Successes through baby steps
All people need success in their lives to continue plugging along. When I was younger, I believed that success was only marked at momentous occasions, when graduating from high school or when solving global problems. As I age, I now think of successes much differently. I see every little step as a success. Maybe this is because I‘ve lowered my standards and lost the high ideals of my youth. But more accurately, I think it’s because I’ve become more realistic and grounded. I now know the importance of recognizing baby steps in everything you do.
I learned this most concretely during my first “real job” after college. I was working in a residential treatment facility as a counselor with 13 young boys. All of them had some abuse in their past, many of them had lived through truly horrifying experiences. Success needed to be measured in the smallest increments in that setting, or it was too depressing to work there.
I will always remember a 7 year old boy who I’ll call Ricky. Ricky was a small wiry boy with brown eyes and dark circles underneath them. He had a very short temper and once he “lost it”; he would usually become violent and combative.
Often a difficult time for Ricky was dinner time. We would have family style dinner at small tables with one staff and 4-5 boys. When I first started working there, Ricky would last about 5 minutes at the dinner table before saying something provocative to another boy or the staff at the table. That would mean that he would have to leave the table for a time out and sometimes he would escalate and act out physically and need to be restrained.
Once I noticed this pattern, it was obvious that here was an issue we could work on. Could Ricky make it through a dinner without losing it? The staff worked with him to design a plan to support him at dinner. Slowly, week by week Ricky was able to remain at the dinner table longer and longer, until it became an exception to have him leave the table. This was a huge achievement for him and needed to be recognized as such.
I was working with Ricky 15 years ago. Now my belief in recognizing baby steps is stronger than ever. My husband and I have two young daughters. Watching the girls grow has literally shown me the power of baby steps. My youngest, Molly, is just over one. Up until a couple months ago, she was pretty easy going and if she didn’t get what she wanted she could be distracted by a rattle or a song. Not any more! Now she is a girl who knows what she wants, but with a limited vocabulary of “oh-uh” and “isss” communication can be quite challenging.
Molly is an enthusiastic eater and lately meals have become guessing games. The other morning she was in her highchair and having a fit because I couldn’t figure out what she wanted. “Iss, iss,” she insisted. Cheerios? As I brought them near her mouth it was clear that cheerios were not it. Apple sauce? Again a clear miss by her body language. Then she pointed down to the drawer where her sippy cups are kept and tried again. “Isss,” she said hopefully. Sippy cup? I reached down to the drawer and took one out and obviously I had hit it on the head. A baby step forward in our communication and it was obvious by her giggle and huge smile that she was so proud of herself that nothing could taste better than that milk
It is absolutely necessary for everyone to experience successes in their lives and these successes come in little halting steps which need to be enjoyed and appreciated. This I believe.
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