Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Praise - it simply doesn't work!

Everyone talks about praisng our kids - encouraging them. Making sure they feel good about themselves. Increasing their self esteem (although judging by the plethora of kids on TV talents shows there should be a few whose self esteem could do with a trim)

But. on the whole, this is a great attitude to take - except when a child simply doesn't believe it.

Let me explain.

Our eldest loves praise - he thrives on it. If you tell KC he's done something well then he simply beams. Even the smallest amount of praise can result in the hugest grin. However, on the flip side of that he simply can't bear any form of criticism. He takes it completely to heart. If you say something along the lines of  'Your room is really messy,' then in his mind he seems to hear - 'you are really messy - so we don't love you.' He literally takes everything personally.

TJ on the other hand doesn't respond to praise at all. He simply doesn't believe it. So if you were to tell him that he did an amazing job at anything he looks at you as if you have just told him to chop off his right hand. 

I saw that yesterday in his piano lesson. TJ is really good at piano (that's not just a doting dad) - but he can play at a level far beyond his years (probably due to his way of seeing the world) and yesterday, he played a particularly difficult piece and, naturally, his teacher was full of praise, "That's amazing TJ, I have adults that can't play that piece TJ..." etc.

As soon as he heard this TJ turned into Mr Jekyll, or Mr Hyde, I can never remember which is which. Anyway, the 'moody, grumpy, refusing to play piano anymore' one.

His teacher didn't know what had happened. She was caught on the back foot and in order to compensate was immediately overly enthusiastic. "TJ, I said you were brilliant," she said. It was met with a sullen teenager like glare.

I decided to end the piano lesson there.

As soon as we got into the car TJ was absolutely fine again - we had a 'chat' about how he seemed to have been very bad mannered to his teacher and how she was there to help him. Halfway through the chat he simply said, "I don't know why she said all that - everyone knows I'm rubbish."

I was floored.

'The one thing you are not is rubbish," I said - and then made exactly the same mistake as the teacher and told him how wonderful he was - it was met with a stony silence.

When we got home I explained it all to Papa - he listened and then said, "But the therapist told you how to deal with him - he can't take praise... always remember that 'good' is good enough."

Sometimes I should remember what the therapists tell me - but they have said such a lot, its easy to forget....

I want to praise my kids and tell them how wonderful they are - but they simply wouldn't believe me - and why should they? They probably spent most of their early life hearing how awful they are before being (in thier minds) given away... they were unwanted by the very people who should have given them the most praise of all... 

Who can blame them?... It's me who has to change my word descriptions and remember that when I just say 'good', I actually mean incredible... 


  1. Ah Jim! I identify completely with this one. Praise is something to be suspicious of when you are a child who was never good enough. Who was 'bad' 'wrong' unloved and unwanted. When the people who produced you can see no good in you - then anyone else saying anything remotely good about you makes you feel hurt. Paradoxical as that sounds, you say 'Wow, that was brilliant' and we hear 'You're so shit I'm going to tell you you were fabulous just so that, when I tell you the *truth* (that you're crap) it will hurt even more.'

    Also, there is a part of us that believes that the people we were born to know us better than anyone else; they know the 'real' us - and if they have rejected us, then we really can't be lovable at all, can we? So if you say we're fabulous, it means that either a) you don't know what you're talking about and we feel uncomfortable for tricking you or b) You're tricking us for some reason.

    Like so much else, it comes with trust. And there are so many different layers of trust. The boys trust that you will feed them, clothe them, take them to and from school and even get cross with them when they transgress a boundary or break a house rule. They are starting to believe that you will not abandon them, but believing that you think they're brilliant? That might take a bit longer.

    Just remember that you're doing an amazing job. Hx

    1. Thank you H. You are spot on in everything you say. Sometimes we just have to remember that. To papa and I the boys are amazing... Interestingly the only time TJ accepts praise is when it comes from KC... When KC watched his piano and gave him a round of applause, TJ positively beamed... In all honesty, I felt jealous... But I am the grown up and I will deal with that.