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An encouraging word can do wonders for the mind of a child

My grandson Alex, then 7 years old, had insisted that we sit and rest a few minutes after a couple of hours of intense touring of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. Maybe it was I who insisted we sit down.
Everybody else in the family was at the Fox Theater, seeing a Christmastime performance of the famous Radio City Rockettes of New York City. They were watching beautiful girls kick up their long legs in perfect synchronization. Alex and I were looking at dinosaur parts.
Sitting there on the bench, Alex was telling about some of the artifacts we had just seen and then, out of the blue, he said, “You know, I’m very smart.”
“Yes, you are,” I said, realizing there’s not a bragging bone in his young body, that he was repeating what his mother — our daughter — tells him all the time: “Alex, you are very smart, and you can do good work.”
And then Alex said, “And my dad is really smart. He knows all the questions.”
Mainly because his dad is a Georgia Tech graduate and I’m a Georgia Bulldog, I smarted off, “But does he know the answers?”
“Yes,” he retorted, “he knows the answers, too.”
I was thinking about this conversation as I reread stories in Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, a gift from a friend who likes to buy books for people. One of the stories is by Dottie Walters, author, consultant and international speaker. She begins her piece, titled “Angels Over My Keyboard,” this way:
When my father left us, I was just beginning high school. His words of hate still burn in my heart as he answered my mother’s question, “What about this girl going to college?”
“Who cares?” he snarled. “She’s not worth it.”
However, something inside me gave me another answer. It is the knowledge of the great gifts our Heavenly Father has given to each of us. Rudyard Kipling called it a muse, others believe it is an angel or God speaking within our hearts ….
I ached when I read her father’s words. How could a human being say that to anybody, much less his own child? But it happens all the time. And how does a child overcome such abuse? Maybe Dottie Walters has the answer.
My father was a man of few words and even less advice. He told me one thing about my future career: “Philip, you can work anywhere you want to work except the railroad.” He was a railroadman.
We told our daughters their careers were theirs to choose. Now they’re telling their children the same thing. And they’re encouraging them every chance they get.
We have on our refrigerator door a story Alex wrote when he was in the first grade: “The best Grandad is my Grandad. He works for the newspaper. Hes been working since he was eight years old. By Alex.”
You know, that young fellow really is smart. And perceptive, too.

Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.