Please Let Me Compliment Your Kid Without Ruining It

I’ve observed a horrible phenomenon: the inability to accept a compliment about your employee, spouse, or child.

For example, last week my daughter had a friend spend the night.  The young lady was polite, helpful, interesting, and a true delight to be around.

The next day when her dad picked her up, I told him how great she was. He said, jokingly, “Are you sure you’re talking about my daughter?”

People refuting compliments about their kids is a pet peeve of mine, so I was prepared.

“Yes,” I said looking him straight in the eye and smiling, “she’s truly wonderful.”

He continued to laugh and joke, saying, “Well, if you say so, maybe she was great here, we can’t get her to listen at home.”

Keep in mind this entire exchange happened right in front of his daughter, whose face went from beaming to crestfallen in less than 5 seconds.

Before you write the guy off as a jerk, let me tell you, he’s more the norm than not. I’ve been proactively complimenting kids for over 10 years, and almost every time I tell a parent that I’m impressed with their child, if I say it in front of the kid, the parent will deny it.

They go into some stupid aw shucks routine where they basically refute your praise.

“Oh he’s creative all right, but we can’t get him to do any homework.” or “Glad she behaved for you; we never know from one day to the next.”

Here’s the weird part, the same parent who will gracefully accept a compliment about their kid if the kid isn’t standing there, will deny it if you say it in front of the child.

Weirder yet, even the braggy parents act this way.  Are they afraid that a little slice of positive validation will cause their kid to slack off?

The most common reaction is to go for the cheap laugh, “You can’t be talking about my kid.” Ha-ha!  The adults laugh at how self-effacing you are, but the chance to make your child feel fabulous disappears.

FYI: People act the same way with their employees, and it’s a huge leadership mistake.

Would it really be that challenging to smile and say, “Thanks, we think he’s great too?”

The other thing I’ve noticed is that parents have a harder time accepting compliments about their child’s character than they do their accomplishments. If I say, “Johnny sure is a fast swimmer,” it’s easier for them to nod, and say “yes.”  But if I say “your child is interesting, funny, or helpful,” it’s more uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s habit.  Maybe it’s because people don’t know how to take compliments.  Or maybe it’s hard to believe your kid is wonderful for others because they’re not always perfect for you.

Or maybe it goes even deeper. Maybe it’s because appreciating your kid’s wonderfulness means that part of you might be wonderful too.

Whatever the reason, if you’re guilty of this one – Stop it!  Stop right now.

I don’t care if your kid (or employee) leaves smelly underwear on the floor for a year and has a D in 5 subjects. If they were polite at Johnny’s house and they get a compliment, be gracious and let them savor it.

The only thing better than someone telling your mom, dad or boss that you’re wonderful is when they smile back and say, “Yes, I totally agree!”


Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod specializes in sales force and leadership development.  A sought after speaker, she is author of The Triangle of Truth, a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book.
Visit her Blog – How Smart People Can Get Better At Everything
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Copyright 2011 Lisa Earle McLeod.  All rights reserved.

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