Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do Esteemable Things

Somehow I stumbled onto an old post from the Happiness Project blog, about picking up other people's trash, and it really got me thinking. The idea was that by doing things that we think are "good deeds," we make ourselves happier by improving our self image.

But it wasn't just that I might be able to improve my self image by doing good things, that made this post so interesting to me. It was that it made me wonder whether pointing out when others do good deeds could improve their self-image, as well.

In particular, I'm remembering a conversation my daughter and I had while she was having a snack today. We were eating some trail mix, and she said,

"Mama, do you remember when Nythia was crying at the museum, and I gave her the chocolate chips out of my trail mix, and then she stopped crying?"

And I replied, "Yes, Flannery, I remember that. You were so sweet to your friend to try to make her feel better."

"Well, that's because she's my best friend out of all my friends, and I love her."

Sweet, right?

The neat thing is, that this little memory of Flannery's "good deed," is now a part of Flannery's repertoire of good stuff she's done. She can remember it just by seeing Chex Mix, without me bringing it up or pointing it out.

But I wonder if it would've cemented itself so strongly in her memory if I hadn't used that sweet event as one of her "3 Things" during our bedtime review of the day. I've written about this before, but most nights at bedtime, I try to tell Flannery the "3 Things" that made me proud of her that day. I try to make them character-building things so that she gets to hear examples of her generosity, or her patience, or her flexibility. So, I might say,

"Number one is that you shared your Chex Mix with Nythia when she was upset, and that made her feel better. That was so thoughtful and generous! Number two is that you brushed your teeth right away when I asked you to! That was nice obeying!, and Number Three is that you pet the dogs with soft hands today. That's what I call being gentle!" (Fans of the "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen" books will see that I borrow a lot of their strategies!)

My hope in doing this is that over time, Flannery will see that even if she has a public tantrum now and then, or gets in trouble at school here and there, that there are many examples each day of good choices she makes, and that her true nature is generous, sweet, kind, creative, and generally wonderful.

Self-esteem is such a delicate thing in kids. Really, they're much more sensitive than we think. So let's help them do good deeds. And help them notice and remember those good deeds, too. May every child have a snack food that brings to mind how wonderful they are!

Do you have a "chex mix" memory from when you were growing up? I remember sticking up for a little girl on my bus when some bigger kids were making fun of her, and how I felt so powerful in my skinny red-headed freckled body that day.

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