Gifts come in unexpected packages. Sometimes, they are wrapped in festive paper, tied up with a pretty bow. And sometimes, gifts come through people. Even little people.
I received a treasured gift recently while on an early morning walk with my dog, Hobbs. We had the joy of seeing our darling neighbor, Asher, age 9. Asher and Hobbs have a mutual admiration society, and are always delighted to see one another. I call Asher the “dog whisperer.”
On that particular weekday morning, as we walked past Asher’s house, she darted out to greet Hobbs and me. She was not in her normal school uniform. Instead, she was wearing a beautiful dress and sparkly shoes, and I knew the day ahead must be a special one in Asher’s life. As she and Hobbs cuddled, I asked why she was all dressed up. “I’m graduating from 3rd Grade today!” she said triumphantly. I asked Asher if she was excited about that milestone and she shared her mixed feelings with me. 3rd grade had been a great year and she really loved her teacher and parapro. Saying goodbye to them was very hard. Despite my advanced age, I well remembered those feelings at the end of a school year.
What she said next deeply touched my heart. "I wrote my parapro a note and I used your book. It really helped me a lot. I love it and my mom does too.”
A third grader understanding the importance of encouragement and affirmation? And finding the Leave Nothing Unsaid workbook helpful? I might just have heard a faint heavenly harp glissando immediately after Asher expressed that sentiment!
Asher reminded me once again that sincere affirmation often comes more naturally and easily from children than it does from adults. Encouraging words are generally expressed without guile from a child’s loving and tender heart much like refreshing water flows from a sparkling mountain stream.
How and why does this happen? Are children just wired that way? Undoubtedly, some have a proclivity toward being encouraging, but influence and example make a big difference, too. Children model what they experience. Asher’s parents, Wynn and Michael, are intentional about the value and importance of encouragement. They have given each of their two daughters a letter box for keeping special, affirming cards and notes that can be read and re-read over the years. As parents, they keep their own encouragement files too.
As a way of expressing gratitude, Asher made Mrs. Posten, her parapro, an acrostic that spelled out her name. She rewrote it for me recently so that I could share it with you:
Just imagine how Mrs. Posten felt as another school year concluded to receive that wonderful sentiment from one of her students. To know that she had radiated those qualities on a day-in, day-out basis and made that impression on one of her students must have been incredibly rewarding. (I’m guessing that Mrs. Posten might just have heard a faint harp glissando after reading Asher’s note, too!)
How can we cultivate that type of encouraging, affirming spirit in our children and grandchildren? Here are three simple ways:
- First and foremost, model it for them. Teach by example. Let them see you make a practice of affirming other people for their special character qualities both verbally and in writing. Most importantly, practice it within your own family members and with others who cross your path. If children see us constantly criticizing or finding faults with others, they will absorb and reflect that outlook toward others and with their own self-talk. The opposite it true, too!
- Encourage young children to find creative ways to be affirming to others. Whether it is by writing an acrostic, as Asher did, or finding another way - maybe a craft project - to highlight a person’s special qualities, it’s never too early to start. Help children see the good in others and to express it.
- Start the tradition of “heart happies” on each family member’s birthday. My late friend, Jim Webb, shared that tradition practiced by his own large family. At every person’s birthday dinner, the family would go around the table and each share one thing that made their “heart happy” about the birthday “boy” or “girl.” (No matter their age!) What a simple and powerfully loving idea! Even better, keep a little book and write down what is said at those celebrations. What a life-giving list to read and re-read during difficult or discouraging seasons!
There is no age limit on giving or benefitting from encouragement. As the late Truett Cathy frequently said: "How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they are breathing!"
Thank you, sweet Asher, for showing us all the power of affirming words!