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I feel quite bad about this, but I often don't praise my 4 year old son for good behaviour because I feel self conscious about it. I am not entirely sure why, but I feel awkward around saying "good job" or pointing out something he does well. My wife is not judgmental and she is quite good at these kinds of behaviours herself. However, even when I'm proud that he did something well I find it almost impossibly difficult to say so.

I suppose the low hanging fruit here would be to find strategies to express my happiness in a way that works with my current mindset, so I'd be happy to hear such strategies as well. However, I'm really looking for ways to be more expressive of my praise and get over my own feelings.

For what it's worth, my parents were loving and praised me quite a bit. I am usually not good at taking complements, but I doubt it was due to how I was raised.

  • A couple questions: How do you treat your's or your wife's personal achievements? What is your current mindset? Feeling awkward about saying something isn't usually a cause - it's a symptom. Why do you feel awkward? – Calvin Smythe May 16 at 18:54
  • Interesting question. I feel that I am personally successful at many things and not successful at others. In general I feel that things are going well and that they are going well because of mine and my wife's efforts. However, at times I objectively succeed at something I look for ways to justify it as a fluke or some other reason not attributable to my own actions. I look up to my wife and think that in general she accomplishes more as a parent than myself. – Awkward May 16 at 19:00
  • In another context I have read and experienced something similar. What worked is faking it for awhile, then it starts to become a genuine and habitual thing. Kinda like exercise. Do it when you even don't want to, over time you get addicted. – Adam Heeg May 16 at 19:43
  • @AdamHeeg: I agree that might do it, but the problem is getting over the initial inertia to start faking it till I make it... – Awkward May 16 at 19:46
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    Keep in mind that praise should be used when something above and beyond occurred-- either remarkable success, or remarkable effort (even if it didn't lead to success). Excess praise of good-but-normal-for-your-kid actions can actually be counterproductive. If gushing isn't your style, a passive acknowledgement of what happened with an approving tone of voice can be even more appropriate (i.e. "That was hard, but you did it" or "You rode down the big hill even though you were scared") It's okay to skip the direct praise (like "You're smart!" or "That was good!). – Meg May 17 at 14:48
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No one (including yourself) knows the reason why you feel awkward, so addressing how to get over it at the root end is difficult. Which leaves you with two options: keep silent or force yourself to act contrary to your feelings.

Lots of people act contrary to their feelings all the time: they hold doors open for others when they have other needs to attend to, they listen to a colleague talk on when they would rather be working, they're polite to a rude boss, they give lectures to a crowd even though they hate speaking in public, they take their kids to the zoo even though they are tired, they take their kids sledding even though they themselves hate the cold, they give their child rewards/bribes for particular behaviors even though they believe a child should do something because it's important for them to, etc.

You probably get where I'm going with this from the last examples: you probably already do things you don't feel like doing as a parent. This is another one which may be more uncomfortable, but one none the less. The answer (without knowing the cause) is to just do it regardless of how you feel for your child's sake. Your child isn't mature enough to go without some positive reinforcement, thinking he knows you approve. That might fly sometimes, but not an entire childhood.

The issue of when to praise is a different one, but the maxim is praise the process, not the outcome. The idea is to praise what the child has power over (e.g. their decisions/actions) and not only the end result (e.g. their success). But whatever you believe about praise, you need to start overcoming your feelings about it and just start doing it.

If you still can't, it's time for a little intervention. A few weeks with a good therapist might help you understand why you feel such an aversion to doing something you think should be done, and a few more can give you some ways (and reasons) to overcome your awkwardness.

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Is it the words “Good job!” that bother you, or the effusive tone in which they are frequently delivered by other parents? Also, is it all praise that eludes you, or does it just seem to you that some types of commonly accepted forms of praise for children are over the top?

(Similarly, do all compliments make you uncomfortable, or only those that make too much of something that you found to be relatively easy? “Great job mailing that letter!”)

Everybody likes to be seen and appreciated. Praise is part of this when it makes it clear that the person doing the praising understands and appreciates the amount of effort you put forth. For example, you probably wouldn’t mind it if your wife said, “Thanks so much for surprising me with that beach vacation I’ve always wanted! That was awesome! I really appreciate it!” because you probably put a lot of work into it, and you weren’t 100% sure that she really wanted to go, so you like being told that you got it right. But if she said, “Wow, you did a great job buckling Jimmy into his car seat! Thanks so much for keeping him safe!” you’d be rightfully annoyed at her implication that your son’s safety was something difficult or extravagant for you. Worse, it would be condescending for her to imply that she has a right to thank you for it, when his safety is your concern as much as hers.

Children need to be seen and appreciated and encouraged in order to develop properly, but your style does not have to be the same as your wife’s. When deciding whether (and how) to praise your son for something, think about how hard it was for him to do it, and then think how you would like to be acknowledged for something similar. If you are made self-conscious at the thought of imitating the high-pitched, overly enthusiastic (to your ear) praise of other adults, fear not. As Meg says, a quiet, descriptive acknowledgment of a tough accomplishment, or a brief “I liked the way you included that other boy in your game,” or a quick “Good job,” for a routine task before moving on, can also give your child that warm, confident feeling inside. And occasionally, if his accomplishment is something he has worked on for a while and he himself is very proud of it, the three of you might have a little celebration.

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