Written by Doctor G

Fertilizing the children

What do you do to build your kids up?

I write a lot about discipline for kids, and consistency and consequences. I believe strongly in all those things, so that our kids can learn how they fit into the world, instead of believing well into their adulthood that the world should fit around them. I believe that discipline gives kids a solid structure that they can depend upon, so they feel secure at home as they explore the wider world. I believe that security depends on boundaries and expectations.

Unconditional love is an important part of that security. Knowing that our parents love and care for us gives us the strength to expect friends and partners to treat us well. Our certainty that we belong at home, are accepted at home, offers a safe haven when that wider world gets a little overwhelming.

I think, though, that there is another piece. I think that, as we prune back the wild growing of our children’s spirits, we have to nurture their sense of self-worth. Strong praise, honest compliments, and, most of all, attention are the best fertilizer for children.

Strong praise means action-oriented words. Telling my children they are beautiful and talented is a natural instinct of parenting. In moderation, this is not harmful. Neither is it very helpful to kids. This praise about how they are doesn’t reflect on their choices at all. No question that it can feel nice to be told that we are smart or cute or easy-going (mine are 2 out of 3), but children know that they were just born that way, they can’t affect these things at all.

Strong praise means positive words about actions or choices they make because that is something they DID.

Compliments are powerful, and kids drink them up like water. The challenge for me is to give really strong compliments, which means honesty and specifics. I can’t tell my child who gives in to his impulsivity often (and has the behavior cards from school to show for it) that he has “great self-control.” He knows he doesn’t. I can tell him “I saw you choose to use words instead of hitting when the 2yo took your toy. THAT was great self-control.” I can’t tell my stuck-in-the-tadpoles-for-a-year kiddo that he is a great swimmer. I can tell him I’m proud of how hard he works during swimming class. Our children often expect us to see the good in them when they don’t see it themselves, but we can blow our credibility with empty praise.

I work hard to separate compliments from lecturing. It is easy for me to riff off of “You did this well…” to a “but if you could only…” That really detracts from the feel good moment. More likely it teaches my kids to duck and cover when I start with something nice!

Ever had a very sweet, loving child that gets on to a chant of “I love you” over and over and OVER again? Doesn’t matter how sweet the first 25 times were, eventually it stops feeling good and becomes a little annoying. Even our compliments can become like that to our children. Praise is special, but repetition can take the shine off. I think we should praise every day, more on the hard days actually. I just have to be careful of the “rut.”

Attention is definitely the highest compliment I can give, in my kids’ opinion. You are so awesome that I will give you my most precious resource: my time. YOU are how I choose to spend right now. Talking to you, playing with you, watching the TV show of you’re watching, listening to your music with you, driving you somewhere. We don’t have to tell our kids how busy we are, how many things demand our time. They know all this. So when we turn our focus to them they feel the sunshine on their face and grow stronger.

I know this all sounds preachy… keep in mind I’m preaching at myself. It’s too easy to spend most of my time on the correcting and not enough on the complimenting.

How do you fertilize your kids?

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2 thoughts on “Fertilizing the children”

  1. What an awesome point that attention is the greatest compliment! I try to stop whatever I’m doing in the evening hours to just focus on the kids. We’re all happier when I’m not multi-tasking.

  2. I agree with you. Discipline is not a bad thing or a punishment. It’s a system one puts in place where the consequences of ‘bad’ are not the sole focus. The useful active praise is the framework of the discipline system.

    instead of always telling me daughter she did a great job at something, I ask her how she feels about what she did. I listen to her works, and frame my compliment with where her mood is. She’s smart, but sometimes she’s too tired for my language. My son is younger, and has the attention span of a gnat. I need to convey the message quickly, before he sees something shiny.

    The not-so-fun part of discipline becomes clear when I can simply give a look and they ask what the consequence of their action will be. They understand there is always a consequence.

    I like your thoughts on this, because you seem to listen more actively to the children than even the parenting styles that claim to. You are actively involved in parenting as a two-way relationship. Yes, there are boundaries, we are not always their friends. But once the structure is put in place, there may be friendships between parents and children who respect each other at the appropriate ages.

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