… sits in my kitchen cupboard.
It’s a plate, a very different plate from my other kitchen dishes; glossy, pristinely white background with outrageous splashes of colour in the form of vivid pink and blue flowers. I remember choosing it in a kitchen housewares store years ago, precisely because of the bold statement it made.
As I look back over 20 years of growing children, I think that of all the little tips, tools and techniques we adopted in our attempts to help them grow well, “The We’re Proud of You Plate,” was one of the best. A friend shared the concept with me when we were in the midst of the toddler years. She’d read about the idea in a book.
It works like this: the special plate celebrates one member of the family for an achievement, a kindness, or an admirable character quality. Our rule was a child couldn’t ask for the special plate, unless they were asking that it be given to someone else. Once the family sat down to the table, after giving thanks for the meal, either Doug or I would say a few words acknowledging why the special plate was being “awarded” that day. Then we’d all raise our glasses in a toast to the child being honoured.
The first couple of days after bringing the special plate into our home were difficult, so much so that I remember doubting whether it was a good idea. Sibling rivalry – even in its mildest form – is a reality. And I remember feeling some angst over who would be the very first to receive the plate. So in order to be sure that what was intended to encourage one child didn’t wind up discouraging another, we were careful to honour each one with the plate in fairly short order. But once we cleared that hurdle, the special plate remained special because we were conscientious not to overuse it. So when it did show up at someone’s place at the table, the kids were thrilled. They loved receiving it, and they loved participating in toasting one another.
As our family grew, the use of the plate evolved such that whoever had the idea to honour another family member assumed the task of “giving the toast,” before the meal.
It’s been a tool of affirmation: when a child came home elated over some accomplishment, the special plate acknowledged the attainment, and when a child came home dejected over a lack of success, the special plate rewarded the effort. It’s been a tool of empathy: when the kids got older – if Doug or I had a difficult day – it wasn’t unusual for the special plate to show up at one of our places on the table, as they tried to encourage us. Of course, birthdays were always marked with the special plate.
Being the centre of positive attention at the family dinner table for a few moments every once in a while helped them learn to receive praise with grace and humility. And it taught them to take joy at each other’s moments in the spotlight as well.
Cost of The Special Plate: under $10. Value once placed on the table: priceless.