“Who’s a Good Boy!” – We all need a little affirmation

Jesus – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

Once in a while – not often enough I’m sure – Max Retriever gets to go see his friends at the Dirty Dog Spa and come home looking handsome. Grooming is expensive, but he is a big dog (huge, actually) and the process takes a good two hours.

– home from the groomers

I think Max actually likes it. The attention, the brushing, the one-on-one, the room full of other dogs, the pats, the strokes, the compliments.

I believe we all need that kind of treatment once in a while. Not the hose-down, de-matting, and blow-dry so much as the affirmations! I was in a small group once (in Florida) where every week or so someone would be singled out for “random attaboys.” It worked out that everyone ended up in the hot seat two or three times a year. The only firm guideline was that the words of affirmation had to be authentic. The effect was powerful.

As a leader in men’s ministry, over the years I made it my mission to point out positives, compliment guys on their insight, thank them for their participation. It was especially encouraging when I was able to pass on positive comments from other people in the church.

Seven to one ration?

When I was a schoolteacher I made a big sign for the wall in my classroom that read, “Research says it takes seven positives to balance out one negative; I say, ‘Why Risk It?’” I had it laminated. Then I made another and hung it in the staff room too.

There is a need of course for both affirmation and accountability. But I have found, time and again, that it is more effective to encourage the good than to constantly shine the spotlight on shortcomings.

Again, back in the classroom working in ESE (exceptional student education), my most powerful interventions involved reinforcing positive behaviors that were incompatible with negative expressions we wanted to eliminate.

Case in point a five-year-old child, Joseph, who constantly flapped his lips until they were bruised and bleeding. Other teachers and his parents had yelled at him, punished him, slapped his wrists, tied his hands together, spanked him and more – all to no avail. My approach was to reward behaviors incompatible with lip-flapping. So I reinforced coloring, lego building, assembling puzzles, and a variety of other fine-motor manual tasks.

Everything I rewarded Joseph for doing with his hands was incompatible with lip-flapping. The self-injurious behavior was extinguished within two weeks.

So What?

fresh from the spa!

So there is a case to be made for jumping off the mad-wagon and being kind instead. The key here, as I mentioned a few paragraphs back, is authenticity.

We may not all be as easy to affirm as Max, but we do all need the positives.

Peace, grace, and mercy – DEREK


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