Big Poppa and I are totally, utterly, stars-in-our-eyes in love with Little Fearse. Every new thing she does amazes us. Every new thing she says is profound. She makes us laugh and she makes our eyes mist up on a daily basis. We’re smitten.
We are also addicted to praise – something that, until recently, we were completely oblivious to. And once we became aware of it, we took some time to see what was wrong with praising our gorgeous, funny and sparkly child. At least forty times a day between us we will say ‘good girl’ with bright enthusiasm. She washed her hands! “Good girl!” She chose not to tear up the book! “Good girl!” She ate something new! “Good girl!” She settled down after a disappointment! “Good girl!”
In a recent discussion with a friend who is also a parent to a 2 year old I shared that I had read an article claiming parents should stop praising their children in this way. I expressed that I couldn’t see the issue with the phrase ‘good girl’, or I felt it was too pedantic to pull ourselves up on saying things that were intended positively. My friend pointed out that, aside from the patronising aspect of the phrase, when a parent decides that a child is ‘good’ for their choices or behaviour it takes away their own ability to discern good or bad. It gives adults the control to decide when the child is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I can’t think of a time that either of us has referred to Little Fearse as a ‘bad girl’, but I began to see the down side of our ‘good girl’ praise. I went away and read more.
Psychologists discuss the conditional nature of the praise many parents offer. We don’t want our daughter to believe that our affection or appreciation for her is reliant on her ‘good’ behaviour. We love her all the time, even when we are frustrated.
Big Poppa and I have discussed this a lot in the last few weeks. We’ve started to notice how often we praise Little Fearse and for what types of things. We’ve tried to pull ourselves up on ‘good girl’ and really think about what we mean when we say that. What does good mean, anyway?! Often we mean nothing. We are saying something meaningless instead of simply saying ‘I love you.’
Here are some of the things we have come up with to help us speak to our Little Fearse with more respect and meaning:
- I appreciate it when you…
- Thank you for…
- I love spending time with you.
- We’ve had lots of fun today.
- I’m glad I’m your Mum / Dad.
- You did it!
- I noticed that you (shared your toy / made a good choice / etc).
- I can see it makes you really happy when you …
- You must be really proud of yourself.
- You worked really hard on that.
- You make me laugh!
- Look how happy ‘so and so’ is that you shared with them.
Sometimes we will work on saying nothing at all. A smile or a hug can speak volumes and we’re never short on those.
Oh, of course, if this doesn’t work there is always this.