Thing 1 is not as confident as I’d like; a few years ago I choked with angst about my former micro preemie: “We celebrated every damned bowel movement! How could he not be brimming over with love and confidence?” A couple of his sullen “yeah, I know” responses to my praise taught me that it was falling on deaf, or jaded, ears. Huffington Post’s Catherine Pearson recently reported that “a new study suggests that when adults shower children with compliments to try to boost their self-esteem, it has the opposite effect, sending the message that they must continue to meet very high standards and discouraging them from taking on new, confidence-boosting challenges, lest they fail.” Ah, yes.
I am finding it more respectful to engage their ideas than to praise. My son (10) and I laugh at the tenacity of my favorite questions about his Lego castles, ships, command stations, and bases: Where are the women? [He includes them now.] Is there a birthing room? Where will they breastfeed? Where is the nursery for the next generation of… sailors, royalty, explorers? Do you know how many scales you drew on that dragon? Is that a bridle? Are those wings big enough to carry his weight? Who is riding him? Where are they going? What kinds of bugs are you willing to eat? My questions reinforce our family values. Yet it feels different to enter his world than to praise him, and I think it feeds him more. I KNOW it improves our relationship every time I hold still for a minute to think about his creation. It’s hard for me to hold still. Harder than praise, and more worth it.
Pearson, C. “The Over-Praise Dilemma: When Complimenting Kids Actually Holds Them Back” Huffington Post, 6 January 2014.