My kids don’t get away with much. I keep a close eye on them. I’m ready to call them out—just as soon as I see them do something right.
As parents, especially homeschooling parents who are with our children most of every day, we deal with a lot of misbehavior and mistakes. When my children were small, I felt as if all I said was “no, stop that, don’t do that!” After I’d interrupted one kid from drawing on the walls, settled an argument between a couple more, and discovered that everybody “forgot” to do school, I just didn’t feel like applauding when they finally did what they were supposed to.
But I knew I should anyway.
In my own childhood, I’d known adults who noticed me only when I did something wrong. I didn’t want to be one of those people in my children’s lives. Fortunately, all I had to do was look to my own mother for inspiration.
Mom was gracious. When she reminded me to do something, she always worded it as a question: “Could I get you to do the dishes?” The only right answer for a Southern daughter was, of course, “Yes, ma’am.” But she made me feel as if I were agreeing to help instead of following orders. And afterward, Mom would thank me for doing it.
Even better, she noticed when I did something without being asked (ahem, a rare occurrence). She’d say, “Bless you, child.” I loved those words.
I wanted to recapture that feeling with my own children. So from the time they were very small, I made a point to notice good decisions. If my child picked up his shoes when I asked him to, I thanked him. If my child didn’t argue about her school assignment, I remarked on it. I’d even go through their handwriting sheet and draw little sparkle-marks around particularly well-formed letters.
Sometimes my praise made the kids happy. Other times it annoyed them because they were already “salty” (as my teens say) about having to follow orders. But I kept on noticing and remarking. I knew that over the long term, they’d appreciate it. Meanwhile, in the short term, it was much more satisfying for me.
Then a wonderful thing happened: our kids got older. We didn’t have to say no quite as often. As they matured, so did the ways in which they “did good.” I no longer had to praise them for “not screaming when they couldn’t have a snack.” Instead, I got to say things like this:
“Good work figuring out whose turn it is on the computer without a fight.”
“You did a really good job on that history assignment. I really appreciate the thought you put into it.”
“You were really gracious to your younger sibling just then. Thanks.”
And occasionally—even though it sounds funny to my not-very-Southern children’s ears—I’d say, “Bless you, child!”
I still have to remind them to do their chores, pick up their messes, and do their schoolwork. Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to thank them for doing the bare minimum necessary to keep the household functioning. Still, all those years has built a habit. I’m always on the lookout, waiting to catch my kids in the act of doing good.
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