Beautiful. Wonderful. Amazing. Smart. Brave. Handsome. Clever.
These are all words that you’d like to be associated with, right? Everybody knows that kids love praise, but not everybody knows HOW each child would like to receive it. Some kids lap up the attention – a gold star, public accolades, a round of applause – anything that says ‘Hey! Look at this kids! They’ve done a great job of something!” But can you remember those kids who looked like they’d prefer a sink hole to open up and swallow them?
Personally, I belong to the first group described. I just love a good old pat on the back in recognition of my hard work. I grew up with ‘good girl’ and being ‘responsible’ which I did my best to fulfill in my everyday actions. Childhood went along swimmingly until I did something that didn’t fall under the category of ‘good girl’ or ‘responsible’. I remember my fall from grace when my best friend and I start having a giggle fit during the one minute’s silence at the Anzac Day assembly. Oh dear… not very ‘good’ and definitely not very ‘responsible’. The crash was hard. My self-worth plummeted. The guilt factor was enormous. I needed to make it better ASAP in order to be a ‘good’ person again.
Can you believe that I am still the same? A fully grown adult and still looking for gold stars, still experiencing immense guilt and still setting out to fix my ‘wrong’ behavior in order to make my life right again.
Words of value, such as the ones above can put pressure on kids. They can set kids up to seek approval and self-worth from others, instead of themselves.
So how can we show our kids we support their actions and encourage them without using evaluative language? We can describe. Sounds simple but it really isn’t… especially when we’ve spent a lifetime say words like ‘good’ and ‘awesome’.
I lovingly gaze at my daughter who has long, thick, blonde hair and want to say ‘your hair is so pretty!’ or ‘you are so beautiful’ just as other people around have done. But to watch her response when this happens is interesting… she looks in the mirror and admires herself, she flicks her hair around and she enters her own self-indulgent world. Now as a mum who desperately wanted a little girl to dress up and look pretty, I could easily buy into this ‘self-admiration’ – but what will it create? I don’t want to imagine the same scenario in ten years’ time – not so ‘beautiful’ then!
Using all my self-control I say ‘your hair has grown since last year!’ or, ‘would you like plaits or pony tails today?’ If she’s brushed it, I say ‘you brushed your hair! There are no knots anymore’. If she puts headbands or clips in it, I say ‘you’ve decorated your hair with bright clips and a head band!’ Then, she can praise herself by thinking ‘yeah, I did!’ without my need for approval or that self-indulgent image that could so easily take over.
Description cannot be argued with. It is stating a fact and confirms the child’s actions without our need for judgement or approval. It is specific and measureable. It is simple, yet difficult when we are used to praising our kids with OUR value.
Give description a go, it is AWESOME…. Err, I mean, effective at pointing out a child’s successful actions.