Here are 5 helpful pointers to consider as we make our compliments more effective and self-sustaining.
1. "Good job!"
I say this at least 20 times a day, and I have had to painstakingly correct myself over and over. The problem with this phrase is that your children start to rely on your approval. They know they did something right but they don't know what. It is not specific to the action so they become dependent on you to judge how positive their behavior was. We want them to do good things based on their motivation. Children need to know what specific action they did right, so that as they grow up, they will get a sense of pride based on their actions and not just from the approval of others.
The best way to do this is to be very specific. For example say to your child, "Good job cleaning up your spilled milk. That is so helpful!"
2. "You almost got it! I'll fix that for you."
It is always good to applaud your little ones in their attempts at new skills, but the key is to not come to the rescue too soon. This discounts their abilities and makes them feel incapable when trying something new. It may also teach them that if they can't get it on the first try it is easier to just have someone else do it instead.
Self-esteem is developed on the back of skill mastery, so being able to take the time to learn something difficult (with failure) is key to overall self-worth. Letting your children struggle with a task is a very important learning tool. If they do ask for your help, make sure it is a learning moment and help them master the skill.
3. "You are my favorite."
You should be able to connect with all of your children in some way- some easier than others. Even if you feel closer to one versus the others you should never tell them that you favor them. Initially the child might feel proud that they are a prized child but it starts to lead to uncomfortable questions. Thoughts like, "What about my siblings I love?" Or "Do they say that to the others too?" It just becomes confusing and creates bad feelings between family members.
4. "You are the best at ___ ever!"
Telling your child that they are the best ever at something is setting them up for disappointment. It sounds harsh but very rarely are people truly the 'best' at something. And even if they are, it is usually short lived.
If we fill our children up with unrealistic expectations it can actually become detrimental to their self-worth. This leads to hesitation to try new things because of the fear of failure. They start to get into patterns of only sticking to things that they know well, which actually reduces the complexity of skill development. Often times they do not understand that part of being good at something is working hard and failing often.
As a parent, it is better to say, "Your hard work really paid off- you did great during that game!" This emphasizes what they did to be good at that activity.
5. "You are naturally talented at everything you try!"
Some kids are naturally more talented than others, just like some adults are more skilled than others. However, telling your child that they are naturally good at everything they try will set a very high bar. As they try new things and fail, or are slightly unsuccessful, they often quit right away. They will carry this self-concept that they are great at everything and feel they should be better from the start.
This destroys resiliency and the tenacious spirit that truly successful people tend to have. Success is not full of easy roads and sunshine, it is scattered with disappointment and failure. As parents, we need focus on how they get to their successes and not the end result.
6. "I'm proud of you."
The "I'm proud of you" statement should always be followed up with the specific behavior or action that the child did that made you proud. We want to put credit toward the child and the accomplishment that they have achieved.
For instance, "I'm proud of you because you worked so hard and spent so much time practicing the piano." This tells the child exactly what you are proud of and gives them proof that the statement is truthful. This helps them in the future know that even when you are not there, they know you would be proud of them because of who they are and the actions they took.
It helps them become independent emotionally while keeping that secure base of parental positive regard.
Finally, be positive with your kiddos. Make sure that the positive statements outnumber the negative comments. This keeps the relationship healthy and connected so as negative behaviors do come up, you have a stable foundation to work from. Happy parenting!