In the rush of getting the kids into the van one morning—to travel to three different places in order to make it to work on time—I noticed something. Something that has made me re-think my entire life as a mother.

I often speak to my children of empathy and compassion; and yet, I am not always good at providing room for them to express those things. I had made it all about me teaching and modeling those behaviors—and not enough about letting them try it themselves.

My middle son, notorious for wanting to play in the driver’s seat (much to my chagrin) had opened that door. I felt an instantaneous surge of discontent. But as soon as I was about to fuss, he moved on to his door hopping into his booster seat. In that split second, before my routine response, I realized that I was about to chastise my son for doing a kind gesture—opening the door for his mother. What was my intention? What was his?

So, I decided to do a little experiment. Before I made a comment on any behavior, appropriate or inappropriate, I took a minute to think of my child’s intention. My daughter running through the house, for example, tickling the “baby” because he had been sad about something that only a toddler would be sad about. Why did I want to tell her to stop? Her intention was to show love to her brother. Have I been suppressing their natural compassion and good intentions?

At a church gathering, my daughter embraced her brother and one of her closest friends. I was getting embarrassed because they were getting wiggly. I pulled her back and told her stop, but a few minutes later she once again had her arms wrapped around the shoulders of these two little boys, singing. The love and joy radiated from these three children, three children I tried to separate because of my own insecurities and lack of attention to their natural grace.

Have I stolen my children’s grace?

Merriam Webster’s’ defines Grace as: a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving. Isn’t that we are all looking for? Maybe we need to starting thinking beyond “yes ma’am” and “please” and “thank you” in order to watch for our children’s grace-inspired intentions and actions.

Ways to Tune Into Your Child’s Intentions & Grace

1. Listen for intent.

So often we hear the first several words of our child’s sentence and make a snap judgment. We are all busy, right? Allowing time for your child to fully communicate their plan of action or feelings can decrease the power struggles that parents so dread.

2. Step back and watch.

Gone are the days of helicopter parents—or let’s hope at least. Instead, be the parent that allows your child to take his or her own risks and make (safe) decisions. Watch your child interact with others and look for the grace in his or her actions.

3. Label your child’s grace-filled moments.

Children look to us for approval. Give your child a label for their pleasant behavior. So often we think of only ballerinas being graceful; but our children can be as grace-filled, internally, as any dancer.