Over-Heard Compliments

Children over-hear lots of things that they probably don’t need to hear. Some hear their parents worry about money, or the pus in the neighbour’s aunt’s cat’s sore toe.  Some children get to hear their favourite people ridiculed. Still others get to hear themselves be described as: naughty, thick, lazy, or whiney. Instead, what about (purposefully) letting them over-hear compliments about themselves.

Last night the Owl was away from home, alone, for the first time. The Hare thought it was brilliant. He got to watch some t.v. (a rare event), he got to eat his dinner in front of the t.v.(unheard of), and he was up a bit later listening to extra chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was fun, but it also could have gone to custard. At bedtime, sure enough, the Hare began to get a little twitchy: he mucked around brushing his teeth; he started to madly twist and turn when he got into bed; and he started to make funny little noises. So, when Craig came inside with the Butterfly and offered to take over the bed-time routine I happily agreed. Craig and I passed each other in the hallway, and instead of saying something like, “he’s knackered” or, “he’s a bit anxious,” (which would have been perfectly reasonable things to say) quite loudly, I said, “He’s had a bit of t.v. and extra story, and he’s managing really well. I think he’ll go to sleep quickly because he’s so calm.” And bingo, 10 minutes later, Craig appeared again. Our lad happily parented to sleep: quickly and calmly.

Children do hear what we say to other people. They particularly listen for things said about themselves.  And then they try to live up to the role we have assigned them: the cute one; the clever one; the shy one; the one we worry about the most…

I have no idea where I got this idea from, but it works. Frequently mention that your children are displaying the values you want them to display – to other adults (my favourite is to grandparents over the phone) – within their hearing – and watch those values become instilled in their personality. 

And it is important that we mention values.

The difference between the messages received when we say, “he’s clever” and “he works hard” is huge. One day ‘the clever ones’ might find something new a bit challenging – many, in that position, avoid trying rather than discover they are no longer clever. But the ‘hard worker’ will generally rise to the challenge.

(Some values you could start with: honesty, kindness, diligence, self-assurance, reliability, consideration, self-control, mindful-ness, perseverance and loyalty.)

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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24 Responses to Over-Heard Compliments

  1. Leah says:

    I like this. My little one has overheard some … um… not-compliments about her lately. I’ll make sure she overhears some of the great stuff soon!

    • kloppenmum says:

      Pleased you like the idea, and yes, I’m afraid our kids have heard some of the other comments too. Yet, this such an easy way to help our kids feel good about themselves.

  2. faemom says:

    Brilliant. It’s amazing what labels stick. To this day I feel like I have to live up to the title of “The Good Child.” I wonder if I haven’t been careful enough with my labels of the boys and what they overhear.

    • kloppenmum says:

      It’s so easy to do, and we don’t even realise the effect it’s having…yet, many adults can remember their label and spend years trying to shake it. I forget they can hear what I’m saying, and then I catch the look on one of the boys’ faces and cringe…

  3. Loi says:

    This is so true! Labels of ourselves are always reinforced by opinions of others and even more so for children. I personally find though it’s quite a challenge changing my mindset, as in to put positive images in my head when it’s been a long, challenging day, but when I do it works amazingly. Well done you and I hope Hare continues to do well. 🙂

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thanks Loi, the Hare is in a great space. It is amazing how comments from our childhood can resonate and it’s those tired, stressed nights where we can let it all get to us or when we get a small run of things going wrong. Yet, if we really look at our day, there’s usually far more positive to self-talk about.

  4. Elena says:

    Very important post. I think more parents need to realize the power of words. I’ve heard a parent, stressed over their child currently experimenting with biting, say, “He’s a biter.” Okay, and now how is he ever NOT going to bite since that’s his identity as assigned by the main source of his self-image?

    • kloppenmum says:

      Yes, I’ve heard comments like that too Elena. Mind you, I’m no angel either, I’m sure I’ve said things that our kids didn’t need to hear in their vicinity. It’s just one of those things I keep working on.

  5. Laura Weldon says:

    So true. I teach non-violence classes and a major principle is drawing forth the best in others even in the most difficult circumstances. Yours is a very similar approach. As long as you are using a truth the child can identify (otherwise he’ll quickly feel manipulated) it has transformative power. It’s the same with ourselves. We might be having a stressful day, and the self-talk we engage in either out loud or in our heads has the power to bring forth light or darkness. It’s always a choice. Thanks for bringing the choice to our awareness.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Children do have an in-built b**s**t detector when it comes to adults: so getting that truth and all the body language etc to match is vital. I agree with the self talk too, so easy to be down on ourselves.

  6. Juliana says:

    This is a great reminder. I’ll be thinking of extra nice things to say this very evening. 🙂

    • kloppenmum says:

      I always like being reminded of things like this, too. It’s so easy (stressed, tired, end of the day) to focus on the frustrating bits of their personalities. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. blaxter says:

    So true – excellent post. In the groupwork I’m running with children who have the most difficult backgrounds and are not managing in school, we give feedback individually at the start of the next session, about them in the session before (if you follow!), and they hang on our every word, desperate to hear what we will say about them. We too pick out the good values that were shown, along with the evidence, and you can see them grow. George Kelly (he of personal construct psychology) maintains you can’t move to a position you have no construct for. Which I think is what we are all saying really.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thanks Blaxter,
      It’s great to have someone with your qualifications backing up what I’m saying here. I completely understand what you say about feedback, sadly it’s so easy for us as parents to focus on the bits that are annoying us to death – forgetting that our children can hear. I can see how the George Kelly position would fit with myself and other people I know, I guess that’s why patterns from the past are so hard to break: they need to be replaced rather than just demolished. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. adhdwith3 says:

    So true–in fact a recent Time magazine article on The Tiger Mom (Amy Chua)–cited a study. It showed that children who were told they worked hard fared better than children who were told they were talented.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Amy Chua has certainly become a household name, hasn’t she? I think she might have taken the ‘hard work’ factor a little far for me, but the theory is the same – I guess…

  9. lilzbear says:

    It’s so flattering that for young kids nothing matters more than what their parents have to say about them. Why not try as hard as possible to make it something positive! Great follow up to Attention Seeking is a big fat lie.

  10. Pipi says:

    Agree! And for us living in Indonesia, the saying goes like this “constantly repeat great and positive words about your child, because it resembles the prayers from parents to their child.” And the same thing for negative words. Let’s avoid them!

  11. That is actually very true!
    When we say bad thinsg about them, we are probably reaffirming the situation, which then just continues.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Hi bokkie,
      I agree, and I really liked what Pipi said about our words being a kind of prayer over our children. Made me very mindful of what I was saying!

  12. I have been using this with Mathias and his baby sister. When I am busy with her (and Mathias is in earshot) I talk to her about how special her brother is. It’s so cute, he will dash glances at me with a big grin on his face. 🙂

    • Karyn says:

      That’s such a cool idea. I can just imagine his little face lighting up and beaming at you. I must try that with the Butterfly about the other two boys. 🙂

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