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Joy of the Month Excerpt (April)

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

(Kahlil Gibran)

Child: Children can feel the joy of individual confidence and uniqueness. This fact is often illustrated by children themselves at our experimental Joy School. Early in our first year, when we were dealing with the physical joys, I had an experience that taught me something about the joy of individual confidence. A group of children were dancing, and the teacher was showing them how to skip. I was sitting at the side, observing. There were about ten children, four of whom just could not grasp the technique or coordination of skipping. It intrigued me that three of the four looked dejected, embarrassed, and upset because they couldn't do it. Each of the three, in his own way, stopped trying: one cried, one walked out, and one started acting silly and boisterous to distract attention from his failure. The fourth little boy showed absolutely no embarrassment or concern or self-consciousness for not being able to skip. He kept watching, kept trying, kept failing, kept watching, kept trying. When the exercise was over, I asked him some questions:

"Do you like to skip?"

"Yes, but I can't do it very good."

"Well, did you wish they'd stop skipping and do something you were better at?"

"No, because I want to learn how."

"Do you feel bad because you can't skip?"


"Why not?"

"Because I'm better at other things."

"Like what?"

"Mommy says I'm good at painting pictures."

"I see."

"And I'm 'specially good at keeping my baby brother happy."

"I see, Jimmy. Thanks for answering my questions."

"That's all right. Don't worry; someday I'm going to be good at skipping too."

An amazing interchange for a four year old! But the principle behind it is not particularly amazing -- it's quite natural. A person who is secure in the knowledge that he is good at certain things can much more easily accept the things he is not good at.

Adult: I have a favorite professor in graduate school, a man whose every move transmitted a certain "I'm okay, you're okay" joy to all who were around him. He had remarkable patience. When a student could not seem to grasp a point, he would not chide or criticize; instead he would compliment the student on some other point where he was strong. He supervised a research report I did, and I came to know him well. He had some strange quirks (typical, I guess, of an absent-minded professor), such as wearing two pairs of glasses at once and occasionally walking into class in midsummer with a pair of winter galoshes on his feet. He was a small man with a bad leg that had always precluded athletics. He couldn't sing or speak well. In fact, he seemed to have few particular abilities, yet he always seemed totally self-confident -- not cocky or overbearing, just quietly of the belief that he could discuss anything, do anything. I guess he was a celebrity of sorts, because he was often in the company of other celebrities, from the governor of the state to the star right fielder of the Boston Red Sox. There was a joy in his confidence, a vigor, a lust for life. I'll never forget the day in class when he said that fear was the antonym of confidence, and joy was the synonym.

I did well in his class, in part because I found him so interesting, and by the end of the year I knew him well enough that we had lunch together once in a while. I asked the source of his confidence. To my surprise, he answered rather quickly, as though he had thought it through many times, almost rehearsed it. He said there were two elements, the first of which was his faith. He said he liked the word faith better than confidence, because faith implied the help of a higher power. He expressed to me, with no hesitation or inhibition, his belief in a higher power to whom he could pray and who he felt would guide and nudge and help him through life.

"What is the second thing?" I asked. "Well," he said, "I'm a little like the great craftsman who made the finest violins in the world. Stradivari used to say, 'God can't make a Stradivarius without Antonio Stradivari.' I have certain gifts, and I think I have discovered what most of them are. I am very, very good at conceptualizing and analyzing 'production-line bottlenecks.' I am very, very good at understanding what motivates people. I am sufficiently confident in two or three basic areas that I feel equal to anyone. I am far superior to my friend Carl in these things as he is to me at baseball. Thus, we respect each other; we see each other as totally different equals."

I've thought a great deal about what he said. His joy was confidence. His confidence was a combination of faith and self-discovered gifts. I realized that everyone can have both, that no one is precluded from faith, and no one is without particular, unique gifts.

Sample Methods

A. Know each child as an individual. You can't help a child build confidence around his inherent gifts and talents unless you come to know what those gifts and talents are. Two ways to learn: (1) in private chats with the child, time spent together watching and appreciating; and (2) in organized time, spent as husband and wife, discussing each child, sharing perceptions, taking notes, discovering together more about the personality and individual character of each child. In our family, this consists of simply getting together as husband and wife (perhaps while going out to dinner) and discussing each child individually, one at a time. We ask ourselves, "How is he doing physically? How is he doing mentally? Emotionally? Socially?" Then we proceed through each facet for each child, asking ourselves if he is experiencing joy in all areas of his life. It is remarkable how much parents can learn from each other's observations.

B. Independence, self-reliance, responsibility at an early age. Confidence and its joy tie directly into being able to do useful things. Each child should have a job in the family, for the family -- particularly daily or weekly jobs -- for which he is praised and made to feel very able and very important, very much a key part of the family.

Another way to build responsibility is to let children make their own decisions whenever possible -- what to wear, what to do on Saturday morning -- and then to praise their judgment.

C. Ask the children, "Which is best, brown eyes or blue eyes?" They will probably each name their own eye color. Tell them they are both just as good, but different. Ask which is best, boys or girls? Tall or short? Three year olds or four year olds? The answer is always the same: They are both just as good, only different.

Explain to the children that they are all alike in some ways: two arms, two legs, two eyes, one nose, and so on. They all like to belong. They all need love. There are many things they all like to do. None of them likes to be hurt or sad. Say, "We are alike in some ways, but we are also different in many ways. That's what makes us special. Each one of you is special in your own way."

D. Special nickname for each child. A similar feeling of specialness comes with an affectionate nickname, especially when it is used exclusively by one parent. To Daddy, Saren is "Princess," Shawni is "Pixie," Josh is "Herkimer," Saydi is "Sugar Plum" or "Tator Tot," Jonah is "Boomer Bumpkin," Talmadge is "Mudgie," and Noah is "Nobie."

E. Mommy and Daddy dates. Set aside a special time each week when there is a one-to-one relationship between mother or father (or both) and one child. These occasions may sometimes take planning, and other times they may consist simply of maximizing the moment.

F. A little, private chest for each child. Give each child a wooden box with some kind of lock. Let it be his own place to keep his special private things, from ribbons to marbles, from jewelry pins to keys to wind the toy train. Then, as parents, respect the privacy of each child's chest. In our family, we made the treasure chest together from plywood in our workshop. Each child painted his own.

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