My son loves to socialize with his friends after school while he is waiting to be picked up. Which makes it all the more touching to me that he left the realm of cool 5th graders yesterday to find his kindergarten sister. Without being asked. Just because he didn’t want his sister to be alone while she waited.
I made sure to thank him for watching out for his sister, even though he said it was no big deal. But I disagree.
There are so many times in a day that we must correct our children… their words, their actions and their choices. Probably without realizing it, we could become a sort of negative force in our children’s lives: The Enforcer waiting to swoop in and fix our children. I have to remind myself sometimes to “catch them doing something right.”
When one child helps another without being asked, I try to acknowledge it. If one cleans up a mess that isn’t hers, I try to thank her. I say “try” because I obviously don’t catch them all. But I’m training myself to see the small victories. Even when the victories aren’t so obvious…
I have a child who notoriously takes clothes out of the closet, tries several pieces on, and throws the rejects into the hamper. I have begged and pleaded to get the child to stop putting clean clothes into the hamper because I’m tired of doing extra laundry. So the other day, when the child tried on several shirts before deciding on one, I expected to find them all in a heap. Instead, they were draped over the rod in the closet. My first thought was “Really? Is this how you found them?” But the clothes weren’t in the hamper. They were back in the closet with the clean clothes. Not yet on a hanger, but it was a start. And the net result was that there was no unnecessary laundry. And so I said thank you. A few hours later, I watched the same child hang up a damp towel without any reminder. And I said thank you again.
I briefly taught in a school that had an “Honor Wall” for kids who had done the “right thing.” It started with a student who turned in a gold bracelet found in the bathroom. When his name went up on the wall, other kids noticed. And then other kids started seeking ways to get their name on the wall. Obviously we didn’t want the kids to manufacture good deeds, but we found that they were more aware of opportunities to do a good thing. And they were quick to let us know what they did, because it feels good to be praised.
Sometimes I have to act fast to catch my kids doing the right thing. “I picked up your binder” may be followed by “since you left it in the middle of the floor for me to trip over.” If I hesitate for a second, I’ll miss my chance. But I have found that, like the kids at school, my kids watch for opportunities to do the right thing when they know there is praise to be had. And like the kids at school, my kids feel good when they receive praise.
So I will continue to watch for the good in my children. I’ll have to be vigilant and I’ll have to work fast. And sometimes I’ll have to settle for morsels.
I’m giving The Enforcer a day off.