One of my family’s weirder slogans or expressions — Self-Praise Stinketh – came into being on account of me. As the story goes, I said so many nice things about myself that they shortened it to SPS to save their breath. Later in life, I had to ask myself, “Why did I do that? Why was I constantly affirming myself?”
It dawned on me
Although my family loved me, they did not often compliment me or praise my accomplishments. When I talked to my mother about it much later in life, she said they didn’t want me to get a big head or grow up to be arrogant. But she also expressed regret and said she wished she had done it differently.
Even though a caregiver may do everything for the best of the children, providing for their needs and more, showering them with gifts– the child will experience a void unless the caregiver’s actions are accompanied by spoken words of acknowledgement.
What are our hindrances to spoken blessings?
Sometimes, it’s fear. We might fear saying the wrong things. We might fear the reaction our words will bring: rejection, embarrassment, doubt, laughter or misunderstanding.
Ironically, for many parents, it is busyness – the countless loving things parents do for their kids – getting in the way of meaningfully saying the words. Kids need to hear us say the words too.
We can learn this skill.
Educator Dr. Becky Bailey suggests five categories of what we might notice in children daily–at times like when they leave for school in the morning, before practice or rehearsal in the afternoon, at supper, before bedtime. This week, say words that:
- Affirm and approve – Cody, you held the door for Grandma. That was helpful.
- Commend and compliment –At the game I noticed how you were looking up while you were dribbling and passing the ball. Great game.
- Specifically speak love and affection – With a song you make up, “Good morning, good morning, how are you today? I love you, I love you, I love you today.”
- Invoke hope and self-confidence – Shayna, you planned the tasks involved in making that diorama. That took organizational skills. You have them.
- Answer pain and disappointment with support and faith – I can imagine you feel embarrassed and deeply hurt by what was said. I heard Taylor say some very hurtful things to you. Go tell Taylor “I don’t appreciate being called names.”
Note: The concept of the blessing is taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing. Dr. Bailey’s examples are found in her book Conscious Discipline.
- Loving acts parents do for kids can get in the way of passing on encouraging words they need to hear. Click to Tweet
- Bless children with the healing power of words. Go here for practical examples you can use right away. Click to Tweet
Comedians Amy Poehler and Bill Hader met when they worked at Saturday Night Live. They talked to journalist Neil Pond about how their parents’ specific words of praise made an impact on their future.
Hader: “I grew up in Tulsa, Okla. I was maybe 5 or 6, and we drove past Oral Roberts University, and in front are these giant praying hands. My grandmother said, ‘What are those?’ And I said, ‘They’re the praying hands.’ And she was like, ‘Oh.’ And I said, ‘And at midnight, they clap.’ She didn’t laugh; I think she thought I was serious, because I said it very dry. But my mom started laughing so hard. And we got home and she told my dad and he laughed really hard and asked me, ‘You just said that, huh?’ That was a moment I realized, Oh, that was funny.”
Poehler: “What you said about your parents saying ‘That’s funny’ is important, because kids can tell when parents notice that. When a parent says, ‘That was funny’ and means it, that’s the kind of encouragement that can send you on a crazy, 40-year journey.
The human spirit responds to praise relying on specific description.
Eric Sondheimer wrote: “Myrna Rivera was a teenager herself when she became a mother. Now she puts in long hours as an office worker to support her family, and there is little time to rest, let alone collect her thoughts and write a letter to her boy. A request from her son’s football coach coaxed her into describing his character and her feelings for him:
“I admire your efforts to be a better person. I am happy to have you in my life, though I know sometimes I may get on your nerves, but I just want you to know that all your dad and me want is a better life for you.”*
Another mother, receiving the coach’s same request, wrote in Spanish, “I’m very proud. You’re the nicest kid I’ve ever raised and during hard times you don’t ever ask for anything.”
The coach passed out letters to all his players at practice one July day. “What happened next took everyone by surprise. For the next 15 minutes or so, wherever you looked you saw players sobbing—against walls, in corners, bent over in chairs.”
A family activity teaches young kids how to give descriptive praise
The Sprinkler Wand: Young children will delight in a wand with streamers hanging from it to sprinkle family members with kindness. Teach the children what can and cannot be sprinkled on each other. Practice phrases such as, “good for you,” “you did it.” Show them how to sprinkle appreciation in the form of joy, humor, peace, happiness, brain power, safety and love. (Conscious Discipline)
Tweetable: The human spirit responds to praise relying on specific description more than on a “good job!”
Most of us have experienced first-hand, in our lifetime, the disappearance of silence. Our distracting and distracted culture influences the children in our lives. As Glenn Hinson said,
“Noise desensitizes; silence sensitizes.”
We recognize how uninterrupted distraction diverts attention away from the most important matters in a child’s (and our) life:
- emotional upsets needing perspective
- decisions calling for wisdom
- important relationships deserving time and effort (including God)
How hard it is for me to catch on!
Silence allows me to maintain the connection between my inner life and my many activities. Whenever I get to spend time with the children in my family, or with family friends, I usually think first of what fun activities we can do together. Yet I’ve seen how a quiet car ride home gives the children time to process the events. I’m learning to pay attention to silence, and not to fill it with chatter.
What can we do about it?
Practical ideas for different ages:
Create a Quiet Place. Have a few inspirational books, a plush animal, a small blanket, a favorite toy, a bean bag chair or large pillow in an area of the home. Kids can use their creativity to add simple decorations. Let them know they can go there when the noise level in the house is uncomfortable or when they are sad or mad. (This is not time-out; the child is not sent there.)
