By Lu Sweet
Western Wyoming Community College 

Lifelong learning: Everyone should get a smiley face, gold star or celebration word


December 18, 2019

My sixth and final child is in kindergarten this year. My older three were in elementary school quite some time ago. I was in kindergarten in the dark ages. Many things have changed throughout the years but one thing I has not and I hope it never does. For as long as I can remember, when an elementary student, especially a kindergartener or first-grader, brings home “done work” in their folders and backpacks, it is pretty much a guarantee that every paper will have either a smiley face, a gold star or celebration word sticker/comment (“Wow”, “Great job”, “Way to Go”) on it.

Now that I am grown up, I miss these. It’s not that I don’t feel appreciated, because I do. It’s different! It’s the fact that even when a 5 year old writes his/her letters backwards, or colors a little outside the line, or miscalculates an addition problem, they still get the warm fuzzy and positive reinforcement, along with the corrections, suggestions, reminders and feedback. I am not all about participation awards just for the sake of giving them, but I am also not about only acknowledging perfection. As an adult, I appreciate when others notice my effort.

As we grow from very young children to and thru adolescence into teenage years and then adulthood, we become much more judgmental, skeptical, negative and critical. We tend to point out the flaws instead of looking for the successes and efforts. For instance, as a math teacher I hated that students came to me not knowing basic math facts such as: 9 x 1 = 9, 9 X 2 = 18, 9 X 3 = 25, 9 x 4 = 36, 9 x 5 = 45.

Gotcha. You noticed the error I made (on purpose). Of course, 9 X 3 = 27 not 25. My point in doing this is to show that we as humans will absolutely be quick to point out mistakes and less likely at times to compliment. In the above example, I got 4/5 problems right, for an 80 percent but we are immediately drawn to the one mistake-the 20 percent in this case.

I realize that in the “big people, real world”, an error could be much more costly but the concept is still the same for me MOST of the time. I know I need to be much more aware of helping others feel good about their contributions and efforts and less quick to judge. Just as the kindergarten teacher makes sure to address the mistakes while still being very aware of self-esteem and effort, I need to be aware of how my words, choices and actions may affect others. I have a sign outside my office I look at daily as I walk into my office which reminds me of this. It says: “Think First: Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? Does it really need to be said? And if so, how?”

Elementary teachers use corrective directions without yelling, demoralizing or embarrassing their students. Afterall, these young people are just learning and they’re giving their best. It’s much more effective than yelling or putting down. Think about it.

All my kids and probably yours too, will say, “Mrs. So-and-So says this” or “That’s not how Mr. So-and-So said to do it.” Our kids are impressionable and if we want them to grow into positive young people and then adults we need to show them how, in even the simplest of ways and it starts with losing some of our negativity and focusing on the positive.

I realize with some people you might say, “Well, it’s hard to find something nice to say to that person.” To that I would answer that maybe we need to re-focus what we are looking at. Compliment effort even if the outcome fell short. Compliment vision, creativity, loyalty and attitude.

Give the gold star, the smiley face or the “attaboy/attagirl.” It’s not juvenile or childish. People really do like warm fuzzies and will work harder when motivated, happy and less fearful of making a mistake or two along the way. Growth means making a few mistakes and learning from them. Have a great day!


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