My Kids Grow and So Do I


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Paying Compliments

How to Effectively Praise Your Kids and Steer Their Behavior

"Let me help you with those shoes" 
"Hold my hand tight" 
"We have to wait for the traffic to pass" 
"Do you want your blankie?"

     In much of our interaction with kids we’re on automatic. In our responses, instructions and questions we usually come from an every-day-type of consciousness, as illustrated by the examples above.

     Don’t get me wrong: most of the time it’s absolutely fine to be on automatic; life would become quite tiresome and unnatural if each and every comment had to be mulled over extensively before being expressed. There is an aspect of parenting, however, where deliberately planning and timing what you say greatly enhances your child rearing practice. That aspect is paying compliments. Ideally, a compliment is a positive reinforcer: a compliment motivates the recipient to increase the frequency of the behavior that called forth the compliment.

     When you, the parent, know how to pay compliments effectively, both your kids and you stand to gain tremendously.

     Literature on bringing out the best behavior in people and specifically in kids (see references below) shows quite a bit of agreement on what works and what doesn’t. Here I’ll share some of the strategies that have proven most effective in my life while raising three boys.

Six Features of Effective Compliments

Compliments reinforce desired behavior when they are immediate, specific, frequent, singular, relevant and genuine.

1. Immediate
Compliments are most effective when given immediately following the desired behavior.

2. Specific
Describe the desired behavior, or the accomplishment, and what it means. See examples below. 

3. Frequent
Make your appreciation count by expressing it often. 

     When kids are not told they are appreciated they are likely to assume the opposite. Do not overdo it, though, and try to stick to a 1:4 ratio, meaning: for every corrective comment you make, say something positive, such as a compliment.

4. Singular
A compliment is most effective when it stands alone, when it gets the full limelight. 

     Don’t mix positive and negative comments. As soon as you add "but + (critical note)", you have negated thecompliment's positive effects. Corrective statements have their place for sure. When offered at an appropriate moment and within the context of an open, honest conversation, they help clarify goals and motivate your child to perform at their best level. Expressed this way they actually increase the impact of your compliments.

5. Relevant
Only pay a compliment when it has been truly earned. Praise offered routinely will desensitize your children, or even worse, make them dependent on your constant approval. 

6. Genuine
Mean what you say. Faked appreciation is not going to cut it.


Consider the following examples:

"Thank you for bringing your plate and cup to the kitchen. That helps make my task easier." 
"Thank you for playing quietly while I was on the phone. I could give my full attention to grandma and I know she appreciates our courtesy." 
"You played the part of shepherd very convincingly. Aren’t you proud of yourself?"
"I noticed you waited for Gina. That was considerate of you." 
     These comments convey your appreciation much more convincingly than would a mere routine "Thank you" or a general "You were great!". They go a long way in fostering behavior that is appropriate and desirable. 

Read More
If you’d like to learn more about bringing out the best in your child, just google the phrase or one of the following phrases: ‘praising your child’, ‘encouraging good behavior’, visit the sites below or check out the book Bringing Out the Best in People, by Aubrey Daniels. 2000. McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-007-135145-0.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Disciplining Spiritual? Part 2

An Every Day Example

Today I would like to follow up on last week's post on discipline. What follows is a prime example of discipline applied spiritually and it perfectly illustrates the steps involved.

     As I may have mentioned before, I teach English as a second language at a high school in the Netherlands. I want to tell you about an exchange I witnessed the other day, an exchange between my fellow-teamleader and a 16-year-old student. I'll call them Curtis and Sandy.

Discipline at School

     Sandy had mailed Curtis, her teamleader, to let him know how she felt about the framework the school had set up for practical research projects, saying that both the time path and the deadline were absolutely outrageous and that she had no intention of staying within the framework. Both content and tone of the mail were way off-base, and so Curtis called her in to talk about it. As I was working on an another matter in the room Curtis and I share, I was in a perfect position to observe what happened next.

     Curtis opened the conversation by conveying his surprise at the tone of her e-mail and he asked her what was wrong. Sandy, sounding emotional, went on a rampage of indignation at the set guidelines for the project, once again stating her firm decision not to adhere to any of it. Curtis, still a bit surprised by her vehemence, proceeded to explain the grounds for the time path and the deadline, asking her to commit to it, just as all other students were expected to. She would not budge, with her tone of voice supporting her stance. She insisted on being allowed to follow her own more relaxed time path and deadline.

     At that point Curtis told her clearly: "If this is how you want to do it, we've come to the end of our conversation. I'm ready and willing to help if you decide you could use my help. There is nothing I can do for you now." And he showed her the door.

     The next morning, Curtis came into the room with a smile on his face. He had received a message from Sandy in which she had apologized for her behavior and had said she would adhere to the framework set for the project. He then made arrangements for coaching sessions. Needless to say I complimented Curtis on the splendid way he had handled this situation.

The Steps Involved

How is this a good example of spiritual discipline? Let's put the features of spiritual discipline next to the practical steps Curtis took in this example:

As soon as a particular behavior is out of bounds, a time-out is appointed.

Curtis ended the conversation.
Focus on the behavior, not the person.                      
Curtis indicated his willingness to help Sandy if she showed willingness to conform to the guidelines.

After some time for reflection, contact is once again established.
Curtis' open door helped Sandy to make up her mind and conform to the guidelines after all.

Respect and harmony are restored.
Sandy communicated in a polite way; Curtis made follow-up appointments for her.

     Instances like this fire up my inner drive for working with young people. The new generation are worth each and every effort we make on their behalf, each and every drop of sweat we shed.

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