Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Respond

Respond to the situation.

How well are you able to respond? How response-able are you? How good are you at responding to situations?

Not as good as you’d like to be, I’m sure. I know I’m not as good at responding to situations as I’d like to be.

And there’s a simple reason for this. Instead of responding, I start reacting. Instead of treating each situation as an individual incident, I treat it as an episode in an ongoing series.

Human beings are made this way. That’s how we learn things, how we distinguish patterns, how we form habits.

But if I want to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with my child, it would be worth it for me not to be a slave to my brain. I am more than my brain and habits, just as you are more than your brain and habits.

If I, as an adult, cannot respond instead of reacting, I have no right to expect my child to respond. I should be happy when she reacts – after all, that’s what I’m doing! So we both just keep reacting – to history, ancient history and patterns, till we are totally out of sync with the present, with reality. And we’ve thoroughly ruined our relationship.

Why? Because I’m not ‘grown up’ enough, adult enough, to respond instead of reacting!

I see my child come home with her lunch not eaten, and instead of enquiring why, I burst out: “Again! You haven’t had your lunch again! You should starve for a few days. Then you’ll know…”

If she’s in a good mood, she shuffles her feet and waits till the storm passes. “A few boys from my class broke some school property, so the entire class was hauled up during break. We were being scolded so we didn’t get a chance to eat. And I didn’t eat in the bus coming back because I’d rather eat fresh hot food at home than the food that’s been lying in my lunch bag all day.”

Sheepish silence from me. What can I say? I should have asked calmly why she hadn’t eaten. Then I’d have known the reason, and I could have responded (with a resounding: “Great! 🙂  I too, would much rather that you had hot fresh food at home than the food that’s been lying in your lunch bag all day!”) instead of reacting as I did.

I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I didn’t know…”

If she’s in a bad mood, she stomps off, and then we’re both mad at each other. I feel I am the injured party, and she feels she has the right to be in a foul mood (“I’m starving because I couldn’t eat, and now my mom’s freaking out without knowing what she’s talking about!”).

What we agree upon is: “She just doesn’t understand…” 🙂

Forget about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my daughter. Every time I react rather than respond, I create a barrier between us.

Every time you react instead of respond, you create a barrier between yourself and your child.

Your child feels:

1. Untrustworthy (“You don’t trust me enough to handle the situation well…”)

2. Misunderstood (“There’s a good reason this happened, if only you’ll give me a chance to explain…”)

3. Hurt (“Why is your first reaction the most unflattering one, as if I can’t be expected to do anything right?”)

4. Irritated (“Can’t I even make a mistake?”)

5. Judged (“One right or wrong response is not the final word on the kind of person I am…”)

6. Stifled (“Why am I always expected to come up with the right answer? It’s not the end of the world if I’m not ‘perfect’…”)

7. Burdened (“You expect too much from me all the time…”)

8. Distanced (“You’re not on my side; you don’t cut me any slack. If you say I’m a child, then you must make allowances for the fact that I don’t know as much as you do, so I won’t respond the same way you would have under the same circumstances.”)

9. Invalidated – (“You don’t care about me as a person – my interests, my feelings, what I want. All you want is a carbon copy of yourself, or a ‘perfect’ child so you can look like the best parent in the world.”)

It’s hard to respond. We’re all in a hurry. We simply don’t have the time and mindspace to consider each incident in detail. Also, we’ve learnt to make assumptions about things and people. And we act (react, actually) based on those assumptions. And we end up pushing our children away from us.

It’s time to pause, take a deep breath, give your child the benefit of the doubt, and ask gently, “Why did you…?”

This leaves room for your child to answer your question, for conversation, for explanations (from your child! 🙂 ). And you continue to be connected, and to communicate with your child.

***

Over the past few days, I’ve shared with you what I believe are the 5 cornerstones of parenting today:

1. Ask – ask questions.

2. Be – be who you are.

3. Do – do things with your child.

4. Explain – explain what is going on.

5. Respond – respond to the situation.

 I’m sure applying these basics will put the excitement and connection back in your relationship with your child. I’d love to hear the ideas you came up with and how they helped you get out of a rut you might have been stuck in. Do share! 🙂

Next: How to have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less! 🙂 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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What I Would Tell My Child if I Could Only Say One Thing

In an earlier post, I had posed the question: “What would you tell your child if you could only say one thing?” Only one reader posted a response: “Let your inner voice be your guide. I love you.”

My last message to my child would be (and you never know when this might happen!): Do everything you want to do – and nothing you don’t.”

