Lollipops and labels: lessons on motivation and spontaneous kindness
I had a jar of colorful lollipops in my shop in the weeks before Christmas.
It was interesting to watch the reactions of different children. Not so much when they spotted it or once they were welcomed to help themselves with parent’s permission…
…but what each child did…next.
Most kids placed the pop in their mouth and then said “thank you.”
One child took one and placed in her pocket for later consumption. Another child spent about thirty seconds choosing, unwrapped one and put in her mouth, then asked for another. And one child, about three, took one for himself…then, went back and took one for his daddy. One for his mommy. One for his brother. One for his sister at home.
His father smiled at the boy’s generosity and thanked him.
That was the key right there.
We get diverted in our parenting, sometimes, derailed by our fears. Distracted by should’s and expectations and worries about other people’s judgments. We make assumptions about our kids’ motivations and drop things into rigidly defined boxes. We watch our child’s actions and reactions and we label them:
greedy (too many lollipops)
selfish (not sharing my lollipop)
impulsive (grabbing a lollipop without asking)
oversensitive (crumbling when lollipop falls on floor)
shy (won’t take a lollipop)
stubborn (won’t leave unless I get a lollipop)
We parent from those perceptions. It affects how our children show up.
The little boy who took lollipops for his whole family. What if his father said no? No, only one. One or none.
Choose one. That’s it.
Boy: One for mommy!
Mommy doesn’t need one.
Boy: One for you?
I don’t want any.
Boy: One for brother?
One or none.
It’s time to go.
When we focus squarely on principles and rules, we can create an empathy deficit…without even knowing it. The truth is we can teach rules and compassion, protocol and generosity at the same time. We must stop believing that it’s one or the other. We can see our child’s impulse in the context of his enthusiasm and still teach self-control without putting the kibosh on random acts of kindness.
The dad smiled.
“Thanks,” he said.
The boy was delighted. He looked up at me, his curls bouncing, his eyes dancing with possibility, and he said, “Sanks!!”
“You’re very welcome,” I said.
I could hear them talking on the way out. “Let’s give Mommy her lollipop!”
When we value giving, getting becomes a secondary issue. And all those boxes–greed, selfishness, impulsiveness, what-others-think–loosen their edges. When we don’t feel confined by those boxes as parents, we feel free to see our children as they are, understand their motivations in their purest form, and respond in kind.