The God of purpose has built an inner need for significance into each one of our children. They were born with it and long to have it developed into something that makes their lives significant. Let me give you three things that you can do to help build this significant purpose into your child.
1. Children feel significant when they are regularly affirmed.
There is a cause and effect between encouragement and confidence. Kids who hear well-timed and well-placed affirmation from their parents are more easily convinced of the truth the Bible says about their intrinsic worth. David spent an entire psalm developing the reality of this value, which God has built within each of us. He says in Psalm 139:
I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well — Psalm 139:14 (NASB)
When we affirm our children, we are validating this truth. It’s a combination of positively confirming their worth and voicing our dedication to them as our children. We need to consistently do this in all the dimensions we mentioned above—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Kids brought up in an environment of legitimate praise build a solid resistance against the insults and put-downs that often bombard them from culture.
It’s easy, however, to slip over a thin line and offer unfounded ￼praise. This is done when we applaud them for something they aren’t responsible for or overstate their contribution to some effort they’ve made. The parents who do backflips for the young child who just slid down a playground slide might mean well, but they might be setting their child up for some frustration.
Affirmation catches your children doing things right. It notices when they do things you know don’t come easy to them. It applauds them when they fix a wrong or dig themselves out of a hole they’ve made (like bringing up a poor grade). It thanks them for living out their moral principles and being willing to stand alone for their convictions.
There are also things we can do that nullify our affirmation. If we view our children as burdens, make statements about how much more difficult they’ve made our lives, or remind them of how little freedom we have now that they’ve come along, we’re saying, “You lack value. You’re not important enough to me.”
2. Children feel significant when they know they have our attention.
Jesus noticed kids. He was notorious for looking past all the adults crowding around Him to draw attention to some child on the fringe. You see Him do this in Matthew 18. Not only does He give His attention to this child, He offers a sobering warning to adults who don’t pay careful attention to children’s needs.
If God thinks it’s important for the angels in heaven to pay attention to the details of our children’s lives, how much more would He expect from their parents? We need to have a working knowledge of our children’s likes and dislikes, their friends and their detractors, and the big things and the little things that matter most in their lives.
It’s hard to build a significant purpose into people we aren’t paying careful attention to. It’s our attention to the finer details that tells them how much they truly matter to us. Our gracious God is a God of details. He knows how many hairs are on our heads. He’s interested in us because we are fascinating to Him. Children who get the same treatment from their parents—the same treatment that their parents get from God—grow up feeling significant. A deep sense of significance makes it a lot easier for them to find their purpose and to live it out.
3. Children feel significant when they are gracefully admonished.
All these are standard ingredients of grace-based homes. Kids with clear and responsible leadership in their lives are less susceptible to the call of the wild. Obviously, they are born with a bent toward selfishness, and they will no doubt want to put your moral boundaries to the test. But the lure of sin loses a lot of its potency when a life of grace is so attractively modeled around them every day.
Obviously, they will succumb in small ways and large ways. When they do, they need our response rather than our reaction. Sin represents a clear and present danger to our children as they try to achieve a significant purpose. That’s why we need due diligence in guarding their hearts for them when they are young and teaching them how to guard their own hearts as they get older. Guarding a heart isn’t a difficult skill for them to master if they are used to seeing it modeled by you. And when they fall short, discipline and consequences—gracefully applied—communicate the incredible worth you place on them.
Discipline is one of the key tools God has given to help us groom our children for greatness. To avoid disciplining your child because it makes you feel uncomfortable is to say you love your own best interests more than theirs. Grace-based parents want to see the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” growing in their adult children. The time to plant the seed is now, and one of the ways is with consistent and graceful admonition.
More Important than You Think
A lot of parents are convinced that their kids could care less about them. Maybe it’s because we’ve squandered too many opportunities to show how much they matter to us.
We’ve been too busy when they needed our attention, we’ve been too harsh when they’ve let us down, and we’ve been too skeptical when they let us peek at their dreams. They long to have a significant purpose, and they long to know that their purpose matters to us. It’s not too late.
It’s never too late.
It’s almost mystifying, but it’s true. We matter more to our kids than we realize. They were born with a need to make a difference. For good or for ill, we play the biggest role in determining what kind of a difference they will ultimately make.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28
In what ways did your parents communicate your significance to you? In what grace-filled ways do you communicate significant purpose to your own children?