Encouragement is a funny thing. It usually takes just a few minutes and costs nothing to give, but it can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Years ago I noticed that when I wore certain things people complimented me. It made me feel good. I figured I’d pass that good feeling along, so when I notice a cute bag, nice dress, lovely piece of jewelry, or a particularly flattering color that someone is wearing, I let them know. You wouldn’t believe the change in some people. They seem to stand a little taller.
I had an amazing experience a while back when my parents were visiting from Florida. Bear with me if you’ve already heard it. Mom had something she needed to do at the mall, so she, Dad, my 5 1/2-year-old nephew Sam, and I went to the mall. After taking care of Mom’s errand, we all went to the play area. Sam played while we adults chatted.
Sam started climbing up on some of the play structures and jumping off. I started cheering for him after each jump. He loved it. He moved from one thing to another jumping and waiting for my cheer. Eventually he made it around to the car. He had jumped off of it a few times and was climbing up again when another boy climbed into the car. The other boy was about Sam’s size but was probably a little younger.
As Sam climbed up the boy put his hand on Sam’s face and pushed him off. Sam gave him a confused look, then moved around to the back of the car and started to climb up. The other boy turned around and reached toward him as if to push him, so Sam stepped down. After a momentary pause, Sam walked over to the pig that was just about 5 feet in front of us. I praised him for simply walking away from the other boy.
Sam jumped off the pig a few times, and I cheered him each time. He had just climbed back up when the other boy came over and reached up like he was going to push Sam off. Simultaneously Mom and I said sternly, “No.”
The boy looked at us. I put on a very surprised/shocked face and said, “We don’t push people.”
The boy looked at me with a confused expression and said, “He’s in my way.”
I said, “But he was there first. You’ll have to take turns.”
He stood there and looked at me for a few seconds. I cheered for Sam as he jumped, and the boy walked away. Sam soon tired of the pig and moved to another play structure. The other boy came back. He climbed up on the pig, jumped off, then looked at me.
I gave him a big, “Woo hoo!” He broke out in a huge grin, then climbed up and jumped of the pig a couple more times. I cheered him each time. He gave me one last smile, then walked away.
A few minutes later he walked over to me. In his hand he held an open Starburst package. He removed the last piece of candy and handed it to me. I thanked him, put it in my pocket, and told him I’d save it for later. It’s sitting on my desk as I write this. The thought of that little guy giving up his last Starburst brings tears to my eyes.
I’ve worked with kids long enough to know that for many children praise is a very rare thing. That thimbleful of encouragement cost me nothing at all. It clearly meant a lot to that little boy. But, how different is that little boy from so many of us adults? Far too many of us go weeks, months without hearing something positive. Or, worse yet, we hear nothing but negative comments. I hope I never miss an opportunity to cheer someone on.
You want to know my dirty little secret? Encouraging others makes me feel better, too.