Friday, October 13, 2006

Part Two: Getting down to the Fun Stuff
Games to help your child feel loved and secure:
(These are geared for ages 2-7, but you can adapt them for older children as well.)
I. Who Loves You? In your mind, make a mental list of several people who love your child. Then, ask your child, "Who loves you?" Help them answer, "God loves me." Ask the question again. Help the child answer "Daddy loves me." Soon, the child will be able to run through the list himself. Play this game with your child often. Note: I always began the game with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as three separate answers. My goal wasn't to teach them anything about the Trinity, which would be heavy going for a child under the age of six. I simply wanted to reinforce the concept of God's love by mentioning it three times before we started on imperfect, human examples. Then, I listed my husband, myself, grandparents, etc.

2. The Thankful Game: Whenever the kids and I got in the car to go somewhere, we each had to say three things we were thankful for before I started the car.

3. The Thankful Notebook or The Blessing Book: We also kept a notebook of things each of us was thankful for. We used an inexpensive "one-subject" notebook. You can keep this simple, as we did, or you can make a beautiful scrapbook. Periodically, we would go back and re-read our list of blessings. This focused our attention to how God daily demonstarted his love for us, even in the midst of the ups and downs of life. Even as an adult, I have to do things to focus my attention on my blessings. It's so easy for me to focus on problems and responsibilities to the extent that I don't recognize the many ways that God blesses my life everyday.

4. The Something New Book or The Different Ways Book: This is not one that I've personally tried, but I read about it in connection with children who are very shy or very reluctant to do anything that is new or unfamiliar. One mother described how fearful her young son was of doing anything that deviated from his routine. He wanted to wear the same shirt every day. He insisted on eating the same thing for lunch each day.

So, this mother helped her son make a "Different Ways Book" -- a scrapbook showing the boy dong things in many different ways. Along with that, she praised any setp that he took towards overcoming his rigidity and shyness, no matter how slight his effort was. She did not focus on whether he succeeded, but rewarded him with praise for the fact that he tried. Gradually, he became secure and was willing to try many new things.

This book could be adapted to the very shy child. You could make a scapbook together showing times when the child has done something to overcome his shyness. "Ben went to his Sunday school class today," would be one example. Or, "Ben said hello to Mrs. Brown when she stopped by for a visit." Copy children's stories that include examples of children overcoming their fears or being warm, giving, and outgoing, and paste those in the book as well. Re-read them frequently.

I did not try the "Different Ways Book" myself, as our family's problem has never been being overly rigid. Our weakness tended in the other direction -- towards not being as consistent in our schedule as we might have been. But I have known children whose fears did lead them to be overly rigid, and I have seen the unhappiness this can cause them. Such children need gentle encouragement to help them become more secure.

5. Catch your Child Doing Something Good: This is really a game that you play with yourself. In a busy family, especially a large one, it's easy to give your child attention when he or she does something that needs correcting. It's part of the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" syndrome. We do need to stay on top of misbehavior and attend to it immediately. But, we need to be equally attune to a child's positive behaviors. If we give our child more feedback for acting up than we do for obedience, the child will learn to misbehave even more just to get our attention. So, determine on a morning that you are going to try to catch each of your children in the act of doing something good. When you do, give your child a hug and a word of encouragement.

One more hint: There is a time for specific praise, and there is a time for more general praise.

Specific praise confines itself to a particular accomplishment. "Suzy, I like the way you organized your bookshelf. I especially like the way you placed the little vase that grandmother gave you." If Suzy is taking her first steps towards becoming more organized, this will lift her spirits. She will think, "I organized my bookshelf, and that turned out well. Tomorrow, I'll clean out my closet." However, if you say something like, "Suzy, you organized your bookshelf. You are so neat," that could actually make Suzy feel worse. If she thinks about her messy closet, she may deem herself unworthy of the label "neat" and feel guilty for taking your praise. Though we all need some specific encouragement throughout life, very young children often do especially well with this type of praise.

Now, as Suzy gets older, she may consistently demonstrate a knack for organizing things. However, she may not understand that this is a talent. She may wonder, "What do I have to give to my future family or to the world?" At that point, you might say "Suzi, in my opinion, you have an eye for making a room look pretty. Would you come with me when I organize the children's toys at church? I could use your help." Or, you could say, "You seem to love organizing things and making a room look pretty. Have you ever thought about taking a course in home decorating?"

In the same way, you could say, "Ron, you seem to like working with animals, and it seems that you have a real talent for taking care of them. Would you like to be a vet one day? Or, have you ever thought about farming?"

This general type of praise helps a child identify talents he didn't realize he had. It should be coupled with a suggestion for how the child can develop and use his talent. The child may not be interested in following your suggestion, and that's ok. You're not trying to force the child into a mould that's not right for him; you are merely helping him explore possibilities. It's good if you can, over a period of weeks, bring up two or three talents for each child to think about.


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