How to Notice the Good in Children

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“Affirming Words from Moms and Dads are Like Light Switches.” Gary Smalley says that if you speak a word or two of affirmation to a child at the right time, it is like turning on a room full of possibilities.

It is hard to admit that I criticized my children with “good intentions.” Whether it was bad posture, poor eating habits, inappropriate grooming, uncoordinated clothes, or a performance less than desired in sports or music, I felt I had to correct it constantly. I justified my criticism by saying that it would make them more likable, more successful, or more confident. In truth, I was only thinking about myself. I worried about the way my children’s appearance or behavior would reflect on me. I wanted to be perfect because I was concerned about what people would think of ME and not them.
All that changed when my younger daughter put down her ukulele during practice. She stopped playing after much parental criticism and disapproval. My child, as if giving up a fight she couldn’t win, said seven words that I will never forget. “I want to be good Mama.”

I want to be good.

My child, who was a natural at playing the ukulele and had an inborn love for singing, believed she was bad. It was all because of me – my critical words, constant suggestions, and disapproving glances.

My child’s hurtful words revealed the destructive nature of criticism. I immediately thought of other times when my children’s improvement was hampered by being too critical. I realized that my children were not becoming more successful or productive by constantly correcting them. Criticism was causing my children to doubt their abilities and hindering their gifts. Criticism diminished the unique light that made them what they were.

I would rather Note the Good.

I rummaged through my teacher’s supplies in the basement. I taught children with learning disabilities and behavior problems for nine years. I didn’t criticize the negative behavior or mistakes that I saw, even though I could have. Every day, I tried to find one positive and one strength in every student, and I focused on those.

I rummaged through my supplies for teachers until I found the item I was searching for the Warm Fuzzy Jar. The side of the jar had a large crack from our family’s many moves. I decided that I didn’t need to use this jar, just as I realized this strategy of noticing positive behaviors wasn’t only for classrooms.

I found a large pickle jar in the kitchen and filled it up with colorful pom pom balls. I then placed two smaller jars on the counter. My children asked about the jars within minutes.

“This is The Warm Fuzzy Jar,” explained I. “Whenever you are helpful or kind you put a pom pom ball in the designated jar. Kind and helpful acts makes people feel good like a warm fluffy.” The girls looked up at me with big smiles and wide-eyed eyes. If you’re doing something nice with your friends or just getting along well, you can place two pom poms into your designated jar. When your jar is full, you may choose something fun for you and me to do together.

They had the same reaction that my former students had when they filled The Warm Fuzzy Jar- pure enthusiasm. They were quick to help.

They brought the groceries I usually bring in myself.

The shoes they wore for days were now put away in the hall.

The children made their beds without me telling them to. They put dirty clothes in the hamper and even rinsed the dishes.

Even a few surprises were in store, like the surprise organization of my spices and a super-clean toilet bowl. That wasn’t it. The Warm Fuzzy Jar transformed the atmosphere in our home. Everyone’s mood is lifted by kindness and cooperation, but mine in particular.

She dressed herself and then hung up the clothes she had discarded on hangers. It wasn’t that the socks did not match the skirt.

She was writing sentences with her sister, not her fingernails turning black from the Sharpie.

I saw that she had prepared a healthy cereal breakfast with cantaloupe, not the milk trail that led from the counter all the way to the table.

I saw that she was helping her sister to do her hair, not the 12 barrettes that were haphazardly attached at the back of her bald head.

I started Noticing Good, and it made a big difference in my daily interactions with my children and their overall well-being.

I put the jar away after it had worked for a few months so that the novelty wouldn’t wear off. The jar was brought out for the first time in a long time during a recent school holiday. As I prepared for The Warm Fuzzy Jar’s return, the items were placed on the counter.

My younger child shouted, “The happy Jars!” when she saw the jars with pom-poms sitting on the counter. She asked, “When can we fill them?”

I shrugged and said, “Well I was going wait until the holiday break but you can begin today if you like.”

The girls and I both acted immediately. They were “doing well,” and I “noticed good.” This powerful awareness enlightened our entire home, making us more kind and helpful.

Yesterday, I noticed that the girls’ jars were already half-full. I suddenly realized that the girls hadn’t declared how much they were going to earn when they filled up their jars.

This fact is very important to me.

The prize is not important when it comes to affirming positive thoughts.

The prize is being declared.

The prize is to have someone recognize and appreciate your hard work.

The prize is the satisfaction of seeing your parents’ faces light up when you do something.

But wait. The prize is here.

Her eyes will become brighter when you fill-up the child. Her head is raised higher. Her dreams come closer.

And then, the world is filled with possibilities. The most precious prize in all of them is your child.

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