How to Fill Up a Child

“Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child's life and it's like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” -Gary Smalley

“Affirming words from moms and dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child’s life and it’s like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” -Gary Smalley

 The other night I was lying beside my 6-year-old daughter at bedtime when she snuggled in close and released a contented sigh. “I’m glad I have a family,” she whispered softly.

After agreeing whole-heartedly with her beautiful statement, an unexpected question popped out of my mouth. “If you didn’t have a family, who would you want to live with?” I asked.

Without hesitation, she rattled off four extraordinary women in our family’s life, including a current teacher and a past teacher.

As we were discussing these special ladies, my oldest daughter popped into her sister’s room to return something she borrowed. “What are you talking about?” she inquired.

When I told her what we were discussing, she immediately confirmed the value of a teacher in a child’s life by saying, “If I didn’t have a family, I would want to live with my teacher, Mrs. Reynolds.”

I was not the least bit surprised that my daughters had great affection and trust for these particular teachers. I had been in their classroom many times. I saw the love they had for their students displayed in both words and actions on many occasions.  On the day my youngest child came to school in her new glasses, her teacher did not wear her contact lenses as usual. She dug up her old glasses and wore them so my child would not feel alone. She did that for months—maybe even the remainder of the school year. To this day, my daughter still loves to wear her glasses, and she wears them with pride.

I also remember how one of these special teachers noticed my oldest daughter was struggling with the organization of her assignments and loose papers. As soon as the teacher spotted the difficulty, she told my child, “When I was young, I was just like you. I had so many neat things going on in my brain it was hard to keep up with the papers.” As a team, my daughter and her teacher figured out a way to stay organized that my daughter still uses today.

I could name countless ways these particular teachers chose to build on the positive when addressing my children’s differences, insecurities, and weaknesses rather than using condemnation to get them to change, conform, or improve.

I am fortunate to have observed these extraordinary teachers when I most needed to be reminded of the power of positivity. Because I must admit, I was once prone to criticize my children under the guise of “good intentions.” Whether it was poor posture, unmannerly eating habits, improper grooming, uncoordinated outfits, or a less-than-desired performance in sports or music, these were all areas in which I felt the need to correct. I justified the criticism by saying I didn’t want my child to be teased …  or I wanted her to be successful in life …  or be well liked … or gain self-confidence. But truthfully, it was all about me. I was concerned about how my children’s behavior or appearance was going to reflect on me. I pushed for perfection because I was overly concerned about what other people were going to think me, not them.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

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With Our Own Two Hands

 

“Perhaps we have been misguided into taking too much responsibility from our children, leaving them too little room for discovery” -Helen Hays

A few months ago one of my blog readers sent me the link to the widely-circulated article entitled, “Spoiled Rotten” and asked me my thoughts on it.

The article looks at how parents in different cultures train young people to assume adult responsibilities. The article compared the self-reliant behaviors of American children living in Los Angeles to the children of the Matsigenka, a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon.

The American children in the study did not perform household chores without being instructed. In contrast, a six-year-old child in the Matsigenka tribe cooked, cleaned, and assisted in other important tribe duties without being asked. Furthermore, some American children in the study had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks and often still refused.

After reading the article several times, I responded to the reader by briefly describing how my children are given responsibilities at home and how I encourage them to think outside of themselves. But for some reason, that was not the end of it. Certain sections of the article kept popping into my head—particularly two questions mentioned in the piece: “Why do Matsigenka children help their families at home more than L.A. children? And ‘Why do L.A. adult family members help their children at home more than do Matsigenka?’ ”

For days, my children’s autonomous behavior went under a microscope. Whenever there was a complaint over a request to do a household task, I became panic-stricken. Was I raising spoiled children? Whenever I found myself bending over to pick up shoes left in the hallway and dirty clothes scattered across bedroom floors, I wondered where was this leading. I envisioned my children as grown adults sitting in side-by-side La-Z-Boy recliners watching “Wheel of Fortune” with dirty dishes and soiled clothes piled up around them—and not a stitch of clean underwear in sight.

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