Hugs and Affirmation

I am reminded daily of the interconnected nature of my parenting and my theology. Last week, I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to discipline my younger son, who is not normally the challenging child in our family. He was having a hard week, acting out angrily and then throwing out emotionally charged language at me when disciplined – “I hate you.” “You don’t want to be my mommy.” “You don’t love me.” And even more disturbing – “I don’t like myself.” “I don’t want to be in this world.”

What in the world?! Where was he getting that stuff? The acting out was escalating, along with the emotional verbal aftermath. I brought this burden with me into our mom’s group Bible study last week. As we shared our burdens for our children, one mom told how she had been intentionally affirming and hugging her problem child multiple times a day and the difference that was making in her child’s attitude. I thought, could it really be that simple?! But I felt burdened afterwards that I should do the same with my son.

I knew that giving him extra hugs and affirmation at random times of the day wouldn’t change how I handled his outbursts. I wasn’t going to hug and affirm him if he hit his brother. But I was hoping that if I hugged him and affirmed him when he was behaving, then when the time came to discipline him when he sinned, he would receive it from me without going into his You-hate-me-and-I-hate-myself routine.

I have been giving him random hugs and affirmation—when I first see him in the morning, when I send him to school, when I pick him up from school, and when we are getting ready for bed. And something unexpected has happened. Hugs didn’t help when it came time to deal with serious behavior issues. Instead, the serious behavior issues simply DISAPPEARED. Though he hasn’t been a perfect kid, and we’ve had some issues through which to work, I can’t remember him hurting his brother or needing an extended time out ALL WEEK. Perhaps all that will change this afternoon, but for the week I’ve been trying this, I have had NO major discipline issues with him.

I’m still stunned at the simplicity of this fix. And I’m not naïve about the probability of similar issues in the future. But today, I am contemplating how affective hugs and affirmation have been at changing his behavior. THANK YOU, Mom friend at Bible study, for giving me a tangible way to parent my child the way God parents His.

And this IS how God parents us. It was a major observation I made when writing the Ephesians Bible study. Paul starts off Ephesians with a long, beautiful discourse on God’s lavish grace and unconditional love poured out on us before time began. He prays we would know the hope that comes with all God has declared over us in affirmation. And it’s only after that he discusses our sin and depravity. God’s affirmation of us gives us the safe place we need to face our sin and need head on. Throughout Ephesians, this truth is reinforced.

I don’t know why my son had such insecurities and needed my affirmation so much. But he did. And I do too. As I hug and affirm my son, I’m reminded of the beautiful things God has said over me, and I have confidence to face my sin and need head on, for nothing can separate me from the love of my Father in heaven.

Ephesians 1
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

17 Responses to Hugs and Affirmation

  1. Brit October 10, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    i am working on this exact thing with my son. and, sure enough, if i slack off on it, his behavior worsens. i think there's this general attitude that if we give a child too much attention, it will spoil them. however, i've always believed that it's just the opposite. i grew up in a home where i wasn't exactly IGNORED, but i wasn't really AFFIRMED either. so now as an adult, i feel sort of drifty and lost at times. i think, at times, it's a great idea to do the exact opposite of what you grew up with. 😉

  2. strengthfortoday October 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Amen my friend. I have seen this to be so effective with Katie, who is president of our drama department. 🙂 It seems as parents that there are so many times throughout the day when we are saying “no,” denying this or that, correcting, disciplining…these affirmations help balance what could seem like a lot of negativism, and I think that is mainly because it helps convey to our kids the heart from which our corrections and denials come. I shared this post with our “Give Them Grace” discussion group, and it has already been enthusiastically received. Thank you.

