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The Focused Student: Developing a greater appreciation for people in our lives

As one year ends and another begins, it’s nice to take some time to exhale and reflect. I tend to be a people person, so one of the things I like to reflect on is people I know or have met during the year. I enjoy meeting people and getting to know more about them than just their names. Sometimes the relationships develop over a few months or maybe a number of years.

What I have come to realize is that I don’t tend to fully appreciate all these people until I understand and “see” the gifts they have in action. I could tell you I am a “gifted” writer, but I’m not. Brian, on the other hand, who reworks the columns I give him, is a gifted writer, and over the years I have watched him rework, research and organize my ideas into a coherent column. My appreciation for him and his ability continues to grow as not only a writer but also as a person.

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A group of women I’ve met recently are working tirelessly on a potential pollution solution project. My appreciation grows daily as I understand and see the time and energy these women put in, how they articulate the issues and the ways in which they find resources. And this project is an add-on to lives that already encompass professional employment and household management.

Also worthy of reflection at this time of year is how we as parents can pass to our children the sensitivity and willingness to see, appreciate and acknowledge in others the unique abilities they have and the contributions they make. It’s really about teaching the transition from the “me, me, me” of a child to the “I appreciate you” of an adult.

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One way to teach this is to simply do it. Though it may not always work to our advantage, our children are always watching what we do. Set an example by letting them see you acknowledge and appreciate the contributions and kindnesses and capabilities of a wide range of people, from family and friends to service people. Be generous and genuine and your children are very likely to follow suit. Let them see how much a simple compliment or acknowledgement of an effort can mean to someone else.

If your family has dinner together, this can be an excellent time to talk about not only what each of you did for yourselves that day, but also what each did for another. Whether it was a simple unsolicited compliment, a letter telling a boss about an employee’s exceptional performance, or a charitable act, saying it out loud lets your children understand it’s something they too should do, and it models the many ways appreciation can be shown.

There are many opportunities in many places for modeling “appreciation behavior.” It can happen at school, at an after-school job, in church or at social activities. It’s not just a parental task; all adults should be aware that what they do is always having an impact on what the young people around them will do.

We are unfortunately in a national moment when kindness, gentleness and appreciation can seem out of vogue or quaint. They aren’t. In fact, now more than ever we need to make a deliberate effort to help our children and all young people see how appreciation for others is a timeless quality and that learning this skill will serve them well throughout their lives.

Finding more ways to teach this skill would be a most worthwhile new year’s resolution.

Robert Frank is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master’s of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at frank@hillsideforsuccess.org.

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