There are many ways to say “I love you” to a child – without actually uttering those 3 small-but-mighty words. Below are my 6 favorites – which also double-duty as “Resiliency Tools ” for raising kids who will feel that deep inside themselves they have what it takes to bounce back from life’s assorted (and sordid!) challenges. After all, let’s face it. No matter how hard we all try to travel a bump-free path to happiness, life will always present its share of surprise potholes.
I am constantly telling my 4 year old son: “I believe in you.” These words are a gift which keeps on giving. I slip these soul-nourishing words into regular conversation in a variety of creative ways – in the same way moms might slip in body-nourishing veggies into a bowl of gooey mac ‘n cheese.
If Ari doesn’t want to put away his toys I’ll say: “Ari, often the right thing to do isn’t the most super-fun thing – but it’s an important thing! I know you can do what I’m asking. I believe in you!”
If Ari is trying to put together a complicated puzzle, I’ll say: “Ari, I know you’re finding this challenging right now. But I believe in you.”
I’ve been saying “I believe in you” so frequently to Ari, that he’s now started to boomerang these words right back at me.
Funny example: The other day I was ransacking our apartment for my keys. I collapsed on the sofa, frustrated because I couldn’t find them. Suddenly I felt a tug, tug, tug on my yoga pants. It’s my son Ari.
“Mommy,” he says, “I know you can find your keys. I believe in you.”
His words were just the booster shot of adrenaline I needed to stand up and try pulling the sofa away from the wall for a quick peek behind it. Eureka! I found my lost keys!
Yep! I greatly believe in the propulsion power of “I believe in you!”
Actually, when I say these words to my son, I say them three times in a row, in a silly, exaggerated, Winston-Churchill-type voice: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!”
This makes Ari giggle. And laugher is a great stress reliever – further helping him to keep moving forward.
Recently, however, I realized these words need an important addendum. My son and I were putting together a Spiderman puzzle. Ari kept trying to squeeze the wrong puzzle piece into an empty puzzle space – while repeating: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!”
I corrected him by saying: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up! Unless of course you’re doing something which might be wrong – then you need to stop, think and come up with a new strategy!”
“A new strategy?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “If you keep doing what you’re doing – you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. If nothing changes, nothing changes. So… you need to look for a new way of doing it – a new strategy – to get new results.”
Ari now recognizes the importance of never giving up – while also being open to seeking new strategies. The other day he was trying to use chopsticks and struggling.
“I guess I need a new strategy – huh, mom?” Ari asked with a smile.
“Yep!” I said.
Ari re-jiggled the chopsticks in his hand – and tried again! He was immediately rewarded with a mouthful of steamed chicken dumpling followed by a huge proud smile from me!
“Good for you – for trying a new strategy!” I told him – reinforcing his efforts.
I say this phrase to Ari particularly when he is attempting to master something new. It reminds Ari to stop being upset at himself for slip ups and downfalls.
I like to say this phrase not only during a challenging activity – but also before – as a warmly worded warm up.
Quick Example: Our family has started dancing to WII U’s “Just Dance” game! Some dance steps are super tough. Every time we find it tough to keep up – and are tempted to give up – I yell out: “Yo! Practice is how we learn!”
Now when I pull out the Wii U disc to dance, we my son yells out “Practice is how we learn!” even before we start boogie-ing down!
I feel it’s essential to remind Ari that people who are highly awesome at something didn’t originally start off highly awesome.
My mission: I want my son to grow up knowing that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to struggle.
What’s not okay is for my son to think that mistakes, failure and struggle are permanent states of being!
I want my son to view mistakes simply as a bridge you need to keep traveling across to get yourself to “The Land of Highly Awesome.”
I want my son to grow up knowing that persistence, patience and effort are all far more important than perfection.
Each time Ari spills something, breaks something, drops something, kicks something, hurts something – I repeat for him this same little verbal ditty:
“You gotta learn from every oopsy and ouchie.”
I then ask him to specifically tell me what he learned from whatever the oopsy or ouchie might be.
Afterwards, we talk it through, so he stays focused on 20% about the problem and 80% on the insights and solutions.
I let him know we all make oopsies and ouchies.
The important thing is: We simply must do what we can to try not to make the same oopsy or ouchie more than once.
I recently added this phrase into my “Resiliency Words Tool Kit” after doing a hypnosis session with my friend Karla Lightfoot. She was trying to put me into a relaxed emotional state. Her strategy? She asked me to remember a time in my childhood when I felt safe and loved.
Afterwards I thought about how important it is to raise kids to feel safe and loved. It bolsters their self esteem and encourages courage.
Anais Nin said it well when she said, “One’s life shrinks and expands according to one’s courage.” I agree!
Plus I believe that your courage shrinks and expands according to how much you feel safe and loved.
I’ve now added these words “You are safe and loved!” into my good night ritual for my son. I whisper these words softly in his ear before he drifts off to sleep.“You are safe and loved.”
I truly hope this quiet whisper creates a loud, infinite echo which lasts him long into adulthood.