Monday, July 7, 2008

Positive Praise

If you know my children very well at all, then you know they each have very different personalities and talents. A couple years ago Elder Holland (My favorite apostle BTW) gave a talk in which he counseled against comparing children. He said, "...try not to compare your children, even if you think you are skillful at it. You may say most positively that "Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright," but all Susan will remember is that she isn't bright and Sandra that she isn't pretty." This has stuck with me over the past couple of years as I want to tell my first son that he is creative and my second son that he is caring, or any of their other unique attributes. Every time I do, the above phrase would pop into my head. I finally went back to this talk and reread the next sentence, "Praise each child individually for what that child is, and help him or her escape our culture's obsession with comparing, competing, and never feeling we are 'enough.'"

I take from this that it is ok to praise your children about their unique talents, but not in a way that compares them to each other. I wonder though if this implies that it is better to not praise them about their unique talent when in ear shot of other siblings. This doesn't seem right to me. As I often do to feel out where the middle ground is, on the other side of the obviously don't want to say, "Why can't you be 'X' like you brother." So, where is the line between comparative praise and positive praise about an individual child's unique talent?


Angela Hill said...

I think the solution is not to praise specific talents but rather a job well done. Kids will naturally be drawn to what they are good at, but if you praise a job well done they will understand that there is value and accomplishment in doing their best and seeing things through. I think a lot of harm can also be done by praising specific talents in that it may make the child feel like they have to do that, or that it's the only thing they are good at.

Holman House said...

These are good and valuable questions that you ask. Ever heard of the unspoken sermon? It's the erroneous perception of a listener in response to something presented by a speaker. For example, by telling one child he or she is good at drawing, the unspoken sermon would be the other child thinking, "I'm NOT good at drawing". In my mind it is this principle of the unspoken sermon that leads many women to despise mothers day. So where in development does it occur to a child to perceive a compliment to another as something negative for himself? Personally I think this is cultural and a learned response. I would hope that through conversations and small comments they understand that everyone is different yet all are valued. I would NEVER hold back on complimenting something that I felt deserved it because another child might feel bad that he didn't get the exact same compliment or because they might feel like they have to do it more to please me.

My parents had 11 children. They always praised our unique abilities, and had extremely high expectations for all of us. I did feel like I had a couple of labels (they always called me the peacemaker, reminded me often that I was very intelligent, and praised my musical abilities to humbly name a few) but I never minded. I knew that my bro's and sis's also had their strengths. It was a rock to me several times in my life to know that my parents saw certain things in me, and in those times I clung to what those who loved me recognized when I was unable to do so.

Do you think children come with blank slates, or do you feel they come with inherent unique abilities? How much power do parents have in shaping what their children end up doing or feel about themselves? I would be curious to see if the previous commenter gives adults specific compliments. She seems to find the most value in production.

In my opinion, who better to communicate a child's unique abilities than parents? Who spends the most time with the kids and who loves them the most? Does Heavenly Father communicate our talents and specialness to us? How many people do you know that feel a deep sense of being unfulfilled because they feel they haven't yet found their unique purpose, talent, value, mission, or traits?

I'm trying to still figure all this out, but at this point I'm working on a couple of things. 1. I have the tendency to drown my kids in compliments. I recognize they loose their value and impact when overused, so fewer more sincere may be the trick. 2. Giving too general of compliments. Just saying things like, "Your great" or some other phrase like it makes me wonder what the child thinks I'm really saying. It doesn't take much effort to say "Good job" all day. 3. We are working on helping our kids find positive things in others and communicating it, whether in words, a note, a smile, or some other means.

What do you feel are your unique abilities? What do people tend to compliment you on? Would you rather your kids be really good at a couple of things, or marginally good at many many things?

Carson Calderwood said...

that is a good point about pointing out the achievement gained via the talent.

I think the unspoken sermon is exactly what he is getting at. I agree also that this isn't going to keep me from giving any compliments at all. Thinking of examples, they kept sounding like the example E. Holland gave. The only way I see to have your cake and eat it too in this instance might be along the lines of what Angela said.

The following is me thinking/typing "out loud"...For example, two kids try to build a sand castle and the smart one doesn't do as good as creative one. Rather than saying to the creative one, "you did such a good job because you are so creative," you can just say,"that was a great castle you made." The other kid might feel bad b/c their specific attempt wasn't as good, but they don't feel branded as the uncreative one. Then later, in private you can tell the creative one that they have a talent at creative things that they should work at developing. Similarly you have discussions w/ both about how people have individual talents, etc. As the children grow up the the two that are similar in age, and therefore more competitive with each other, you can then help them develop their talents and be more open about their individual traits. Therefore, this seems to apply in general more to younger children and then to things of accomplishment for older children. No teenage girl is going to like hearing that her sister is pretty, but I think by then they will be ok w/ knowing that one is a better memorizer and the other is a better brain-stormer.

