I have taught my son a new lesson. It was perfect – it only took me three years. I’ve taught him to undermine his own feelings and seek perfection. I’ve taught him to miss the good and go straight to evaluation mode.
One day I asked him if he would like to explain what happened at the park earlier with the ducks to his dad. He told the detailed story about how the ducks actually opened up his chicken nugget box and gobbled them down. Then he turned to me and said, “Right, mom?” as if I needed to agree to prove the story real.
My heart broke. He is three. It was a wonderful, laughable, sweet moment at the park with his mom and some ducks. Instead of reliving the joy and humor of the experience, I saw him worried about getting the story perfect.
And that’s when it hit me – whatever language I was using as feedback for him, he was sending right back to me.
I didn’t realize how many times I praise with the words “Perfect” or “Yes, that’s right!”
I believe part of being a parent is to grow alongside my child. And this proves it yet again.
I hate perfectionism because I fight with it all day long. But clearly something in my psyche isn’t lining up with my reality if I keep using the term, if I keep writing it in bold letters 100% with golden stars across each page of Larsen’s answers.
And there it is again – this idea of how language creates reality. The reality I am giving to Lars is to seek perfection and there’s only one right answer. But intellectually I know that’s just not true about the world.
I am now realizing how much I cheerlead and coax – “You got this. You can do it. Just try.”
We want to encourage our children, we want to help them succeed. But what if there was another way?
What if we just let go and simply report what we see – “You are trying very hard at riding your new bike. It’s really difficult at first.” What if we just offer this with a genuine smile?
I was surprised when I started to do this. It felt better with my parenting soul. I wasn’t pushing. I wasn’t overzealous in praise.
I was just there to support him in his own way of processing and obtaining results that felt real and right with him. It was a beautiful moment.
When Lars paints a picture, I observe and comment about something real in the picture like, “You used a lot of blue today!” I’ve stopped always saying things like, “You put the eyes in the perfect spot on that face.”
This morning, he put his shirt on all by himself! It was backward and inside out. But he was determined to do it. I was so excited for him, I almost went back to cheerleader mode.
I took a pause and said, “You put your shirt on all by yourself!” That was it. He felt my encouragement without feeling I had an agenda that he had to do it a certain way to please me or get it right. I was beaming and so was he.
Eventually, he will start looking in the mirror to see something is different about the shirt – that the picture isn’t on the front or the tag is by his neck. He will notice, process it, and make the progress he needs to feel comfortable in his shirt. Perhaps, if I catch him before his tries to put it on, I could comment that the tag goes on the back or lay out the shirt with the picture on face down so he can slide it on. I can help by designing the environment toward the end goal a little better.
But for now, I want him to feel happy with his progress. I want to celebrate and feel joyful in the now with him in his cute little toddler shirt backward. He did it himself! I want to hold that memory close to my heart.
I struggle with this encouragement versus praise parenting skill. I don’t want him to turn into a praise junkie or a perfectionist like me. I’ve noticed a shift in myself when I use this new skill. It is helping me reduce my perfectionism. It has opened space for possibilities to feel joy instead of worrying about things out of place or not done good enough, and I’m grateful for my little buddha boy once again.
You can head over to Picklebums to download this free poster like I did.
It’s on the fridge so I can keep learning new things to say instead of “Good job!”