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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Encouragement 101: The Law of Three

Everyone wants to achieve and be known for “something”.  For many of our internationally-adopted kids, it’s hard.  They don’t know the language well, they often don’t play sports or music, their idea of a cool outfit or hairstyle frequently puts them at odds with the new mainstream population.

How do we help them over the hump, to find themselves, and actually succeed at something in life?

Glad you asked.

Self-esteem stems from mastering challenging and increasingly-difficult tasks.  There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment.  For instance, a child who might dress himself at kindergarten age and feels great about it, doesn’t get the same pay-off from dressing himself when he’s in high school.  He needs a greater challenge, yet not one beyond his abilities.

When we aim too high, it leads to frustration.  Imagine that you’ve just been plunked down in a brand-new country, with a brand-new language, brand-new parents, brand-new routine, rules, and expectations, brand-new school or daycare.  It’s a lot to swallow.  It’s a lot to comprehend, particularly for a child.

After we were married, Benedetto and I moved to Jerusalem about a year later.  We had first met there, so it was not necessarily a foreign country per se, but I knew I had to learn more Hebrew.  He had really lived there before, but I was more of a several-month visitor.

In I went to Hebrew school for new immigrants, the intensive language school called the “ulpan”, where nothing but Hebrew is spoken.  We were adults, professionals, from every country imaginable.  And by learning for five hours per day, five days per week, the pressure was on.  The stress was palpable.  It was sink or swim.  Many of the adults turned back to childhood coping techniques.

The French threw fits and acted high and mighty.  The few Russians who could escape the USSR in those days were fairly famous, and full of melodrama.  The Americans were idealistic and dreamy, some dropping out of class to try to make it on their own.  The Brits were cool and full of style.  We became a melting-pot of nations and personalities with enough meltdowns surfacing on a daily basis.  During our one daily break after three hours, we could speak any language, yet in class, it was Hebrew only.

About 50 new words every night to memorize, my mind reeled.  I avoided English-speakers, in order to stay “in character”.  It was a rough road, yet if we hoped to work, we needed to rapidly master the language and the lifestyle.

How does a child handle such changes?  Generally, not with ease.  Good friends of ours lived there, too, and they finally sent their teen daughters back to America to finish high school there with their grandfather.  We have other friends now that we saw over the holidays who change countries every few years and their ten-year-old is having a difficult time of it.  All of her current classmates have known French from infancy, while she studied Spanish as a second language.  And these kids have enjoyed the same families all their lives.

Usually, it boils down to this for international adoptees:  One cup of catch-up, a pint of pressure, and a pound of pride.  Not a pretty recipe.

As adults, we can comprehend why we eat our vegetables, or try our hardest, because in the end, the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks.  Kids tend to live for the present.  If the ouchie hurts, they want it fixed NOW.

Which brings me to Alexandra’s “Law of Three”.  You will not read of this anywhere because I have made it up along the journey of life.  It has never been scientifically proven, yet it will transform your kids, your marriage, your career, etc.  Shhh….  Here it is…. If you blink, you might miss it….

For every one correction or complaint, give three compliments.

That’s it.

Say your daughter is bombing out in school, but has such neat handwriting—compliment her for it.  Say your son has poor impulse control, and yet hits the soccer goal every time—compliment him.  Say your children are the messiest persons on the face of the earth, however,  they help set the table or take out the trash (even if they need to be reminded)—compliment them on it.  Do it in a ratio of three compliments to every one correction or complaint.

In the beginning, this will be virtually impossible.  You may need the reverse:  three corrections for every one compliment.  And I mean “need” in a life or death sense because they might not understand what constitutes dangerous behaviors.

But after six months or so, start making the shift.  By one year home, definitely.  It may use up every ounce of your creativity to conjure up some kind of positive points to play up, but do it, Nike person, Just Do It.  Compliment the child three times more than you correct.

Why?  It builds their self-esteem (again, it must be combined with them undertaking the challenging tasks, because your compliments alone will never build self-esteem), but you will be highlighting what deserves to be celebrated.  Catch them doing something right.  Give them some feeling of success under their belt.

If there is truly NOTHING which may be complimented, then you must help them find an area in which they may achieve.  We have one child who is “sure” he won’t like anything that’s suggested as an extracurricular… and ends up having a good time.  He’s a cup-half-empty type of guy (no, make that cup totally empty…).  But he’s coming around.

He was told he would never excel in school or sports.  He was an invalid in body, an oligophrenic in mind.  We told him he was healed, and he was normal, even if a bit slow in some areas.  Slow and steady can win the race, too.

Good grades in spelling, but not in any other subject?  Obviously, your mind can handle it, so maybe we need to tweak how you’re studying for these other subjects.  You can do it….

Can’t run laps as fast as the other kids, or pass them all and then feel like passing out?  Let’s start running small distances, every day.  Build up your endurance.  Skinny arms?  I’ll help you count push-ups each day.  You’re a big guy, you can do it.

We encourage him every day.  Sometimes we lose it when he slinks into his black hole and won’t even try.  But flowers always bloom when they’re exposed to the sun.

The “Rule of Three” works, give it a chance today.



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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Gwendolyn says:

    And if you can’t find anything else to bless (or like, or praise) about someone, REMEMBER: his breath nourishes the flowers!

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