I was in the Holy Land on Sabbatical in the year 2000. As I walked up a village road I heard and saw something striking. A Palestinian family was having a party and suddenly they all broke out in singing “Happy Birthday to You” in English! (“Happy Birthday to You” was first published in Song Stories for the Kindergarten in 1896. It has been attributed to Patty and Mildred J. Hill, Kentucky.) That song may be one of the most often sung songs on the planet since birthdays are celebrated in all cultures, families, religions, and nations. Why? Because you wouldn’t be here if you had not been born and you are worth celebrating! Cake, candles and presents may be optional, but the simple good wish, “Happy Birthday!” is not.
We inherit many things from our culture. One of those things is how we celebrate. Whether it is with Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Independence Day fireworks, or singing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, our traditions mark those days as special. Keeping traditions is a good thing, but have you ever considered starting your own?
Many families I know use birthdays as an opportunity to “honor” the birthday person. The special meal, birthday cake and candles set up one of the greatest expressions of love there is: praise. Few things strengthen a child’s self-confidence the way praise does. Gifts, hugs, throwing special parties are all great ways to celebrate but praise that reinforces virtue is a double win. Your grandchild experiences your love but also understands that their lovableness is in no small part related to their behavior.
You might have a grandchild who is strong in faithfulness and another who is strong in thoughtfulness or patience. Reinforce that virtue when you see it in action by acknowledging their behavior and praising them for their response in a given situation. Another grandchild might be working on improving a weak virtue such as courage or temper control. You may consider giving a small gift when you see them making improvement to show that you support their effort to grow in an area they struggle with. Praising progress when you see it helps seal the development of a given virtue in your grandchild’s life.
You are building your grandchildren’s future when you strengthen virtue in the present.
For discussion: What means do you have of passing on praise? Some ideas are: writing letters, sending cards, preparing a video, etc. Which is easiest? Which will be most helpful to develop?
For action: When is your next grandchild’s birthday? For what could you praise him or her?
Mike Shaughnessy is the founder of Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club and lives in Lansing, Michigan. His book, The Strategic Grandparent, published by The Word Among Us press, was released in May 2020.
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