Children need to be noticed. They need more than just, “I like that!” or “You are so nice!” If you stop and think about it, who doesn’t? If we rephrase our words to focus more on noticing specific things and less on general praise or obligatory responses, think how much better off our children will be!
As a teacher, I have had the pleasure of attending numerous trainings this past year, all dealing with discipline, motivation, and the power of words. One thing they all had in common: children yearn to be noticed. Let me say that again. They NEED to be noticed. Children need for you to get out of autopilot and notice what they are saying and doing. Each time I walk out of these conferences I feel like a mom failure! I am always so self-absorbed that my kids get the compulsory, “Oh, that’s nice honey!” type comments. At the dinner table or in the car, my kids will yell to be heard over each other, just so they can be noticed for five minutes by mom and dad. In the classroom, it’s the same. They will cut in front of others, tap on me, or just plain yell to get their story out. There is a rising need for quality adult-child interaction. Even in these days of busy, jam-packed schedules, it’s not hard to notice kids!
So how do you notice? You look at the act itself. “Hey, I noticed you laid out your clothes tonight instead of in the morning. I bet that might make wake up go more smoothly. Tell me what you were thinking.” Then, after listening to the explanation, you can offer, “Good job! I like your thoughts. I can’t wait to see if it works.” Instead of starting off with a “hey, great job!” you can have a conversation and realize your child finally listened to your words! The internal impact that conversation will have is far greater than any, “Great!” could ever offer. You gave value to their proactive thinking, not the fact that you liked what they did.
When your kids or students are lined up, vying for your attention, just gently place a hand on the waiting child. Even that small gesture lets them know that you notice them, even if you are giving your full attention to someone else. This has been great for my competing children. It really downloads calmness to my son and lets him know that even though his sister talks forever, he will get his turn. In the classroom, it’s been a godsend.
Noticing takes your acceptance out of the equation. I don’t want to raise children who do things only because I like them. (I like that you are sharing. I like that you made your bed.) What will happen when they are adults and no longer live with me? Or worse, teenagers who don’t want me to like anything they do! Noticing helps you praise their thinking and even the actions. I want them to make good choices because it feels right to them — not just because their mom likes it done that way.
It even works on husbands! Instead of telling him thank you, or just a meaningless platitude, I let him know what I notice. It goes a long way, let me tell you! I notice when he shaves, the smell stays in the air. When I get to work, I can still smell it and it’s like he’s with me! Telling him all of that is way better than just, “I like it better when you shave!”
Words are powerful! Go notice something today!