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Five Powerful Words

Happy Heart Month, friends! Today’s post is something I hope everyone reads, however it’s really aimed at care providers. I’ve seen a lot of discussion floating around social media lately that’s centered around how care providers can better connect with or listen to patients and families. Obviously this caught my attention and it’s been really interesting to see what patients, families, and even other providers have to say. There are a lot of really great ideas, including taking more time to listen, brushing up on empathy skills, ask different questions, write things down, follow up, etc. All of these things are really awesome and important to do, but if I may, I’d love to suggest 5 simple words that you could say to a Heart Parent that could make a big impact.

“You’re doing a great job.”

Sometimes (or more often than sometimes) we feel like an absolute wreck. There’s the worrying, the googling, the “are you still breathing?” nighttime check (times 10). Before we step foot in the office for our kid’s appointment, we’ve already gone through the stress of trying to find the one pair of jeans that hasn’t been puked on or tried to remember whether the cardiology appointment was at 9 or 9:45 (“or was that G.I.?”). Then we show up, prepared to bombard you with our questions and our concerns and our cares…and you graciously answer those for us.

We don’t take for granted your knowledge and experience. You’re our expert and we need you. You’ve worked hard to be where you are and we couldn’t do this without you. And I know you’re always thinking about listening more or you have managers breathing down your neck about satisfaction scores. But if after you’ve just heard me rain down all my concerns upon you, you ended an appointment with, “Hey…I just want you to know that I understand this is difficult, but you’re doing a great job,” I guarantee it will change the dynamic in the room. Why?

Because I often have no idea what I’m doing. There are small moments where I feel like I’ve got this thing figured out and then others where I feel like I flat-out suck as a parent. Sometimes you miss the dose of a med and you’re killing yourself over it or you forgot to check his O2 sats this time and you never ever ever forget, and the groceries need done, and the sink is leaking, and I have to give my kids their gold stars so they know they’re doing a great job, and everyone everywhere is riddled with flu, and I just can’t…

Maybe…just maybe…a parent needs a figurative gold star and a pat on the back…just to let them know it’s going to be ok. And that you see them (even in their stained clothes) and you acknowledge the challenge…and that they’re not alone. A little encouragement goes a long way.


To all of our care providers: thank you, from the bottom of our heart! You are loved and appreciated and we’re so thankful to have you as guides on this crazy journey.

Flipping the Ratio

About a month and some change ago I had the opportunity to hear a really challenging message that I feel is practical for anyone.  Do you remember a time in your life when someone said something to you that was extremely discouraging?  Isn’t it amazing how well and how clearly you remember those words?  One example that immediately comes to my mind happened when I was in the 10th grade.  I had a geometry class with a particularly bonkers teacher who I couldn’t follow to save the life of me.  Of course, in the first marking period I didn’t do so well grade-wise, not to mention that math is so not my strong suit.  So I remember it being report card night and my mom visiting with this nutcase of a teacher.  My mom and I both mentioned the possibility of switching me into a different class that would have a better pace for me to follow.  What the teacher said next just blew my mind: “If you switch out of my class you will amount to nothing.”  Ouch.  Now obviously this man was a lunatic and I was in several high-level classes in high school…I’m not a complete moron, I just stink at math.  But those words stung pretty badly.  Now, I was able to indeed switch into a different class where I could understand the work and I finished geometry that year with A’s.  Boom.  Fast-forward and I have a Master’s Degree and I’m doing well for myself.  KA-BOOM.  But man, I can’t lie and say those words didn’t bother me or fade for a long time.  Luckily it just gave me something to prove.  For others, though, discouraging words really hurt and they drag people into a scary abyss.

The Gottman Institute did some research surrounding encouragement.  Basically their research found that, on average, for every 1 word of encouragement someone receives in life, they will receive 6 words of discouragement.  You read that correctly…1 good, 6 bad.  SIX!  Now stretch that out 20, 30, 40 years and you’ve got a grim picture, don’t you?  But this is the sad reality for some people.  We live in a judgy world sometimes; people cut others down because it just makes them feel a little better about themselves.  When I heard about this study it really stuck with me on a variety of levels: as a dad, as a friend, as a husband, as a boss…am I really being an encourager?

Heart Dads, it isn’t enough to just get your kid through the scary medical stuff…get them through life in one piece by giving more words of encouragement to build them up.  Let the medical team build them up physically while you build them up mentally and emotionally.  But beyond our kids, are there opportunities where you can encourage other families?  Like really encourage them.  What about your spouse?  What about your staff at work?  Learn to ask “How are you doing” instead of “What are you doing.”  What about your kids’ medical team?  They see some scary things too…

And speaking of medical personnel, I want to talk to you for a minute.  Doctors, nurses, Nurse Practitioners, CNAs, ultrasound techs, receptionists, etc.  You can make a massive impact on a family’s health and well-being by being more encouraging.  I know you’re busy, so are we.  But I want to challenge each and every one of you: the next time a family is in your clinic, even if just for a routine check-up, take 30 seconds to look them in the eye and acknowledge the work they’re doing to make the best life possible for their child.  A simple, “Hey, I just want you to know you’re doing a great job at this…it’s hard work, but we’re in this together and you’re doing awesome.”  You wanna inject some energy into a tired family? That’s how you do it.  Try it…I beg of you…if will work.

The encouragement-to-discouragement ratio is a bad one right now.  So how about we flip that around and give more words of encouragement?  I mean think about how amazing it would be if parents, who have been through some rough stuff, are the ones who lead the way in encouragement.  How amazing would that be?  Together we can make the world a better place, so let’s be thinking about what we say to one another!