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About this series
10 Ways to be an Exceptional Parent in a Quick Fix World
Just like anything that’s constructed well – a solid business, a powerful engine, or a superb meal – successful parenting requires intentionality and a plan. And that’s why Living on the Edge is pleased to share this series from Doug Fields, Senior Director of the Homeword Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Doug has been called by many "America's youth pastor."More from this series
All kids need, what I call, “ongoing affection.” I added the modifier “ongoing” for those of us guys in here. Because guys are real simple. And if I would say, “Your kids need affection,” I can just see my buddies going home and going, “Hey, son.” Okay. Check. What else? I’m going to get through the other nine really quick.
Okay, because often times, men are accused of being the emotional equivalent of a brick. And, ladies, stereotypically and statistically, you are much more affectionate with your kids than men are. That’s why never in the recorded history of the world has a kid ever been hurt in the front yard and ran in the house and yelled for dad. Okay?
When kids are hurt, they run in, who do they ask for? Mom. Why? Because dads don’t care. Okay? As much. I might, my dad’s line was, “Shake it off.” I would run in crying as a little kid, “Ahhhh!” “Shake it off, Doug. Shake it off.” “I want to, but my bone is sticking out! And I’m afraid if I shake it off…” “You’re going to be fine. Go get me some ice cream. Get out of the way of the TV.” That’s guys.
I can remember as a child being sick in the middle of the night, having to go to the bathroom to throw up or something like that, and it felt like before the toilet lid even went up, man, boom, mom was there, right? With a washcloth, scratching my back, whispering in my ear, being really gentle and comforting, analyzing what it was that made me sick. And I used to think to myself, Where’s my dad? And I never knew until I became a dad that he was tired.
Man, affection, affection is something emotionally healthy kids have in common. And it’s not just a male issue. Ladies, affection is something emotionally healthy kids have in common. And healthy kids have been given a lot of affection.
From the time that we were born, social scientists refer to this as skin hunger. And what that means is that we need a touch, we need affection. And that affection must be fed consistently and appropriately because if it is not fed consistently and appropriately, what is going to happen is we are going to settle for inappropriate affection and actually become emotionally distant from our parents.
So guys, if you can’t figure out how to give, express your emotion properly, let me just tell you, your kids are going to suffer. An unaffectionate father, this isn’t Doug’s opinion, okay? This is research. An unaffectionate father will produce boys who don’t know how to express themselves emotionally or girls who will express themselves sexually.
Most promiscuous teenaged girls have emotionally, not all – everybody, I’m not saying this is one hundred percent of the time, but most have emotionally absent dads or physically absent dads. That the dad may actually be there but there is no affection lights cooking anywhere.
And I understand, I understand there are hurdles to this. I have talked to enough parents over the years and I can hear what some of you are thinking, Doug, affection wasn’t modeled to me as I was growing up. Or, I’m just not a touchy-feely type person. It’s not my personality. Or, I have had bad experiences with misguided affection to me.
Here’s my response. I am so sorry. I am so sorry there are hurdles in your life but as a parent, you have to face your hurdles. You have to identify them and you’ve got to figure out a way to get over them, because if not, you’re going to wound your kids.
It may require some counseling; it may require some intervention into your life. But something may need to change or your kids are going to suffer because of that.
Those of you with pre-teens or teenagers, and some of you don’t have it yet, it’s coming your way. Those of you with little kids, your kids want to hug you. They run in the house and are like, “Hi! Hi! Hi!” They want to hug you. They hit a certain age; they don’t run in the house. They walk in the house with a little bit of attitude and they don’t come running after you to hug. They see you and they roll their eyes and walk the other way. Okay?
And that’s when you need to pour it on. You need to get close to them. You need to be affectionate with them. And here is what they are going to say: “You’re weird and embarrassing to me.” Which is the most ironic statement in the world that you are weird and embarrassing because you want to say, “Really? I’m weird and embarrassing? And you wear a Justin Bieber backpack to school?” Okay? “And posted seventy-five selfies of yourself? But I’m weird and embarrassing?”
See, that stage of life is when they need it the most. But here’s what parents do: They become passive aggressive and they go, Well, my kid doesn’t want to hug me so I’m not going to hug them. If that’s you, you need to grow up. You need to be the parent, all right? They need that affection, because if you push those connections away, you’re going to push them away.
And, again, kids that don’t get appropriate affection will seek it out in inappropriate ways. And our culture has a lot of opportunities for them.
The third thing all kids need from caring adults is they need encouraging words. If your child is breathing, he or she needs encouragement. Encouragement is one of the deepest cravings of our soul. And I have never met anybody in my entire life who is like, “Stop it. Really. I can’t take anymore encouragement. I just can’t. I’m going to explode. Do not encourage!” No! Nobody does that.
Encouragement is like food for our soul and people around you are starving. They need that fuel. And, by the way, those of you who are older, your kids have not outgrown this. Okay? I’m just letting you know. They may not live with you anymore, they might not even be in the same state as you, but they haven’t outgrown it.
Here’s what words do: Words have the ability to shape a kid’s life for the positive or the negative.
So let’s go really, really practical. Let me help you be more encouraging. How do you do this? Well, one, when you see it, say it. Say it positive. When you see something positive, say it! Catch them doing things right instead of always catching them doing things wrong. I’m not saying you never say what they are doing wrong.
I’m just saying if you were to put a microphone in the average house, all you hear is, “Would you put the backpack by the back door? I tell you that every, single…get the cleats off the pool table! How many times do I tell you, ‘Get the cat out of the microwave!’” We are always on kids about stuff.
