Monday, September 29, 2014

Finding Satisfaction

As I was watching our cat this morning, I suddenly had an epiphany (that means a cool new idea dawned on my feeble brain).

Our cat, Wednesday (so-named because she came into our lives on a Wednesday), had discovered a Nefarious Toothpick that had the nerve to be lying in the middle of the floor. Wednesday-Cat saw her clear duty and proceeded to trounce it. Besides jumping on it and slapping it around, Wednesday retreated around the corner so she could sneak up on the toothpick and presumably scare it out of its wooden wits. 

However, having accomplished her plan of ruthless justice upon the hapless toothpick, Wednesday did something that caused my epiphany: She flopped down beside the conquered sliver of wood with a vast sense of restful pleasure to enjoy her accomplishment.

Find satisfaction
Sometimes we forget to do this. We push and we labor and we strive and we tackle our goals with enthusiasm. But we forget that when we have reached a goal, it’s good to stop and appreciate the accomplishment. In the famous Ecclesiastes passage about how there is a time for everything, the writer says, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecc. 3:12-13) Sometimes we don’t remember to stop and “find satisfaction” in the hard work we’ve been doing.

This can be particularly true with parenting. Since parenting is a task that presumably will last for at least 18 years, it’s easy to get in the habit of always seeing the next thing to be done. Yes, Junior has learned to brush his teeth, but he’s still leaving his clothes on the floor. Later, Junior has learned to pick up his clothes, but he doesn’t remember to take out the trash. And still later, Junior takes out the trash, but doesn’t put any enthusiasm into learning his spelling words. And on it goes. Because we are all fallen human beings, there is always room for improvement. The Bible tells parents to train their children in the fear of the Lord, and there’s always more instruction that can be given.

But we need to remember the flip side of the coin. When Junior has made progress or accomplished something, he needs to hear praise and appreciation. I recently read an article by a homeschooling father who lamented the fact that his interaction with his son had always been negative – to the point where his son was surprised at his first job when his co-workers just liked him for who he was.

You can always find something
It can be a hard balance to keep, particularly if it seems that your son or daughter is currently making progress in nothing. But there are always things you can find to be encouraging about. There are always accomplishments you can “find satisfaction” in with your child. Trust me, as a music teacher who often gets to hear students struggle through music they apparently didn’t bother practicing even once, I can tell you that all you need is a little creativity to find something to praise them for!

Here are some ideas of ways you can help your child “find satisfaction” in accomplishment – and maybe even be motived to more accomplishment.

Praise them for trying hard, even if they failed. Yes, you can point out the lessons to be learned from failure, but start by praising them for giving it a try in the first place.

Thank them for showing a good character trait. 
You are kind to your sister.” 
“You are respectful to me.” 
“You have a helpful heart.” 
“You are good at organizing your art supplies.” 
“You put away your toys without being asked.”

Recognize an achievement without immediately pointing out the next hurdle. Sometimes a child just needs to be able to rest in the thought that he finished a chapter of history, not be told that he still has three more to go before the end of the week.

When pointing out flaws, note the parts of their behavior that are good. “Your handwriting is beautiful, Sally. You’ve improved it so much this year! Now let’s work on your spelling in this assignment.”

Publicly recognize their good behavior or achievements. It’s amazing how much encouragement it can be for a child to know his parents are pleased enough with him to actually talk about it to others. (And how discouraging it can be for them to hear you publicly criticizing them.)

Take time to tell them you love them and enjoy them and are proud of them. Just because. Don’t wait for golden opportunities or perfect moments. When you’re sitting in the car, when you’re at the dinner table, when you’re tucking them in bed, when you’re taking a break from unloading groceries. “Sweetie, I just want you to know I love you and am proud of you.”

Because God did
Taking the time to rest and enjoy an achievement is something that even God did when He created the earth at the dawn of time. In fact, He took a whole day out of the week to do it. So in the hustle and struggle of raising your kids this school year, don’t forget to take the time to – metaphorically speaking – flop down by your conquered toothpick!