The other night, our 4-year-old son came into our bedroom around midnight. He stumbled in with bleary eyes and said he needed “to snuggle.” Generally, when he wakes up in the middle of the night it really means that he needs to use the bathroom, not snuggle, so after a trip to take care of business we let him climb into our big bed and snuggle in between us.
Jay and I smoothed his hair and gave him kisses and told him things we like about him. “I am so proud of how kind and generous you are to other people. You always offer to share your toys.” “You are so brave when you try to put your head under the water at the pool.” “I am so impressed with how hard you work on learning your words and letters and how to read.” “I will love you forever and there is nothing you can ever do that will make me stop loving you.”
We went back and forth like that, one comment from me then one from Jay, for about 10 minutes. With each word of praise his sleepy little face lit up with pride and joy–eyes closed, giant smile, and awesome little boy all over. We try to be specific in our praise–“I’m proud of your effort at school” instead of “You’re so smart”–in order to reinforce characteristics he can control and that we want to encourage rather than just complimenting an inborn gift. I think it gives our compliments more credence, especially once our children get old enough to realize that we are totally biased in their favor.
I don’t even know if he remembered our time together the next morning-I didn’t think to ask. In the night, Jay gave him one last giant hug and then carried him back to his own bed. But I like to think that the words soaked into his little mind and soul. He is a lionhearted kid who wanted to fight Osama bin Laden (he overheard me talking to my sister-in-law when bin Laden was killed) and tells me that he can’t stay little because he has to grow up to be “a police” so he can protect me. One day, when he’s standing in the gap for me and the rest of the general population, I want him to carry a heart that is confident in his abilities and secure in his values. Not because he’s infallible, but because he is loved and admired by people he respects.
What kid couldn’t use more of that?