Positively, Steph will remain positive

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“I’m so proud of you.” — five little words strung together that mean so much when said out loud.

My pride in all the things that my kids do well — and the fact that I’m noticing — shouldn’t go without saying.

Sometimes, though, in my panic to get things done, to figure current and next steps and to actually live my life and help my kids live theirs, I focus solely on what is not happening.

“You didn’t clean up your room,” I might say.

“How come you didn’t hang up your towel?”

“Say thank you,” I say before even giving them the chance.

While those carps are unfortunately necessary sometimes, the withering “Why me?” looks I get from my sons make me wish they weren’t. The outbursts — and the reaction to them — also make me realize they need an antidote. An oppositional positive. It doesn’t have to come at that exact moment, but later, in a genuine moment of appreciation of what they do.

I found one of those moments last week. It was 7 am and both my kids were up and dressed and happily eating bowls of cereal. I was slightly hungover, but happy after a fun night out, and life seemed good. All of a sudden, I didn’t take anything for granted, including the difficulty of actually getting up-and-at-’em every morning, all school year long.

My boys hadn’t missed a day, had never been sick or played sick to stay home. They had worked hard to keep up with their homework, to keep track of their keys, to make plans with friends, to get to baseball practice and games — the list of all the ways they excelled rattled on in my mind. And I decided to say so.

“I’m so proud of you guys,” I said. “You got through this whole school year, getting up every morning without complaint, getting ready, you’ve done so well.”

I figured I could go on and on, but I’m learning to be slightly more brief so that my message might be heard before they tune me out like a too-long Youtube video.

I got their full attention — away from their iPhones — and reiterated.

“Really, I’m super proud of you for working so hard.”

I could see it immediately: their posture shifted slightly as shoulders straightened and lifted and their little chests puffed out slightly.

Words are so powerful, and positive ones are so healing and motivational.

Eli immediately started looking at his grades online and proudly mentioning where he had improved, how well he had done on some recent tests. Oscar didn’t flinch when I reminded him that he was in charge of the garbage. He jumped up and took it downstairs without complaint.

Could it be this easy? Could positive reinforcement really be the way to get them doing things and working hard?

Yes, a thousand times yes. But it isn’t always easy to do the right thing even if you feel you have an inkling of what “the right thing” might be. The positive mind is one that takes work to get to, a beast that takes constant rigorous feeding.

It is very easy to poke holes and see problems, but harder to pull back and see the bigger, rosier picture, and help kids do the same.

But this is the biggest part of my job as a mom: boosting up my kids, making them feel like they can do anything if they try, and telling them routinely about their accomplishments, large and small. I am so proud of my boys, and I need to remember to think about it that way.

Then actually say it.

Posted 12:00 am, June 19, 2014
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Reasonable discourse

eddard from PS says:
You go out drinking on your kids' school night to the point youre hungover the next day-WTF??
June 19, 2014, 9:45 am
BunnynSunny from The Hills of Clinton Are Alive says:
Alcohol abuse can lead to increased anxiety.
June 19, 2014, 3:06 pm
Sara grace from Prospect lefferts garden says:
I hope no one feeds those trolls. Great column Stephanie!
June 19, 2014, 4:21 pm
Mom from Park Slope says:
Positive reinforcement of good conduct and gentle correction of bad conduct, with appropriate consequences attached to both. It's that simple, really.
June 19, 2014, 4:59 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
very true Mom

eddard - a tad self righteous - nothing wrong with having a few drinks with friends - not her school night and even if it was bfd. People can be hung over (and that is a wide definition) from a drink or just the noise and being up late..
June 21, 2014, 7:54 am

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