This past Sunday, we held our family-wide birthday dinner at our daughter and son-in-law’s home—the Fuhriman residence. We enjoyed appetizers, a potato bar, grilled chicken and beef, and other great foods our family loves—homemade rolls, strawberry jam, three candle-ready desserts, and four kinds of ice cream.
At this event, two of our grandchildren, Jake and Ellie, celebrated their February birthdays. Jake is continuing his undergraduate degree, and Ellie is graduating from high school this spring. As teenagers, they were often frequent and competitive sparring partners. Jake often treated her and his four sisters as younger brothers. Fortunately, their wrestling and combat were primarily nonviolent.
We engaged in a popular and regular Egan Family tradition as the dinner ended. Each cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparent shared a tribute, a memory, or a brief story about Ellie and Jake.
Our grandchildren love these tribute and story opportunities, and so do their parents. These tributes take many forms. Sometimes they are serious! For example, Uncle Scott, this go-around, praised Ellie for her courage and tenacity in dealing with her diabetes since she was very young. Family members sometimes share remembrances or short stories about funny events or outcomes over time.
We generally begin with statements like these. Take a minute to consider Jake and Ellie. What do you admire in them? What memorable experiences have you had with them? What positive qualities do they have that you like?
Once we have set the stage for the sharing, we move around the group, inviting each cousin, aunt, and uncle to share their feelings and perceptions.
Our grandkids love hearing about the good things others observe in them. Giving birthday tributes is one of our best, most prized family traditions.
Our grandchildren value the compliments and insights they receive from family members. Increasingly, they understand how they are seen and valued. Moreover, accolades and tributes support their emerging perspectives about their strengths, talents, and positive attributes. They also contribute to their self-worth and optimism.
Even as very young children, our grandkids benefitted greatly from comments like these:
· “I remember when you learned to ride your bike, you were so brave.”
· “I have always loved your willingness to be helpful.”
· “Your smile is amazing.”
· “Wow! You can now write your name. I can tell you have practiced writing it a lot.”
· “I hear you have a lot of friends. I glad you are my cousin.”
· “I love how you draw people, trees, and houses.”
· “How do you know so many riddles and funny stories?”
· “I will never forget the Band-Aid you put on my cut. You were so nice to me.”
These small and consistent kinds of feedback and explicit expressions of appreciation shared with our grandchildren can and do influence their positive feelings about themselves. Moreover, they help our grandchildren see what we value and believe to be worthwhile behaviors and attributes.
If you cannot gather regularly as a family, there are now excellent means for connecting families with Zoom, Skype, Google Chat, and more. Do not be reluctant to be creative and inventive in staying connected to your grandchildren and praising their effort and achievements.
If you carefully listen, are attentive, and are watchful, you will learn about what your grandchildren are doing that is worthy of your attention, acknowledgment, and praise.