Monday, March 12, 2012

What Do You Think?: Giving Compliments

Cecelia and her friends are walking down the hall talking about the upcoming school play. They are excited because this year’s play will be the “Wizard of Oz.” The bell rings and Cecelia and all her friends split up and go to their different classes. As Cecelia walks to her math class, she stops and looks at the roster for the play. She sees that the lead part of Dorothy will be played by Sally. Cecelia has never talked to Sally, even though they sit near each other in a few classes and pass each other in the halls all the time. When Cecelia gets to class she sits down next to Sally and feels like she should congratulate her on the leading part. Cecelia feels weird giving Sally a compliment since they don’t ever talk, and she normally only compliments her friends. But Cecelia taps Sally’s arm and says, “I saw you’re going to be Dorothy in the 'Wizard of Oz' play. Congratulations and break a leg. I’m sure you’ll be great.” Sally and Cecelia both smile.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. How do you think this made Sally feel? Do you think it meant more to her coming from Cecelia rather than from a friend? Why or why not?
  2. Do you ever compliment people you don’t know, or only friends and family? Why?
  3. Can you remember the last time you got a good compliment? What was it about and how did that make you feel? How do you feel when you give a compliment?
  4. Do you think compliments based on skill, like getting the lead in a play, are more meaningful that ones based on appearance, such as wearing a cute shirt? Why or why not?
  5. What kind of compliments do you usually give? What kind do you usually get?

** Many youth hear negative feedback on a regular basis, such as how they forgot to do their homework or their chores, or even verbal abuse from peers or adults. Positive feedback can encourage them to make them feel like they are doing something correct.

** Complimenting a child or adolescent on something they worked hard to accomplish can make them feel like their hard work has paid off, thereby encouraging them to continue to work hard on tasks.

** Deeper compliments, involving accomplishments and inner beauty, often have longer lasting effects, than  superficial compliments on outer beauty or appearance.

** Positive support from people kids know and trust, feelings of belonging, and knowing they can trust people in their lives are important parts of preventing youth violence (including assault, bullying, and suicide).

** Kids who learn to accept meaningful compliments based upon their achievements and identity, in-addition to constructive feedback, will have more positive results with their overall self-esteem and abilities. Meaningless compliments and rewards for minimal efforts could lead to false outer confidence with deeper routed insecurities.

** Over-praise could lose its genuineness, as well as teaching a kid that things every day tasks will only be done for a reward. Rewarding/complimenting a positive effort, such as a kid deciding to befriend the new kid at school without anyone telling them they have to, will provide positive reinforcement and can motivate more positive behavior. If a kid does not elicit a lot of effort and is constantly praised, it can reinforce the idea that they do not have to try as hard to be rewarded.

** Too much or too little praise can teach a kid to be more reliant on the beliefs of others, as opposed to how they think and feel. It is important for kids to have internal motivation, as opposed to just praise-driven external motivation. It may be better in the long run to teach kids to say, “I did it!” as opposed to “Look at me!”

** Consistency in praise and feedback is important in keeping expectations of kids balanced- not too high or not too low.

** The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A "Good job!" to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.

** Specific praise like, "I really like how you held the door open for me," or "Great job taking your time and sounding out those hard words; I know it wasn't easy," is often much more meaningful to kids (and adults) than saying “Nice work,” or “Good job,” because it provides actual feedback on something they did and shows that someone is paying attention, therefore validating their efforts.

** Compliments and praise (from others and the self) can have a positive impact when they come from a place of unconditional love with reasonable expectations.

How Mentors Can Help With This:

** Leave post-it compliments like the ones in the image on their binder, on their homework, on their cell, especially after completing something they put a lot of effort into. It will be a simple reminder of why they are worthy.

** When talking with your mentee about compliments, help them make sure to avoid complimenting peers on appearance. For example, let's say you mentor a 6th grade boy. When he makes that transition into junior high, he's likely to notice his female peers and their physical changes. Encourage him to not make note of the girls' appearances, how they dress, make-up they wear, etc. Explain why it can be detrimental to only notice the "outer beauty".

** Talk to your mentee about times when each of you has received compliments and how that made you each feel. Talk about a compliment that meant a lot to each of you, a compliment that did not mean anything to each of you, and a compliment that actually made each of you feel worse… and why each of you felt that way.

** Discuss compliment giving and how it feels to tell someone else something that might make them feel better. Talk about times when they have put others or themselves down (sharing your own examples when appropriate) and how they think it made the other person feel, as well as how it made them feel. Talk about the motivation behind positive and negative compliments. Encourage people to tell someone when they have done a good job, look really nice, have been a good friend, etcetera.

** Talk about who a compliment comes from and how that may or may not shape the meaning of the compliment. Ask your mentee, of all the people who can or do give them compliments, who it means the most from (parents, friends, teachers, etcetera) and why.

** Consider what the compliment is about. Discuss compliments about achievements, reaching a goal, appearance, and possessions. Let this lead into talking about what kind of compliments are the most meaningful and why.

** Talk about whether or not it is hard to accept compliments and how compliments make us feel. Encourage the use of “thank you” when receiving compliments.

** Ask your mentee if they think there is such a thing as negative compliments. Go over the following and come up with examples of each, as well as brainstorming ways to avoid using these on other people and how to respond when these are received.

  • False Praises: compliments or rewards for something you did not do (One example of this might be getting an “A” for a paper that you copied.)
  • Sarcasm: worded like compliments but meant to imply the opposite (One example of this might be if someone says “Nice shirt,” when they are intending to make fun of the shirt.)
  • Empty compliments: people saying things they do not mean to be please someone, which could be a friend or authority figure, which usually do not have meaning
  • Back-handed compliments: a compliment and insult in one (ie: “You’re pretty good at this job, for a girl.” Or “You’re very smart… for a boy.”

** On a regular basis, it is important to encourage your mentee. Ask them about things more and praise hard work, kindness, and positive attitudes. Encourage them to have internal motivation and positive self-images. Role modeling these things for them is important as well.

Additional Resources:

Kids host a Compliment Day

5 reasons to stop saying, "Good Job"

Do We Compliment Too Much?

8 Best Ways to Treat Your Teens

Complimenting ADHD kids

How to Take Compliments

Building a Teen's Self-Esteem

Other Tips for Complimenting Kids

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