Now, by show of hands, how many of you would rather be around people who like you than criticize you? Let me see. I’m just curious. Yeah. Well, why would your kids be any different?
If you’re constantly on their case about stuff, you are conditioning them to avoid you. They want to be around people who actually like them. So what if you switch things around? Yes, instruct them in what they need to do. But also catch them doing things right. “Buddy! You put the toilet seat down! That is so great! Here’s some licorice and a Mountain Dew! Let’s throw a party!”
Catch them doing things right. Here’s what I’m getting at: I want you to imagine your kid with a tattoo on their forehead. Okay? Now, for some of you, it’s not too hard to imagine because it’s just going to happen in a few years.
But the tattoo says this: Encourage me, mom! Encourage me, dad! So when you see them in the morning, “I’m so glad you’re breathing! You dressed yourself. I love it! You’re alive! That is great. Your nose ring matches your blouse. Woo!” Whatever it is. Just give them so encouragement.
And, parents, here’s the key: Don’t expect it back. Okay? Don’t expect it back and you won’t be disappointed.
But when you encourage them, especially in the pre-teen/teen years, they are not going to encourage you back. All right? They don’t have the emotional vocabulary to affirm you. So what parents do, again, they go passive aggressive: Well, he’s not saying anything nice to me; I’m not going to say anything nice to you. Again, grow up. Be the parent. All right?
Let me come at you from the future. Okay? I told you. My kids are twenty-five, twenty-two, nineteen – they begin to get it. It will come to you. Okay? Just don’t expect it right now.
And let me get a little advanced with you and some of you may not be ready for this, but others, you’re ready for this. This is advanced encouragement. You’ve got to learn to encourage kids beyond their performance. You have to go deeper than just their performance. Now, track with me for a minute.
A lot of language directed at kids is either shame oriented or performance oriented. And some of you grew up in that environment. You did something wrong, you got the look of, “Shame on you.” You did something right, you got the little pat on the head, “Way to go.” Shame on you; I’m proud of you. Shame on you; I’m proud of you. You’re just kind of like, I don’t know. Shame on you? Proud of you?
And so then, you try to live for the more, “I’m proud of you.” So you grew up, now, all of a sudden, trying to earn your parents’ praise. That’s why you are surrounded by tons of adults who are classic people-pleasers. Because they grew up in a “Shame on you; I’m proud of you” environment. Let’s face it – your kids are going to fail. Okay? And when they fail, you don’t want to shame them.
But it’s not smart to say, “I’m proud of you,” for failing. So you’ve got to look for encouragement opportunities that is not based solely on your performance. So when you go to your kid’s game and they hit a homerun or they strike out, the encouragement is the same: “I love watching you play. I love watching you play.” Talk about building confidence in a kid.
When you encourage, think about those five Cs that I gave you at the beginning. When you encourage, encourage toward those five Cs. Okay? You might even say something like, “I’m amazed at how patient you are with your little brother.” What is that? That’s character.
“I noticed that mom didn’t want to get up from the couch and you got the remote for her. I love seeing you serve other people.” That’s compassion. “I was really proud of the way that you stood up for your convictions.” “Hey, buddy, I was looking at your report card the other day and it is so obvious that you are not cheating. And it’s just really good.”
Words are powerful. The Bible says in Proverbs 12, verse 6, “The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush.” I love this. “But the words of the godly save lives.” The reason we have a difficult time using good words for people is because those good words originate in one’s heart.
Good words actually come from a good heart. That’s what Jesus said. In Matthew 12:35, Jesus said, “A good person produces good words from,” – what? “…a good heart and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart.”
Careless words or careful words – Jesus says they are birthed within our heart. That’s why everything in all relationships goes back to the heart.
I’ll tell you my story. When Jesus really transformed my heart, my parenting changed. Because if I’m really honest with you, as a parent, I wasn’t ready to face the ugliness of my selfishness.
I thought that when I got married that I was dealing with my selfishness. But marriage is nothing compared to the selfishness that I feel parenting. Because as a parent, you’re always on. Kids don’t leave you alone. And, honestly, my heart was not strong enough to love my kids the way they needed to be loved. So I had to ask Jesus, I had to beg Jesus to change my heart. And when He changed my heart, my parenting changed.
And here’s the deal, there’s no technique, there’s no plan, there’s no relationship strategy that really matters at all if you miss how God views us. None of this works if you don’t understand how God sees us.
In Ephesians 5:1 it says, “Follow God’s example, therefore,” read the rest with me, “as dearly loved children.” It’s dearly loved children. It doesn’t say, “Follow God’s examples as the one God tolerates.” “Follow God’s examples as the ones God is mostly disappointed with.” No. It says, “Follow God’s examples as dearly loved children.”
See, I think what I have for you is really helpful. I’m really excited to help many of you parents. I think it’s practical and helpful. But if you miss this core truth, none of it really matters.
See, the best help is going to come up short because what happens is you wind up parenting from a wounded heart. You wind up parenting from a broken heart. You wind up parenting from a wrong identity.
But when people know that they are dearly loved, they are capable of loving dearly. When you know that you are dearly loved as God’s child, you are capable of dearly loving. And that’s our dream for this community of people that we call “the Church,” that we would go through life knowing that we are dearly loved.
I have the total audacity to believe that your parenting can be helped, your children can be changed, and they can make a difference in this world.