The Hazards of Over Complimenting

“Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?” Luke 17:9

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I read an interesting article the other day about how supportive parenting can be a detriment to our kids if we take it too far. As I read on, I realized I’m guilty of almost every bullet point in the article. The one that resonated the most was over complimenting my kids.

I was curious what my kids thought. So I asked them, point blank, as we were driving in the car the other day. It was such an interesting conversation.

Jocelyn and Mason both said they loved being complimented; and they didn’t want that to change. Zack, on the other hand, had a whole different response.

He jumped right over my question, and went on to complain about how all he hears is me being critical of him. He has a point; I’ve been correcting him for a while now.

I explained I’ve been giving him more freedom, now that he’s thirteen. Therefore, he’s stumbling more. Although it’s perfectly normal and expected, I can’t just stand by and do nothing about it. My job, as his mom, is to help him see where he went wrong, and then help him get back on track. I apologized if during that process I seemed harsh or judgmental. I promised to try and change the tone of my voice so he was hearing me coach him, not critique him.

Then I pointed out that I compliment him far more than I criticize him. He stopped and thought; and then he agreed. But he went on to admit that because I compliment him so much about the little things, he doesn’t really hear them anymore.

It’s then I realized I compliment my kids on the most ludicrous things. In fact, just an hour before, I’d complimented them for getting in the car to go to church. Really?!!! At seven, eleven and thirteen, it was a noteworthy accomplishment to get in the car in a timely manner so we wouldn’t be late? You do that for a two or three-year-old who struggles climbing up into his car seat and buckling up. You don’t do it for older kids, even if you want to be a positive and affirming parent.

Despite my kids transitioning to new ages and stages, I haven’t transitioned to what now deserves a compliment and what doesn’t. I’m still affirming them like they’re toddlers. I’m also teaching them to be too dependent on compliments, to the point of needing them.

It’s funny how a tool that can be useful and inspiring can also breaks things if it’s overused. I can’t risk my kids only feeling good about themselves when I’m complimenting them. I have to ween them from their dependency on affirmation from the outside world. I need to lead them to where they find their self-worth within themselves.

Years ago, my friend Amy said that when her kids came to her asking if she liked something they’d done, instead of praising them, she’d ask, “What do you think?” Turning it back on them forced them to affirm themselves. She’d pick and choose where she’d also add a compliment; but her entire focus was on what they thought, not what she thought.

As long as I help my kids find the balance between humility and arrogance, I think Amy’s approach is a much healthier one. Now “What do you think?” will be my new go-to response. I’ll also throw in “What do you think God thinks?” to keep them focused on whose opinion matters the most.

Questions for Reflection:

     * Do I compliment my kids often?

     * Am I at risk for over complimenting them?

     * Are my kids too dependent on compliments from the outside world?

     * What adjustments can I make so my kids find their self-worth within themselves?

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2 thoughts on “The Hazards of Over Complimenting

    • Isn’t it? What’s so sad is I wrote a post about it years ago, implemented Amy’s approach then, but then went back to my old ways. Seems the Big Guy needed to intervene and remind me of her brilliance. No use beating myself up about it though. I’ll go with some other brilliant advice from a former MOSAIC Mom who uses the gentle approach of “simply resume.” Thanks for reading and commenting, Jess!

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