I’m digressing to share an anecdote. Eleanor was a loving daughter. When her mother died, she decided to read aloud at the funeral her mother’s last words to her. And so she took out a manuscript titled: “Mother’s Last Words, in 206 verses”. 🙂 🙂

In the spirit (but only the spirit!) of the above anecdote, I would like to elaborate on my own ‘last words’. I would tell my daughter:

  1. Don’t worry about whether the thing you want to do is the ‘right’ thing to do or not. If you want to do it, go ahead and do it. Don’t worry about what people will say. This is your life, not other people’s. Do what you want.
  2. Love yourself best – nobody else but yourself. Everyone else comes second – or third – or tenth – or isn’t on the list… 🙂
  3. Life is an adventure. Things not working out the way you’d like them to is part of the adventure. If everything in life were how we’d like it to be, human beings would be suicidal – there would be no impetus to do anything. It would be b-o-r-i-n-g.
  4. You will feel hurt – by people and circumstances. It’s part of the adventure. People don’t always mean to hurt you. Move on.
  5. Bless you! Have a great life! 🙂

I’m still waiting to hear what you would tell your child…

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Why Your Child ‘Listens’ to You Sometimes

The complete title of this post is: Why Your Child Listens to You Sometimes and How to Ensure This Happens More Often. 🙂

I must clarify that the word ‘listen’ in the title has been used according to your definition of the word, not mine. When I say ‘listen’, I mean pay heed to an idea or thought, consider it. The listener is then free to embrace the idea partially or wholly, or to reject it.

When you use the word ‘listen’, you mean ‘do as I say’ or ‘obey’. So this post is about why your children do as you ask them to do sometimes, and how to make sure they obey you more often.

I believe there are 2 laws at work which make a child obey its parent(s). One is the law of expectation, which I have talked about earlier. If you truly expect a child to do as you have said, you will usually find very little (if any) opposition to your will.

The other law, which unfortunately comes into play a lot more often, is the law of desperation. Most of the time, you are desperate that your child obey you. And how can you not be desperate?

My daughter rarely remembers to apply lip balm. When she was little, years ago, I would do it for her. When I got her her own lip balm (at 6 or 7), I said if she was old enough to choose the flavor and brand of her lip balm, she was old enough to apply it, so all I would do was remind her to do so. Like so many other things, the novelty of having her own lip balm ensured that for the first few days, it was applied many times a day. Then, it became just another chore. One had to wash one’s hands (she had the balm in a little pot)…, and there were so many other, more interesting things to do – so the lip balm application fell by the wayside.

Her lips dried up, started peeling, started cracking so badly that she had blood oozing from them. Sometimes, dried blood was caked on them, and smiling, eating, drinking, talking became painful. “It hurts!” I was told, as if I personally had taken a hatchet to her!

“Well, you don’t remember to put on the lip balm,” I pointed out.

“It’s too much work! It’s cold and I have to keep washing my hands to put it on. There has to be a simpler way.”

“Okay. Shall we get one of those lip balm applicators that works like a lipstick? You just roll it up, apply it, roll it back down, and you’re done.”

I heard an enthusiastic yes. We went shopping and bought something. History repeated itself. For the first few days, all was well. Then some days it got left behind at home when she went to school, and she wasn’t able to reapply it in school and her lips bled and the blood caked up and…

We bought another stick of lip balm. One to keep in the school bag; one at home, so she would always have access to something.

One got lost. We bought another. She changed her mind about the flavor – she didn’t like it any more. We bought another.

Years down the line, I still come across one or two of those ancient lip balms on sticks and toss them into the bin. But the point is: she just did not apply it.

Let me tell you, it hurt to see her with lips either bleeding or caked with blood over 50% of the time. I once told her even the beggars on the streets didn’t have such dry lips. “Mom, give me a break, okay? Don’t get after me all the time. I know what to do, and I’ll do it if I want to” was the response I got, along with all kinds of dire looks. (Sigh! :-))

On various occasions, members of my family took me aside saying I should do something about it, because besides looking terrible, she was in real pain – unable to smile or talk, eat or drink. I told them I reminded her every now and then, and they were welcome to join me in doing so (which they wisely refrained from! 🙂 ), but beyond a point, she had to look after herself.

Once it got so bad that I actually applied some Vaseline to her lips after she had fallen asleep.  This happened for two consecutive nights. Then I thought, “What the heck! Into every life some rain must fall. If this is the trouble she chooses for herself, so be it.”

