Compliments That Actually Mean Something

Everyone loves compliments, right? They give you those warm fuzzies inside and make everyone feel good. (Except for those awkward half compliments like, "Wow, you don't look nearly as tired as you usually do!" - Yeah.. No warm fuzzies there.) 

What might surprise you is just how influential your compliments can be, and why you should think twice before giving them.

Let me tell you something I learned about compliments while working in a preschool. The way you compliment people tells them what you value, or more specifically what you value about the person. 

Don't worry. I not only taught 4 year olds. I also acted like one. 

At one point, I had a somewhat eccentric Director who called us all in for one of our monthly meetings. Apparently, one of the parents had complained about us telling some of the children that they were cute. She asked us to stop. I thought that the aforementioned parent was crazy! Her kid was one of the cute ones. Why was she complaining? 

I was even a little bit angry at first. Doesn't every little girl deserve to hear how pretty she is? To my disgust, the Director thought that this was a brilliant idea, and that we should implement it immediately. We could no longer compliment the children on their looks or their fashion choices. We had to give them real compliments.

Compliments about things that they had control over. ("I love the way you paint with so many colors!")

Compliments about their accomplishments. ("Wow! You ran so fast to catch the ball!")

Compliments about good decisions that they'd made. ("That was so nice of you to share your doll with Suzy! Look how happy you made her!")

At first, it was really difficult. It's so mush easier to tell someone that they're cute or pretty. You don't have to think about it at all. It just comes naturally. But when you tell a little girl that she's pretty all the time, she's going to think that that's what you love most about her. The way you compliment her tells her what you value about her. 

I saw some amazing changes in the children I taught over those next few months, as I started to change the way I praised them. Instead of coming into class saying, "Look at how pretty my t-shirt is Ms. Trish!", they started showing off the things that had a bit more substance. "Ms. Trish, did you know ants have six legs and they're insects? I'm getting smarter, see?" During that time, I learned just how important my students really were. They had so many talents and so much potential to offer.

I don't know about the little girls and boys in your life, but the little children in my class were a lot more important than their looks. They were smart, and funny, and kind. And they loved it when I told them that. It made them want to be smarter, more funny, and kinder. 

Complimenting them on their looks got us no where, because it's something they had no control over. You don't get to pick them, and often you can't change them with having extreme procedures done. Plus, you're not really complimenting the person. You're complimenting their genetics. It doesn't help anyone.

But do you know what does help people? Complimenting them on things that they've worked hard on, or things that they've made a conscious effort to do. Telling someone that you really appreciate how great of a listener they are means so much more than, "Wow, you're so pretty!"

Of course getting complimented on your looks is flattering. It feels nice. But anyone of us could get in a an accident tomorrow and not look so pretty anymore. Thankfully, you're worth more than that! It's nice to let the people in your life know from time to time the real reasons that you value them.

During this meeting, I remember one of the other teachers mentioning, "But every little girl wants to feel pretty!" She was right. Every little girl wants to feel beautiful. Unfortunately, that's because, from a very young age, a lot of praise and attention is given to her looks, more so than to any of her other wonderful qualities. Little girls in our society are told they are "cute," much more often than they are told they are smart. They want people to tell them they're pretty, because we've let them know that that's what we value about them. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if instead of wanting to be pretty every little girl wanted to feel kind, creative, smart, generous, athletic, etc?

I think we'd be a lot better off.


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