Here's how you can instill
healthy healthy confidence and God's love in kids-one carefully
chosen word at a time.
Wide-eyed, 6-year-old Jacob could hardly contain his excitement as
he dribbled the soccer ball down the grassy field. Fueled by the
crowd's roar, he ran faster, outmaneuvering his opponents and
tripping over his own feet before regaining control of the ball.
The crowd grew wild as Jacob moved within striking range of the
goal. He paused, then whacked the ball, sending it flying into the
net. Elated, he whirled around to face his biggest fan--but the
pained look on Mom's face told him something was terribly wrong.
Slowly, Jacob realized he was standing on the defender's side of
the field. He'd unintentionally scored a point for the other
Totally defeated, Jacob crumbled to the ground, thoughts swirling
like a dark tornado in his head: I'm so stupid! I bet my team
hates me now! What do Mom and Dad think? I'm so embarrassed!
He swiped at tears as they rolled down his cheeks and silently
cried out for God. His parents, who could read his thoughts,
watched helplessly from the stands. Was Jacob's error partially
their fault? Were their warning cries misinterpreted as cheers?
They blamed themselves for not sending a clearer message.
Have you ever been in Jacob's shoes, taking control of the ball
only to run it in the wrong direction? Or maybe you can relate to
his well-meaning parents whose encouraging words were unfortunately
As teachers and children's ministers honored with the task of
helping kids grow spiritually, we need to ensure that our loving
words and intentions aren't misinterpreted and that they instill
healthy confidence in our kids. Here's a look at how even the
noblest of intentions can go awry--and how to set them
Good Intentions Gone Bad
Even the best-intentioned compliments and encouragement can have
unintended consequences. Here's how to avoid the pitfalls of good
intentions gone bad.
• Beware of flooding children with praise that isn't
specific. Too many overused, generic phrases such as,
"Good girl!" and "Nice work!" can have the same sickening effect as
pouring too much chocolate syrup into a glass of milk. Moreover,
kids with a sweet tooth may become dependent upon other people to
pour out the praise, rather than learning to fill their cup of
Instead, praise specifically: "I love the way you think of
• Watch out for the lie. Saying, "You drew the
most beautiful picture I've ever seen!" may sound like a loving and
enthusiastic compliment, but if you don't mean it, it's essentially
a lie. And even "little white lies" breed mistrust in
relationships. A child who soars in a balloon bloated with praise
will inevitably face the razor of reality.
Instead, praise truthfully: "I can see that you worked
really hard on your drawing of Jesus, Alonzo."
• Be wary of rewarding good behavior. When children get
rewards for behavior they already willingly perform, they learn to
expect payment for performance. And when the rewards lose their
appeal, the behavior dwindles along with the appeal. So don't give
out peppermints when kids have been respectful during class or
stickers when they share a toy.
Instead, encourage standards of behavior: "Thank you,
Kailee, for taking turns with Chenice."
• Think twice before sheltering or overprotecting.
It's our responsibility to ensure kids' safety, and we must
intervene when any child faces significant danger. But when we
consistently prevent children from taking age-appropriate risks or
handling social situations for themselves, we actually rob them of
golden opportunities to learn and grow.
Instead, allow kids to take appropriate risks and solve
social problems on their own, stepping in only when they genuinely