by Rebecca Rutherford
The very incarnation of Jesus is reason enough to see how God affirms children. John 1:14 reminds us that God did not show up as an adult. He came as a baby and developed as a child through the nurture and affirmation of his family and community, including teachers and rabbis. As an adult, Jesus valued children and took time for them. Remember how parents would bring their children to him so he could bless them? hold them in his arms? look into their eyes? speak a word of blessing or affirmation over them?
Jesus gave personal moments to children with himself and communicated with them on a level they could understand. He provided a safe place for them to feel important and loved. The very work of affirming children in the classroom is the work of Jesus. We build relationships with children by recognizing them and affirming their gifts. This, in turn, builds confidence and empowers them to interact with others in a loving manner.
Ways to Affirm a Child
Listen. One of the first criteria for any relationship is the ability to actually hear what a person is saying. Regardless of the fact that you are dealing with children, they need and want to be heard. It’s helpful to repeat back to them what they say so they know they’ve been heard. The very act of listening to them creates a safe environment for them to learn.
Presence. Sometimes affirming a child is held in our very presence. Sometimes not speaking at all and paying attention to a child’s non-verbal cues builds trust.
Openness. Children come from all different backgrounds and home environments for which they are not responsible. We can project our norms on children while being completely unaware that we are doing so. Be open to them by showing compassion.
Gentleness. The way we respond goes a long way in communicating affirmation. Children will shut down like any adult if answered too abruptly or without considering their perspective.
Respect. Often adults talk down to children without realizing it. We have to be aware of children’s personal space and what they are comfortable talking about. Respecting a child means treating them fairly. It also means providing an opportunity for other children to have equal time during discussions. Respect builds confidence.
Positive reinforcement. Try to find a positive in whatever answer a child may give, even just a nugget you can use to make them feel like they contributed. Sometimes a simple “thank you for sharing that” can be enough positive feedback. Sharing in their excitement of learning in creative ways also helps a child feel affirmed.
Use Scripture. There are many ways Scripture can help affirm a child’s faith, as well as their importance to God. It is also helpful for adults to remember the fruit of the Spirit when affirming a child. May your responses be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.