At a conference recently, Jeff Henderson, pastor of a church in Georgia, was speaking on the power of encouragement.  He cited a study from the Gottman Institute where research found that:

For every 1 comment of encouragement we receive, there are 7 comments of criticism.

So, on average you and I hear 7 comments of criticism with only 1 positive comment in the mix.  It’s no wonder we are often down on ourselves.  Now, mix in in adolescence where students are striving to figure who they are and where they fit in and the 7:1 ratio is exaggerated.

According to Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages, from ages 6 to 12 kids are in the “Industry vs. Inferiority” stage.  This is a time of incredible growth in skills and competency.  There is also a social dynamic and students who struggle during this time will have feelings of social incompetence and potentially low self-esteem.  From ages 12 to 18, this moves to a stage of “Identity vs. Role Confusion”.  Here the student is working hard internally to answer questions of identity and “fitting in”.  Basically, kids are incredibly impressionable during these two stages of growth and words of encouragement or criticism have the potential to carry a lot of weight.

I remember sitting outside during one of our youth trips a few years ago and witnessing a youth pastor call over a student and share with them the positive attributes he had seen in him that day.  It reminded me to speak encouragement out loud to the students I was around.  It reminded me of the incredible power of words and the ways words had impacted my life in the past.  I remember as young high school student, I got a note in class one day.  It was from a friend of my youth pastor who came in town often to lead events and retreats for us.  We had met last time he was in town and the note simply read, “Kyle, I’m so glad to be back in town and I’m really looking forward to seeing you tonight.  See you soon, Curt.”  That’s it!!  It meant the world.

I was noticed.  I was known.  I was worthy of his time.

I can’t tell you how many times a student has left their Bible or journal lying around and as we try to discover whose it is, we thumb through it and a letter similar to this from a parent or youth worker is tucked away in the pages.  That’s why I always encourage our leaders and interns to be old fashioned!  Write a hand written letter once or twice a year to encourage a student.  Words, written or spoken, have power.  Hey, maybe you should try it too!  Go ahead – be old fashioned!  Your kids won’t see it coming.

One Step Further

I was listening to an interview with Craig Groeschel recently and he takes this a step further.  Craig has 6 kids and has really sought to understand the unique personalities of each of his kids.  In the the interview he says, “I was there, so I know they came from their mother and I think I’m the dad, but man – they are different!”  Craig through prayer and observation seeks to uncover each of his kids main insecurities and comes up with a phrase to speak to each one of them.  He speaks this over and over throughout their life.

Each one is different.  Each one is unique.  Each one is intentional.

He said this wasn’t easy to figure out and is even harder with introverts, but can you imagine the power of these words spoken over time to a place of great vulnerability!  Our friends at Orange will tell you that “Words over time can impact someone’s direction in life”.  It’s so true!  (Check out a quick article from Orange on this topic here:

What a gift to give to your kids!  I’ve been thinking about this for my own kids since I heard it and I haven’t quite figured out the phrase I want to use, but nonetheless it has made me more aware of the words I speak to my kids.  Am I speaking and giving weight to their insecurities or counteracting them with words of life?  I‘m sad to say, I’m much better at the first one.

Unspoken Love Isn’t What We Think It Is

I think we all agree words have power.  We all have phrases (positive or negative) we have heard throughout our life that we replay in our heads.  These are constant reminders of words spoken to us that have consequences on past and present.

But here is something I think we all struggle with.  We’ve heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words” and have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  It’s true if your actions don’t match your words – actions win.  However…well, this might help, here is a fight I have with my wife from time to time:

“What do you mean you want to know that I love you” I say, “Here’s the 15 ways I’ve loved you in the last 3 days.”  My wife responds, “I don’t feel loved by those things.  You’re missing the point.”

While my wife appreciates everything I’ve done for her, she wants to hear my voice.  She wants me to stop what I’m doing (actions that I think show my love, but are really just part of life together) and look her in the eyes and tell her what she means to me.  She wants my words.

I think this happens in families all the time.  I imagine many parents feel like they are showering their kids in love, while their kids are just waiting for a moment to hear how special they are.  This disconnect is common in most homes with the busyness of life, school, work, sports, activities, etc. – we DO a lot for each other.  However, if we don’t stop, look each other in the eye, and speak words of life, I’m not sure that the message gets through – at least not with the weight we might hope in a world where 7:1 is the ratio.

Let’s Get Practical

Jeff Henderson, the guy from the beginning of this whole thing, mentioned in his presentation that he is so convinced by this that he writes his wife and kids a note of encouragement every week.  Every week! To which I reply, “Easy buddy.  You’re making me look bad and that’s not even realistic!”  However, in case you want to start with an every week venture or every month or every year or heck, just make it easy and write one note today and see where it goes – he provided some great note prompts to give someone “drops of encouragement”.  Here they are:

  • I remember when…
  • I have noticed…
  • I hope you know…
  • I’m really glad…
  • I’ve been thinking…

 “A generous person will prosper;  whoever refreshes others will be refreshed”  — Proverbs 11:25

Take these and use them up!  Refresh someone today and find yourself refreshed in return.  I can’t tell how much I would like to flip that ratio around in my family – 7:1 where words that build up and construct win the day.  How can you speak life to your spouse or kids today?  What are you waiting for…give it a shot!


(P.S. – If you want to explore the “words over time” idea along with other great “over time” concepts, the people at Orange have a great read you can find here: Playing for Keeps/Losing Your Marbles)