During the years I spent in children’s ministry leadership, I enjoyed the opportunity to speak at conferences with my colleague Sue. Full disclosure: she served as the main presenter and I typically delivered announcements with an occasional full talk when an opening arose.
Sue and I knew that feedback would come our way from several people who held responsibility for the quality of conferences. “Feedback for quality improvement” some would say. “Ouch” is how we felt.
To avoid hearing only stinger comments, Sue and I made a pact with one another. In the first moments after one of us finished speaking, the other would provide at least three strong positive comments. “Celebrate what went well” is what we called it. “Affirmed” is how we felt.
My daughter plays tennis for her high school team. Regardless of the outcome, the first words she hears from me are positive comments about what went well. I hope she feels affirmed. Her coach can handle the quality improvement later. Big effort deserves celebration. I learned this truth from Sue, and I’m glad I did. My daughter appreciates my comments.
A mentor described the progress his young charge has made in math using familiar language: “No matter how many wrong answers he gives, I congratulate him for the right answers. I think that’s why he’s willing to keep trying.”
Children need the celebration and affirmation as much as they need the coaches and critics. And they need them in that order. Parents, mentors, anyone: before correcting or criticizing, provide positive comments.
In front of people, while facing an opponent, or while tackling a math worksheet—all require effort. And celebrated effort turns into repeated effort. Over time, improvement will happen.
It worked for me. Thanks, Sue!
(Read more about this topic in a chapter titled “Find Your Unique Fit / Find Out You Can Fail” in the new book Lessons Kids Need to Learn.)
David Staal serves as the president & CEO of Kids Hope USA, a national nonprofit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. A senior editor for Christianity Today and International and former children's ministry director, he also authored these books: