School bells and backpacks certainly bring out the advice. My email and newsfeeds are crammed with articles about how to make this a great school year: healthy lunches, organizational hacks, how to find a tutor, budget school supplies, and lots of homework tips. Including the thousands of offerings about grit, mindset and mindfulness, that’s quite a list. Is it possible to get it all right?
You can’t and you won’t.
There is one thing though, that every teacher, parent, mentor and friend can do: Encouragement! There is a lot of stress for students today (which is a whole other article) and with it comes an abundance of negative thoughts, feelings and talk.
When in a “negative space,” our brains are not at their best. In science-y terms, negativity and stress ramp up the amygdale, preparing the body for crisis. When this happens, the prefrontal cortex does not function at full capacity, lessening our ability to concentrate, think creatively, and process information.
Positive emotions generally do the opposite.
Positive words are like a rich, internal reservoir from which a person can sustain their motivation. They become a part of the narrative that guides their development and, impact the brain’s neuroplasticity. Given this amazing power, it’s not surprising at all, that often we can recall words of encouragement we’ve received for years to come.
Let’s be clear; I’m not talking about heaping doses of empty praise. In addition to all sorts of negative effects, kids can see right through that.
I do mean making an effort to offer genuine encouragement; sharing observations that help children understand themselves, and how their strengths drive their success.
Rather than rolling my eyes when the kid who wants to talk about nothing but soccer approaches, I’m going to say (and think)“Your passion for soccer brings me joy.”
In the midst of an argument, a carefully placed “It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in” might send the discussion in a new direction. And conversely when someone listens to my point of view, “Thank you for respecting my thinking.”
When a young person demonstrates kindness, or an appreciation for another human being, I won’t let it go unnoticed by calling out the action with a simple, “Thank you for your kindness, What you did was very generous, I appreciate how you put yourself in someone else’s shoes….”
We tend to measure life with the big benchmarks; the final grade, the championship game, the diploma or degree earned. Those successes are not a single moment, but a compilation of perhaps thousands of small wins, incremental achievements, and daily actions or behaviors that together, add up to a life of accomplishment.
In her diary, Anne Frank reminds us that “Everyone has inside of them a piece of good news.” If there is one back-to-school tip you adopt this year, let it be to highlight that news: little triumphs, the quiet wins, and above all, the actions and habits that lead to a lifetime of success.
Encouraging people, and lifting someone else up is far from easy. Finding the positive amidst an overly busy and sometimes negative world – and being present in that moment to notice it – takes intentionality. But the benefits are far-reaching, and valuable beyond any measure.