Becoming quick with praise
A few years ago, my 5-year old daughter walked into our living room carrying the book, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I can still picture its distinct orange cover held against her body by her 5-year old arms.
She climbed into my lap, asked if she could read to me, and began opening the front cover. With little hesitation, I agreed. It’s important to me that Alexa enjoys reading. And I looked forward to helping her through it.
Little did I know my help would not be needed. Using the sight words she had learned from her kindergarten teacher and simple steps to get through the tricky words (look at the picture, sound out the first letters, look for rhyming words), my daughter successfully navigated every word in the book.
Spoiler Alert: He ends up liking the green eggs and ham at the end.
When my daughter closed the back cover to the book, she looked at me with a huge sense of accomplishment. And when she did, she looked directly into the eyes of the only person smiling bigger than her.
I can remember looking down with a feeling of pride I could never communicate with words. The compliments were genuine and the hug was sweet. My daughter was learning to read. She knew it. I knew it. There was genuine joy in this moment.
Now, just to be clear, I know full-well her journey to become a reader is not complete. Green Eggs and Ham is hardly the highest piece of literature she will learn to read — after all, Pinkalicious is right around the corner.
Being able to sound out every word in a Dr. Seuss book is not the culmination of her education. I will still challenge her to read better with greater efficiency and recollection.
But in this moment, at this time, overwhelming joy and pride were perfectly accurate responses. My daughter had grown much in her ability to read over the previous weeks and months. She had worked hard to reach this point. Her progress deserved to be celebrated.
Too often, we live our lives from destination to destination. We look back and mark the significant accomplishments as the milestones that define our lives: a graduation, a new job, a move, or overcoming a tragedy.
We look back with fondness and we look desperately forward to the completion of the next: the accomplishment of a life goal, a significant desired award, a major life transition, finding the love of our life, or emerging from one of life’s dark valleys triumphant.
Unfortunately, life is not lived exclusively in these destinations. It is far more often lived in the pathways between them. Consider the fact that these destination moments are few, but the journeys between them are long.
These moments between destinations are where we prepare ourselves—and are prepared—to accomplish the goal, to weather the storm, and to choose the next destination carefully.
But because we live in a results-oriented world, finding pride and joy during these moments between destinations is difficult, but absolutely essential for effective parenting. Wise parents praise the little victories they notice in their children’s lives.
• When your daughter goes through her room and picks out a toy to give to those less unfortunate, celebrate her decision—even if she’s got a whole closet full of others.
• When your son notices something out of place in the house and puts it away, praise him for it—even though his own clothes litter the shared bathroom.
•When your boy buys a candy bar for his friend, compliment his generosity—even if it came from the $10 you gave him.
•When your teenage daughter sticks up for a bullied-girl at school, thank her with tears in your eyes—even if you know she’ll fight with her own brother when you get home.
Invest into your child to become a better person, a better student, a better citizen, and a better contributor to the world around you. Dream and hope for the great accomplishments that will be known as their defining moments.
But along the way, don’t discount the progress they have already made. Become quick with praise. Because that is where life is lived. That is where strength is found. And that is where joy is deserved—both in your child’s life and in your own.
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