What messages does your child get about himself from you? The most important factor in your child’s personal sense of value is how significant others, especially you, view him.
As his parent you have a uniquely influential role in how your child values or devalues himself. No one’s opinions and attitudes (messages) are as important as yours in the life of your young child. The early impression he gains about himself from you tend to be very powerful for most of his life. Why do you play such an important role in the way your child sees himself?
Try to imagine yourself as a large mirror into which your child is constantly gazing. In that mirror (you) he is picking up attitudes or feelings about himself. To a large degree, this is what is happening on an emotional level between you and your child. Your child has an uncanny ability to interpret the meaning of what you say or do at an emotional level.
Don’t be alarmed by this and think you can never make a mistake with your child lest you ruin him for life. You can, and will, say and do things you regret but it is the repeated and uncorrected errors that do the most damage. If you have a negative way of talking with your child he will eventually believe what you keep saying about him. He will believe himself to be what you say he is.
Good parents understand their need to discipline themselves in the way they treat their children. They know their words and actions have the power to bless or curse their children. Good parents also know they are human and make mistakes with their children. And good parents apologize and change their behavior when they mess up.
Loving your child in a healthy way is not such an easy thing to do. It is not that your child doesn’t need or deserve such love but healthy love requires a high degree of personal discipline and maturity. Good parenting can’t be done by lazy people. Undisciplined parents cannot raise disciplined children.
Unfortunately, some adults are incapable of healthy love because they are stuck in their own childhood needs. They have not grown up and cannot give a mature, grown-up kind of love. This is why I believe the first order of business for the parent after our commitment to God is to grow up. Parents who act like children cannot rear children in a healthy environment.
So, how do you know if your love for your child is a healthy love? I think of healthy love in this way: healthy love seeks to do what is in the ultimate best interest of the other person. I think you will find this definition consistent with the New Testament concept of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 and in other passages and with the teachings of Jesus.
One of the major implications of this definition is that you, the parent, must make judgments based on your understanding of what is best for your child. For example, over the course of his life, what values, skills and attitudes will best equip him for life? This is no small deal. Your choices may be contrary to the wishes or ideas of your parents, contemporary society, religious teachings or other influences. You decide.
This judgment is unavoidable. You may decide to be very proactive in helping guide your child’s life. Or, you may choose, by default, to pay little or no attention to this matter. That, too, is a choice; one which will leave your child in a “fog” about what is of ultimate value in life.
For the sake and well-being of your child, I hope you will make the healthy love choice.