  3. Marcy October 11, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    Wow, I really needed to read this right now as I deal with my 4 year old son. I am going to start doing this too, I totally understand the importance of it. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Dianne October 11, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    My son is only 10 months old but I will definitely be keeping this in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing! I'm blessed by all your entries 🙂

  5. Virginia Knowles October 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Another great post, Wendy! I've noticed the same thing and written a little about it here:

  6. Jessica October 12, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    Interesting! My son with PDD-NOS has had escalating behavior issues for the last month, and while our family's difficult circumstances probably play a large part in this, it's unacceptable behavior. I've been very frustrated, feeling that we are letting him down with our (thus far) ineffective discipline methods. We just implemented a new behavior plan today with the help of his therapists, but I'm absolutely adding this to the other side of it… I'm not always sure how much my son understands when I give him verbal affirmation- but it's clear he thrives on the physical affection (unusual for autism spectrum disorders, I know, but true nonetheless). Thank you for sharing your experiences, today was a good time for me to read this particular advice.

  7. Lindsey October 12, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    I am naturally a hugger and affirmer of my kids. I do it a lot because I enjoy it and it reminds me of C.S. Lewis saying that pleasure actually overflows into praise–that getting to praise someone or something actually consummates our joy. It's part of it.

    Anyway, we have our sins and struggles around here, but I will say that I think all the affirmation has been a good thing in our house. I hear my older two repeating the kinds of things I say to each other a little and to their baby sister a lot. I think it really rubs off!

  8. Jen October 12, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    I'm not a parent yet, so I look at this strictly as a believer. I need to know God loves me–yea verily, even *likes* me! 🙂 And I need to be told this over and over.

  9. Wenatchee the Hatchet October 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Interesting to consider that the apostolic precedent through Paul's letters to express thanks and love first and THEN get into theology and THEN get into practical instructions about ethical behavior. How often have pastors and we ourselves proceeded at the start from either ethical behavior or settling a theological issue without getting to the love of God? I know that at least in my own life the consideration of God's love part is often lacking and in a lot of preaching I can remember over the years it has been lacking.

  10. Luma October 14, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    Thank you for this Wendy. It's given me a lot of peace tonight.

  11. strengthfortoday October 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Kate woke up grumpy today. Then, meaning well, she tried to hand me the cat, paws first, and her claws dug into me. :/ Kate ran out of the room. I called her back. She said, “Everything is all my fault.” I pointed out that this was an accident, that she didn't mean for that to happen. Then I said, “Hey, come over and sit with me, because there is something you need to know.” She sat down (kinda flopped down) and sat there with a big frown on her face. I began to sing quietly in her ear, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” and ended “Yes, Jesus loves you…the Bible tells you so.” It was precious to watch the frown melt off her face, her body ceased to be stiff, and she just leaned into me. When I was done singing, she gave me the sweetest hug and said, “I love you, mama.” Makes me teary telling you about it. How much MORE I need to do this.

  12. Wendy October 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    That's precious, Diane!

  13. Ann-Marie October 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    I am a first time mom-to-be and I really appreciate reading about what moms have done that does and does not work with their children. Thanks Ladies

  14. birthinukraine October 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    coming in a few days late, but LOVE this post. It is so true!!!! Thanks for reminding me 😉

  15. JosieJo October 27, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    That's lovely.
    I rememeber when I was young and would get angry with my Mum, I would tell her I hated her. Then one day after we reconciled she told me how much it hurt her when I said that. And honestly, I never did it again. I must have only been about 8 or 9. Just mentioning that because sometimes it's as simple as telling the child how you feel as well… 🙂

  16. October 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    I am SO NOT a hugger, by nature, but I have one child who almost visibly relaxes and “destresses” when I hug her, which is SO WEIRD to me!! BUT, if it is important to her, it is important for me to do it. As a matter of fact, sometimes she says to me “Mom, you didn't hug me today!”

  17. Anonymous December 16, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    I was so glad to read this. My youngest (now 23) needed the hugs, too, and what a simple but biblical solution. It made a huge difference in her behavior, and to this day, when we're together, our arms are intertwined or she leans against me. I'm always glad when others discover something that blessed my life, too.