Updated: Jul 27, 2021
You just hosted 20 people for dinner. The food was delicious, the table simply beautiful. You worked hard and you are tired! As you and your husband finish the massive clean-up job, he says “My dear, that was such a great meal, thank you. Everything was so tasty. Its all to your credit. What happened with the dessert? It was a little drier than usual, new recipe?” Ok… How do you feel? I don’t know about you, but I feel like “Next time you’re cooking, you ungrateful -------“. But he said so many nice things, right? Why are you so infuriated?
Being a positive communicator is a precise art. Are we positive communicators? Most of us would say sure, I give compliments all the time. But are our compliments getting through? Is our child being emotionally nourished by us? In the example above, a magnificent compliment was sent, but due to a complex compliment error, it was intercepted.
In the last 2 posts we discussed reducing the heat on our negative emotional outbursts, so as not to dish out too much instant gratification feedback from our rants. Today we will explore how we can up the warmth with positive communication.
Before we tackle the ‘how to’ of powerful positive parenting, let's explore why most of us struggle with compliments.
For some, it is because we did not grow up with positive communication, so it feels unnatural to be so positive. I’ll never forget the woman who raised her hand in one of my lectures and said, “I’m Hungarian, I can’t do what your saying”. I hear you sister, but from a German to a Hungarian, our kids need us, lets pull it off for them. And once we get started, we may really like it.
We are fixers. Especially the wife/mother/teachers among us. We feel like if we don’t grab the opportunity to point out mistakes as they happen, our kids (husbands?) will never learn. We're totally off! The learning process is so much more powerful when we point out what a child did well and use his actions as an example of excellent behavior, rather than catching him in the deed of breaking rules. We do a lot of “stop that”, “Don’t do that again”, thinking our kid will figure out what he should do based on what we told him not to do. Our well-meaning message generally gets lost in translation.
We worry that if we overdo it, we will spoil our child. What will happen when he gets out into the big bad world and he does not get all the positive feedback we are offering? Imagine if a pregnant woman thought that way about her unborn baby; “Why bother taking too many vitamins, eating well, resting and exercising to help ensure my baby is born healthy. The minute she shows up in the big bad world, she will be inundated with toxins and disease, what’s the point?” absurd, right? Our home should be where he receives all the warmth and love so that he can build his strength to navigate and endure the world.
So, let’s get started:
These positive parenting rules were developed by #AlanEKazdin Ph.D. in his fantastic and incredibly user-friendly book “The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child”.
Rule #1: Be enthusiastic!
When we are angry at our kid, boy are we enthusiastic! There's no stopping us. We raise our voices, perspire, get right in his face, he knows we meant it! When he does something praiseworthy, we say something bland like “good job”, “keep it up!”.
If our kid is an '#instantgratification’ seeker, he will make a quick calculation and choose to elicit our scolding response. He gets more feedback that way. We must completely reverse this process. Let’s raise our voices with joy when she does something right and be bland with negative responses.
We must smile, get close, speak louder, say it like we mean it. Also, name the deed; that was so respectful, responsible, kind, thoughtful…. Labeling behavior with a positive value is a good balance to our statements like “that was not kind to your brother just now”, “Why did you just say that, it was SO disrespectful”.
Let’s catch her being all the things we tell her to be, and then celebrate it by letting her know that we noticed and loved it.
Rule #2: Be specific.
We are great at making long verbal lists. “You came in and threw your backpack, you didn’t take out you sandwich which will now get moldy, you demanded a treat and immediately started bothering your sister!!!!” Sound like anyone you know?
Somehow, we expect our critical never-ending barrage to magically create better behavior. It NEVER does. Our victim is not listening. Do we listen closely and take notes while we are being yelled at!?! If we truly want to educate our children to improve their behavior, we must use their behavior as an example.
When we give a powerful compliment, we are giving our child a candy, he wants more! If we are very specific with our compliment (You walked in, warmed my heart with your smile, and asked for a treat so respectfully) he will receive instructions from us as to how to get the candy again.
The more specific we are, the more instructions we are giving for the future.
Rule #3: Say it right away
The closer a compliment follows a deed, the more a child links the two in his head. We are of course invited and encouraged to repeat it later, tell Grandma, tell Daddy when he gets home, but it is of utmost importance to say it right away.
Rule #4: Do not caboose!
Never ever add the ‘fix’ comments! Never! (This was the original complex compliment error.)They don’t fix, they destroy. When we add a negative comment to the end of our enthusiastic compliment, he only hears the end.
Perhaps our child did something well but did not do it perfectly. Our goal is not perfect, it is progress. Say she came home from the pool and remembered to put her pool bag in the closet. That’s great! But… she forgot to take its contents out.
We can either compliment what she did well and then close our mouths, or we could compliment what she did, and make sure to let her know that she also messed up. Now she feels like a looser and is less likely to put the bag away again.
No matter what she did wrong, the scenario will repeat itself again soon enough. Give an instruction as she leaves next week, or as soon as she comes home, but right now let’s get a grip and keep our compliment pure.
Rule #5: Reach out and touch
Touch is the glue to our compliment. Give a high five, a shoulder pat, hug. It’s all good. If the child is sensitive to touch, stand close. While we never want to touch aggressively when mad, we always want to infuse more warmth into our positive communication.
A couple of warnings
Never add a lie to a compliment! Sometimes we think that if we tell a child he is being so organized, he will become more organized. This trick does not work, our kids are smart. He will just trust us less and feel sad that he is not worthy of a real compliment. Be very honest.
Also, compliment progress and effort, not natural ability. A kid may have a high IQ, that’s a gift he got from God. We want to pay attention to what he does with that gift. for example; You are studying hard, I see you are paying close attention in class. Our child should know that he has a powerful ability to make choices, we are zoning in and highlighting his good choices.
This is a lot! Here is my suggestion. Start by choosing one specific behavior to compliment, or one hour a day when you will pay closer attention to your positive communication, or even plan a compliment in advance. It takes a while to change a habit, take it slowly and deliberately. It may feel unnatural at firsts, but as you see your child respond so happily, you will be convinced to keep going.
The first compliment goes to you, dear parent, for taking the time to learn a new strategy for raising your child better. Because your child is so important to you, you were curious, paused your daily marathon and read all the way through. That’s real dedication. I’m sending a virtual high five!
Click here for the first part of "Discipline and ADHD Child" Series.
Click here for the second part of "Discipline and ADHD Child" Series.