Praise and Compliments: Appreciating the Whole Child
Everyone loves a good compliment. Even if you’re one of those I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-thinks type of people, it feels good to hear that someone appreciates you. But think about this: Do you like being complimented only on one aspect of yourself (looks, smarts, work ethic, etc.)? Of course not. We are more than just our physical appearance, intelligence, or talents.
The same goes for kids. Kids love being praised for what they do, but adults often only verbally recognize a few positive attributes. As a child, I was the stereotypical nerd. I always got good grades and was an early reader. I was a scrawny, awkward little thing with old lady glasses that took up half my face. I very rarely received praise for anything other than my intelligence. So as I got older and school became more challenging, I started to question my self-image. As if being a preteen and teenager (and an overweight one, at that) wasn’t hard enough, I started to think “The only nice thing anyone has really ever said to me is that I’m smart. If I’m not even good at school anymore, what else do I have?”
When we praise children for only one thing, they’ll start to think that’s all they are (or can be) instead of multi-talented, multifaceted human beings. When little girls are ONLY ever told they’re pretty, that’s all they’ll think they are. If boys are only ever told that they’re great at sports, that’s all they’ll think they’ll ever be good at.
Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s a good idea to make your kid think they’re amazing at everything just to spare their feelings. If you’ve ever seen the following scene from Grown Ups 2, you’ll know what I mean.
In fact, it’s great to make sure your kids know it’s ok to not be good at something because not everyone can excel at EVERYTHING. If you know they enjoy what they’re doing, but they’re not that great at it, make sure they know you notice they enjoy it. For example, don’t tell your daughter who loves dancing but clearly has two left feet that she could totally get into Julliard. Don’t tell your son who loves football but can’t throw to save his life that he’ll be the next Tom Brady. Instead, say something like, “I’m so glad you love dancing/playing football/(insert activity here)! It makes me so happy to see you having so much fun!”
So make sure your kid knows that you notice ALL of them. That you notice they are beautiful, kind, smart, AND talented. Everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socio-economic status deserves to be recognized for ALL of their being, and not just part of it.