When I was growing up my mother was a big complimenter. “Honey, you did such a nice job. You did great. You’re so smart. You’re so amazing…” My dad, on the other hand, rarely complimented me. “93%? Why wasn’t it 100%? Are you satisfied with that? Is that really your best? Not bad. Now what are you going to do?” In the end, my dad’s reaction did a lot more to push me to try harder than my mother’s compliments.
My husband’s boss is one of three brothers, all of whom are at the top of their field. One brother is one the most highly regarded doctors in the country. The second is a major political figure. The third is the head of one of the largest media companies in the world. When asked what drove them to reach for such success they say that as kids they were never complimented. If they brought home all A’s, their mom and dad would simply shrug their shoulders and say , now what.
My oldest son got his report card for last semester this week. I told him that I wanted him to present them to Dad and me, as opposed to us simply looking it over. He needed to tell us the grade, how he arrived at that grade, what he needed to do better, and his plans for improvement. I figured it would make him accountable for each and every grade.
Additionally, we tried not to compliment him on the elements that showed improvement. Instead, we asked him what areas he felt good about and what he felt bad about. No parental stroking of the ego on this one.
It’s not that I think compliments are bad, but compliments should be specific. “I love the dedication you’re showing with your studies this year.” “I thought you explained your point about the blahblahblah in your essay really well.” “Your math homework is so much easier for me to read!” These let the kids know they’re on the right track, but don’t feed them perfunctory praise, nor give them an inflated sense of themselves.
Have you ever noticed how the moment you give your kids a compliment, they often start to act up? But when you are a little passive in your response, they seem to want your attention and approval all the more?
And have you ever noticed how well behaved your kids are after you’ve spent some quality time with them? In my household, the compliments accomplish very little, but the time spent together makes all the difference in the world.