And that’s where we are today.

I once asked her how come she ‘forgot’ to apply the balm despite the pain. “There are so many other things…,” she said. I smiled my understanding. How could I not? There are a million billion things that are so little, so simple, that I can do for myself, which will make my life easier, simpler. More importantly, these are things I actively want to do for myself. But I don’t do them – because there are so many other things… 🙂

So when I say the law of desperation, I know what I’m talking about.

You know what I’m talking about too! Your child is low on iron, but won’t eat any proteins or green leafy vegetables, and won’t pop that iron pill either. He is sleepy but won’t stop playing that computer game so he can get enough zzzs. He can cure his 19/20 eyesight by doing eye exercises, but won’t. (And he says he doesn’t want to wear spectacles!) All he needs is 15 minutes of Math practice a day, and he’ll be a whiz – but he doesn’t find the time…

As a parent, there are innumerable times you are desperate – often for a very good cause. But the point is, the more desperate you are, the lower the chances that your child will ‘listen’ to you.

When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it. Read that once more. When you care about an outcome beyond a point, you build failure into it.

Think about all the times you ‘won’ at something, all the times you succeeded. You were ‘cool’ about it, not desperate. And now think of all the times you were ‘desperate’ to have things your way (people, situations, results) – rarely did the chips fall in your favor.

I don’t know why this is so, but I have found it to be always true.

The funny thing is, the few times I have succeeded despite the desperation, I have found that once I’d got the outcome, I didn’t want it! I’m sure you can relate to this one too. 🙂

If you can drop the desperation, and have the expectation, there’s a good chance that your children will ‘obey’ you more often than they do right now.

And for the occasions they don’t, remember: into every life, some rain must fall.

When I was a child, an aunt told me, “It is up to you to get your father to stop smoking.”

I was fired with enthusiasm, and confronted him right away. “You’ve got to stop smoking! You know what it does to your lungs, your health, your life. Just stop, okay?”

My father, a very wise man, replied, “You know we all have to die one day, in some way or other. Maybe I’ve decided to choose this way.”

Nothing more to be said, is there?

P.S. I am anti-smoking personally, but it is every person’s right to choose for themselves at every point in their lives.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


When Parents Fight: How to Reduce Your Child’s Pain

At the heart of parenting is the idea that you are the best parent in the world when you are yourself. Sometimes, unfortunately, when the parents of a child are themselves, the combination is explosive. They clash too hard or too frequently or both. This leaves the child feeling lost, insecure, responsible, and guilty – the last two because she is convinced that it is she who is in some way responsible for her parents not getting on.

You ache – for yourself, for your child, for what could have been with your partner – if only he or she would… but there’s no point going down that road.

Say you want to have another child, and your partner doesn’t. You both have ‘valid reasons’ for the way you feel. (The inverted commas are because everything everyone feels is valid, though most of us forget this! 🙂 ) It has gotten beyond discussion and reasoning. Each of you is unwilling to give in, and no half-way compromise is possible.

As the tension slowly ratchets up, you see the fun, the laughter, the joy, the togetherness – all of it, dissolve under the weight of this conflict. And you see your once happy family of 3 breaking up under the strain.

Your son is perplexed. All he can see is Mom and Dad being nasty to each other. If they are not openly warring, they are making snide comments to each other or about each other, or giving each other the silent treatment.

And he’s trying to figure out how to fix what is wrong between you two.

Can you do anything to make it easier on your child? I’m convinced that you can. You can lessen his pain, make it easier on him.

Only you can do this.

You can do this by acknowledging that there is conflict between you and your partner. Tell your child that the two of you disagree about something, and that is what is causing all the fights. Let him know that the conflict is not related to him.

The best course of action is if both of you agree on what to say and sit together with your child to reassure him that the conflict is not his responsibility. But this is not always possible. Sometimes there is so much bitterness that you may not be able to do even this together.

In which case, tell your partner that you would like to reassure your child about the tension in the household. Tell your partner what you intend to tell your child. Give him or her the choice of being present as you tell your child.

If communication between you two has broken down to the extent that even this conversation is not possible, just go ahead and speak with the child yourself.

There are two things you must do if you decide to speak to your child about your conflict with your partner.

The first is to put it in context. Depending upon your child’s age and temperament, you must tailor the message so that he can understand what you are saying. You cannot tell a 2 year old you are fighting about whether to give him a sibling or not.

