November 06, 2012

Saying It Aloud

One of my children did some occupational therapy this summer, which meant I spent quite awhile sitting in the therapy room examining the odd assortment of posters and notices hanging on the walls. One that I found myself coming back to again and again was a (rather poorly) photocopied list that hung directly across from the bank of chairs. Someone had tried to add some color by going over the typed words with a set of markers, nearly obscuring the text, but I could still just make it out.

"Six critical life messages that every child needs to hear every day,"* read the heading.

It went on:
  • I believe in you
  • I trust you
  • I know you can handle this
  • You are listened to
  • You are cared for
  • You are very important to me
Admittedly, my first vague thought was that all those things were true, so my children probably knew them from my actions. But as the list stared me down each week, I started wondering how often, if ever, I said each of these statements so plainly.  Especially given my personality, which tends to be the sort that believes if you've said something to someone once, there is no need to repeat it again and again.

Knowing I could never recall all six without practice, I decided to pick one to try saying deliberately for a time as a (decidedly non-scientific) experiment. The one that spoke to me the most was "I know you can handle this," especially thinking about Mari. My dear Mari is so capable, but she doesn't believe it yet about herself. She is often hesitant, frequently holding back even when it is an activity she would enjoy. She rarely pushes herself outside of her small comfort zone, physically or emotionally. After Trey arrived, her reluctance to try new experiences combined with a very normal preschooler reaction to having a new sibling and snowballed into an insistence that she couldn't do even the simplest things for herself (like putting on her shoes). Earlier this year it had grown to near-constant cries of, "I can't do it!" and "Help me!"

When moments came up in the day when I'd normally expect her to start resisting, like dropping her off at preschool or asking her to do a task, I'd look her in the eyes and say confidently, "I know you can handle this." I said it a lot. So many times in a day that it started to feel ridiculous.

But it wasn't ridiculous to Mari. Right from the start I noticed that she seemed to move through the "I can't do it" wails a little bit faster. And one sunny afternoon she dangled from the monkey bars in our backyard--a section of the play structure that usually drove her to tears and pleas for rescue--and called out, "Mama! Look at me! Look at me, Mama!" When I told her that I saw her, she shared with an enormous grin, "I can do so many things!"

It it hard to believe something about yourself if you never hear it said aloud.

I've posted these six messages on my office wall behind my desk, where I see them as I work. I'm hoping all six will become a regular part of language I use with the children, that these will become the messages they hear now from me and from their own inner voices in the future.

*A footnote said the list came from
Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline by Barbara Coloroso.


Andy said...

What a great list, and one that I should embrace to. Thank you so much for sharing it!

It Is What It Is said...

Very powerful stuff (akin to daily affirmations which have been shown to help many an adult) and something I am going to build in to my language with my son. Thanks for sharing.

Meg Weber Jeske said...

Thanks for writing this! What a difference hearing these clear, confident statements of support can make in the lives of our kids - as you are already seeing with Mari. Yay!

Anonymous said...

This is a great list, and a wonderful reminder.

Truthfully, these are all things that all people need to hear. I don't think we tell anyone any of these things often enough.

Heather Schade said...

@makingmonkeysoup - Amen to that. I know I could stand to hear these regularly.

Anonymous said...

You are an amazingly humble parent.
If I was parenting the one that would get to me would be 'you are listened to' because I have witnessed so many parents get frustrated with a child's constant demands when they could have just said 'I'm listening' while looking the child in the eye for 3 seconds and said child might actually slow the verbal repetition.
I know what you mean about saying something once and assuming that a person would always know from that point that it was true.

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