Today as I was walking into my local Starbucks I saw a joyful interacting between a some adults and a toddler. I have no idea what the toddler did, but as I walked up three adults burst into applause and exclamations of encouragement. The little girl beamed. I mean, she looked right chuffed with the response to whatever she had done: big smile on her face; clapping her hands in imitation of the adults; little squeals of delight. It was a wonderful sight to behold. Now, I am sure that this little one didn’t do anything all that miraculous. Perhaps she said a new word or the mother shared a story about a new accomplishment, but whatever it was, the little girl was showered with appreciation.
This got me thinking. Why do we freely give all sort of positive affirmation to little children, but then withhold it from older children and adults? Do we suddenly stop needed it as we grow older? I don’t think so. I think that little children receive praise and affirmation better than older people; they take it a face value and feel good getting it. Somewhere along the line they are taught–let’s be clear we all teach them–that they should not bask in the enthusiastic comments of others, but should rather push back compliments and respond with self-effacing platitudes. Somewhere along the line we learn that one shouldn’t show appreciation for the little things; that they are just to be expected as the routines of every day life.
Somewhere along the line we learn that to be worthy of praise or to get excited it has to be something BIG. Some great accomplishment. Why? We get all giddy if a toddler can tell you that the colour of the sun is “lellow”. Yet, if a teen comes home at the time they said they would it is “expected”; if a friend keeps a confidence it is because they “are supposed to”; if a spouse makes the bed it is because “it is their turn”. All these things are true, but does that make them exempt from being valued and commented on and even praised? Now I can picture my 17-year-old son’s face if I started jumping up and down and applauding him when he comes home on time, but perhaps it is the delivery method that should be adjusted and not the acknowledgement denied.
I don’t really know where I am going with this one except to say that there are many opportunities each day where we can celebrate the little things. Life is full of little victories. Somehow this is clearer and easier to acknowledge with toddlers than with anyone else. Maybe we know that we won’t be judged or disparaged by them for our praise or maybe their gleeful acceptance of our offering encourages us to offer more. Whatever it is–what if we treated the adults in our lives like toddlers? What if we celebrated the small victories with them: the coffee brewing, the bed making, the re-capping of the toothpaste tube? Not to be trite, or manipulative, but simply because we recognize that life is short and we are all muddling through as best we can. How different would our daily path be?
Plato is often quoted as saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. This is so true, and maybe, just maybe, the biggest feat–the greatest kindness–is to offer a smile instead of a criticism or a thank you for a towel picked up off the floor instead of silent expectation, a word of encouragement even while fearing being rebuffed, to be thrilled when someone acts as you hoped (and expected) they would.
What have we got to lose?
Have you been surprised with a kind word or gesture recently?
Have you offered someone encouragement or given them praise for the little things?
If not, why not? What can you do today to treat an adult you know like a toddler?