You might say, “When you fight with your friend about whose turn it is on the swing, you are angry with your friend, but not with Mom and me. Just like that, Mom and I are angry with each other about something, but it has nothing to do with you. We will keep being angry for some time, but we are trying to stop being angry and be friends again.”

You might tell your 5 year old, “Dad and I are angry with each other because he wants something and I don’t want it. Suppose I want to bring a dog home. I love dogs, but you are scared of them, so you and I will fight about whether or not we should adopt a dog for a pet. There is no ‘right’ answer, and we both feel strongly about it. Dad is out of this picture. Just like that, Dad and I want different things, and we’re fighting. Not pleasant, but that’s how it is. You are out of the picture – the fight has nothing to do with you. What you need to know is that we both still love you and always will. It is silly for us to be fighting when we tell you not to fight with your friends, but grown-ups are silly sometimes.”

You might tell your 8 year old, “Mom wants us to have another baby – a sibling for you – and I don’t want another baby. That is what we are fighting about. Let me explain: you always want to go to the beach on vacation, and Mom and I love going to the mountains. So sometimes we go to the beach, and at other times, we go to the mountains. But when it comes to a baby, we cannot sometimes have a baby and sometimes not. We either have one or we don’t. Do you see? And we can’t come to a decision, so we’re arguing and shouting at each other. We’re upset because we each believe what we want is right for the family. But what you need to know is that both Mom and I love you, and whether or not we have another child, we will always love you.”

It’s a good idea not to tell your child why you feel the way you do. If you tell her the pros and cons of the issue, you will be actively involving her – the very thing you’re trying NOT to do!

Also, depending upon her one-on-one relationship with you and with her other parent, she will be more inclined towards one view or the other – again, she will be involved, and will feel responsible about the conflict and its outcome.

The other thing that you must do is NOT to vilify your partner. This is a much tougher thing to achieve.

You are hurting, you are bitter and you are angry. It is very likely that these emotions will spill over into your explanation to your child. You don’t need to actively say, “She’s bad” or “He’s wrong”. The tone of your voice, your body language, the way you put your point of view across – all of it can communicate to your child that you feel your partner is cruel and unfeeling not to give in to your point of view.  

But remember, you and your partner are the first relationships your child has. If he gets the impression that “Men are unfeeling” or “Women are wicked” or whatever, these ideas will influence all his relationships throughout his life – at school, at work, romantic and social. These ideas will become his worldview. It is a very high price for him to pay. Just because you could not hold back your angst.

When you say negative things about your partner to your child, you are forcing him to choose between you, and he gets caught in the middle – not fair!

Not fair to him (why should he choose between two parents?)

Not fair to your partner (feeling differently from the way you do does not make him / her a ‘bad’ person; it does not disqualify him/ her from being a loving parent)

Not fair to yourself (your child will always remember that you made him think badly of the other parent. At some time or other, I am positive, your child will resent, maybe even hate you, for doing this.)

In your own interest and that of your child, avoid saying negative things about your partner to your child.

But what if your partner is saying negative things about you to the child? It becomes even more important that you desist. Show your child an alternate way of being, of loving, of living. If the child confronts you “… says you’re really mean because you don’t understand the problems (the other parent) is having”, you can say, “Yes, … feels this way. It doesn’t make me mean. … just feels I’m being mean.” And stop right there. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t accuse your partner. Leave it there. Your child will not question you further on this.

Your conflict is your choice. Your child is caught up in it through no fault of his – he has no choice in the matter.

The best you can do is to assure and reassure him as often as it takes, that he is not to blame for what’s going on between you and your partner. It is difficult, but it needs to be done.

And you can do it! If you let your love for your child be your guide.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


When Your Children are Embarrassed by You

“Hello! We’re having a meeting of Grade 3 parents with all the subject teachers on Monday at 8am. It will last one hour. I’m calling to confirm you’ll be coming. You haven’t attended any such sessions over the past 3 years, and as the Parent Representative, I’d like to know if there’s a problem. Is there something I can help you with?”

As I finished saying my piece, I could sense the lady’s discomfort over the phone. We were both silent for a few moments.

As I was about to prompt her, she told me she had ‘no problems’. I told her I was glad to hear that, but that she might still have concerns she’d like to discuss with the teachers and other parents. Also, it was a good way to find out what was going on at school, and with other parents and the children.

After a bit, she said, “Actually, I don’t wear western clothes. I am more comfortable in traditional Indian clothes. And my daughter, she feels I’m not modern. She doesn’t like me to come to school. So I stay away. She wants me to come in pants and dresses like some other mothers. She feels ashamed to see me always in Indian clothes. She gets very angry. So…” Her voice trailed away.

