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Affirming Words

Recently, I heard a touching story which illustrates the power that words have to change a life—a power that lies right in the hands of those reading this article.

Mary had grown up knowing that she was different from the other kids, and she hated it. She was born with a cleft palate and had to bear the jokes and stares of cruel children who teased her non-stop about her misshaped lip, crooked nose, and garbled speech.

With all the teasing, Mary grew up hating the fact that she was “different”. She was convinced that no one, outside her family, could ever love her … until she entered Mrs. Leonard’s class. Mrs. Leonard had a warm smile, a round face, and shiny brown hair. While everyone in her class liked her, Mary came to love Mrs. Leonard.

In the 1950s, it was common for teachers to give their children an annual hearing test. However, in Mary’s case, in addition to her cleft palate, she was barely able to hear out of one ear. Determined not to let the other children have another “difference” to point out, she would cheat on the test each year. The “whisper test” was given by having a child walk to the classroom door, turn sideways, close one ear with a finger, and then repeat something which the teacher whispered. Mary turned her bad ear towards her teacher and pretended to cover her good ear. She knew that teachers would often say things like, “The sky is blue,” or “What color are your shoes?”

But not on that day. Surely, God put seven words in Mrs. Leonard’s mouth that changed Mary’s life forever. When the “Whisper test” came, Mary heard the words: “I wish you were my little girl.”

Dads, I wish there was some way that I could communicate to you the incredible blessing which affirming words impart to children. I wish, too, that you could sit in my office, when I counsel, and hear the terrible damage that individuals received from not hearing affirming words—particularly affirming words from a father. While words from a godly teacher can melt a heart, words from a father can powerfully set the course of a life.

If affirming words were something rarely spoken in your home growing up, let me give you some tips on words and phrases that can brighten your own child’s eyes and life. These words are easy to say to any child who comes into your life. I’m proud of you! Way to go! Bingo … you did it! Magnificent! I knew you could do it! What a good helper! You’re very special to me! I trust you! What a treasure! Hurray for you! Beautiful work! You’re a real trooper! Well done! That’s so creative! You make my day! You’re a joy! Give me a big hug! You’re such a good listener! You figured it out! I love you! You’re so responsible! You remembered! You’re the best! You sure tried hard! I’ve got to hand it to you! I couldn’t be prouder of you! You light up my day! I’m praying for you! You’re wonderful! I’m behind you! You’re so kind to your (brother/sister)! You’re God’s special gift! I’m here for you!

John Trent, Ph.D., Vice President of Today’s Family, Men of Action, Winter 1993, p. 5