With only five years of experience under my belt, I hardly feel qualified to be doling out parenting advice, but even after a relatively short maternal stint, I've begun to unearth some treasures of wisdom.
One of those treasures is this:
Children are inherently good and they have a very strong desire to please and to be approved of.
I believe my mother was onto this and that it was the reason she kept her small blue sketchbook of "caught ya" notes close by. She watched for good choices, listened for kind words, noticed sweet gestures - and she wrote them down in the little blue book. I think there was a reward system for an accumulation of good deeds; if I'm not mistaken, the reward was some form of one-on-one time with her, which we were eager for as young children. It helped her focus on the positive, joyful aspects of parenting. And you should see the twinkle in her eyes when she thumbs through that notebook now and reads things like "Ryan helped Kate tie her shoes," "Rob picked up toys without being asked," "Em set the table before dinner." Those small, daily victories that are nearly two decades old still bring a nostalgic smile.
Anne and I have implemented something similar in our families -- a ban jar for good behavior. Each bean representing a gesture of obedience, cooperation, cheerfulness, kindness, etc.; the end goal, of course, being a full jar which can be exchanged for a predetermined reward.
It's helped us to focus on the good. It's helped our children attach a tangible reward (that's not candy) to good behavior. In our home, we usually do an end-of-the-day bean jar deposit with Henry. It gives us a nice chance to reflect, celebrate positive moments, and chat about possible improvements - a great way to end the day. And trickling those little beans into that jar helps me remember to give a lot of praise and appreciation for his good behavior.
To get tangled up in power struggles and negative interactions all day is really to miss the joy and purpose of parenthood. I believe very strongly that one of our most important jobs as parents is to help our children feel successful and cultivate their inherent goodness.
Nate (my husband) and I are fumbling along in many aspects of parenthood, to be sure. But we've gotten a few things right. Will you allow me to illustrate this principle of accentuating the positive with one small example from our parenting chronicle? Thanks.
From the moment we became aware of the fact that we were expecting a second child, we built Henry up with confidence that we knew he'd be a good big brother. We told him we were glad Lily would have a big, strong brother to protect her. We told him we were glad she'd have someone to teach her how to walk and run and play games. We told him we were glad she'd have someone to help her learn how to share and be kind. We're still doing it - always gently reaffirming the bond between them. His kindness to her is something we praise and encourage very strongly - because it's something we want very sincerely. Maybe we're just lucky; maybe he's just nice - but he is very kind and sweet to his sister. And I can't help but think it has something to do with the fact that we helped him see the potential for this within himself - and then he rose to that potential because he wanted to be that chivalrous, brave, helpful big brother we'd helped him believe that he could be.
When we look for the good in our children, we see more of it. And, more importantly, we help them see it in themselves.
Celebrate the little victories,