If a child or teen doesn’t have a place to put a compliment, what are they to do with one? What happens when they receive praise and have no place to park it?
More than likely, we’re talking about youngsters that don’t feel very good about themselves; that can be for any number of reasons. But one thing’s for sure: Compliment this kid and you just might have an argument on your hands, if not something worse.
Does the compliment-challenged youngster need to hear positive things from you? Do they NEED to know they did a good job, look fantastic or did something noteworthy? Of course, but we must be careful how we go about it.
Here’s a strategy for getting compliments to “stick.” I call it SPCs or Strategically Placed Compliments. The concept is easy to implement; simply pay the compliment, then immediately redirect the discussion to a predetermined question, the answer to which allows no opportunity for the compliment to be refuted or discounted.
Here’s an example. Years ago, I was in a therapy session with a group of adolescent girls living in a residential treatment facility. One girl was crying … buckets. Another girl was apparently moved by this behavior. She got up from the group, walked across the room, picked up a box of tissue, and offered one to the girl that was crying.
Her sensitivity and caring resulted in a positive gesture; I felt I needed to recognize it. But I also knew that, if I made a “big deal” out of it, the girl carrying the box of tissue probably would find a way to spoil the gesture. Knowing her, I was afraid she might become abrasive with a statement like, “Well, someone had to do it. She just bawls like that all the time! I’m sick of hearing it.”
So, I tossed out an SPC that was immediately followed by a complete change in the conversation. “You know, Sarah, taking that tissue to Mary was a very kind and sensitive thing to do. Thank you. Say, I almost forgot. We are all going out to eat next week. Where would you like to go?” Redirecting the discussion helped the compliment stay put.
A thought: Was the tissue girl’s gesture really done for the benefit of the other group member, or because the tears were making her, the tissue girl, uncomfortable? The offered tissue could have meant, “Stop crying!” Knowing the girl holding the box of tissues, I think that was precisely what it meant, but I chose to frame it as a positive gesture in that moment.
(Since she could not deny her response to the girl’s crying, the tissue girl’s feelings prompting the gesture were something we discussed at length in my next individual session with her. There would be times when I would bring up the issue in the group setting; this was not one of those times.)
Another thought: Would the tissue girl’s message have been different if she had offered the crying girl the whole box instead of one tissue?
SPCs have a cumulative effect, deriving their power from the fact that a youngster doesn’t have the opportunity to toss them back.
But you had better be quick about it!
Psychologist Dr. James Sutton, is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network. This story is from his latest book, Improving a Youngster’s Self-Esteem, revised. www.DocSpeak.com.
image © Tracy Whiteside