Twenty years ago, I read in a parenting book that the single most important message to convey to a child is that of delight in him. Thinking about that as a young mother excited and encouraged me to do what felt natural and fun with my kids. I have since come to see that it is also the most therapeutic response as we dialogue with children, teenagers, adults and families.
To delight in another means to experience satisfaction, happiness, enjoyment and pleasure in the words, ideas, thoughts and emotions of others. To delight in another is the ultimate kind of affirmation.
Most adults would admit that when we are affirmed by others we feel more secure, happy, competent, and enthusiastic about life and its challenges. Workers perform better when verbally praised; a spouse is able to love and extend more grace when he or she is complimented by his or her spouse.
To delight in a child is to invest in his healthy development in the areas of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, security, and identity. Because his little self- concept is not developed yet, a child is vulnerable to criticism and unrealistic expectations. Delighting in is the opposite of shaming. Delight is a form of joy; joy is an integrating emotion that gives us courage to cope with emotions that can fragment, break and silence us.
To delight in another we need to spend quality time with that person and get to know him. We need to look at a child as full of thoughts, emotions, ideas, perceptions, as a person of interest and in need of attention and encouragement. We need to wonder about the thoughts and emotions that lead to their behaviors.
Delighting in children is fun but may feel discouraging to a parent who is in negative transactions with a child who is having behavior problems. I have had parents tell me that they are afraid to praise their children because of their fear of enhancing negative behaviors, or the negative behaviors seem so bad that they swallow up glimpses of good efforts of the child.
A place to start is reading with children. I love children’s books because they characterize all the emotional experiences that children and adults face, from being excluded from “the club” to feeling scared on the first day of school, and this is a good place to start to set up an experience to delight in your child’s imagination.
Reading is calming and captivating for most children. Reading levels the playing field; the child becomes the expert when it comes to a world where mice sing, dance, and wear clothes and grasshoppers want to be included in beetle clubs. Reading opens children up to share their similar wishes, fears, and ideas. Be intentional about listening to the child’s thoughts as the story is read or afterward. Some of my favorite times of conversation with my three daughters were after we read a story. Stories are comforting; I remember my daughter Becky asking for Paw- Paw Chuck’s Bible stories when a thunderstorm was raging.