The blessing of undivided attention

I’ve never been good at multi-tasking. It’s not that I didn’t try. I tried for years.  I just can’t hold my thoughts together when I’m working on multiple projects at once. It’s always been this way, so it’s not just because I’m getting older. I admit being jealous of people who have bookmarks in several books right now, digital or otherwise.  To keep plot lines in context? Not a chance.

Suddenly an inability to divide attention is a hot commodity.

To listen with full attention is in demand.  Personal devices, certainly good and necessary, are perhaps the most common enemy of our desire to give all our attention to what our loved one has to say.  To be emotionally present with others communicates their importance.

As we finish this series of blog posts on the topic of blessing children, we will now focus on making an active commitment to giving them our undivided attention.

What we can do to develop their spirit

Look for opportunities to talk with them and find out what is going on in their minds. Ask good questions that allow them to respond however they want. Help them sort through their dreams, opinions, wishes, and just generally be available.  Be honest with them about your own thoughts and goals. Integrate their faith and morals when it is natural to do so.

Author Gary Smalley wrote about spiritual growth, “Our purpose in listening with full attention is to be able to take what children share and weave it into words and stories that teach new truths and communicate not only a blessing, but also principles for living.”

Expect to pay a price

From his own experience with his three children, Gary found that his commitment to bless them meant:

  • Hard work–to provide a blessing to each child
  • Time—to meaningfully touch and hug them
  • Courage—to put into a spoken message the words of love that have been on the tip of my tongue
  • Wisdom and boldness—to highly value them
  • Creativity—to picture a future for them filled with hope and with God’s best for their lives

Yet we also get a blessing from the joy we feel at seeing a child’s life bloom and grow because of our commitment to them.  It is in the giving that we receive.

Ways to bless children right now

  • Let the child wear something of yours (a necklace, a baseball cap) during dinner because you trust the child can handle it.
  • Ask, “What would it take for this to be a great weekend for you?” and try to see that it happens.
  • Learn a new age-appropriate joke and tell them.
  • Make their favorite dinner on a day other than their birthday.

Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas here are taken from the book, The Blessing.

Tweetable: When you commit yourself to give undivided attention to kids more often, expect to pay a price. Click to Tweet

4 ideas to bless kids with your undivided attention beyond making eye contact and listening. Find them here. Click to Tweet

Predicting a hopeful future blesses children

Their future brightens when we bless children with a sense of assurance that they have what it takes to accomplish their goals, to push through challenges and heartaches. We do this through acknowledgement of the child’s worth. We back it up with our own investment of time and presence to see it through.  I’ve heard one of my mentors, Becky Bailey, do this so well:

  • Of course you can pass the test next week. Let’s study together.
  • I know you’re scared, but you can do it. I believe in you.
  • That’s a great goal. Go for it!
  • Okay, the training wheels are off. I’ll be right beside you, but you can ride the bike alone.

John Trent summarizes the concept like this: “Words that picture a hope-filled future draw a child toward the warmth of genuine concern and fulfilled potential. Instead of leaving a child to head into a dark unknown, our words can illuminate a pathway lined with purpose.”

God’s hope-filled future

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster,  to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Ways to bless children right now with a hopeful future – Examples:

  1. Observed behavior: Sensitive.   Statement:   God has given you such a sensitive heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up helping a great many people.
  2. Observed behavior: Helpful.       Statement:   You are such a good helper. You’re going to be such a help to your family. OR You will help many people finish important projects because you are so helpful.
  3. Observed behavior: Good at math.    Statement:   You know that math better than I do. I think that’s great. You’ll pass tomorrow’s test with flying colors. You may become a research scientist or a chemist—and maybe change the course of the world.

Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “Ways to bless children right now with a hopeful future,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing. Becky Bailey’s ideas are found in her book, Conscious Discipline.

Tweetable: Their future brightens when we bless children with assurance that they have what it takes to succeed. Click to Tweet

 

A child’s must-have: a hope-filled future

I remember playing the fortune teller game as a kid. We would take a piece of paper, write dreamy messages and fortunes on it, then fold it origami-style to predict our future—you will be rich, you will be famous.

Now I try to bless the children in my life with words that picture a future filled with hope.

It’s different from predicting their future, but it can transform the way the future unfolds for the child. Dr. John Trent writes, “With words of a bright future they can begin to work on a particular talent, have the confidence to try out for a school office, or even help guide others into the full potential God has in store for them.” They begin to believe in the positive, hopeful future you paint for them.

