"What I admire about you" is a game-changer.

No matter what shape your family relationships are in at the moment, this could be the game-changer you are looking for. If you want to strengthen and deepen your family relationships, this activity is a great way to help with that. If your children are giving each other a lot of grief and not getting along, or if your children are giving you a lot of grief and not getting along with you, this activity can help turn that around. To keep things honest, getting this thing off the ground might be pretty challenging and awkward if your family relationships are kind of a mess at the moment. It could take some real persistence if the resistance is great. If you do get it going, it will be so worth it.

I call it the “What I admire about you” game.  Please do not jump to any conclusions before you have heard me out completely. There is a lot more to it than simply saying something nice about someone. This activity can make a profound and lasting difference in any family - in your family.

You begin by picking a family member or having someone volunteer. Once a person is chosen, everybody gets a chance to say one thing they admire about that person.  They say it right to the person, “What I admire about you . . . .” The more family members there are, the more challenging it is to be the last one to go because more “admiration” ideas have already been taken. Each “admiration” should be unique. After every family member has said what they admire about that family member, you move onto the next person and do the same thing all over again. You keep going until every family member has been “admired.”  Everybody is included: parents and children.

What is “admired” has to be positive and kind. Do not allow criticism, judgment, or correction of anyone’s admiration” unless it is unkind or negative.  In that case, repeat that all “admirations” have to be positive and kind, and let them try again. Every family member has to come up with one thing they admire about the person. No passes allowed!

We started this in my family when my four children started getting a little cranky and unpleasant with each other.  At first, they were not happy with this new activity.  When we sat around the table and tried it, it was awkward and unnatural for everyone.  Emotions were bouncing all over the place. It was interesting watching a child come up with something they admired about a sibling they were really mad at. 

So many things were happening at once. Getting a handle on our emotions so we could think clearly enough to come up with something good. Realizing you would have to sit there while each family member told you what they admired about you. You had to look the person in the eye when you told them what you admired about them. There was an uncomfortable level of vulnerability for everyone. What if there wasn’t much your family admired about you? What if you could not think of anything nice?

During those first sessions, it is vitally important the parent keeps things safe for everyone. Parents need to lead by example. Model what you are hoping for. Keep things moving forward. Have enough determination and confidence - “This is going to happen one way or another whether we like it or not.” Everyone needs to realize, “This is important!”

If your children have serious and legitimate complaints against each other, that needs to be dealt with separately. Make sure those issues get taken care of. Do not let them interfere with or overshadow the “What I admire about you” game.

Keep to the “one thing” only rule. There is always at least one thing positive about everyone. Keeping to just one thing also keeps things moving along. More importantly, if one of your children is really thriving and another child is really struggling, it keeps the playing field even. One won’t get too much, and the other won’t get too little.

The whole atmosphere in our home changed for the better over the next few weeks. Knowing we were going to have to go through this activity every week had a huge impact. There was a certain amount of pressure to have good things to say to your family the next time around. We all became very intentional about looking for and finding the good in each other. That shift in mindset was huge! We became much more aware of each other. The quality of the “admirations” got noticeably better and much more specific.  That takes real thought and effort, but we were all becoming more and more invested in each other.

Family members became eager to hear what the others would say about them, especially if they were having a bad week or struggling in some way.  Knowing you are going to hear only good things about yourself even though you know everyone is aware of your not so good behavior is very powerful and encouraging. Wanting to have good things said about us motivated us to be much more aware of the effect we were having on each other.  That in turn affected the way we treated each other. It was becoming more and more uncool to be a jerk. As we monitored our own behavior more closely, everybody became more pleasant.

There is an eight year spread in age from my oldest to my youngest.  I noticed the older children began to realize just how much their opinions mattered to the younger ones.  They began to realize how much impact their example had on their younger siblings.  They also realized they actually cared about what these siblings thought about them. Especially in this no-place-to-hide public forum. I began to realize just how much my opinion really did matter to my children. It was fascinating to watch us change through these awkward and tender moments. We were learning how to encourage and uplift each other. A genuine appreciation and respect for each other became the new normal. Now that’s a dream come true for any parent. 

This activity can have a huge impact on any family if we put in the time and effort to make it work. Even if your children say, “that is so stupid,” or “I don’t want to,” just keep going.  You will be glad you did.  It can easily become one of those things our children love to complain about, but deep down they truly enjoy it.  

So far I have been presenting the “What I admire about you” game being introduced into a resistant environment. That is not always the case. If relationships in your family are healthy, your first session might not be awkward at all. This activity can help keep those relationships healthy and give your family a way to go much deeper. Family life will become fuller and more satisfying.

*If a child is really young, the concept of “admiration” could be a stretch. The best they might be able to come up with is “like.” “I like your face.” “I like when you are nice to me.” Just roll with it. Their heart is in the right place.

**Do not underestimate the power of siblings encouraging each other with meaningful observations. Do not underestimate the power of your own words of admiration and appreciation on your children. Do not underestimate the power of your own children’s observations of you.

When I hear back from families who have pulled this off, it is nothing short of miraculous in some cases. It always seems worth the effort. I love those stories.

Here are a couple of other things to try using that same format of everybody contributing. Just make sure every family member is heard, respected, and honored. Once again, the positive changes these activities can bring seems far greater than it should be.

Share a fun family story or memory.

What do you like about our family?

If you have tried this or anything like this, I would love to hear from you. What went well? What were your challenges? How did you get it to work? What wisdom would you pass on to others?