Another silence on the phone.

I couldn’t say a word because so many emotions were warring inside me. I was incensed at how cruel the child was. I was pained by the hurt in the lady’s voice. I was horrified that a child could think this way about her parents. I wanted to charge in there and ‘do something’ about it. A moment’s thought, and wiser counsel prevailed. There was nothing I could have said that wouldn’t have sounded either patronizing or obnoxious.

Gently, I repeated, “You should consider coming for the meeting. It’s quite important. If you have anything at all to discuss…”

“No,” she replied. “Typically, my husband would be there, but he’s traveling, so we won’t be coming.”

I replaced the phone, contemplating what I would do to this girl if I could have my way with her.

But when I had gained some distance, I found perspective too. I found I could not blame the child. Her parents were responsible for her attitude. They had only themselves to blame.

Over the years, dozens of parents have confided in me about how they have strict instructions from their children about how they (the parents) should appear in public.

“You must wear lipstick.”

“Don’t come unless you’re wearing a suit.”

“You don’t speak English properly; it would be better if you don’t come to school. Send Mom instead.”

“You’re so short – you don’t look like a parent at all.”

“You’re so fat – lose some weight before you come to my school.”

In one instance, a 6-year old actually publicly refused to recognize her father because he was not (according to her) appropriately dressed! In the two years the child had been at school, she allowed only her mother to visit the school, because the father wore clothes indicating his religious affiliation. One day, the mother was stuck somewhere, and couldn’t get to school to pick the child up. She called her husband and asked him to rush to school as it was already very late.

After a while, the mother received a phone call from her daughter’s class teacher, who said, “There is a man here to pick up your daughter. He claims to be your husband, but the child says she doesn’t know him. What should we do?”

The lady had a hard time convincing the teacher that the man in question was her husband and the father of the child. It took over 15 minutes of conversation back and forth between the four people involved before the child consented to go home with her father.

This was narrated to me as an example of how fastidious the child was, how well she knew her own mind!

I tried not to show how appalled I was. And they were actually proud of the child behaving this way? If the primary school-aged child could refuse to acknowledge her parents, what was in store for the family when she grew up?

Children are born ignorant, without any notions of good or bad, pride or shame. Where do they learn these ideas of being ashamed of themselves or their parents? From the parents themselves!

In the lady’s case, it was her own insecurity, her own lack of confidence in herself that the daughter picked up on and reflected.

Another mother might well have said, “Well, people dress differently. I prefer wearing traditional clothes, and I dress to suit myself. It doesn’t make me any less presentable than anyone else. It’s not clothes who make the person, but the person who makes the outfit.” Her daughter would have accepted the explanation happily, and taken pride in her mother’s appearance.

Another father might have explained to his child, “I believe in this religion. I was brought up believing in it, and it is an important part of who I am. My faith has helped shape my mind and my heart. I would not be the Dad you know and love without this faith. I am proud to belong to this faith, so I dress this way.” She would have understood and taken great pride in her father’s integrity, in the fact that he stood by what he believed in.

The most obvious thing about these two might-have-been incidents above is that the children would not have asked their parents for any explanations about their beliefs or behavior.

If you are clear about the person you are and what you believe in, you radiate it from every pore of your being. You are comfortable with yourself – being yourself – wherever you go, whoever you meet.  Your child sees you comfortable being yourself. It will never strike him to be embarrassed by who you are.

There is, of course, one honorable exception to this. When your kids approach teenage, they will suddenly become embarrassed by you.

“You talk too much” I am told. 🙂

My response: “You’re growing up, and becoming super-sensitive to others’ opinions. I am still myself, though I’m changing too. But know this – you will be a lot more embarrassed by me before you begin to be comfortable with me again. It’ll get worse before it gets better.”

Her response: “Oh, okay. And when do you think it will be better? ” 🙂

I shrug “who knows?”, and we smile at each other. 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Are You Killing Your Child with Carrots?

Many children in the world are brought up without praise. This is sad, to say the least, and has terrible consequences for their self-esteem, behavior, and the quality of their lives as children. And as adults. Obviously, it also affects how they will raise their children.

But you are probably not such a parent. You know that praising your child is a very important part of showing how much you love her. You have read all the literature about propping up her self-esteem, about affirming good behavior with praise and discouraging bad behavior by ignoring it. Carrot, carrot, carrot. No stick. And it works.