Anticipating a hope-filled future is not the same as choosing a child’s future.

Our intent is to encourage children to be the best they can be, not to force them into paths that we followed or wish we had followed. (Not, for example, “You’ll be a wonderful engineer someday!”) Adults who put that kind of pressure on children miss giving them a blessing. To bless a child, encourage the child by noticing intentions and actions. Then follow it up to help the children achieve whatever they decide to be or do.

Isn’t a hope-filled future for children just a pipe dream for some?

No.  Over and over in sacred writings, we see God’s offer of blessings toward humankind. These blessings are not directed at making us wealthy, healthy or even happy all the time.  There are many different kinds of hope-filled futures.

Regardless of life circumstances God offers inner, spiritual blessings:  peace, contentment, fulfillment, wisdom, love, forgiveness, mercy, or an ability to see the holy come bursting through the everyday.

What words are you using to predict a bright future for the children you love? Next week, I will share your ideas and mine as well.

Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas here, are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.

Tweetable: Anticipating #hope-filled future not the same as choosing a child’s future. Food for thought offered here. Click to Tweet

 

More than compliments communicate a child’s value

Adults do three things all the time to express how we value the children in our lives. I’m working at these things. I want to be are good at them because, more than compliments, these actions form a foundation of trust.

1. We keep our mouths shut and let the kid answer questions for himself.

We try to avoid finishing sentences and filling in the blanks for a child in conversations. We don’t answer a question directed at the child, such as “No, Armando won’t like popcorn. He never likes popcorn!” Instead, if he is not answering for himself, we ask, “Armando, your friend’s mom wants to know if you want popcorn. Do you?”

2. We show kids that we highly value our own well-being.

Modeling self-care for a child is an important aspect of teaching what it means to be valued. Taking care of our healthcare, hygiene, psychological and emotional needs are all part of what it means to care for our own well-being. We tell them when we set appointments for ourselves.

We don’t devalue ourselves by minimizing pain. We don’t remain in situations where we’re abused, neglected or mistreated. Because watching their caregivers is how children learn how to care for themselves for the rest of their life.

3. We clarify rules around negative behavior, but still communicate value of the child.

We let children know that even if their behavior is unacceptable in a given situation, we still care about and love them no matter what. They need to hear this repeatedly. Deal with the mistakes, wrong decisions, errors in judgment: “You are a good child, but you did this wrong thing. How could you handle that differently next time?”If a child is learning she’s valued, she’ll be learning to make this distinction in her self-talk as well.

Three additional ways to bless children right now with actions that value them:

  • When disagreeing with a child, allow the child to explain their point of view without giving a rebuttal.
  • Express your confidence in the child: “I have confidence that you will figure out another way of handling this.”
  • Make sure the child can overhear you saying something positive to a friend about the child.

Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas to express a child’s high value are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.

Tweetable: Three actions, beyond compliments, to communicate our respect for the children in our life. Click to Tweet 

Familiar objects communicate a small child’s value

Winnie and her daughter Marissa were watching a nature special together. Winnie noticed a mother eagle feeding, protecting and sheltering her young. This was the picture Winnie had been looking for to help her communicate words of value to her 3-year-old.

Marissa had been a good big sister after her brother was born, running to get a diaper for Winnie or asking to hold the baby. Marissa’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Winnie found a small plush toy eagle at a toy store and waited for a quiet time to talk with Marissa.  “Do you remember that TV program about the eagles?” she asked Marissa.

Instantly her daughter recalled many details. “Well, honey, I want you to know that you remind me of that mommy eagle. You’ve helped take such good care of your little brother and I want you to know I am proud of you.”  For days, Marissa did not let that eagle out of her arms.

By using an object familiar to Marissa to praise her, Winnie communicated much more than a simple compliment. She gave her daughter an image of one way she was so valuable to her mother.*

Communicating a child’s value can be difficult. Familiar objects help.

Use everyday objects and be clear about the meaning of the object.

  • My life with you is like waking up to my birthday every day. You are like the best gift I could ever have.
  • You’re like that smiley-face sticker. Your happy spirit brightens my day.
  • When you played so hard knowing your team was losing, you reminded me of Grandpa. He never gave up. He’d be proud of you, and I am too.
  • You’re just like a beaver. No matter how many times his home is wiped out, he rebuilds again. He always repairs and rebuilds.

*The concept of the blessing, Winnie’s story, and some of the ideas for using everyday objects are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.

Tweetable: Communicating a child’s value can be difficult. Using familiar objects to picture it can help. Click to Tweet