“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute – if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise – let your mind dwell on these things”
(Philippians 4: 8, NASB).
Ricky had just been suspended from school for threatening his teachers – an unusual thing for a fourth grader. I was enlisted to help him and his parents learn new skills for coping with his anger. During our first meeting I asked Ricky, “What are some things you’re good at?” He shrugged, unable to give an answer. I probed further, “What are some good things the adults in your life might say about you?” Ricky about hit the roof!
“Are you kidding? There’s nothing for them to say because there’s nothing good about me! I yell, I swear, I scream, and then I get in trouble!” His intensity surprised me. I’d never seen a child this young so adamant about his perceived failures.
I waited to see if he had more to say. He stared blankly at the floor. “Well,” I said, speaking slowly and gently, “I’ve already noticed some stuff you’re good at.” I paused. “Are you interested in what I noticed?”
“Whatever,” he said, not looking up.
I waited further and offered, “You let me know if you’re interested in knowing, and I’ll tell you. Anything else you want to tell me?”
“What did you notice?” he immediately asked, revealing his hunger to be affirmed, but on his terms, not on mine. I proceeded to tell him how I noticed how respectful he’d been with me, a strange adult, during the first part of our meeting. I told him I appreciated the fact that when he got angry, he didn’t lash out at me. I even affirmed that he was good at letting me know he was angry. With a half smile, Ricky looked up and said, “Whatever.” I knew, however, that he liked hearing what I’d said. This brief but significant interaction paved the way for a season of growth in Ricky’s life.
Learning to notice and affirm “whatever is good” is a critically important parenting skill because it helps guide a child “in the way he should go.” The starting place for this guidance is my watchful eye as a parent. Developing this “eye” requires studious attention. Then, when I notice something good I can express it -whatever it is- as I did with Ricky. Unless I express what I notice, it will have no power to shape or encourage my child.
To affirm my child in helpful ways, I simply describe what I see: my child’s action or attitude and the natural result, including the feelings of the people affected. “You shared some of your favorite toys with Chris today! The two of you had a lot of fun, and I’ll bet he’s excited to come back.” These descriptions avoid judgments like “good boy,” or “great job,” and strengthen the values that support the behavior.
When it’s hard to find something to affirm I can ask myself, “What negative behavior didn’t happen?” This then sets up the situation so you can say things like:
- “Thanks for letting me talk uninterrupted – that was really helpful!”
- “What went right, even though some things went wrong?”
- “I’m disappointed in what you did, but I’m really glad you told me about it.”
The goal to notice and affirm whatever is excellent or praiseworthy transforms my parenting journey from a maze to a treasure hunt. Instead of simply figuring out the path to managing behavior, parenting becomes a search– to find and proclaim the jewels of goodness in my child’s life.
Apply It Now:
- What is an affirmation I can give each child about an easily overlooked behavior, attitude, gift, or character trait?
- If you’re having trouble finding the gifts underneath misbehavior, check out 12 Misbehaviors and the God-Given Gifts Behind Them.