July is National Make a Difference to Children Month in the United States, yet children are living in concentration-like camps near the Mexico border. Anyone else find this ironic, or is it just me?

Making a difference in the life of child can be a positive or negative thing, but make no mistake: Children are impressionable and you are making a difference. Research shows that the things said to children under the age of seven have a foundational impact on their future self-esteem and mental health. Ignoring a child sends another type of message—it tells the child they are invisible, without worth and undeserving of your attention.

It’s why I’m so incredibly ashamed of our country its treatment of migrant children, scarring an entire generation of kids who followed their families, without a choice, away from violence and toward their constitutional right to seek refuge in our nation—the very same nation that played a role in destabilizing the homes they’re escaping in desperation.

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman has saved more marriages than any other; it describes the idea that everyone has different ways of communicating love: quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service or gift giving. It was revelational. Who ever thought people expressed and experienced love in different ways? Until that book, I always thought love was universal—everyone understood it. Of course, it only makes sense that children also have their own love languages.

If you want a child to know you love them, you must speak love in their language. What better way to make a difference in the life of a child? Think about all the children you come into contact with on a regular basis. Do you have children living in your home? Do you often see your friend’s children? How about nieces, nephews or grandchildren? Are you a teacher? Do you have a job that brings you into contact with children? Do you come in contact with children waiting in line at the grocery store, on planes or in the community? Whenever you see a child, you have an opportunity—you can make a positive difference or a negative one, provide a pleasant experience or a painful one.

Some ways you can negatively impact a child:

  1. Complain about them and their behavior.
  2. Complain about one of their parents to them.
  3. Blame them for your actions and emotions.
  4. Criticize their behavior or character.
  5. Give your child anything he or she wants.
  6. Ignore your child’s irresponsible behavior.
  7. Lie to them.
  8. Negatively compare them to someone else, particularly someone you don’t like.
  9. Judge them harshly.
  10. Joke about something that’s funny to you but serious to them, such as their chubby thighs, their drama issues, or their bad habits. These things become imbedded in their subconscious, possibly for a lifetime.
  11. Ignore them when they want your attention.
  12. Threaten them.
  13. Yell at them.
  14. Take away something important to them.
  15. Isolate them in time out.
  16. Deprive them of things like food, sleep or affection.
  17. Hit them.

Ways you can positively impact a child:

  1. Smile or wave at them. Acknowledge them.
  2. Give them a warm embrace, kiss, high five, pat on the back or fist bump.
  3. Tell them how important they are to you.
  4. Keep them safe from serious harm while allowing them to learn from their mistakes.
  5. Provide reasonable but flexible expectations for their behavior.
  6. Give them your full attention when listening to them.
  7. Engage with them in an activity of their choosing.
  8. Teach them something they want to learn.
  9. Give them a gift they will appreciate.
  10. Expose them to novel experiences.
  11. Read to them.
  12. Encourage their interests.
  13. Enumerate the things you appreciate and respect about them.
  14. Answer their questions.
  15. Tell them the truth.
  16. Speak kindly of their parents; to criticize a child’s parents is to criticize the child.
  17. Talk with them about their behaviors, while helping them decide on ones that get them what they want without preventing other people from getting what they want.

Children shouldn’t have to guess about your love for them. Go to www.5lovelanguages.com, ascertain your child’s love language and learn to speak it. Learn to express your love in quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service or gift giving. It may not feel like love to you, but will mean the world to your child.

From a Choice Theory perspective, your child needs to feel safe and secure, love, a sense of belonging, importance, significance and freedom to the extent they are able and fun. These are the ingredients kids need every day. Are you filling their buckets or depleting them?

Let July be the month you pay attention to making a positive difference in the life of a child and use the rest of the year to practice and perfect that skill. The world will thank you!

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