A small dry-erase board on the side of our refrigerator sat empty for a few days when we moved into the new house. I’m not one to leave things empty or blank very long. Should we use it for the grocery list? Notes to each other or reminders?
And then it hit me. I could use it for parenting and bringing us together as a family. I could use it to spur discussions about important life lessons that may otherwise feel awkward or forced to bring up. I didn’t talk with anyone about it, I simply wrote: “Word of the Week: Thankful” on the board and left it there.
We gathered around the table that Sunday night, all six of us, to eat dinner. I don’t remember what we were eating, but I do remember what came next. I asked if anyone noticed the Word of the Week and they all said yes and said “Thankful.” We talked about why it’s important to be thankful and what we are thankful for. We talked about the opposite of thankful: ungrateful or entitled.
This word had been on my mind that week and I was looking for an opportunity to bring it up with the kids, but in a conversational way and not too heavy-handed. There was a situation that happened earlier that week with a friend of one of the children. I won’t go into detail here, but after going to great lengths to include this child in a family activity, they didn’t say thank you. And I felt disappointed.
So at dinner, we specifically talked about saying thank you to people who do nice things for us. To our parents and siblings, friends, teachers, office staff at school, bus drivers, our friend’s parents… anyone and everyone who does something for you deserves to be thanked. And for us to not take it for granted. It was a good conversation. The kids asked who gets to choose the next word and, not having thought about it yet, I quickly shared that each Sunday another person could choose the next word – and we’d do it in age order. Avery piped up “starting with the youngest?!” and after we all had a good chuckle, I said, “Yes, starting with the youngest.”
The following Sunday, her word of the week turned out to not really be a word at all, but an acronym: YOLO, which stands for “You Only Live Once.” She asked if it would count, and I said “of course,” knowing there were great lessons we could talk about with it. It’s a popular word for kids right now – usually preceded by a hashtag. The kids even yell “YOLO” when they really want to say “I’m so cool” or “this is so cool.” So as a family we discussed what it could mean on a deeper level. What are things people want to do before they die? How can YOLO motivate you to do things in the face of fear? For Avery, she was a little afraid of going down to the basement in the new house alone. After two weeks of letting fear stop her, she was motivated enough to be able to play her video games that she was willing to try going down there by herself. She had fun and suddenly wasn’t afraid anymore. This was a great example of YOLO! She didn’t waste any more time being afraid and now she gets to do something fun.
Alex was up to choose the third word of the week – after debating for two weeks if he would choose Happiness or Kindness, he chose happiness. I love that he was thinking about it for a long time and deliberately chose a word he wanted to share with everyone. This was an easy word for us to chat about at Sunday night dinner. We all talked about what makes us happy. As the move and the wedding were the hot topics for everyone, most of the answers surrounding us being a family now and how excited and happy we all were. This Word of the Week thing had worked for three weeks in a row! I was excited the kids were involved and really felt like we were all sharing.
The fourth week brought Gabe’s turn to choose a word. He wrote Family on the board… a fun part of the honor of selecting the Word of the Week is to write it yourself the board. We all shared what family means to us… I loved the opportunity to talk about how we’re all going through changes as we come together as a new family. And what unconditional love means and why that’s important. The newest member of our family, Ruby the mini golden doodle, had surgery the same week to be spayed and we were all working hard to take care of her with more attention than usual. Avery asked if it was okay to add “Help Ruby” to the whiteboard since we are all supposed to help her. Of course she could, but I was impressed and happy when I saw she wrote it as a hashtag: #helpruby.
Only two more weeks until we’ve all had a chance to choose the Word of the Week. My goal is to keep going throughout 2016 as a way to inspire reflection, togetherness and sharing. So far, I’m humbled and happy with how well it’s going. Do you have a similar tradition in your family? Feel free to use this idea in your home, too!
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