My Daughter, the Encourager

My Daughter, the Encourager July 15, 2014

“Dad, did you have your meeting yet?” Sally asked Sean recently. Sean had mentioned the meeting earlier in the day, and Sally had remembered.

“Yes, I did,” Sean replied.

“Good job, Dad,” Sally said.

Our daughter Sally is many things—curious, creative, compassionate—but one thing she has shown herself to be, time and again, is an encourager. It’s funny, my parents always said that children who aren’t spanked grow up to be selfish, spoiled, uncaring brats. Not so. I don’t spank Sally—in fact, I rarely find the need to punish her at all. And yet, Sally is one of the most generous and caring children I know.

“I love your shoes!” Sally says to the woman in front of us at the post office.

“Your scarf is beautiful!” Sally offers a woman passing us as we cross the street.

“Hey! Hey, I love your shirt!” Sally calls out as we pass someone at the library.

Sally hands out compliments generously, and they are always heartfelt. Sometimes she lets go of my hand for a moment to run after someone with a fancy hat or a vivid handbag to tell them how awesome she thinks they are. “Your hat is beautiful!” “I love your bag!” I have seen people’s eyes completely light up at a simple but heartfelt compliment from an enthusiastic five-year-old.

She does it to me, too. “Ooh, that’s a pretty necklace, Mom,” she’ll say. If I’ve dressed up for a meeting she’ll notice and say “You look really beautiful today, Mom.” And it’s not just outward things, either. If I clean and organize a room, Sally will look around it and say “Good job, Mom.” Or if I make cookies with her and her little brother Bobby, or spend an hour reading them books or playing trains or make believe with them, Sally will say “You’re being a good mom to us. I love you.”

I used to wonder where this came from. I mean, I only rarely compliment a stranger I pass on the street. But now I think I know. Ever since Sally was little, I’ve showered her with little compliments and words of praise. Sometimes I compliment her appearance or her eclectic sense of style, but more often I compliment her on her hard work, on her curiosity and desire to figure things out, or on her kindness toward her little brother. And of course, my comments to her have always been offered genuinely and intended to encourage.

It’s not about raising a child who is dependent on compliments, it’s about building my daughter up because I know there will be plenty out there to tear her down as she grows. I don’t oversell my compliments, and they’re never contrived. I remember watching a TV show where one of the characters died and the others mourned all the things they wished they’d said to her while she was still alive. I want to say those things now rather than wishing, later on, that I had.

“Sally, I love what a sweet big sister you are to Bobby,” I’ll say after watching Sally help Bobby fix his train tracks on the living room floor.

“Sally, I think it’s awesome that you’re so curious about the world we live in,” I’ll say as Sally tries to figure out what is causing the tomato rot in our garden.  

“Sally, thank you for being such a big helper on this shopping trip. It really made things easier for me,” I’ll say after an especially smooth trip to the grocery.  

At preschool Sally received an award for being the best at sharing. When she filled out an “all about my mom” sheet, she finished the sentence “My mommy always says” with “I love you.” I don’t think those two are unrelated.

You know how when you shine a beam of light at a crystal or a prism, little beams of light shine out in all directions? I think that’s what’s happening here. My efforts to compliment Sally—to encourage her and build her up—have not only made her more self-confident but have also been reflected by her out to others around her. Hopefully her own generosity will spread still farther as she brightens one person’s day and they in turn brighten another’s.

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