stacking the deck

helping your children build empathyWhen I was in high school, a group of us were trying to get 2 of our friends together. A great guy and a great girl we all thought would make a great couple. So what did we do? Each of us at various times reported, very casually, things we had noticed about or heard from, one to the other: “Elizabeth was talking about the piece you submitted for the art show and how much she liked it.” “Adam came down to watch track practice — did you notice him over there?” “He totally lit up when you said that in class.” “She asked me if I’d come to your game with her.” All of it true, the meaning of each comment and gesture enhanced by having been noticed and reported to the other, and all of it in the spirit of helping encourage the relationship between these friends.

As a parent, I’ve used this same tactic to enhance the relationships in our family. In the family context, these casual, side-held “stacking the deck” comments help kids practice noticing each other’s efforts to care and support one another, and appreciate their intent. “Your sister got up early because she knew you were excited and wanted to be early for your field trip.” “I heard your brother telling his friend how much you helped him the other day.”

Stack further by suggesting a follow up: “Your brother was really careful with your markers you let him use and put them back right where he knows you keep them. I know he’d be happy if you mentioned it to him.” If someone took the time to return a borrowed item to the right place, helped by getting ready on their own, put someone else’s lunchbox or jacket near the door, asked for an extra piece of candy at the bank for their sib, or took care of someone else’s dirty dish, you can “stack the deck” and enhance the value of the gesture by helping the recipient of that kindness both see it and acknowledge it.

…And yes, Elizabeth and Adam did get together, thanks, in part, to their friends. -t

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