USING APPRECIATION STORIES TO BUILD JOY

When I first started exploring Immanuel Prayer as part of my healing journey five years ago, I came across some stories that Dr. Karl Lehman shared about ways parents and grandparents were sharing Immanuel with children. As a learning specialist, I often work with children dealing with significant anxiety. Whether anxiety is causing their learning challenges or their learning challenges are causing them anxiety, or both, it can be heart-wrenching to see how it paralyzes not only their performance in school but also their expression of their God-created personalities and joy. I work with students individually and in small groups. Building secure relationships with my students, their families, their teachers, and their classmates have always been the foundation of my teaching. I wondered if I could adapt what I was learning and experiencing and incorporate Immanuel and Thrive skills in ways that addressed my students’ needs and at the same time leveraged their strengths. In the past few years, I have incorporated Immanuel-based activities with several of my students, and I am excited about the impact this has had in their lives — academically, behaviorally, socially, and spiritually.

Here is one example: When Kiara* first came to the school where I was teaching, she had very low joy and flat affect. It took almost the entire school year just to build a level of secure attachment with her. The next school year I started working from my home to provide a more holistic learning experience and Kiara started coming over after school for 2-3 hours twice a week for academic support and enrichment activities. After a year and a half of Play-doh creations, ongoing renovations on a cardboard dollhouse, nature walks, the entire Addy series, and cooking lessons from my mom, her personality was sparkling and bursting forth all over. However, I was still concerned that she was unable to share positive narratives about her days at school and in her life. It was like she was stuck in a rut of negative interpretations. Even though she was experiencing joy, she wasn’t able to recognize or describe it.

I remembered that I had heard Phyllis Ericksen, a trainer with Alive and Well and a teacher who also works out of her home, describe an appreciation activity she did with one of her students. Each session began with recording an appreciation story on a picture of a flower and displaying it on the wall as part of an appreciation garden. Kiara is an image-based learner, so I thought this might be a good fit for her. Since it was January, we used cutouts of mitten shapes. We each thought of something that had happened recently that was fun or special. We wrote a summary, three “describey” words, and a name for our stories and then read them to each other.

Finally, we “hung” them up on a length of yarn. At first, it was difficult for Kiara to come up with a story. I coached her that she needed to be paying attention to ways that God blessed her with joy during her day and to remember them so she would have something to share when she got to tutoring. After we had done this about three times, Kiara came through the door with “Are we going to do our mittens today?”

In March, we continued starting our sessions with appreciation, switching from mittens to kittens. I have observed that Kiara can share positive stories about her life in more informal conversations and she complains a lot less. I am excited about the maturity development and joy-capacity growth I have observed in here, and I am looking forward to summer break when we will have time to start choosing some of Kiara’s appreciation stories for building towards more interactive connection with Immanuel.

I am so grateful for all the ways Immanuel Prayer, Life Model, and Thrive Training.

 

*This story and any future stories posted about children will be shared with permission, using pseudonyms.

 

Special Thanks to Mary Anne Quinn for this Guest Blog.

Comment 1

  1. Ruthanne Szenasi
    May 11, 2018

    I love this! I have a child who is kind of a “Debbie Downer” and we have struggled to know how to help him stop this behavior of complaining about so much. It makes sense that purposely inviting him to regular, intentional expression of gratitude would help to rewire his brain in a positive direction. We have attempted something like this, but only really with bedtime prayers, when he is drowsy and falling asleep. Nice try, but not terribly effective! You’ve helped me consider other ways to use the power of gratitude that may make more sense to him! Thank you for sharing this!

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