I must have been about 10 or 11 years of age when my family and I still lived in Germany. We went to visit my mother’s cousin and his family, who also had a daughter my age. This was the first time I was meeting this family because they had lived far away in Germany for most of our lives and my mother wanted us to get to know them better because we now lived closer. As we entered their house we were greeted with the outmost love and excitement. My younger brother, who at that time was 6-7 years old, hid his face behind my mother’s back. At this moment my mother lovingly looked at me and smiled, then looked up at the cousins greeting us and said “He is shy, but Selma has always been my shining star when meeting new people. She is so open and relaxed and immediately finds something to connect with you on, I love that about her.” To be honest with you all, I am not quite sure my mother even remembers this day or event - and if she’s reading this (mommy I love ya!) it may trigger her memory.
But ask me if I remember this day? OMG YES! I remember it to the tiniest details, even as a 30 something year old adult. I remember what we were wearing, my mom’s perfume, my jacket and its big red buttons, my father’s smile and pat on my head and shoulders as mom was saying that and my brothers hopeless yet somewhat curious stare at me. I remember the warmth I felt and the love that grew inside of me - FOR MYSELF! That moment is so etched in my memory because it was pure delight my mother was sharing with someone else about me - something that I didn’t hear a lot from her or my dad growing up. My self-esteem burst with excitement and I remember thinking “Oh man, I can do anything I want because I am my mom’s shining star!” I remember how proud of myself I was and how my confidence grew. I remember how this little moment in my life was a big moment of self-awareness and self-love. As an adult I now reflect on how much this moment meant to me, and how much it pushed me into embracing my social presence. This was a big deal y’all and still is!
As an adult I still reflect on this and am asking you to reflect on your childhood. Did you have moments like these were your parent delighted in you without you having done anything to solicit this delight? Have you ever felt so important and impressed that your parent - your super hero - saw you in that light? If you have more than one memory to recall then you’re lucky! Most of us, unfortunately, can reflect on one or two of such incidents… and not because our parents were “bad” but because life happened.
When parents delight in their children, they are sending their child a message that they are important, valued, that their opinion matters and that they matter. When parents delight in their children for no reason outside of them being their amazing child - their child’s confidence and self-esteem grows and builds. Their view of themselves expands and their self-awareness gains strength. Did you know you were this important to your kiddo?
How is delight different from praise? When we praise kids we expect them to have something to show for the words that we are about to use to tell them “good job” or “you’re so smart.” Praise requires an action of approval from the parent. Delight is so much more than that. Delight is being absolutely in love and in happiness with your child regardless of what they are doing or not doing. Having the outmost opinion of them and their personality. Showing them delight means unconditionally loving them, believing in them and being absolutely crazy about them.
Let’s talk about 5 ways we as parents can do this for our kiddos in very simple every day interactions:
1. Notice their strengths and tell them!
It’s kind of like I shared with my story above, notice your kiddos strength and let them know what it is. As often as possible. This let’s your child know that they are on the right track and that they are capable of doing things on their own, including trusting their own internal systems that help them make the decisions they do. They will focus on these strengths and will continue to shape them and improve on them. For example, you may notice how your child likes to play with certain toys in a certain way. You as their parent notice how organized they are in their play. You may say something like “I love how you think about your toys and take good care of them. I am so impressed with that!” Stay away from the “good job,” and the “good boy/girl,” after all we are not raising pets :)
2. Let them know you love them, without saying the regular “I love you”
In moments when you feel the desire to tell your child you love them, find a way to say this to them in a matter that is different than the regular “I love you.” Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves hearing “I love you” however after a while it becomes a thing “mom and dad” say and kids barely notice it. Instead you might focus on something that you know your child will appreciate. For example, you may say something in terms of “What I love so much about you is how you care for other people,” or “I love that you are my child and you are so special to me. No one can ever be like you or ever replace you.”
3. Share with them a favorite memory of them
Kid’s memory works well, but they are learning so many new things that they tend to forget the awesome things they did or are doing. Try to share memories you have of them that are warm, loving, and positive. You can make this a fun dinner or breakfast conversation with them, it will help develop a sense of safety and security with them. Their emotional cup and their confidence will increase ten fold!
4. Play with them and be present
This is so so so IMPORTANT! Play is a child’s way of learning and expressing themselves. Take 15-20 min out of your day to connect with them doing something THEY enjoy to do. Let them show you what they are interested in. Oh, leave your phone behind and turn that TV off. If you have more than one child, make it a family game night where your kiddos choose what you will play. Don’t make this a conditional thing based on their behavior Let whatever happened go, and delight in their play with them. The more you play with them the stronger your connection with them. Many parents turn to play as a way to talk to their kids or ask them questions, or even to teach them things. Some other parents use play with them as a reward. STOP this nonsense. Play and ENJOY with them. I don’t care what it is, from the CandyLand games to a tea party, to Pokeman cards and dress ups, just do it and enjoy with them. It’s ok to be a kid with them.
5. Follow their lead, whenever you can
This kind of goes along with all the other items I wrote about above. Your kids need to feel as sense of control over their decisions and actions. Let them make these with your guidance, however let them lead. When they feel in power of their decisions, you
will have a much easier way of delighting in them and guiding their processes. For example, if your child is struggling with homework and starts giving you signals that they are getting frustrated. A good way to intervene is to say: “Hey, I am noticing you’re getting tired and I love how you’re telling me about this. I wonder if it’s ok with you to take a 15 min break now or a little later? Let me know what you think, I am here to help you.” Notice how you delighted in them and also gave them “guided choices” in this example?
Delight is so important, and you are the integral part of that process. I challenge all of you to mindfully delight in your child at least 3 times a day! You will thank yourself later.
In Hope and Healing,