In Social Skills Series #6: Acts of Kindness, I wrote a little about how to encourage your children to give compliments. I hope you took my advice and reminded them to speak up and compliment a peer who says something clever, or wears a cool shirt, or performs an act of kindness for someone else.
Giving compliments is an exercise in considering the feelings of others. The kid who comes to school with her hair in an up-do might not know how fancy and grown-up she looks. She might be going through the day painfully self-conscious about her hair and wishing she had worn it in braids like usual. When your kid gives her a compliment, though, suddenly the up-do was a good decision, and she feels good about herself. She rewards your child with a big smile and a thank-you. Both of them get a nice little spark of dopamine in their reward centres, and both are likely to repeat the behaviours. The little girl will put her hair up again, and your kid will go on complimenting people. Building the habit early could have a positive effect on their relationships throughout their lives.
Of course, there is one catch. The positive experience described above could have been spoiled if the little girl had rejected your child’s compliment. “No, I look like a freak!” she could have said. Now your child is hurt and insulted. Everyone loses.
Accepting compliments with grace can be challenging for some kids, and for many adults as well, but it’s an important social skill, and the first step in teaching it to your children is to model it in your own behaviour. Pay attention to how you react to compliments. Do you feel embarrassed? Patronized? Are you dismissive? Or do you accept the compliment with a simple “thank you,” even if you disagree?
I had this piano student, Chelsea. She’s a funny kid, good for a little improvised banter. Once I asked her whether she had any questions, and she said, “Yes, I do: How did you get so beautiful?”
She’s a smooth talker, that one. “Hey, I have beautiful parents, that’s all!” was my response.
Chelsea also had a tendency (not uncommon) to let her eyes drift away from the music book while she was playing, so that she was looking at me. Her playing would slow to a stop, and then she would just be staring at me, her head cocked to one side. On days when she was tired or distracted she did this so frequently that it was actually quite comical, and I just kept reminding her, “Look at the book, Chelsea, not at me. Chelsea, eyes on the book. Eyes on the book. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me.”
Once, when she turned her head to look at me, I said, “Chelsea…” and she interrupted me.
“I wasn’t looking at you!” she said, her eyes darting from side to side. “I was just…thinking!”
“…about how beautiful you are!”
I confess, I lost my composure and crumpled into a laughing ball of mirth at that one. I’m sure I thanked her for the compliment, though, and since she was obviously trying to make me laugh, my laughter was, in a way, a compliment in return.
Take it when you can get it, is what I say! We all suffer from self-doubt from time to time. Accept compliments with grace, even when they make you feel awkward or embarrassed, and remind your children to do the same. Teach them to return kindness with kindness.
RECOMMENDED: 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills by Lawrence E. Shapiro
Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed.