By Amber Zaliski
“Ohhhh, I LOVE your blue flowery swimsuit, and your long hair is beautiful. I love the curls!”
“OMG, that dress is adorable on you.”
“WOW! Your skateboards are awesome; y’all are the COOLEST!”
“I love those pants; your style is the best!”
Then, our 6-year-old raced the three girls on long-boards down the trail, and they laughed and cheered her on and said, “You win!” when they made it to the bridge, just before riding off.
That’s a snapshot of about a 10-minute stroll down the trail to Bridal Veil Falls in Orem, Utah, on our latest travel nursing, cross-half-the-country drive to our next destination. It could also have been a trip to the playground, or the grocery store, or wherever we happen to be. Some days, she really turns it on, and it’s like we’re raising a little walking, talking compliment factory.
When I say “raising,” I mean that I have never told her to say something nice to every single stranger she passes by today. (Actually, sometimes what I tell her is, “We don’t have to talk to every single person we pass today, okay?”) BUT, a lot of days it seems like that is her top mission. It’s always interesting to watch the reactions. Most of the time, it’s one of surprise. Most people do not seem ready to hear something nice about themselves from a random kid in tasing. I love the smiles and sometimes the nervous laughter and the “thanks,” and sometimes people are ready with a quick compliment in return.
One of the more important lessons I learned as a teacher, and has become even more obvious as a parent, is that kids learn and absorb way more from what they see you doing than what you only tell them to do. So when we’re on our tenth compliment of the hour, I have to remind myself that I’m watching nature and nurture at work. While I’m definitely not instructing her to pass out the compliments with reckless abandon, I do believe it’s nice to be nice. If you observe something you like about someone, you should tell them. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that our girl has been given compliments every day of her life–by me, by her dad, by our family and friends, and by lots of strangers. It’s nice to hear nice things, too.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen, how things would change, what society would be like if every single kid, every single day, heard nice things about himself/herself.
Would they then be passing on the kindness to others? But because my girl wants to talk to almost everyone, we’ve also had our share of learning experiences. As a mom, the hardest thing to explain is that not everyone is nice. For whatever reasons, they’re just not nice. Maybe it’s because people have not been very nice to them. I could list too many examples, but that’s not what I want any of us to remember.
We just finished kindergarten homeschool. Have we learned everything we need to know already? Well, no! But I think we’re off to a good start. Lesson #1 that I’ll repeat and repeat and repeat: Words are powerful. We can use them to help or to hurt, and the world always needs more helpers.