I tend to get anxious about new experiences, especially those that involve presenting myself in front of large groups of people. I know that these moments are a part of life and are unavoidable, but knowing that doesn’t keep me from psyching myself out and making myself a nervous wreck in anticipation of them.. So needless to say, when it came time for my first test, moving from white belt to yellow belt, those proverbial butterflies in my stomach felt more like dinosaurs stomping around. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I missed the board? What if I hit the person holding the board? So many things could go wrong! So what happened? I walked up, grabbed Karina’s wrists, gave a strong right knee, and broke the board. No big deal…except to me it was…and afterwards I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself. I had conquered my fear, and broke a board! Go me!
Switch gears, to my last class for my master’s degree in autism spectrum disorders. Not only did I have to work with six kids with varying degrees of autism and emotional needs, these kids were also high schoolers! Now I was totally out of my comfort zone—not my safe little classroom of fourth graders—or as Dorothy would say, “I’ve a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore!” Three weeks later, my partners and I had managed to connect with each student in our group, and make meaningful progress with both the students and our own teaching. When we met with our supervisor to get our final grades, she called us her “Dream Team.” I felt proud of myself and my team members. We had worked very hard, and it felt great to have someone we all looked up to acknowledge that work.
We all know how it feels when someone else recognizes something we are proud of—that feeling of accomplishment, that “Yeah, that’s right, I did THAT!” feeling, the one where you can’t stop smiling. You know, that feeling. As adults, we can appreciate the enormous amounts of effort, determination, and hard work that go into those moments of accomplishment, and we often freely acknowledge our peers’ achievements. When was the last time you really, truly, genuinely, acknowledged your child’s achievement, to the point where they get that feeling? Sometimes as adults we forget that the seemingly insignificant things our children accomplish actually took them as much hard work, effort, and determination to get it done as we took for our own accomplishments, personal or professional. When we forget to acknowledge this, choose not to contribute to the chance that our children can experience that feeling. Life is busy; no one denies that. Sports practice, games, birthday parties, karate, gymnastics, dance class, meetings, work and the associated commitments and events, doctor’s appointments….you get the idea. But taking the time to acknowledge a child’s achievements, big or small, takes only a few minutes, and can make a world of difference in the long run. Not only do kids thrive on positive reinforcement, they also watch the every move of the adults in their life. They want to be like us, so why not give them something positive to emulate? Before we rush off to the next event in our busy day, we can take a minute and acknowledge that accomplishment…
A good grade on a test? “Great job!” and hang it on the fridge.
Played well during a soccer game? “Good game, you did _____________ really well!”, and give a high five.
Earned a stripe after karate class? “Keep up those strong punches/great kicks/awesome effort and focus and you will get your next belt in no time!”, and give a hug.
Finally mastered that combination in gymnastics or memorized those 9’s times tables? “Awesome job! Think of what you can do with the next combination/times tables.”
Here’s the thing…if there are other adults in their life reinforcing the positive behavior, there’s a chance these accomplishments can happen whether we cheer on our children or not. What an awesome opportunity we are presented with, though, to help our own children get that feeling once we contribute to acknowledging the behavior ourselves. We show them their hard work matters to us, that we value it, and that we want them to keep doing more of it.
And kids, this is not just for your parents….when was the last time YOU really, truly, genuinely acknowledged everything your parents or grandparents do for you each day and thanked your parents or grandparents for something? Said, “Hey, Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa, I really liked it when you took me to that place/ made my favorite dinner/ bought me that shirt I really wanted…Thanks!”? Showing your appreciation for what your parents are doing for you shows that you know that you still need their help, and you are grateful that you have them around to give you that help. Believe it or not, when you show your appreciation to your parents, it makes your parents want to help you more in the future! They see that you care.
If we acknowledge our children’s positive behavior, they want to continue doing it and they make their own lives better…and that makes our lives better. If children acknowledge what we do for them, it’s a step to make gratitude and recognition come full circle. And it only takes a minute.
Parents acknowledging their kids’ accomplishments….Kids acknowledging what their parents do for them…it can all come full circle, if you just take a minute.
Sarah Larson, Kids Instructor
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