In addition to a Quiet Place in the home, where they go without handhelds, plan intentional one-on-one time for nature walks, bike rides, lying in the yard looking at stars. Teach them some simple relaxation techniques.
If parents provided opportunities like a Quiet Place in the early years, teens may have internalized the rewards of silence and know how to provide it for themselves as a means of self-care. Encourage teens to take a “digital fast” away from the demands of their phones. Even a few hours can be a restful respite. Some may want to try a “silent retreat,” like this one described in HuffPost.
“God is the friend of silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” –Mother Teresa
- A wise person said, “Noise desensitizes; silence sensitizes.” A few ways to provide children with silence. Click to Tweet
- Ideas about how silence can have a powerful role in a child’s active, noisy life. Go here. Click to Tweet
Readers of this blog know we focus on exploration of a child’s human spirit. Nature plays a crucial role in spiritual development and health. After all– to state the obvious– it’s our natural habitat. We are wired for it. Children need to spend time in nature– even city kids need the parks.
From nature, children…
- gain a certain perspective unattainable from any other source
- acquire neuroconnections key to brain function
Nature advances a web of life perspective
One of Alexander von Humboldt’s most important discoveries was that nature is a web of life. He found Earth to be one great living organism and a place where everything is connected. Humboldt wrote, “no single fact can be considered in isolation.”
He was the first to recognize the forest as an ecosystem. As such, he predicted devastating consequences of despoiling the face of the earth. However, though he was captivated by empirical data, he never lost his sense of wonder. He wrote that, “nature must be experienced through feeling.”
How do the children in your life “feel” nature’s web of life?
- Relationally – through a connection with their pet(s), tending vegetables in a garden, nurturing a potted plant
- Powerfully – awe and wonder of nature as far bigger than all of us, through astronomy, IMAX nature movies
- Creatively – inspiration for poetry, photography
- Experientially – sitting at the side of a lake listening to the water lap against the shore
Connections with nature build neuroconnections in the child’s brain.
From Dr. Becky Bailey’s work on Conscious Discipline, I learned more about how a child’s connections on the outside build neuroconnections on the inside. When relating to people, these outside connections come from eye contact, touch and presence.
When relating to nature, one woman describes an insight gained from sitting in a forest:
Your colleagues or supervisor at work won’t allow you to pursue your ideas. Then, you notice that a tree looks like it was initially growing in one direction, but something got in the way and now it’s growing—and thriving—in another. It’s as if the tree is saying, “Grow where you can! Send your energy to where you will be nurtured!”
A sense of peace envelops you as you lay down a fruitless struggle. Then a new creative space emerges as a more helpful question dawns on you: “Where can I grow?” (Kris Abrams)
Many great writers, thinkers, scientists, and poets have reflected extensively on nature:
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. (Albert Einstein)
Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. (E. O. Wilson)
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. (Henry David Thoreau)
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. (William Wordsworth)
Children learn all living things can be our teacher.
Happy Earth Day!
- #EarthDay2016: Connections in nature build neuroconnections in a child’s brain. Click to Tweet
- #EarthDay2016: From nature, children gain a certain perspective unattainable from any other source. Click to Tweet
This boy’s joyful attitude about work is the norm for young children. He sees the connection between his work and a greater purpose. He delights in being helpful.
As children get older, does it seem that many of them lose the joy?
Chores and work are not the same thing
It’s fair to say that chores build a child’s character and instill belonging within the family unit or classroom. Work calls forth the child’s talents, aptitudes, feelings, intelligence and traits. Work builds purpose and meaning into their life. How do we help children experience meaningful work?
Action Item #1 – Ask kids what work they like to do
Start with one of those tasks and participate with them so that you can see and hear the genuine delight expressed by the child. Your goal is to find work that brings them genuine delight.
When my foster child and I were in the car together, she noticed every homeless person we passed and frequently said softly out loud: “Oh poor thing.” As we talked about homelessness, we came up with an idea.
We worked together to purchase nonperishable items and she filled brown bags to keep in the car so she could pass the bags out the window when she was so moved. She was excited every time she was able to deliver another bag and she told me when we needed to make more.
In another example, my family drove seven hours to take a tour of a training center for guide dogs because my preteen sister loved training her pets. My parents wanted to give her some hands-on experience and exposure to this kind of work. (As an adult she was involved with greyhound rescue.)
Action Item #2 – Guess and try something
“Paul Bennett, the chief creative officer at a global design firm, traces his identity as a designer to the day when his father, Jim, a former military pilot, brought home The Golden Hands Encyclopedia of Crafts. Jim then spent the next two years sitting with his son, making macramé and knitting God’s eyes [yarn weavings], so that sensitive little kid could explore his talent and find his confidence.”
Action Item #3 – Ask teachers, coaches, friends and family what they observe
At parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher: What tasks is my child happiest doing? One father heard this response from his son’s teacher: Your son is always telling us sports statistics. He is happiest doing math. I wonder if his above average math skills are due in part to his passion for sports stats.”
Ask the same question periodically of extended family members. Invite trusted friends who are retired to spend time working with the child on a project of mutual interest. Many retirees stay in their own world until they are asked. When people are asked to volunteer and help out, they typically do.
Next week, three more action items for us to help children become mindful of the work they enjoy, leading toward an adult life of happiness and purpose.
Tweetable: Three action items for you – children who become mindful of the work they enjoy now have an advantage later. Click to Tweet