I don’t know about you, but my mind naturally dwells on things that need fixing, improving, or change. I often have difficulty recognizing the good already present.
A drive to to redeem that which is broken, to push back the effects of the fall, and to make things better & more efficient is a good thing, right?
Imagine being the child of someone who always notices room for improvement… add to that all the instructions parents legitimately need to give throughout the day and I’m sure it quickly feels like you can’t quite measure up. Ever. “You just need to be a little better to be acceptable,” is not the recording I want to leave in my children’s mind. “Not quite good enough” is not what I want engraved on their hearts.
Enter Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Exit all my excuses.
It’s really quite simple. I must train myself to notice what is true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
Then I must learn to say it all out loud.
Enter Ephesians 4:29
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Exit all my excuses. Again.
Paul really doesn’t like to leave a lot of wiggle room, does he? He has just removed all excuse for critical thoughts and critical speech.
Maybe I need to direct all my skill at redeeming that which is broken, pushing back the effects of the fall, and making things better & more efficient at my critical spirit.
Now I’m going to ruin this for my kids. Several of them read my blog (talk about accountability! I’ve given them permission to tell me if I start presenting myself differently than the mom they experience…). But now they will know one of my “tricks.” Not a trick as in a way to manipulate them, but a trick I use to train myself in praise, encouragement, and building up.
I set reminders on my calendar and have scheduled tasks throughout my day that coach me in pausing to notice things that are commendable and praiseworthy. I am not perfect about actually following through, but I am getting better.
This may seem artificial to you, but here’s the thing: I genuinely want to praise my kids. I legitimately struggle throughout the day to notice the praiseworthy as I navigate spills, accidents, poorly done assignments, complaints, squabbles, broken toys, broken hearts, and missing manners. Parenting often overwhelms me with opportunities for corrective discipline rather than instructive discipline. I want to encourage and inspire more than I examine and inquire. So, if I’m going to get the inspiring in, it will have to be planned and intentional.
It makes sense really. There are literally thousands of quotes on the internet about how to accomplish goals. One of my favorites is:
When you establish a destination by defining what you want, then take physical action by making choices that move you towards that destination, the possibility for success is limitless and arrival at the destination is inevitable.” — Steve Maraboli
If I have a goal of recognizing growth in godliness and developing speech with graciousness, I will have to establish a plan to get there.
Once I realized that my intense desire to be an encouraging mom wasn’t going to happen without help, my task app became an ally rather than a cop out.
I decided my destination was to be encouraging and gracious, and I took the physical action of setting reminders in my task app. I still have to choose to heed the reminder when I hear the alert noise on my phone, but when I do, I am that much closer to who I want to be.
With intentional practice, it is becoming more natural. Maybe someday I won’t need the reminders, but for now, it works for me.
What does this look like for me?
- When I start to notice my encouragement becoming anemic, I respond by taking a week to specifically pray through my kids with a mind for understanding how they are made, where they are growing, and where they struggle. I have seven kids, so it works out nicely that I can pray through one per day.
- I make pairs of sentences I know would build them up. Things like,
- “I love how creative you are! It is really neat to see you blessing your sibling by making such beautiful things for him/her.” Or,
- “You are such an encourager! I am delighted when I hear you compliment your sibling on their work.” Or,
- “God has really given you organizational skills. Thanks for blessing our family by bringing order to the garage.”
- In reality, I try to write out specific praise in that second sentence. These are vague examples because I don’t want my kids to be on display. But I think valid praise is most acceptable when it is specific. So I would encourage you to be very specific. “You are so funny! I totally cracked up over the Knock-Knock joke about the banana and the orange! ‘Orange you glad I didn’t say banana again…’ That was great!”
- I actually turn each of the pairs of sentences into tasks in an app on my phone and I schedule them to pop up at irregular intervals.
- All that is left is to follow through. When I hear the reminder alert noise and see the pop up on my phone screen, I have to actually deliver the praise. Even if I am irritated with that child right then. Especially if I am irritated with that child right then. Nothing arrests my irritation like being forced by an earlier me to stop and delight in one of my children. It can completely reverse a train wreck in progress. Maybe in the moment, I need to tweak it a bit. But if I can think of nothing good to say in the moment, it gives me a script.
- I also include reminders to touch my children affectionately. I usually set the reminder to “hug,” but it may take the form of tousling hair, patting their back on my way by their desk, brushing hair out of their eyes, or a tickle fight.
- As my kids become more electronically connected, I will schedule texts, emails, and posts to their favorite form of social media.
I don’t have a regular schedule for planning praise, perhaps I should, now that I think about it. I think I’ll add a quarterly reminder to check in with myself!
Bottom line: If you find yourself criticizing more than you encourage and you want to be a different kind of parent, make a specific plan for change.
Maybe it’s reminders on your phone. Maybe it’s developing a habit of stopping on the hour to encourage your child. Maybe it’s a sticker chart or a weekly dinner conversation dedicated to affirming members of your family or a monthly awards night. Whatever you need to do to be intentional about encouraging your kids, do it.