Instead of taming our children’s dreams and aspirations, why not encourage them? The verb to encourage means to put courage in. There’s a line in the Bible that says we ought to encourage each other to love and good deeds.
I really like that. There’s so much that discourages children—taking courage out of them. That’s why I like Junior Achievement, the economic education agency that puts ordinary businesspeople in classrooms to help kids learn how to find (or even make) their place in the economy.
And it’s why I like Compassion, the child development agency that creates hope for kids by training them to live well and to make a living wherever they are in the world.
I place high value on teachers who are in a position to encourage kids; and youth workers, mentors, coaches, service industry employers, grandparents, law enforcement officers, entertainers, neighbors...we’re all in positions to encourage kids to attempt great things; to learn from both succeeding and falling short; to be wise in assessing what can and can’t—and what should and shouldn’t—be changed; to change what can and should be changed for the better; to gracefully accept what can’t or shouldn’t be changed; to live productively and generously.
We’re well positioned to encourage kids that way. The Big Question is: Do we have a surplus of courage—not pandering rah-rah but real courage—to share with them? And if not, can we get it?
What this comes down to on a practical level can be framed in learning and teaching an uncomplicated skill that helps children understand where to look for encouragement when they need it. I don’t know whose metaphor this is (I first heard it from Max Paul Franklin). Each person we encounter is a fueler or a drainer.
Drainers take energy from us either because they are empty and have nothing to give or because they are selfish.
Fuelers give us energy either because their tanks are full and they’re generous with the surplus or because they are willing to sacrifice what they have as an act of kindness.
Children can learn to seek out fuelers. And they can learn to avoid drainers when they need to.
It’s worth noting the difference between being a drainer and being temporarily drained. Anyone can run out of gas from time to time. It’s also worth noting that being a drainer doesn’t automatically make someone bad. Broken, yes. Stuck, probably. But drainers can get unstuck—sometimes that requires some help from fuelers.
To figure out whether someone is a fueler or drainer, answer three simple questions:
- When she leaves, am I usually fueled or drained—energized or emptied?
- What does she do that fuels or drains me?
- In light of that, how should I manage our interactions?
To figure out whether you are fueling or draining in a given circumstance, turn the questions around:
- Did I leave her fueled or drained? How do I know this?
- What do I do that clearly fuels or drains her?
- Without being false, how can I act to responsibly to give more than I take in our next encounter?
This is not rocket surgery. I learned to ask these simple questions while I was still a chronic people-pleaser. If I can learn it, I’m confident any normal, reasonably stable person from about the age of ten can master it.
And if I can learn to recognize how people are are fueled or drained, I can learn:
to teach this skill to the kids I care for and to fuel those kids more often than I drain them.
— from Raising Adults