Praise Your Kid (and Your Friends' Kids)? I Think Not

My friend Alice saved my day. I usually rely on my mother to be available to take care of my daughter, Elise, at any moment, so I often forget to ask in advance whether she is available. Yesterday I realized I needed coverage for Elise during my one-hour appointment. Alice not only offered to take her, she said to consider it a gift when I offered compensation, a god-send!

When I went to pick up after the appointment, I found both the girls frolicking in the back yard, laughing and splashing in the water table. This is exactly how I want my daughter to spend the summer: playing in the backyard eating watermelon and playing with friends. 

As we were wrapping up things, Alice said, "I just got this feeling that Elise is really smart, like she's figured out a lot already and she'll need extra challenges at school." She described how Elise had figured our straight away that there is a plug at the bottom of the water table to drain it. "Kendal has never figured that out!" She said there was an intelligence about Elise. I soaked up the praise, feeling proud of my daughter while hearing these things that affirm what I want to see in my child. At the same time, I felt the need to reciprocate a compliment, but feared that I would not sound genuine because it had obviously been prompted by the first compliment. 

I find that I rarely compliment other people, and I almost never start the compliment cycle raining praise upon my friends' children. To be fair, I think praising your kids is not a good practice in general unless it is pointed praise (see here for more details). I was trying to think whether this is because my mother rarely compliments other peoples' children or if it is an insecurity of my own that inhibits the kind words. I think the way I feel that I am betraying my own child by complimenting other children in front of her. As a parent, aren't I supposed to feel like my child is the best in the world? And imagine how my daughter would feel if I commented on how smart or beautiful a friend's daughter is? I know for myself, hearing my mother give even the slightest hint of preferential treatment to another person my age rears the envious monster inside me. 

I do see the good and positive qualities in other people, but I am rarely the first to point these out. Usually I bring up my observations after being prompted by someone else starting the compliment loop. I wish I were different, but at the same time I know how I feel when someone in my family gives these compliments to others. Finding a balance of building my own child's confidence while recognizing others is the challenge.