At 8:30 on a recent Sunday night, my son and I deposited several bags of outgrown clothes and toys in a local Goodwill bin.

Back at home at 8:45, I received an email from my son (who was upstairs) with a link to a promotional video for one of the toys he had just donated. This single line of his email said, I miss him.

By 8:50, I had confirmation from that my newly purchased replacement toy would ship shortly. Yes, I had purchased the same toy for a second time, and I don’t regret it one bit.

As with all the toys he donated, Jake had given up his Shell Shocker willingly and without any prompting from me. In fact, I didn’t even know he had included that particular toy until we were on our way home from the Goodwill drop. And while you might argue that it would have made a great life lesson for Jake to have had to live with his decision, I think I taught him an even better lesson: that he is important to me.

My surprise move gave me a tangible way to show him that I care about his feelings. I can tell him I love him all day long, but actions speak louder than words. This time those actions happened to involve a monetary transaction, but that doesn’t have to–and shouldn’t–always be the case. The point is that it’s the unexpected, go-out-of-your-way activities that really drive home to someone that he’s important.

I could have let him chew on his sadness. In fact, he probably would have gotten over it by the next morning. Eventually he would have been proud of himself, and later he would have forgotten his donation altogether. That would have been an okay outcome, too.

On the other hand, he will long remember that I was concerned about his feelings. That he is important enough to me that I did something seemingly irrational on his behalf. That I care. To me, that is a far greater lesson.

Be flexible and be ready. Don’t miss an opportunity when it presents itself, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense.

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