or doubtful mindset they have about themselves. Dream with them and verbally affirm what they enjoy doing. Encourage them in ways that allow them to pursue their dreams. You can text them regularly or leave a note, where they will see it, about their dreams. A possible script: “I enjoy observing what you are becoming because I know the Lord has plans to make you happy and others happy.” You may want to jot down a personalized scripture for them: “For I know the plans I have for [name],” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11).

Lois Heron is a parishioner at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls. She is a retired educator and a writer.