“She’s a monster.” To be honest, those are never the first words I like to hear in an initial counseling appointment. The young mom sat in front of me sharing the complicated journey she had been on as the parent of a difficult child. Her five-year-old daughter had a history of acting out, disrespecting authority, and blatant defiance. The single mom had tried it all, and she was at the end of her rope.

As a parent, I am all too familiar with the challenging road of parenting. In fact, it’s a road that many times resembles a maze more than a straight shot. It’s an experiment of trial and error that leads to the most important outcome we will ever be responsible for: the future of our child’s life. That is some serious pressure.

Yet, before I let the pressure get to me I take the time to consider the most powerful resource I have in shaping my child into the person God wants them to be. It’s a resource so profound and influential, yet it is the most simple: my words.

One of the most powerful parenting tools that I have come across in my experience as a counselor is the power of positive affirmation through words. Children are like sponges, soaking in the messages around them, absorbing those messages into the fiber of their lives. All of these messages, whether intentional or unintentional, have the opportunity of leading our children either closer to understanding their God-given value, or farther away.

Here are two things every parent should consider as we take inventory over the messages we are sending to our children:

1. Are you taking the time to praise your children every day?  Let’s be honest, it is SO much easier to focus on the negatives than the positives, isn’t it? “Pick up your toys,” “Stop yelling,” “Put that back,” “No you cannot have that!” Quickly, we can find that our words are being used for limits and consequences far more than they’re being used for praise.

Praise is something that needs to a deliberate part of our everyday lives. If we’re not intentional, we’ll find that days, months, and years have passed - and with them, opportunities missed. But making praise a part of our daily interaction doesn’t always come easy. For those who are just starting out, I encourage parents to set aside at least 20 minutes a day as special time for affirming their child. The time should be a one-on-one, parent-child play time, but the focus is always praise. After a few days of setting aside this special time, you’ll find this praise spilling out onto every interaction. Our praise is powerful, and the more we can focus on the good things in our children, the more of those good things we will ultimately see.

2. Is your praise based on “doing” or based on “being”? We live in a society that is extremely focused on efficiency and productivity. We have adopted the attitude that “action= value.” This attitude has a tendency to seep into our parenting and in how we interact with our children. It’s easy to find our praise focused on what our children are doing (“You were such a good boy today because you cleaned your room” “I love you so much when you listen”)-- rather than focusing in on who they are (“I love that you’re my daughter, You are so special to me, God made you perfect just the way you are”).

While it’s important to praise our children for doing good things, there is great danger in allowing all of our praise to be focused on what our child is doing while neglecting the importance of their being. Our words must reflect to our children that they are God’s workmanship, precious and valuable to us apart from their actions, because they are God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).