When she’s little and tries to stand on her own, she falls with a thump. You encourage her to try again. She tries again. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries yet again to stand up. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries once more. Carrot. There’s no need for the stick! Everything’s perfect.

This is what happens all the time – when she says her first syllable, first word, learns to stand without support, then walk, then run. More milestones are celebrated with praise. First sentence, first scribble, saying “Please” and “Thank you”, asking for permission, listening to what Mom and Dad say (let’s be honest – this one’s called obedience 🙂), putting her toys away, feeding herself, feeding herself without making a mess, finishing all the food on her plate, dressing herself, wearing her own sandals and shoes, identifying numbers and alphabets, learning to read and then write…

Of course, potentially dangerous behaviors need to be actively discouraged, and you do so. This is the ‘Beware! List’. She has to be taught initially to stay away from – and then to be careful around – electrical sockets, hot dishes and liquids, sharp edges, glass, and so on. Whether you explain, scold, warn, demonstrate, play-act or spank, you find ways to teach her that she has to watch herself around all this and more.

Every time she successfully negotiates the ‘Beware! List’ you praise her. Of course! That’s what any loving parent would do.

So far, everything is going swimmingly.

As your child engages more with the outside world, you begin to caution him. As he grows, there are ever greater threats to his safety and security. You want to protect him from hurt – both physical and mental.

You teach him how to cross a road – not that you ever let him cross it alone at this stage, but for years you keep teaching him. “Don’t accept things from people you don’t know.” “Don’t go anywhere with a stranger.” And each time he behaves appropriately, you praise him. Carrot.

He does ‘good’ things, and you reinforce his behavior by praising him. Carrot. He avoids things from the Beware! List and you reinforce yet again with praise. Carrot.

The point is this: Too many ‘carrots’ will lead to trouble.

This doesn’t mean that you must use the ‘stick’. That is a decision that you alone can (and should) make for yourself. If your parenting style doesn’t involve the ‘stick’, know that when you withhold the carrot, you’re wielding the ‘stick’.

If your child gets praised for everything he does (and doesn’t do), he becomes a praise ‘junkie’. This phase will occur at some time or other in each child’s life, but it is important that he move beyond it relatively quickly.

It is totally understandable to heap appreciation on a 5-year old who brushes his teeth well. But if he’s expecting to be praised for the same skill at age 10, you have a problem on your hands.

Essentially, you need to wean him off the old carrots, and get him on to ‘bigger’ carrots. Like doing chores around the house, learning new skills – whatever is appropriate to his age and ability, learning new attitudes…more grown-up stuff.

What happens if you don’t?

Firstly, nobody – not even you – will be able to praise him for a particular achievement for the rest of his life. “Lovely! You tied your shoelaces so well!” sounds wonderful and genuine when your child is 7. It sounds ridiculous if he’s 12, and you probably wouldn’t dream of even mentioning it by the time he’s 15.

Secondly, after a point, the praise sounds false, even to the child, as in the ‘shoelace’ instance above. And he will wonder why you feel the need to praise him for an ordinary, everyday occurrence.

Thirdly, his thinking and behavior will be distorted by his addiction to praise. People will figure out his sensitivity to praise, and manipulate him till he’s miserable. And he won’t know why. “You share your allowance with me every week. You’re such a good friend!”

Fourthly, you may continue to find opportunities to praise him as he grows, but will anybody else? Out there in the world, who really cares? We all know the answer to that question: No one. Basically, when it comes right down to the wire, practically no one cares.

But as he begins to form relationships outside the family, and as these ties strengthen with time, he will be increasingly bewildered by these friends who are not appreciative enough of him. One of two things might then happen. Either he will redouble his efforts to win their praise, which might move him farther away from what he wants. Or he will wonder what is wrong with him. Or both things might happen.

Self-doubt, low self-esteem, discontentment, misery. Stick, stick, stick, stick. And not one of these sticks is actively wielded by anyone! Not one of them is ‘meant’! It is your child alone, who is beating himself up with these sticks.

Fifthly (is this ever going to end?!), even if he is lucky enough to find good friends, human beings are fickle. The thing that delights a person today may irritate him tomorrow, leave him unmoved the third day, and arouse his contempt on the fourth. But your child will want praise all the time! Which is simply not possible.

Your child will live without ever basking in the glow of achievement for its own sake. He will feel all his achievements diminished if they are not praised by someone (or everyone!). What a needless tragedy!

Here’s an item to add to your Beware! List: Do not kill with praise. You’ve added it? Carrot. 🙂

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