Take a minute and revert back to your youth, those days when just about anything you saw, heard or felt, left an impression that somehow managed to define your moral groundings for the future.
We learned many values then: right vs. wrong, happiness vs. sadness. Perhaps most importantly, we discovered the profound power of a simple acknowledgment and the accompanying euphoric results that followed. Unfortunately, as things tend to do in life, the notions of kindness and gratitude became somewhat clouded by factors such as adolescence, athletics, social experiences and school. Rolling in like thunder, negativity and cynicism began creeping into our minds, leaving the innocent children we knew ways behind.
Luckily, there is someone out there who claims we can slay this long string of defeatism and reconnect with both our inner and actual children. Author Judith W. Umlas is a firm believer that even through cyber-enemies, the Internet, bullying, and other negative hell raisers, there is a way for our younger generations to retain their innocence and -- as much as I'd hate to use this phrase -- just get along. The solution lies in acknowledgment.
In her newest foray into authorship, Judith has turned her initial message of acknowledgment to a younger age group. Her most recent book, You're Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids, tells the real stories of eight children who fell victim to the negativities of others, only to find the situation taken down entirely by the Power of Acknowledgment.
Kyle Dowling: When did you first notice the Power of Acknowledgment has a pivotal impact on younger generations?
Judith W. Umlas: It started when I was in California visiting my nephews and speaking about Leadership and the Power of Acknowledgment on behalf of International Institute for Learning. My nephews asked, "What's an acknowledgment?" Later, they were playing soccer and David, my younger nephew, said to me, "Isn't Michael a wonderful player? I hope I play like him when I get older!" Michael was beaming! David then gets this mischievous grin and goes, "And that was an acknowledgment!" That's when it hit me. Kids are really open to this; they are absorbent.
In my time as a trainer I've had countless people ask me how to teach this to their children so they don't have to wait until they're older to realize how important yet simple the message is. Many companies have extensive recognition programs, which are all delightful, but the simplicity and cost effectiveness of an acknowledgment is unbelievable.
KD: What would you say is the message of the book?
JU: The message brings to light the pleasure of acknowledgment versus the pains of negativity. There are many anti-bullying programs in schools but still so much negativity. This book is not just an attempt to end that, but if people see that the power is in making someone else feel good instead of bad, it'd be an incredible shift with amazing results.
I feel this puts a great twist on the usual anti-bullying book. Rather than a catalogue of bullying stories it shows just how the Power of Acknowledgment helps turn things around.
KD: Do you think children are so susceptible to this message because of their age?
JU: I do, at least in part. Kids see the world in a different light; they have less "undoing" to go through. This is a transformational message, one about stepping outside of the limitations and fears we've had for years. Children just do things; there is no embarrassment to it. We just have to plant the positive seeds for them.
I think all of my courses, keynotes, and training sessions are about remembering. Remembering the message that we were born with, which is that we love to give and receive acknowledgments. You're taught at a young age to say please and thank you but we often forget. On the spot acknowledgment in a profound and heartfelt way is a true gift.
KD: I don't want readers to feel this book is centered on bullying because it's not, but why do you feel the topic is such a heavy presence today?
JU: It's widened because of the Internet and social media. That has given it a whole new dimension and avenue for terror. The possibilities are endless and horrific. That's another reason I feel committed to educating children as to the benefits and true power of this message. It'll make them rule with acknowledgment rather than bully with negativity.
KD: Have you found many naysayers?
JU: Honestly, I haven't found one. I've talked with a lot of children and each one relates; they all have a story. I'm not saying the Power of Acknowledgment is the way to end bullying. I'm merely saying it's a tool, an important arrow in the quiver. I see acknowledgment as a way to repair the world. That may sound pie-in-the-skyish but I think it's true.
If people felt valued and appreciated I know we'd be so much happier, and if children make this a part of their lives, not only will it help them become more effective leaders, but it will also help when they build relationships, begin dating, and are ready to form a family. I personally think you can't live without this.
KD: Kids will obviously get something out of this; however, you mention that adults will as well.
JU: Yes, if you look at a series such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, I think we can all get some sort of value from it. This book is similar. The stories are from contributors age five to sixteen but I'm hoping this will be read by anyone in direct contact with children or teens as well: parents, other children, teachers, coaches, Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders, etc. We can all gain.
Each chapter ends with exercises that will help further the discussion in any age group. They help solidify the principles and also personalize them. These make the book easily adaptable to a school curriculum, as well as to parent-child conversations. It's hopefully thought-provoking, self-initiating, and action-oriented.
I'm really hoping kids who read the book will want to contribute their own stories for a future edition. We already have a request from a military advisor to create an adaptation of the book for military families. We would incorporate stories of the issues and challenges they face in that edition.
I'm delivering a presentation to an audience of about 50,000 project managers through International Institute for Learning's virtual conference in celebration of International Project Management Day on November 7th with the theme "From Great Kids to Grateful Leaders." I really believe this will happen when we reach kids early. That is our intention with this new book.
KD: It's a message that reaches a wide audience.
JU: It does! Similarly, it can be an incredible family experience. I've also had people tell me how the original book, The Power of Acknowledgment, has changed their relationship with a child or a spouse. I never designed these things to do anything like that; that's just a natural byproduct.
There's something quite magical about all of this work. I don't claim to fully understand it but just the conversation affects people so deeply. Even if they're set in their ways they suddenly see a more preferable way to be. Some of the reviewers of the book are older teens; even they get it. The whole concept is transformational, and it's really for everyone. My hope is that this makes both children and adults who were questioning themselves really wake up.