Everyone wants to feel beautiful and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that there’s an oddly lethargic definition of beauty in the world. If you are going to have healthy, secure and confident children you need to help them see beauty as God defines it, not as Hollywood does. But how do you prepare your kids, both girls and boys, for the barrage of bullying words and pictures? Well you start young and work hard at it for the rest of their lives, because the devil will work hard against us. Here are a few of my thoughts on raising kids who know they are truly beautiful!
First, as I’ve written before, all kids need to know that they can be who they truly are without shame or rejection! It goes without saying that beauty has 0% to do with physical appearance and 100% to do with what makes us “us” on the inside. It also goes without saying that anyone created in the image of God has intrinsic value in the world, God don’t make no mistakes! But if that’s true, then what do we communicate when we teach kids that something on the inside is wrong with them. I’ll be the first to admit (again) that when the kids want to do a show for the parents after a nice dinner with friends, that I don’t have much patience, but the truth is their role-playing is important! They need to feel like they can be silly (appropriately and at the right time) without feeling like they are an embarrassment to you. It’s amazing when I think about it, but the words that have had the most power over my identity were not the ones spoken by the dingbat on the playground who was intentionally trying to hurt me, but by the off-cuff remarks by the people I loved most. We need to be aware of our facial expressions, our tone of voice as well as our words if we are going to communicate value to our children.
Next remember, it starts young. I actually don’t think you can over-do the “You’re so beautiful’s” and “Wow you’re so strong’s” with little kids. This isn’t about convincing them of something that isn’t necessarily true, you know so they grow to “see” themselves in a positive light, it’s about creating a pattern of thought that reinforces what is already true about them! Certainly little kids aren’t physically strong but boys need to know that they have inner strength; courage when they are afraid, sharing when they are selfish, gentle when they are normally rough. Most parents know this instinctively and their little ones are better for it, but everyone who interacts with children from the nursery at church to the nursery at home to the nursing home full of grandparents, can reinforce the strength and beauty of our youngest princes and princesses.
Things get a bit more complicated as kids grow up though, and the reason is simple, more voices are added to their lives. Hopefully, for those with strong foundations the voice they hear loudest is that of their parents, which hopefully reflects the voice of our Heavenly Father! For these precious kids, reinforcement of their unique worth is key and that can be done in all sorts of creative ways. As a pastor I have found that in an age of 140-character texts and status updates, when I take the time to write a physical card for a child I have a HUGE impact. For those kids who haven’t had a strong foundation it is important to remember that they crave what a baby craves; a kind face, a cheerful tone of voice and appropriate touch. One thing I always do when I’m meeting with a student is run an internal script thinking to myself, “You are the most important person in the world to me.” It is amazing what happens to our body language when we do this. We lean forward, our eyes engage, our thoughts are focused and the results are profound! As a side note, using touch to communicate worth is so powerful. We were built for physical touch and hugs, cuddles, gentle hands and appropriate kisses, are so critical for telling a child that they are valuable.
Unfortunately there comes a time when the words of even the most loving adults will lose their same profound effect on a child. That doesn’t mean that the words should stop, not at all! But what it does mean is that at some point in time our kids will need to turn to Jesus for the affirmation of their beauty. The 12-year-old girl will look at you and say, “You’re only saying that because I’m your daughter.” The 13-year-old boy will say, “It’s great that you think I have strong character, but that doesn’t make the volleyball team!” We often think as young parents that entrusting our kids to Jesus means believing that He holds their physical life in His hands and that we can’t be there to protect them from falling from every tree they climb. But the reality is as our children grow, the real trust begins. It is so hard to watch a beautiful young girl cave under the perverted perception of physical beauty. There are few words at that point that will completely rescue her, save the words of her Creator, who says, “Ah, I know how you think you’re ugly, but daughter, I have knit you together in the secret places and I don’t make no mistakes!”
Parents are foundation-layers. What you say to communicate a child’s beauty and how you say it lays the foundation for Jesus to speak life-giving words when their door is shut to our parental voices. Be mindful of your words today. Look for ways to tell each of your children how precious, beautiful and strong they are! And be specific! Tell them what you see in them that makes them wonderfully unique in all the world!