Water the Flowers, Not the Weeds

February 21, 2019

One of the great joys of parenting is taking delight in a child’s finest qualities and behaviors: a sunny disposition, a good-natured sense of humor, and an open show of affection. Making sure to notice, to really take in and acknowledge these fine characteristics and actions, enhances our lives and nurtures the best within our children.

Too often, we give our children attention when we disapprove of their behavior. While it’s part of our job to address problems, it’s equally or more important to “catch our children doing something right.” We want to acknowledge qualities and behaviors we value—a child’s enthusiasm for learning, an inclination to be kind and helpful, a willingness to say, “I’m sorry,” and an ability to see two sides of an issue. Water the flowers, not the weeds!

We give a precious gift to our children and teens when we let them know how much they delight us, how much we appreciate their uniqueness. Parents are our children’s most influential “mirrors”; the images we reflect, day after day, help our children discover who they are. When we reflect their strengths, children are more able to see these traits and integrate them into their own self-images: “I have something to offer. I’m worthwhile.”

A skill that helps us show our delight is assertive appreciation. Parents I teach often say it’s their favorite communication skill. It certainly is mine.

Using Assertion to Express Appreciation

The format for assertive appreciation is a two-part statement: an assertion plus an explanation. The assertion describes the positive behavior you observed. The explanation reveals your feelings and the effect the child’s behavior has had on you. Some examples:

When you offered to bring in the groceries without my asking, I felt so good. It feels great to have your help.

  • When you offered to bring in the groceries without my asking, I felt so good. It feels great to have your help.
  • When you helped your sister with her homework, I was really touched. She’s having a hard time with division and I imagine your gentle manner made it easier for her.

The key is to be alert: to notice when your child or teen does something you value. And then express your appreciation clearly. Whatever we nurture with attention will grow. Assertive appreciation is an important way to encourage the best in our children.

An Appreciation Exercise

Now take the final step: express your appreciations to your children.

Notice their reactions. They should encourage you to express appreciation more often!