There is a shift that has taken place; a shift that as a parent and educator shakes me to my core. Our children are growing up in a culture where it has become easy to focus on the worst in others while receiving praise for doing so. Don’t believe me – watch the news or better yet check your social media feed. Having a bad day? Post about it. Receive poor customer service? Post about it. Feel injustice of any kind? Post about it. And people go bonkers jumping on the bandwagon screaming, “Justice must be done. Someone must pay.”
How do we combat this shift? Do we really want a new generation of people growing up without the capacity to practice empathy, forgiveness or focus on what is possible rather than what is wrong? I know I don’t. As parents and educators we are going to remain vigilant in our mission to teach our children how to see the good. This is by far more important than any academic lesson we will teach. The good news is this may not be as hard as we think and I believe this skill can be taught by using one simple phrase.
One evening on our drive home from preschool my daughter told me nobody wanted to play with her. As a mom, my heart sunk. Nobody wants their child to feel alone and secluded. I proceeded to do what any rational mother would do and ask her a plethora of questions. The next day I marched into her classroom and asked the teacher if she knew just why nobody wanted to play with Sophia. Her teacher was rather surprised. Apparently somewhere between the classroom and our car ride, Sophia had forgotten all about her adventures with several of her friends. The next evening our conversation repeated, “Nobody wanted to play with me today.” And this same story continued for the next few days. I had been in contact with Sophia’s teacher and she assured me she continued to have good days and was playing just fine with a variety of kids.
I began to wonder: Had I somehow given Sophia the idea that I paid more attention to her when she had stories of a negative nature than when she shared positive victories. When was the last time I showed as much concern over her having a great day as I did the day she told me “nobody wanted to play with me?” The next day I was prepared for our evening drive home with a new strategy that has forever impacted our conversations. Before Sophia even had a chance to share her woes for the day I said this simple phrase, “Tell me three good things that happened today.”
These eight words, which cost nothing, are the key to combating the negative shift in our culture. Will our children experience hurt, frustration and loss? Absolutely. Do we want these negative experiences to become their only reality, or worse their identity? No way! The greatest gift we can pass on to our children, the strongest coping mechanism we can share, is to choose to see the good in the midst of the ugly.
Over time our conversations have shifted and I am happy to say they usually begin with the victories and good Sophia has experienced during the day. We still talk about the challenges, however, instead of focusing on the injustice that may have been done we work together to problem solve ways to move the problem to the victories list.
Looking for a few more phrases to try out with your child? Check out the list below.
- Tell me three things you are thankful for today.
- Tell me about a time you were strong/brave/kind today.
- Tell me about when you were the happiest today.
- Tell me about a time you helped someone today.
- Tell me about a time someone helped you.
- Tell me about a time you did something that you didn’t think you could do.
- Tell me when you worked hard.
*Side note* I have found it to be more successful to engage in deeper conversations using phrases rather than asking questions. For example, if you said, “Can you tell me three good things that happened today?” often the child will simply say, “No.”