Back to your question - I definitely don't thing children come to us w/ a "tabla rosa." Our three boys are sooo different in personality I know the nature/nurture debate is not solely nurture for sure. I'm also sure that there are some things they develop b/c of our influence, both good and bad, but they bring their own unique attributes with them.

Does Heavenly Father communicate our talents and specialness to us?
Patriarchal blessings.

How many people do you know that feel a deep sense of being unfulfilled because they feel they haven't yet found their unique purpose, talent, value, mission, or traits?
I think some people expect too much of themselves. We aren't meant to all be Harry Potters or one of his supporting roles like Ron, Hermione or even Neville. I think modern culture's books and movies has created this idealism that only renders us feeling inadequate when our true role it to be a strong disciple, giving little bits of strength to people here and there.

I would say my number one talent, head and shoulders above anything else is hard worker. My motto is, "When opportunity meets preparation = success" so I try to be prepared as much as possible.

Jodee said...

I agree that labeling children or comparing them can be harmful. You don't want to put someone in a specific box that they feel they can't escape. However, I also feel that praising children for specific talents and abilities is fine to do infront of siblings. I too remember my parents praising my sister and I for things we were each good at, infront of eachother, and I never felt like they were comparing us. They never said one was better than the other at any particular thing, and never labled us as the smart one and the athletic one. Other people did that, so it is unavoidable but I always knew that my parents saw us as more than that and they made sure to praise us in those areas that we may have been weak in as well. I think it is the manner in which you say it, taking care not to label or compare. It is good for kids to learn that they are not always going to get all the attention. and that others have talents worthy of praising. The important thing is not to praise one child excessively more than another because he/she may have talents or abilities that shine more.
One thing I have found to be true is that praising ones effort is always effective no matter what they have done. Like Rachel said, a lot of general comments may not be as effective as fewer more meaningful ones. I try to remember to tell my kids things like "wow, you worked hard on that" or "that must have taken a lot of time and concentration" Then no matter what the outcome, even if what they did didn't turn out, the effort is still rewarded and they want to try again.
It is such a hard but important area, thanks for reminding us!

Jennasee Shore said...

As a teenage girl living at home you may not see me as qualified to state by opinion on this topic but I do believe that as a child still living at home I have a different perspective of positive praise.

As the middle child of seven children at home I watched my parents change their parenting styles with every unique situation and every unique child. It is easy to verbally communicate the simple positive attributes of a child but it means more to a child to recieve praise for the less seen. Each year at girls camp the leaders had our parents write a letter to each girl and I have found that through each letter my mother praised me in ways that she has never praised me verbally. To this day one of the most cherished letters I have recieved from my mother was after a fight we had been in and she had the courage to write me a letter and say sorry and that she was wrong. Verbal praise is something a child can carry through their heart but it is very easy to question down the road. Whereas written praise is something physical that a child can read back upon time and time again.

Listening to my parents praise my other siblings has taught me more about myself then I could ever ask for. As my parents praised my siblings unique qualities which I thought I did not have it challenged me to challenge myself in these areas. Growing up I was a very negative child but watching my parents praise my siblings positive attitudes I found myself wanting to recieve similar praise and challeneged myself to change. I did not feel hurt by such praise because they were not addressing me within there praise. To praise two children within the same sentence for different things comes out negatively in a childs mind because they do feel as though they have one but certainly not the other. Praise each child individually not in a group. No one wants to be compared against another and comparing each child in a group feels like you are comparing them.

I highly suggest everyone to obtain a copy of the book "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. While this is focused on married couples it also gives you a new perspective on love for everyone. Each child is different and loves in different ways. While my sister's love language is physical touch my love language is words of affirmation. It is important to learn each of your children's love languages and adapt to their needs. One of the most touching things my mother has done in the past year that has helped me through difficult times was when I came home there were posters of words of affirmation throughout my room such as "you are funny" "you are beatiful" "you can do anything" ect. On the other hand my mother gives my sister extra hugs every day. What works for me does not work for my sister and what works for my sister does not work for me. Each parents needs to come to know each child individually and their needs individually. *bonus* reading this book together with your spouse will help you learn more about each other and their individual needs which you may or may not be satisifying.

Thank you for letting me voice my opinion I hope it gives a different insight to praising your children.

Carson Calderwood said...

Thanks for your comments. I was impressed!

We bought that book you mention when we were married, and it took a while to figure out which was our primary and secondary languages, it helped a ton and was a great book.

Your perspective is a good one to add to the mix here. Feel free to comment anytime.