Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The best parenting advice I ever got

I have work up to here today, so will try to exercise some self control and keep my blogging minimal. However, I wanted to start the day off positively, and so decided to pass on the best parenting advice I ever got. It's one simple sentence: Catch them being good. This sentence reflects the fact that we, as parents, tend to verbalize small criticisms constantly. For example, how many of you in the last week said something along the lines of "you forgot to pick up your socks," "don't eat with your mouth open," or "were you really trying out there"? However, we tend not to verbalize the small compliments, but only the big ones. For example, I bet you've heard yourself praise your child for having done something big, and have said something along the lines "I'm so proud you got an 'A'," or "It was your goalie work that helped your team win." Or perhaps you have a "Proud parent of an honor student at X school" bumpersticker on your car. But how often have you said "that was a good question," "you and your sister solved that dispute well," "nice job tidying your room," or "that was responsible of you to put your plate in the dishwasher"? The "catch them being good" theory says that at least 3/4 of what comes out of your mouth should be compliments, which of necessity means verbalizing the small good things. That is, notice not just the big academic and sports successes, but the little day to day things that make life peaceful and sweet. Once you start living the "catch them being good" life, you'll discover two immediate benefits. First, you come away with the feeling that your kids are pretty damn good kids; and, second, your kids come away with the same feeling and try to to continue to live up to that impression. Please understand that I'm not talking the kind of empty praise that led to that ridiculous, and useless, self-esteem movement. That was the one where kids got passed through to 12th grade, feeling great about themselves, but unable to read, write or do math. When my kids get praised, it's for something they deserve and for a conduct I wish to encourage. And when they need criticism, they get it. I'm no friend of slacking off. It's just that I make sure that deserved praise gets as much, if not more airtime, than deserved criticism. I'm also not talking about making them feel good by allowing catering to their whims. I just saw a horrifying story along those lines in a Captain's Quarters post about the head of a Catholic school who cancelled the prom because of multiple bacchanalian excesses. The straw that broke the camel's back wasn't even what the children did. It was what the parents did: the children rented a house in the Hamptons for a post-prom party (sure to include sex and drugs), and the principal insisted they cancel the reservation if they wanted a prom. The children agreed to this request, but the parents went back and rented the house instead! That's not catching the kids being good, that's catching the parents being bad. By the way, once you start a "catch them being good" mentality, you'll realize that it can work in all your relationships: spouses, other family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors. People find it incredibly gratifying to have their actual accomplishments recognized, and will return the favor -- which will leave you feeling good, too.