Renata's Blog: 3 Ways to Encourage the Story Within Any Child

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Whether it be your child, your sister’s child, your friend’s child, the child down the street, on the news, or the teenager who served you a cup of coffee this morning.

Each child – every last one – carries within her a one-of-a-kind, never-before-told, amazing and very important story.  No matter what her roots, gender, race, history, medical profile, or classroom/athletic/arts performance… each child has a combination of gifts and interests that have the potential to make the world a better place.

So what would the world look like if we somehow helped each child who crosses our path to believe this to be true?

The world would be a better place.

And helping each child is doable.  Very doable.

Most of us can think back in our lives and identify at least one or two people who really saw us, believed in and encouraged us.  A teacher.  A coach.  A friend of the family.  In the big scheme of things, oftentimes the cumulative amount of time they spent in our lives was little.  But the impact was lasting.

Belief is a powerful thing.  So powerful, that even a little bit can go a long way.  For better or for worse, I might add.

So let’s add to the better.

Here are a few ways I’ve found to naturally, easily encourage the story in any child you meet, work with, love.

1. Love Openly.

“Even the unlovable, unruly child?” we’re inclined to ask.  Well, actually, yes – especially that child.

Until a child experiences genuine I-see-you-and-think-you’re-great love, he can experience little of anything else that is good and nurturing in his life.  Peace, trust, friendship, personal success – these all are hinged on validation that he matters.

The first step for any child in realizing his story, is to be loved.

For a child who is not your own or not in your direct care, don’t discount the value of a kind word, direct eye contact, an open smile, forgiveness, a prayer.  These matter.  They let the child know there is goodness in the world, grown-ups who care.  That is not a small thing.

In my household, with my boys, I use an acronym: ILYMTAITWWW.  I Love You More Than Anything In The Whole Wide World.  Those 11 letters let them know: I will push you to do well, I have expectations for you, there are boundaries, but nothing ever, ever will separate you from me.  You can trust me implicitly.  Because I love you always, no matter what.

 2. Praise Genuinely, or Not at All.

Kids have keen radar for empty flattery – and while it might feel good to them in the short-term, deep down they don’t like it.  Because it simply doesn’t ring true.  And to be praised for something you don’t deserve then begs the question, “Is this all they can find to say about me?”

Important for us adults to note: because of its disingenuous nature, false praise not only has a way of ultimately deflating a child, it has a way of alienating the child from the person who speaks it.

If you don’t have anything genuine to say, better to say nothing.  In a child’s world, truth and trust are paramount to thriving.

Therefore, make it a conscious intention to look for the good.  And not always where expected.  See the child.  Notice where she thrives.  Look beyond the soccer field, the report card, the concert or recital.  Does she frost a great cupcake?  Organize his backpack well?   Show empathy to a sick pet?  Rally after failing?  Wave at people in the grocery store?

These things matter.  Oh, how they matter.

Now find a way to genuinely praise that child, in a way that feeds her very being.  If he’s shy, wait until there aren’t a lot of people around.  If she’s a ham, praise her within earshot of someone else.  But speak genuinely about what you noticed, and how/why it makes you proud.

Genuine praise makes a child’s very soul sing, by tapping directly into her innate wiring.  “Yes, Yes!” is what courses through her. “I agree – I am good at this!” You are genuinely validating her unique story, worth and purpose.   Wow.

Hold Them Accountable.

 I clearly remember my dad, only once, saying to me, “I’m really disappointed in you.”  It was delivered with a gentle sadness… and it hit me harder than any lecture or angry rant ever could.

My dad loved me.  He believed in me.  And I’d let him down. Now he was holding me accountable, and my immediate motivation was to make things right.

While love and belief in a child is paramount, it’s not enough.  We also need to draw and hold boundaries that keep them from wildly veering outside of their stories.  But without a foundation of love and belief, there’s little reason for the child to trust that the boundaries we set are good and right.

Once love and genuine belief are established with a child, set boundaries.  Think carefully: What are the greatest risks to this child realizing his story, purpose, worth, fulfillment?  That’s where you draw the lines.  Explain to him that – just like fences – these are to protect all he loves and is good at, to keep the bad out.  And you’re there to stand at the fence, to help keep the bad out.  Because you love and believe in him too much to do anything less.

Then hold him accountable.

When he steps over the line – and he will – lean into your love and belief in him to support why that’s not okay, and what the consequence will be… for his good.  For his story.

At all costs, we must preserve their stories.

And with generous doses of love, genuine praise and accountability, those stories can be realized, and thrive.

And the world will be a better place for it.



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