Taking Verbal Snapshots of Your Children
My wife loves to capture our family events in pictures…and, rightfully so. Those pictures allow us to relive every joyful experience with our extended family and friends. Family shepherds not only take visual photos of family; they take verbal snapshots as well. When Sam falls down and begins to pout, his mother gives a comforting verbal snapshot, “Oh, you fell down. That hurt, didn’t it?” When Daddy leaves for work, Mom empathizes with a verbal snapshot, “Oh, you’re sad that Daddy has to leave. He’ll be back after work.” When Sue points at the fridge, her father gives a verbal snapshot of her gesture—”You want a snack, don’t you.” Little Johnny points at a dog and a click…his parents offer a descriptive verbal snapshot, “Look at that big, brown dog.” Describing behavior, labeling emotions, reporting emotion back in an empathic manner, and describing what our children see are all examples of verbal snapshots. Verbal snapshots help our children learn about their environment. They teach them the vocabulary necessary to talk about their world, manage their emotions, and show empathy toward others. Verbal snapshots also validate our children, showing them that we find them valuable enough to notice and accept. As a result, they learn to value themselves. So, click away. Take verbal snapshots every chance you get. Here are some verbal snapshots you won’t want to miss.
· When your child behaves well, take a verbal snapshot. A verbal snapshot of good behavior can be as simple as saying “great job” or “thanks.” When we give a verbal snapshot of good behavior, our children see a snapshot of our pride and gratitude. The attention they receive from the verbal snapshot also makes the good behavior more likely to continue. Give this verbal snapshot directly to your child as often as possible. Start with “Thank you…” or “I appreciate …” or “Good job…” and finish with a specific behavior you notice. You can also take a verbal snapshot of your child’s behavior for other people to see. For instance, you might tell a friend how well your child handled a difficult situation, express pride in their talent, or explain something positive you have learned from your child in the last week.
· When your child makes a strong effort or shows courage, take a verbal snapshot. Going through childhood and adolescence takes courage. There are constant changes in schools and teachers, “drama” among peers, and new experiences that test their abilities. Each time they try out for a sport or music program, they run the risk of “rejection.” Every time they ask a girl out on a date, they become vulnerable to rejection. Each test comes back with red marks of failure, even if they only miss one. So, take every opportunity to acknowledge your child’s courage and effort. When they stand strong in the face of peer pressure, take a verbal snapshot of that courage. When they try something new, take a verbal snapshot of their effort and courage. When they attempt to make a change and struggle with that change, take a verbal snapshot of their effort.
· When your child shows an interest in something, take a verbal snapshot. Whether they show an interest in music, cooking, reading, anatomy, or sports, take a verbal snapshot. Admire their interest. Join in their interest. Converse with them about their interest.
· When your child is frustrated, upset, or angry, take a verbal snapshot. Doing so validates them and their emotions. If they look hesitant on the first day of high school, let them know that you “can tell they seem a little nervous about starting a new school” and that you “remember feeling nervous on your first day as well.” Give a verbal snapshot when they break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend-“You really liked them, didn’t you? It’s disappointing when relationships don’t work out the way we want.” When you take a verbal snapshot of your child’s “troubling” emotions, don’t try to fix the situation or remedy the problem. Simply offer support. Empathize with them. In doing so, you validate their feelings. We all tend to feel a little better when someone validates our feelings and lets us know they understand our pain.
· When your child is happy or proud, take a verbal snapshot. Don’t limit verbal snapshots to those moments of pain or hardship. It’s easy to give a lot of attention to the negative behaviors, hard experiences, and painful moments. However, we don’t want our verbal photo album fill with those pictures alone. Take as many verbal snapshots of happy times as well. Give verbal snapshots that say, “I am proud of you.” “Good effort; you must be proud of yourself.” “I bet you’re pretty happy about that.” “I really enjoyed what you just did.”