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a fresh start

January 5, 2010
Times Observer
BY JANN BALL, DIRECTOR OF THE COMPEER PROGRAM, CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY

With the new year upon us, and many starting with new resolutions….some that we know deep in our hearts won’t last the month, it seems to be a good time to address starting over. Every day can be a new chance to say words of encouragement and offer constructive support for our families. Even if yesterday was difficult and words were said that were not affirming, the longer we stay in that mode, the more lasting impression those words make.

The kind of encouragement or lack there of in your growing up may be duplicated in your interactions with your family without you even being aware of it. Are you apt to say something to the effect “you never listen, you can’t do anything right, you are so slow, I am so tired of you messing up,” or any of the litanies that parents may say in frustration? Sometimes our initial reaction to something gone wrong is to bring up all the other things that a person has done wrong and just add the new incident to the long list. After a while, all the wrong and negative impressions of oneself adds up and leaves a child feeling that they will not be successful at anything they would like to try, be or do.

We all say things that are not helpful to a person’s well being on occasion. We can take ownership of that though and make sure that we are more intentional in the way we talk to our children about how we perceive their worth and abilities.

I attended a workshop led by Dr. John Lyons of NW University in Illinois, that focused on the likelihood of children brought up in negative surroundings having less potential for success than those that are in positive and affirming surroundings. The research reinforced what we may know by common sense and reminded me of the lasting implications the power of our words, attitudes and actions have on our children.

I think of the words or impressions I believe to be true about myself, some good, some not so positive. Where did the beliefs come from? Much of my outlook comes from a loving family that believed in me. But, it is interesting to me that what I might not have excelled in was not given too much attention except the acceptance that it probably was true. I couldn’t sing unless off key, high school math was above me and athletics were not my thing. Consequently I am hesitant if not resistant to anything mathematical and I don’t even enjoy a fun game of volleyball for fear that I will look foolish. And about the singing...I rarely even sing along to a song by myself knowing how bad it is! These are simple and not life changing things but looking back 50 some years, I see that even in a loving family, words or attitudes expressed in one’s youth has far reaching implications.

In raising my children I have tried to imitate the positive that I received in my childhood, but with an effort to help my children accept that while they may have limitations in some areas, it does not mean that they can’t work to improve and grow their ability.

Interactions with our children are an every day opportunity to forgive, forget and forge ahead towards loving, positive and supportive words and attitudes. Every day is a new start. If they failed to do what you wanted them to do, if they didn’t behave in a manner that you wanted them to, if they didn’t finish something correctly, accept it, forgive it and move on. Of course negative behavior has to be addressed, but keep the focus on the potential to make positive changes in the negative behavior. If someone thinks that they are capable of change or growth in an area, and it is enforced, the odds are much in their favor that they will indeed make positive changes and tackle challenges instead of giving up.

I am not advocating that we give our children a false sense of self worth. Well-worded honesty about a child’s lack of ability or negative behavior is imperative for realistic expectations and the ability to overcome obstacles.

If we are competent at something it may not occur to us that others may struggle with what comes naturally to us. Becoming aware of that may help with impatience and frustration with our children’s behavior or abilities. Sometimes it just takes acknowledgment that they have trouble with something. Ask just what you can do to help them find ways to succeed on their own.

I listen on occasion to Christian speaker, Joyce Myers. One of her favorite expressions is “I am not where I was, I am not where I want to be, but I am on my way!” We can’t change how we talk to our children overnight, but we can be intentional about stopping to think about our words to them. We can say we are sorry if we were negative and hurtful, and we can forgive ourselves and continue to see and comment on potential and encourage positive growth in areas that need extra support for success.

We are not helpless to continue using negative words and expressing negative attitudes, we can assess where we are, make the commitment to each day find the positive not only in our children, but ourselves, our families and the community in which we live. We can be “on our way” each new day.

Jann Ball is the Director of the Compeer Program in Chautauqua County that provides friendship to youth and adults experiencing mental health difficulties. Jann resides in Falconer with her husband Marshall and son Michael.

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