Last night I realised something quite shocking: – we don’t tell our children how much we value them. I’m not talking about telling a child that they have done something well, or are gifted, well-educated or beautiful, etc. I’m talking about telling children that they make a difference to our lives. We praise them, sometimes too much and possibly unjustifiably and inappropriately, but we don’t let them know that they, too, can inspire us adults and make us feel happy, energised and valued.
This moment of discovery happened when I felt compelled to tell two of my junior helpers at one of the clubs I coach at that they made a difference to my life and affected the way I felt about my coaching and working with children. They are 15 and 17yrs, so not too young to understand what I was saying but they were completely baffled by what I was telling them; not because they thought I was some kind of raging nut case but because they honestly didn’t feel that they did anything that could be valued by me! Why on earth not? Why should youngsters not get accustomed to being told they make a difference?
OK, not all children leave you with this feeling of appreciation and deep value because there are, unfortunately, a vast majority who refuse to look you in the eye and say “hello”, “thank you” or offer any other basic, polite form of conversation or offer any basic act of kindness or appreciation. Those children have, undoubtedly, been brought up with the idea that nothing has a value – whether provided by parent, teacher or coach – and that everything is disposable, expendable and replaceable. I see it so much in my coaching; children who you know full well aren’t particularly interested in what they are doing because it is yet another activity that has been foisted on them by parents who believe that they need constant entertainment. Thus they see no value in the activity or the person who is delivering it.
The same goes for materialism in youngsters. Everything seems to come so easily to so many children. Parents on a guilt trip for not spending sufficient time with their children will buy them anything they demand as a way of temporarily assuaging that child’s needs – though not their real needs. I so rarely come across good manners in children nowadays that it makes me desperately sad. They value so little (in a deep and healthy way) that I wonder how they will grow up and develop into emotionally and psychologically healthy members of society.
It becomes a vicious spiral, really – the more children are indulged and ignored the more difficult it is to interact with them. The more difficult it becomes to interact with them the less likely you can find something about their behaviour to value. These children aren’t easy to coach, teach or to inspire because they want everything “now” with little personal effort expended.
So, when your life becomes blessed with children who go out of their way to help you, who will always come up and greet you or thank you for giving your time to coach them then it is, in my mind, impossible to withhold the important feedback from those children and let them know that their behaviour means the world to me. I see talent, ability, natural sportsmanship, effort and determination and I can praise that, where appropriate, but the opportunities to tell a child that their kindness, their manners and their generosity makes a difference to people seem pretty limited.
So, last night I told my two young helpers how much they affect what I do and they said they’d never been told that before. How sad is that? How much do we all desperately need to know that we are valued from time to time – why should that just be the prerogative of adults? Telling a child that he’s brilliant will not make that child into a more socially gifted human being but could well make him believe that being brilliant at something is all that matters. Telling a child that she gives pleasure and happiness to other human beings will hopefully teach her the true value of who and what she is and what she can give society.
In this day and age what you own, what you do for a job, how many grades/qualifications you have, what university you went to, where you live and how much you earn seems to predominate everything about a person. How important is it, therefore, that we make it clear to everyone we interact with how much value they give to our lives, whether good or, I suppose, bad, so we have a chance of our children growing up recognising how much their behaviour affects those around them. It’s a simple thing and doesn’t cost a bean but we don’t do it anywhere near enough.