The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally when my family decorates for Christmas. So as usual, we pulled out the giant Rubbermaid containers which held our plethora of decorations, ornaments, and garland. My oldest two children are at an age where they can appreciate the holidays. They love pulling out each decoration, looking at it, and reminiscing about the memories each one holds. You can feel the joy as their excitement builds towards the end of December.
Then there is my youngest son. He is only two, but he managed to find joy as well. No, not in helping decorate the tree or listening to Christmas music. He enjoyed playing in the now empty containers which once held holiday trinkets. At first, he would crawl into the plastic tubs and sit there, happy as could be. Later, he discovered he could put the bin on top of himself like a turtle shell and curl himself up into a ball underneath it. We had been worried about trying to decorate with a two year old running around, but he was as happy as he could be for the entire hour we spent setting up the house.
This isn't something new. There is a continuous joke around the holidays that you'll spend a fortune on buying children Christmas gifts and then they'll enjoy the box more than the toy itself. But it is a principle that we should focus more on. Our joy should not come from tangible things like jewelry, video games, or fancy clothes. It should come from within us, and our ability to make any situation, even an empty box, into an occasion worth celebrating. This may seem like a cliche message. How many times have we heard something like, "Look on the bright side," or "The glass is half full, not empty". But it's true. Pure joy is not circumstantial, but can be found in any circumstance.
This holiday, when our children open up a new doll or video game, they will feel happiness. But happiness is not the same as joy. They will feel joy by reminding them that whether the gift they receive is $5 or $500, it was given to them by a person that loves them. They will feel joy when they remember that the roof over their head (no matter how fancy) or the meal at their table (no matter how extravagant) is shared with people who care deeply for one another.
We must work with our children (and on ourselves) to reset the barometer for happiness and success. It is not about what we physically have or what we can achieve. Those are good things and not to be taken for granted. But sometimes we need to refocus and look at less tangible things. It doesn't matter if a person is a world champion if they aren't able to see these great little joys. But a person who can see them, who can focus on them, will absolutely feel like a champion.
You may have heard of a scientific theory called "The Butterfly Effect". The idea, which comes from chaos theory, is the idea that small changes or instances can result in large differences at a later point in time. The theory's name comes from the metaphorical example of a small butterfly flapping its wings in a certain way leading to the formation and path of a tornado at some point in the future.
Even if this example seems a bit silly, it is certainly true that small acts can have a big impact. Just like a tiny pebble thrown in a pond can have big ripples, our actions, no matter how small, can influence people in many different ways. The question we must ask ourselves is are our actions having an impact on people in a positive or negative way?
In a world where Instagram and YouTube have created entire platforms for famed "influencers", it is easy to feel like our tiny actions don't impact other people. But, every single person in the world has influence. It doesn't matter if you're small or big, rich or poor, old or young. We all have the ability to change the world. A small act of kindness to a stranger could change the course of their entire day. Making a stranger smile may not seem like you're making a big impact on the world, but for that person, you might have made all the difference.
We must teach our children to "brace for impact". By this, I mean that we must teach them to always prepare and be aware of how they can influence the world and people around them. There are two positives to this. First, it helps boost their confidence. It helps them to realize that they are not insignificant, but that their words and actions matter. This can be empowering to a young child who may not feel like they have a voice. They do and it is a powerful one.
Secondly, by pointing this out, it helps children take ownership of their actions. By pointing out how a child's actions impacted another person, it helps them realize the weight of their choices. However, we must be careful not to only point out the negative. If we only point out how Johnny is teaching his brother to climb on the counters and not the moments when he is a good role model for his sibling, then Johnny is not going to learn to feel the joy of his influence and will develop a negative view of himself.
Don't get me wrong, we absolutely have to point out to our children when they make mistakes and offer correction. I just want to note that it is also important to put a spotlight on their victories and successes.
As we go into the holiday season this week, let's remember that we have the power to change people's lives in a positive way. We need to prepare ourselves to have an impact on the world. We must remember that there is always someone watching us and learning from our choices, positive or negative. Let's use our platform for good. And remember that everyone has a platform to use. Even if it only impacts the life of one person, to that one person, you've impacted their entire life.
Let's play a game. Envision you and all your friends standing in a room together. Picture that group of people, all different from one another in their own unique ways. Now ask yourself, if you were to rank those people from the best overall person in the group to the worst, where would you rank yourself?
It's an interesting conundrum. If you rank yourself as #1, then another person could claim that your are cocky because you placed yourself above everyone else. On the other hand, if you ranked yourself low, then someone could ask you why you don't have more confidence in yourself. For young children, this can be a fine line to walk. We want our children to believe in themselves, be proud of who they are, and know that they can do great things if they put their mind to it. But at the same time, we want them to know that it is not all about them and, quite often, there will be someone out there who is bigger, better, stronger, or smarter than them.
The problem comes to be when the needle leans too far in either direction. Too much confidence leads to ego and pride, while too little leads to anxiety and worry. But the perfect blend of the two results in a character trait that all children (and adults) should aim for: humility.
Confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive of one another. In fact, I would argue that only people who are truly confident in themselves are able to be humble. A lot of the time, bragging and prideful ego stems from a desire to prove a person's worth. But if you are satisfied with who you are as a person and the path you are on, then you have no problem letting others go ahead of you. As C.S. Lewis said, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." Humility is not about doubting your own abilities, it's about recognizing your strengths and being confident enough in them to recognize your own need for improvement and the positive qualities of other people (which you may able to learn from).
When I teach our school's leadership team to work with children, something I try to drill home is how important it is for student's to hear not only what they did wrong, but what they did correctly. Student's who hear positive and appropriate praise form an image of themselves that empowers them to continue trying harder. Please don't misunderstand me. We don't praise children even when they do a "bad job." Rather, we make sure to highlight success, no matter how small it may be.
It is not only important for students to hear praise about themselves. Children need to be taught to praise one another. For example, in our martial arts classes, I will often ask a student to demonstrate a technique or stance. I will then ask the other students what the first student did correctly. This normalizes not only me praising the student, but them hearing positive feedback from their peers. It also gives the other children an opportunity to acknowledge the strengths of their classmates, knowing fully that it doesn't negatively impact their own performance and strength. Remember, humility is not putting yourself down, but rather lifting others up before yourself because, in the end, you are already confident in your own abilities.
When you combine these two aspects of praising children, in addition to having them practice praising others, it creates confidence while still underscoring that there are others out there who are just as good, if not better. This stops students from getting cocky.
Humility Pays Off
People who have to boast about how good they are are often compensating for something. I don't know about you, but whenever I hear someone continuously praise themself, I usually end up rolling my eyes instead of staring in adoration. But when a person is humble and places themself low on the totem pole, then there is only opportunity to be raised up. When we line up by seniority in our martial arts classes, it is better to line up at the end and be told to move up rather than taking the senior position and be told you don't belong there. Bragging earns little to no respect, but being humble shows you respect yourself and others.
Do you or your child want to develop the life skills to be both confident and humble? Contact Trinity Martial Arts to find out more about our martial arts program, focusing on traditional martial arts, self-defense, and positive character traits needed to succeed in life!
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 4th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.