Sunday, February 17, 2008

Keeping it Real

I encountered one of my parenting pet peeves today. Well, two of them actually.

We were at a race this morning (my parents are runners, and register the girls for some kiddie races at locations we like - today was the Rose Bowl). We were a little early, so I let the girls play at the playground for a bit. All around me, parents - moms and dads - were using their high-pitched, "talking to children" voices. This sound, to me, resembles nails on a chalkboard.

This is something that bugged me when I was a kid as well. If people weren't speaking to me in their real voices, to me, I wasn't being taken seriously. (Yep, I was a precocious little brat.) I hated being patronized.

A certain coloring, sure, but I don't understand the jump in octave when talking to kids versus talking to adults. And I wonder, too, at what age do the parents decide their normal voice is acceptable to use? Or, is this what the parents consider their public voice? Is it a necessary component of suburbia - and why I never fit in there?

The other thing was the use of empty praise. You know: "Wow, Amber, good job getting up there!" "You really went down that slide, Ashley!"

I can understand praise when your child makes it across the monkey bars all by themselves for the first time, or when your child says, "did you see me? Did you see me?" But how fast they slide? Are they really praising their child for gravity?

I'm all for keeping a child's self-esteem up, but there seems to be a prevailing sentiment lately that children must be praised for everything they do throughout the day - from getting out of bed to putting on their jammies - that I think negates the real praise for a real job well done.

It recalls an observance I made last year, when on a plane on our way home from Orlando. There were several families (big surprise), and in front of us was a family of four.

The daughter, probably 5, kept drawing pictures and interrupting her mother's conversation with another adult to hear her mother say, "nice job, honey." This went on about a dozen times until the mother started to tire of the game. She tried to cajole her son into playing instead, but he was having none of it.

It put into focus what I'd read in Liberated Parents Liberated Children, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, which had first brought to my attention the needlessness of empty praise. The girl wasn't understanding what was "nice" about her drawings. She was getting more and more frantic, drawing faster and more furiously, to elicit a different response.

Eventually, the girl started to melt down, crying and whining, and the mother got more and more exasperated until she finally just gave up and got her husband to deal with it. The father distracted the girl with something else.

I made the decision then and there to attempt to never be guilty of empty praise again. It's not easy. We've heard so many parents do it for so long, it becomes part of what we think our roles are as parents. But each time I slipped into that habit, my girls would resemble the girl on the plane - trying different things to elicit a different response to help them understand what was "good" or "nice" about what they were doing. Now that I'm more in tune to it, I can usually break the cycle before it gets vicious, using descriptive words instead to say what I like about their drawing, their dancing, their singing...

And in the end, it just seems easier to me to keep it honest. As my daughter would say, "I'm just saying..."


Anonymous said...

Well, I have to admit that I am guilty of empty praise. I am well aware of the problems with it, but like you said, it's a hard habit to break because it is all around us. I've read that instead of saying "good job" and "I love that!" you should say "I really like the way you used the purple to trace the eyes" or something to that effect. I try to use that as best as I can. And while sometimes my voice goes up an octave with my son, it's usually when I'm mad. Hahaha! He has quite the vocabulary for a four year old, his teacher is amazed at his conversational level and I think it's because I've always talked to my son like an adult. Not that I didn't do baby talk when he was a baby or anything.

MarĂ­a said...

Okay. Your daughter stole my signature line.

And I don't think I praise enough. I need to work on that.

LunaNik said...

Interesting...the whole empty praise thing...

I'll hafta take more notice in what I'm doing to see if I'm guilty...I probably am

As for the high octave parenting voice, I probably do that too...BUT, now that I'm conscience of it I will probably stop. Geez, it really is annoying isn't it?!

Anonymous said...

To be fair the high pitched talking is known to stimulate brain activity in infants, but towards older children it is just demeaning. I think what I would have found most annoying about the "empty praise" mother is the fact that she was allowing a child obviously old enough to know better to interrupt her, Audrey is not allowed to interrupt me just as Ed and I are not allowed to interrupt her - and you know what, she gets it and she gets mad if we interrupt her but if we wait until she is done saying what she has to say and then go ahead and change the subject or ignore her completely she is fine.

Not sure if I am personally guilty of empty praise but I will certainly be on the lookout for it now.

Tara R. said...

I have found that with anything kids react better to specifics... praise, instructions, discipline. I always hated hearing parents 'baby talk' to their kids. I think that is one reason some kids are so delayed in their own speech.

Amy said...

You know what else is annoying? When people put on a fake accent to speak to someone that doesn't speak English. Like talking slow and dumb is really going to help them understand you. That drives me nuts!
My dad was an immigrant, that's why it gets my goat!

Peggy Sez.. said...

No more empty praise? Geez what am I going to do with all that extra time I have after the "BRUSH YOUR TEETH" screaming match? ;p

Thanks for stopping by
(This is NOT empty thanks)
BlogHopping Back 'atcha

Mary said...

Oh I totally agree with the high pitched voices adults will use with children. It drives me nuts! I might talk a little sweeter to a child/baby but I won't be squeeky! ha ha ha
Thanks for checking out my blog :)

Moments Mom said...

I agree with the high pitched voices. And I also didn't like it as a child (almost as bad as that pinch-the-cheek thing - ugh! what's that about!?)

I'm going to check myself on the empty praise, too. I think you're absolutely right. How will they know when you really mean it (or they really deserve it).

KG said...

I'd be happy if somebody gave me empty praise!