Seven Ways to Teach Your Child Their Name

We may give our kids a name at birth, but its the next 18 years and beyond that we really name them. So I thought Id come with with a short list of ways to do that, for practicality’s sake.


1. Look them in the eyes.
First, the most basic, and maybe the most important. It tells them they are human. Pay attention and, if you’re like me, you may just be shocked to realize how little you actually do this on an average busy day, especially with several kids. I mean tune out everything else and play with them or talk. But make the eye connection. Wrestle, tickle, get in their face, talk, look, and listen. Even (especially) when they’re in trouble- connect those eyes. Something miraculous happens, as if you are literally pouring part of your own spirit into them. And they receive this brief beautiful affirmation when, just for a moment, they are your priority, and they matter.
2. Remind them of their name when they forget.
Ever thought about why your mom called you by your entire string of names when you were in trouble? What was she doing? She was reminding you of who you are. You were not acting like you. She knew the real you, and you had apparently forgotten for a moment. Kids do that. So, by calling their name, we whisper to their soul, “That is not who you are. It won’t lead you to life and identity and joy. I know what will, because I know your name.” All that in three simple words (and perhaps a furled eyebrow).
Another great way this is done is to always use “we” language, and maybe throw in your family name. When one of my kids acts out, it is somewhat standard now for me to say “WE don’t do that in this house.” This moves you from “Policeman” to “Captain of the ship”, which means we’re in this together. It also holds me accountable to practice what I preach. It makes our family name a badge of pride. We are Nichols’, and we do things a better way in this house. (May sound corny, but hey, we Nichols’ dont care ’bout that.)
3. Nicknames.
Just give em one. Or three. Two generations ago, almost every kid in town had one of these. Some had several. Very often, people would even forget your real name. My grandpa was Scooter, and to him, I was Turth (I have NO IDEA what Turth means). My sister was Crystal Pistol, or just Pistol. My cousin was Peanut (and I was secretly jealous, because I thought Peanut was cooler than Turth). My OTHER grandpa just called me “Little Man.” I cant describe to you how special I felt to be Little Man.
A nickname is a way of personalizing your unique relationship with a kid. It adds a little definition to their name once theyve had time to live a little. But more than anything, a nickname reminds them (and us) to quit taking themselves so seriously. We Rat Race Suburbanites could use that every once in a while.
4. Milestones
The Jews have Bar Mitzvahs. Hispanics have Quinceaneras. But for most people in my world, milestones are sadly absent. How many college age students aren’t really sure whether they are an adult, or a kid, or what? Most people treat them like a kid, but they sort of feel like an adult, but then again they don’t. Heck, I know 30 year olds like this.
It sounds too simple, but usually all they ever really needed was somebody to just tell them they are now grown. The right somebody, that is. Parents.

Life doesnt come in neatly defined stages. It just happens, gradually, a day at a time. So milestones sort of our arbitrary way to stop and define what is happening and how far we’ve come. Because they need to know. A lot of us are afraid to tell them, because we have a hard time facing the fact that they are no longer little. (See #7 below)

How you do this doesnt matter nearly as much as that you do it. But ask yourself this: at what age is a kid an adult in your family? Maybe its 18, maybe its 21. Maybe its when they graduate. Decide this now –because you won’t be ready then– and throw them a party when they get there. Its not celebrating an accomplishment, like finishing school, but an arrival. Make it a big deal. Bless them. And let them know they have arrived, even if we all might have our doubts if they can handle it. I would even recommend doing this more than once- maybe have 2 or three big celebrations along the way, and usher them in to whats next with confidence and blessing.

5. Make Them Good at Something.

For the love of John, this is NOT taking them to practice some uber-competitive sport with 75 other kids who will make them feel like crap because they dont pitch a 95 mph fastball. How about things like–
-Catching coins off their elbow.
-Keeping a balloon bouncing without letting it hit the ground.
-shooting a slingshot at a target.
-Playing “football” with the sugar packets at a restaurant.
(And then– I am begging– quit it and move on with life before your game turns into this.)
Today, I just held up a blanket in the living room as a target and let my two girls throw a football at it. They loved it. My dad was an ACE at this. Give him an object — any object — and an unsuspecting kid, and that man will have them playing a game in no time. They will like it. And they’ll get this weird sort of mini-boost of confidence when they get better at it. (Plus, when they’re good at something nobody else cares about, it keeps them from bragging about it at school…)
Then, teach them real life skills as they grow older, and then let them be known as the go-to person the home for that. For whatever they are good at, brag on them in front of somebody else. Don’t fake the compliments. Find things they are ACTUALLY good at — “the organizational whiz,” “the music virtuoso,” etc.
Think about it. When they are an expert in their own home, you have just given them a place where they matter and are of value. When the rest of the world rains on their parade (and it will), they will have a shelter to go to where they are known and needed.
6. Land the Helicopter.
If you find yourself wondering whether you are a helicopter parent, let me help you: If you weren’t, you wouldnt be wondering (and you wouldnt be reading a blog post on parenting). You already live in a world where your neighbor will call CPS on you for not snapping the 5 point harness to drive to the mailbox.
We hover because we love her. But lets try to hover less, shall we? I say “Age+1 appropriate freedom.” In other words, just a tiny bit more freedom than their age probably warrants — enough freedom to make you constantly nervous. (You’re welcome.) They will get hurt one day, and you will hate me for suggesting this. But it might just save them from a bigger hurt.
What are you communicating when you hover? Besides annoying them to death, you are giving them a constant reminder that youre not sure if they can handle life on their own. And if you, the name-giver, are unsure, guess what that makes them? A 35 year old in your basement eating your cheetos while you fill out his unemployment paperwork.
Three of the toughest words a parent will ever have to digest: Let them fail.
7. Mourn Their Loss.
My personal rule of thumb is, one good cry per year per kid. And I dont cry. Some of you wimps need to just go ahead and schedule this in your weekly routine. Because all change is a form of loss, and all loss must be mourned. You will never get back those days when he was a baby (or age 14).
I can guarantee you this– if you never embrace the sadness of the death of yesterday, you will never be able to embrace the joy of the promise of tomorrow.
Show me a young married couple who are still tightly controlled by their parents, and I’ll show you a set of parents who never grieved a loss.
Every single birthday, we say goodbye to the child we used to have (AFTER the party, not in front of the kid, okay?!). We bury memories and let go with tears and angst. And in doing so, we set our child free to become what God has destined them to be. The greatest blessing is knowing, when we finally do set them free to fly, that we have given them a name that they now own the rights to.

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