Note: This post might seem like just another parenting question, and in some ways I guess it is. That said, input is not exclusive to parents. If you are someone without children, I invite you to read and comment. While you might not be a parent right now, you are a child to somebody, and so you have experience being parented. That alone is qualification enough to have a worthwhile opinion about what I should do.
I’ve been thinking a lot about praise. You see, my child (I call her L) is really pretty. She is also our only child, and while I would like to think that my adoration of her is because she is All That, apparently I am devoted because she is my only focus. (So happy to know I truly, truly am only as good as Pavlov’s dog.) Given that she is exceptionally beautiful and our only child, my compliments are basically free-flowing, without restraint.
I have heard a bit about a more constrained approach to praise, a movement started because, apparently, kids nowadays were so overpraised that they have unrealistic expectations about themselves and the world. They expect, for example, just by showing up they need to be acknowledged. What is considered baseline participation is elevated to effort. Worse yet, they resent their parents for setting them up so poorly (alas, parents never get a break do they?). I read this, which is an article about why overpraising is bad and how to praise in a way that works. Most important is to hold back, don’t do it all of the time. for everything.
I want to say I think the article is a bunch of silly psycho babble but some of it made sense. Given how hard we work to get L to persevere through frustration and to make positive choices rather than throw a tantrum, I can see how this doctor would say praising the effort over the result works. I don’t have an issue with that.
I feel resistance, though, when I consider holding my tongue to compliments of her looks. It might seem silly or petty, but when I look at my child, in certain moments, I am overcome with love. I might say, “I love you,” and I might say, “You are so lovely.” Sometimes I greet her with, “Hi, pretty.” I will even hold her like a baby in my lap and softly say, “Look at that sweet face,” before giving her nose a little kiss. We are an affectionate family and we don’t hold back on affection, ever.
Now I am having second thoughts about that. I mean, who would have thought that doing the above meant I was practicing bad parenting? I talk to my child like my mom and dad talked to me. Yes, I can relate to the doctor’s report that children discount their parent’s compliments:
“I can’t tell you how many children and teenagers have noted to me that they are skeptical of their parents’ praise because, ‘It’s just my Mom saying I’m pretty. She has to say that because she’s my mother.'” – Ruth A. Peters, Don’t Turn Your Child Into A Praise Junkie.
This is how I felt when my mom complimented me, too. Do I know that it is because she praised me too much or is it simply something kids go through with their parents? I had an interesting situation with my mom that L won’t have with me: my mom was a model (locally, doing runway work and some photography) when I was young and into my teens. Before puberty we had the same body but then I got boobs and hips. I looked at my mom and thought that if she was a model then how she looked was the standard. Once I deviated from the standard, I was no longer pretty. I kept this secret, even from myself, until I was mature enough to deal with my insecurity. This had nothing to do with my mother saying I was beautiful when I was little. This was something she could never have controlled.
So, the question is: can I compliment L too much? My husband and I talk about the context of being pretty, like we tell L that being pretty is not a way to introduce herself. I also use Cinderella as an example of how being pretty on the outside isn’t enough – being a good person is what wins over the animals who eventually come to her aid. However, I worry that she will focus on the beauty, or what if we don’t keep the compliments up for some reason and she thinks, “Am I no longer pretty?” She wouldn’t ask us – it would be a conclusion she would draw on her own, like I did with my mother. At the same time, I can’t see cutting back and not expressing myself. I don’t want to remove one of the great pleasures of parenting – reveling in the beauty (in and out) of my child.
So tell me from your experience, whatever that experience is, can I compliment my child too much? Or is expressing myself fully the right to path to take?