There are numerous books and blog posts out there telling us parents what we should and should not say to our kids. Tell them they are pretty - no, wait, don't. Tell them they are smart. No, only praise them for their efforts. Actually, don't praise them at all, all positive inspiration should be self-driven. Except when you need to sandwich criticisms between positive reflections. It really gets your brain spinning after a while.
I could say I agree with some of it and disagree with some of it. But really, I don't like reading any of it. And for a long time I couldn't put my finger on why when I'm normally such a fan of intentional parenting. Then I realized it isn't what they are saying, its what they are leaving out. They seem to lack sincerity. I say seem to because I don't necessarily think the actual conversations between parent and child are always insincere, its just that spelled out in that do this/don't do that manner, it almost always ends up looking manipulative.
It perpetuates the idea that if I as a parent can only do and say the perfect things my kids won't ever struggle with laziness, self-esteem or pride. I wish it weren't true but my kids are not going to end up perfect, no matter how much I micro-analyze my speech and actions.
Charlotte Mason has written six volumes but her works can be summed up into 20 principles, the first of which is:
Children are born persons. There are many ways one could take that and expound on it. But without even too much digging I can get some meat out by keeping that simple phrase in my mind when it I have conversations with Lucy and Jonah. They are persons, not machines that will give out perfect results if I only give the right input. When I talk to them, I'm talking to a person. A person that, in many conversations, needs something from me - a listening ear, reassurance, ideas to ponder, all of the above?
I don't want to be hypocritical here. If you have been reading this blog for even a short amount of time, I hardly need to tell you that I'm a die hard over-thinker, especially when it comes to parenting and kid issues. I admit it. I've read everything from the Pearls's Train up a Child to Adventure's in Gentle Discipling, plus the original works of Charlotte Mason and Montessori. And Craig and I are overall pretty careful about what we do in our home, even things many people would think are weird. We don't let people hug our kids without their permission and Lucy is 4 and has never owned a reward chart. So I certainly agree with the idea of intentional parenting. But at a certain point, you just gotta trust yourself a bit and respond to the child before you. One can be intentional and still sincere.
Like all children, Lucy struggles with certain issues more than others. But between my own values as a parent and my knowledge of her, I'm likely to focus on the things she probably needs the encouragement with. Do I offer that encouragement or praise because I'm trying to use my emotional connection with her to cajole her into good behavior, No! I can see she is working hard on something and I'm genuinely proud of her for accomplishing it. She doesn't get the same amount of praise when she does something that comes naturally to her.
So, at times, I probably break all those "rules" that I mentioned above. I've praised my children, for what they are and what they do, I tell my little girl she's beautiful princess and my little boy he's a handsome gentleman. I also praise them for their behavior, especially the ones that don't come easily to them. And, sometimes I may even offer up a little bit of constructive criticism! I know, I live on the edge. Does it help if I say I do it with sincerity? I respond to them with what I think they need from me AND what I believe to be true.
A simple and somewhat silly example.
Lucy draws a really great picture that I can see took her lots of time and effort. I'm really impressed by it. She asks me what I think and my response - I tell her that I love it. It's great! We need to show Daddy when he gets home (and then I do). It was a really cool dinosaur and I still smile when I think about it. True story.
Am I saying that because I want to inspire her to create more works of art? Or am I forcing myself not to praise her even though I want to because I'm afraid of the negative ramifications? No, I'm being sincere.
Lucy draws the same horse that she has drawn 99 times already. I'm unimpressed because she's already shown me an identical horse three times in the last 30 minutes. She shows it to me and my response - "Another one, you really like to draw horses."
Am I forcing myself to find something to praise? No, I'm just saying something so she stops shoving the piece of paper in my face and sincerely wishing I could get back to the task I was trying to complete. (And if you are judging me for the above honestly, you probably don't have a preschooler. They can be slightly egotistical at times but yet, still demand dinner later on.)
I don't have to analyze the situation to see what response would be the best. I don't have to worry that I'm praising too much or wonder if that was directed at her efforts or her outcome or will my having an opinion on her drawing diminish her in-born love of drawing or maybe my lack of compliments will lead her to think she doesn't have skills in the area of art so she won't pursue that even if it's a passion or perhaps I'll over-praise her and convince her she is more talented than she really is which will lead to her dropping out of school to embark on a career in the art field even though she lacks talent and now she'll end up homeless and without an education to support herself. Ack! What have I done? My child is now homeless!
No, I can be sincere. See how simple that is? Why do we make everything so complicated?