Practicing with Children

Noticing the Good

tempart235“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.” (Ephesians 4:29, The Message)

Say only what helps, each word a gift.

The discipline of holding one’s tongue, of thinking before speaking, of taking a deep breath and choosing not to shout or speak harshly, takes lifelong practice. And all of us — parents and children alike — need ample amounts of encouragement, patience and  forgiveness along the way.

Recently, our family has begun a new practice when we gather around the dinner table on Sunday evenings. We go around to each person individually, and intentionally offer “compliments and thanks” for things that we’ve noticed throughout the week.

Maybe it’s a compliment about how homework was done with a great attitude, or thanksgiving for that night when someone thought to load the dishwasher without being asked. A couple of weeks ago, my son thanked me for playing a video game with him, knowing how much I dislike video games. My husband thanked my daughter for taking the time to run over and give him a hug and kiss before school, even though she was running late for the bus stop.

Compliments and thanks. Big or small. Taking the time to notice the good.

The first couple of times we tried this, there were some awkward giggles and it felt a little silly. But that quickly gave way to smiles and delight as everyone had the chance to hear how we had been helpful or brought joy or tenderness or gratitude to each member of the family that week. Seeing the look on the kids’ faces, especially when they receive their compliment from their sibling, has been enough for me to want to make “Compliments and Thanks” a permanent practice in our home.

I can’t say it has eradicated all unwanted behavior, that potty humor has gone the way of the dinosaur (it totally hasn’t), that no one ever talks back or that I no longer hear stomping feet and audible sighs in response to the word “no”. I cannot honestly say that I haven’t raised my voice in the past week. But I can say that this little weekly ritual is bearing fruit in our household. There’s been more peace than discord, there’s been more laughter than tears, there’s been a whole lot more effort to be helpful and to notice I don’t know about you, but if I’m not intentional about it, I tend to expend a lot of energy focusing on the negative, and give little more than a nod to the positive. After all, what’s going well doesn’t need my attention, right?

I wonder if you struggle with that too.

In my deep desire to raise loving, obedient, faithful, kind, responsible, respectful children, I tend to focus so much on what needs changing and shaping that I forget to celebrate the beautiful human beings that have already taken shape!

My son is so much more than the sum of his potty talk. He’s curious and sensitive and always wants to make sure everyone is included. My daughter is not defined by pre-adolescent moodiness, but by her expressive personality and her ability to find fun and joy in the littlest and most mundane things.

If God chooses to notice and encourage the good within us, it only follows that we do the same for each other. And what better place to start than within our families — with the ones who see us at our worst — choosing to notice and encourage the best.

It’s a simple little exercise that has the potential to make a lasting impact on our children, our spouses, our extended families and beyond. Taking the time to notice, to encourage, to pay an honest compliment and give thanks for the big and small ways that our loved ones bring joy and offer love. Your precious people need to hear it. We all need to hear it. Word by encouraging word; each one, a gift.

Kelly Pittman shares life and ministry with her husband, two young children, and a wonderful church family, in Southeastern Michigan.

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