Wednesday, July 21, 2010

complimentary campaign

i think compliments are like little gifts that make the world a happier place. and they're free to give, so that makes them even better. i give compliments to strangers, particularly store employees, regularly, sort of like i see it as my quest to brighten what might otherwise be a totally crappy day. after working retail & waiting tables for over a decade, i know that most people are rude to those who serve them in public. so i want to lighten the load a little by telling that lady that her shoes are cute. or the display she just made is better than any in that other store across town. or that i appreciate her for taking the time to stop stocking that shelf to walk me over to the jar of tahini that i just couldn't find.

compliments are important. they take you outside of yourself & create an atmosphere of giving, if only in your own head. they make you pay attention and observe the world around you rather than being self absorbed. receiving compliments can take a bad day & make it sunny again. they matter. for real.

but my child has a serious aversion to giving compliments of any kind to humans. she'll compliment a rock or a dog or sand or an iguana - anything in the world of nature, but she HATES to say anything unnecessarily nice to another person. this troubles me. i try to fish them out of her sometimes or encourage her to say nice things to her friends, but she get so squirmy & obviously uncomfortable that i usually let it drop.

when she was younger, i tried to coax her toward niceties - once i told her i loved her & as usual, she just kept playing like she didn't hear me. i asked her if she loved me too & she said, "you're the best kangaroo ever." another time i looked at her sweetly & smiled. then i told her my eyes were saying they loved her (most kids figure such things out, but brooke doesn't) and her response was "my belly is saying you're very powerful." i told her once i'd missed her after being apart for a few days. she replied, "happy waxy day!"

so, i've started a new campaign. a complimentary campaign for the purpose of helping brooke to get over this phobia. i was talking to my mom about it & we devised a plan to help my girl work through this & hopefully at the end kindness will flow freely from her face. mom seems to think that training for compliments should be like training kids to have good manners. we'll see.

the rules are, she has to compliment a person, not an animal or inanimate object. she has to do it within hearing of an adult who knows the rules. the person she says it to has to hear her. she will get a treat of some sort (7 1/2 chocolate chips or a juice pop is the going rate) after doing so, but not more than once a day. she has to think of it herself, not copy a suggestion that someone else made.

the first day i explained this, about 2 weeks ago, she got all tight & nervous. i could tell she was wanting the treat, but she detested the idea that she'd have to push through her fear & actually say something nice. she claims that she often thinks nice things about others in her head, she just doesn't like to say them out loud. she went off & laid under a table for a while, just staring into space & then came over & said to me, "sophie (the cat)'s bravery is the color of your shirt." i had no idea what she was talking about. i didn't know that was supposed to be the compliment. she started getting flustered when i said that ok, so bravery must be burgundy. she likes to give colors to emotions, so that wasn't strange. but she informed me that she was ready for her treat since she'd delivered her first compliment. what? i figured out that she was actually trying to compliment sophie for being brave rather than say something nice to me, so she tied it in to my shirt in hopes that it would qualify. nope. then she stuttered & sputtered for a minute - "your shirt, the color... and your color... i like.... OOOHHH!" she put her hands on her hips & said loudly, "I LIKE THE COLOR OF YOUR SHIRT!"

that was sooo hard for her! but she was pleased with herself for getting her reward, so she gave me the same one the next day. and the next. after the third day i told her it was time to come up with a new one. something that maybe was actually about me or daddy, not a compliment to a color. she tried saying, "i like the flower on your hat (big, floppy straw hat worn only in the sun). your clown hat." nope. when you add an insult in, it erases the compliment.

since then i've heard,
"i like your big pockets on your shorts."
"you're nice." (she couldn't come up with an actual instance when i was nice, but at least it referred to my character, rather than my clothes.)
"you're smart because you can do math problems that i can't do."
"i like the pearls on your necklace."
"your hair is good." (this after i explained that when someone changes an appearance thing, it's nice to notice & comment appreciatively.)
"you're as funny as the cats."

i think we're making some progress. eventually i hope it will become second nature & no rewards will be required. until then i'll just have fun listening to her muddle her way through this complimentary campaign, performing like a puppy for treats.


  1. That's definitely progress. In dogs we use rewards for behavior modification. In kids we use rewards for character improvement. Every tiny step forward is worth those 7 1/2 chocolate chips, soon to be 8. You're doing a good job navigating these waters, and you only have about ten more years before the ship sails away, so persevere with confident optimism! I'm proud of both of you.

  2. My father needs some of this "therapy." You are such a great mother...

  3. thanks, mom, for helping me to evolve the idea. i think it's actually working. i've even seen her hold doors in store for strangers the past 2 days & a couple other little nice things i've never seen her do before, so something's changing for the good.
    and missy, maybe you could reward your dad with little treats. what does he love, but not get very often?... or shouldn't i ask? lol.

  4. I like the 7 1/2 chocolate chips! Good idea!

  5. it just seems right since she's 7 1/2. thanks for the reads, burkulater! =)


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