Merriam-Webster defines appreciation as, “To understand the worth or importance of something or someone; to admire and value, or be grateful for.”
So, have you appreciated a child lately? Kids of all ages enjoy compliments, even sometimes difficult teenagers. And kids especially appreciate it when you sing their praises to others.
I have heard parents complain often of ungrateful kids, and I have witnessed kids be ungrateful. The truth is that kids learn to be appreciative by watching others, especially their parents.
As parents, it’s easy to get caught in the day-to-day temper tantrums, arguments and homework struggles, and forget the things you really appreciate about your child or teen. Likewise, kids feel lower self-worth when they are not valued, or frequently reminded of what they need to do, or what they aren’t doing.
Parents will find it more difficult to feel appreciative of their children if they obsess on what is done wrong or get stuck in worry over grades, eating right and behaving right.
In the moments when you want to tell your child what to do or make a critical remark, stop yourself. Make a conscious effort to think about the things your child is doing well or what you are thankful for about them and how you can express it.
As an example: your child spills her snack in the living room where she isn’t supposed to be eating, and you come upon her cleaning up the mess. You have a choice to be angry about breaking the rules, or thankful she is trying to clean it up, or maybe pleased that she got her own snack, or chose something healthy.
That doesn’t mean you have to allow your child to break the rule, but you can respond this way, “Thank you for cleaning up your spill, I really appreciate it and that you managed to get your own snack today. I would also really appreciate it if we can keep snacks in the kitchen from now on.”
Instead of looking for evidence to justify being angry and critical, look for what can be appreciated in a situation. Here are more examples.
Your teen is messy. Might he also be creative or spontaneous, and can you appreciate that? “Jon, I so appreciate how imaginative you are, that’s a great skateboard ramp you built. Could you please put the tools away when you are done with the project?”
A young child’s constant need for attention can wear on a parent, but can you appreciate her lovingness? When a child won’t stop talking, perhaps you can appreciate honesty, assertiveness or how he expresses himself. And when a teen is lagging on homework or college applications, perhaps you can appreciate a clean room or extra-curricular activities, like holding down a job.
To maximize the ability to appreciate your children, make sure you have downtime. If that’s not happening, chances are you may feel tired, irritable and overwhelmed – making it much harder to stop and appreciate any situation. So don’t feel guilty about taking a break – a hot bath, walk around the neighborhood or even a night out.
Make a game out of being grateful
A great way to build appreciation in a family is to take time to mention what you appreciate about each other, and what you are thankful for. You can do this in the car on the way to school or practice, even around the breakfast or dinner table. Older kids can be challenged to add why they are grateful.
When parents are intentional about appreciating their children, they may begin to see their family in a whole new light – one where peace replaces worry, and struggles become opportunities to bond with your child. If you are not intentional, the moments of frustration will triumph over the good times and will erode at your child’s self-esteem and the relationship between you. Remember that it takes many compliments to overcome even one critical comment.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.