Monday, November 23, 2015

Parenthood: Week 128 – The Real Message In The "Big Boy" Compliment


Alex: Well, the boys and girls are, like, afraid of each other. They're acting like a bunch of…
Lisa: Kids?
Alex: I know! What is up with that?
Lisa: It's because they are kids! And so are we! Come on, Alex, we've only got nine, maybe ten years tops where we can giggle in church, and chew with our mouths open and go days without bathing! We'll never have that freedom again.
-from The Simpsons, Season 10, Episode 1: "Lard Of The Dance"

When you listen to teachers and parents compliment toddlers, one of the things you often hear is praise associated with being more like older kids. For example “wow, you put your shoes on all by yourself, just like a big boy” or “good job, you used your potty like a big girl. Now you can wear, big girl panties.”

These kinds of comments come out of myself as a teacher. Since I teach grades 3-8, I’ve found that positively comparing my younger kids as doing something as well as my older kids as praise that many of my students find motivating, but does that mean it’s right?

If we consistently praise positive behavior and actions, as being indicative of being an older age, then what are we telling our children about the age they are currently experiencing?

Kids already have this idea that adults have it made. They don’t see the responsibility and the stress that restricts our actions and our choices. Kids see a magic plastic card that can buy anything, which represents this unrestricted freedom in life.

So we work off of this idea and work to keep out kids going by making them feel like their positive actions are making them more like what they idolize.  If we are not careful, and our children focus more and more on acting older, than I fear that they are missing out on enjoying their current age.

We don’t want our kids wishing that they were taller or that they were a different race. We want our kids to learn to accept and love who they are. Why not extend this to their age? It would make me really sad if Ollie spent a lot of time, wishing he was older as opposed to taking pride in his age and reveling in the glory of being two.

Aren’t we working against this idea of self-acceptance if we use being like an older age as praise?

I believe strongly in praise.  In order for children to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and positive inner-dialogue they need to hear loving and supportive comments all of the time.  However we need to be careful how we are helping construct this internal dialogue.  What do we really want out kids to think when they do something good?  "I'm proud of myself because I cleaned up my toys like an older kid" or "I'm proud of myself because I cleaned up my toys all by myself."

I used to think that things would be easier as Ollie got older.  This attitude translates into parents complimenting their kids for being like older kids.  Now I know that while many things are easier, as whole, parenthood is actually more difficult.  Once you accept this fact, enjoying your time with your children becomes about accepting their age and not wishing they would be older.

Youth is wasted on the young when they spend their time wishing to be older.  So let's help our kids enjoy being kids and let's look to other ways to compliment our children, not based in acting older but rather based in independence, pride, and joy.

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