Today's parents of young children are warned not to praise them too excessively because it will make them praise dependent. But as parents of these parents, we grandparents need to remember how important it is to compliment our adult children for the hard work they're doing to raise our grandchildren.
My daughter still remembers the day she took her 2-year-old to a pediatrician appointment and a woman came up to her and said:
"I was watching how lovingly you held your daughter's hand and spoke to her. There should be more moms like you in the world!"
My daughter said it made her day. The woman told her she was a grandma. Of course -- who else would realize the importance of complimenting a young mom who's doing her job well?
Compliments are often remembered long after they are spoken. They can lift, heal and inspire great things. In his book, Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation, Mike Robbins says that acknowledging others is one of the best things we can do to have a positive impact on the people around us.
He explains that there are two types of acknowledgments: reactive and proactive. "Reactive acknowledgment is based on something that someone has done, not on who they are. Proactive acknowledgment is looking for, finding and communicating what we like, appreciate and admire about other people. We do it for no apparent reason and we do it in a creative, passionate, and genuine way.
When we admire qualities or actions in others, we actually bring out those positive qualities and actions, both in those whom we acknowledge and in life in general. Proactive acknowledgment is very powerful and can be both magical and transformational."
That's exactly the effect that grandma's compliment had on my daughter, and why we should look for more opportunities to acknowledge parents. Parents have a tough job and get very little appreciation for all the hard work they do.
I try to compliment parents whenever I can. If I'm in a restaurant and see a family enjoying each other's company and the children are well behaved, I'll tell them what a joy it is to observe their family. The parents' faces light up immediately.
- It shows them we're paying attention and care.
- We may be the only ones who notice -- their kids and friends probably won't.
- We can be mirrors by reflecting what great parents they are.
- We can reinforce positive behavior.
- We can show them we're part of a team.
In her post, The Dangers of Over-Praising Kids, Dr. Michele Borba shares the three simple, but important, components of effective praise. Although her suggestions are for parents of young children, I believe her "3 S's of Effective Praise" can work for parents of adult children as well.
1. Be specific. Generic "good jobs" don't help our children recognize what they're doing right. But when you highlight what you observed and add "because," it takes the compliment up a notch and reinforces the behavior. Using the example of the grandma again, you could add: "I was watching how lovingly you held your daughter's hand and when you spoke to her that way, I could see how it made your daughter smile."
2. Be short. The amount of praise isn't what makes the difference. One sentence delivered the right way can motivate behavior.
3. Be sincere. Beware of back handed praise or empty flattery. Be sincere when you offer praise and look for a genuine opportunity to acknowledge.
We would all do well to remember Mother Teresa's wise words: "There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread."