What Do You See in Your Kids?

I just returned from my 25th reunion at the Harvard Business School.  We are all showing signs of ageing...after all we have 25 years of additional experience.

So obviously we complimented each other on our appearance!  “You look GREAT!”  “You haven’t changed....” 

By the end of our reunion weekend, I was craving for people to notice my brains. (One of my classmates reminded me that it takes brains to keep beauty!)

Maybe compliments on our appearance are appropriate in this 25th reunion situation.  Are they always?

We Notice What We Value

What we notice is what we value.  In fact, we studied this at business school.  Focus on high profits usually means lower volume sales.  Kids understand this concept too.  "If it's critical to get an 'A' in Math, will you spend more time on Math or on Spanish?" "Duh!  Math!" And if mom and dad want them to be a good overall student, "Then we'll work on every subject without stressing out to get an 'A' in one particular class.".

What we notice in our children tells them what we value.

Oops!  Do I only notice their mistakes?!  We sure do speak about them!!!  “Don’t burp in public!” “Who left his toys in the middle of the living room...again?”  Of course these behaviors benefit from being addressed...and that’s the subject of another post.

Let’s presume that you and I are also complimenting our kids    On what do we focus?  'Cause that is what we are saying is important.  Years ago I realized that adults (me too) often compliment children on their physical appearance.  “Princess, don’t you look pretty in that cute dress.”  “Junior, how strong you are to help carry that bag!”  For girls, the focus is beauty; for boys it’s prowess.  

Are My Kids Barbie ‘n Ken?!

But I don’t want to bring up a Barbie or a Ken! They’re fake. They have no life.   (At least they don't show signs of aging!)

What do I want for my boys?  I desire to pass on qualities that will enable them to live full and satisfying adult lives.  (They will be adults for a lot longer than they are tykes at home.)  These values include

-   Integrity & trustworthiness

-   Love of excellence & perseverance

-   Teamwork & appreciation of others

-   Self-control & the ability to refrain from immediate benefits in the hopes of future, greater gain

-   ...

One obvious way to teach these values is through grand lectures...and I have given my share of them.  However, I found the lessons in the field—when I “caught” the kids doing the right thing[1] and paused to point it out—to be far more effective.

The Magic ON Me

Giving compliments is not a magical formula:  Say “Good teamwork,” three times and the child will suddenly stop fighting with his sibling.  Don’t we all wish!

Noticing what my child did well first worked its spell on me.

-   I became more hopeful.  My kids weren’t all bad after all. (We all know this in our minds, but in moments of discouragement it can be hard to believe.)

-   We connected more.  The kids did not run away from me in fear of being criticized. (Goodbye Mom à la Cruella de Ville!)

-   Every day life no longer meant survival.  I caught glimpses of the jewels in my children’s crude stone exteriors and began to help them identify those diamonds in the rough.

Friends tell me their kids are the way they are and cannot (nor should) be changed.  I believe we are all like a jewel in the making. Some might be more like pearls and respond to our environment. Others like emeralds or rubies take eons to form (i.e. cannot be changed).  All of us have yet to be revealed.  As parents, we can help the process by allowing small, loving taps to chip away rough surfaces.   We will also get shaped by the real world...through hard knocks.  I would rather my children learn to seek excellence through small consequences like no TV until homework is well done and reviewed.  It hurts less than being overlooked for a promotion because of repeated mediocrity at work.

Giving Compliments 101:  Be sincere

My French friends resist the appreciative mentality.  Compliments sound content-less.  Admittedly, in the US, some words are so overused that they have lost significance.  What does “awesome” really mean anymore?  I have heard the same person exclaim it over delicate works of fine art and cabbage soup.  It may be tasty, but is cabbage soup really deserving of wonder?

Be sure compliments have meaning.

Giving Compliments 201:  Be specific

Ken Blanchard’s insights from the The One Minute Manager speak of training leaders through the use of praise.  Our children will eventually be leaders in their own homes, so Blanchard’s tips apply to parents too.

Step 1:  Train leaders.  Teach through show & tell.  (Check out the Home Is Fun Power Pointers)

Step 2:  Praise progress.  (FYI, One of our speakers at the HBS reunion shared recent research identifying progress towards a meaningful goal as the N°1 motivator of people.  Higher than incentives, clear goals, or even recognition!)

a.  Make sure the person who progressed is the first to hear the praise.  Overhearing, “See how your brother did a good job,” does not quite do the same trick as,”Congratulations on a job well done.”

b.  Be specific and focus on actions and their results.  “The table you set looks lovely.  The plates are aligned with the chairs, the cutlery is in the right position, and everything looks neat.”

c.  Share an emotion which expresses the impact of the work well done.  “We feel welcomed at the table when it is nicely set.  You helped create a pleasant environment that makes mealtime enjoyable for all.”

d.  Encourage for more.  “Looking forward to seeing the beautiful table you set for us tomorrow.”  Get ready for creative napkin folding, glasses filled with water AND the jug re-filled, place cards, surprise notes under the plate...

  Through your compliments, let the kids know specifically what they did well so that they can do it again.

Giving Compliments 301:  Be strategic

DO NOT follow compliments with a reproach.  They’ll be wary next time you tell them something nice.

Do not reproach during the training process either.  It’ll boomerang on you.  Either kids will avoid the teacher, do nothing ‘cause they never get it right anyhow, or plot revenge.  Instead, retrain.  Try another show & tell.  Have the children explain the desired behavior back to you (we learn by teaching someone else).  If they’re still having a tough time, consider breaking the task down into smaller segments...which you show and tell again!

Focus on progress...real and tangible, possibly incremental and not necessarily revolutionary.

  The purpose of a compliment is to encourage a behavior so that you could give yet another compliment soon..

P.S. My Experiment On My Husband

In the early days of being a mother, I decided to help my husband become a better father.  (Like I knew anything about the subject.)   Every day I would notice and comment on one thing my man did well as a father. The intended result was to train him through my "expert behavior modification capabilities" to take on more and more parenting duties.

The experiment opened my eyes.  Previously I had noticed all the tasks left undone.  Soon, a humbled me realized that my husband was doing his part.  Parenting just requires SO MANY JOBS to be done; we were both somewhat overwhelmed.  We are more efficient and effective (and joyful) as a team mutually appreciating one another.

I set out to tweak my husband.   The attempt changed me.

Although I (somewhat) kept up the praise, it was to show support and to express my need for him.  He’s been the kind of dad our boys need. They do not require a second mother, no matter how awesome she is! (Wink)

Compliments in Your Family:  Best of & Bloopers

We’d love to hear your stories of compliments gone right...or wrong! Like the Home Is Fun Facebook page and share your comments.  A bientôt.

[1] The “right thing” for my family may differ from yours.  Parents have the privilege and responsibility to clarify this in their own home.
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