Category Archives: Parenting

How to Give a Great Compliment

“The Sound of Purple Rain” Mimi Stuart ©

While it’s nice to say, “You’re terrific” or “You’re so smart,” there are much better, more meaningful ways to compliment a person.

A great compliment is both specific and personal. The compliment praises the individual for a particular characteristic, act or behavior, and it highlights the effect it has on oneself or others.

For example, “When I see you walk into the room, my heart lights up and I feel lucky to know you.”

“The way you handle hardship with tenacity, courage and a good attitude has inspired me to try to do the same during these difficult times.”

“Your way with words makes even the most ordinary conversation interesting and enjoyable.”

“Your beaming smile is contagious and makes me feel happy.”

“I admire how you see the bigger picture and understand nuanced and multiple viewpoints in a world where people are often too one-sided.”

“Your painting brings to life the joy and beauty in the melancholy of rain.”

Another example of a great compliment is from the movie “As good as it gets,” where Melvyn, played by Jack Nicholson, concludes his oblique compliment by saying, “You make me want to be a better man.”

Compliments that are specific and personal can’t help but make someone feel good.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Seeking approval:
“Why doesn’t my father appreciate me and all that I have accomplished?”

"Bicicletas para Alquilar" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Bicicletas para Alquilar” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

In the presence of close family members we often revert back to the way we were when we were children. We may still crave approval that we feel we never received. Siblings may easily trigger us.

The trouble with seeking approval is threefold:

1. The approval we seek may be sought from someone who is incapable of giving it.

2. The more we yearn for that outside approval, the less likely we are to receive it. Often people who are reluctant to give approval are negatively triggered by those who yearn for it.

3. By the time we are adults, the disapproval we sense has become internalized. Therefore, we have to generate the approval we seek within ourselves rather than seeking it from others.

Even if your father finally sees the light and says, “You are amazing! I am so proud of you,” you will probably not feel that magical feeling of self-worth you’ve desired for so long. By the time you’re an adult, the feeling of inadequacy stems from your own inner voice—that internal voice that has been with you so long.

Transforming the internal voice

It is up to you to transform the voice in your head. This may be as difficult as transforming your real father. However, it’s a relief to know that we actually have considerable control over our own thinking.

We can develop new habits of thinking and thereby create that sought-after approval or desired peace of mind. You need to catch yourself every time you have a negative thought and replace it with a positive one.

For instance, when you hear an inner voice saying, “You’ll probably botch the interview,” replace it with, “I will prepare for this interview as well as I can.”

When you say to yourself, “I’m the dumbest person here,” with “Nobody here is perfect; I’ll just do my best.”

Replace the thought, “I’m never good enough for him and he won’t appreciate me,” with a more positive thought: “Too bad for him that he isn’t able to show his appreciation, but I know I did a good job.”

After fifty or a hundred thought replacements, each successive one becomes easier. After a few hundred or thousand replacements, the habit of negative thinking will have changed. It sounds like a lot of effort, but we have many thoughts a day, and it’s better to start changing our thinking now than continue with negative thinking.

Constructive thinking, which is encouraging, useful, and pleasant, will become more automatic, and you will no longer crave or need approval from the outside. Ironically, when people stop craving approval from others, their confidence grows, which makes it more likely that they will gain approval from those closest to them.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Feeling Shame: ‘I’m not worthy to be loved.’”

Read “Rebuilding your Life: ‘How do I silence their abusive voices in my head, stop being hard on myself and start living?’”

Does rewarding good grades with money work?

“Mastery” — Tiger Woods by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When money is used to reward children for activities that should have inherent value, they tend to lose interest in the activity as well as long-term motivation. Also, monetary reward can reduce creativity and encourage unethical behavior such as cheating.

There is an exception. When a task is repetitive, boring and doesn’t require creativity, such as pulling weeds or vacuuming, then paying money can increase productivity (although paying for chores is another topic.)

Giving a child money for good grades reduces the child’s sense of achievement and ownership. Money becomes the motivation — not learning, meeting the challenges of school, or improving oneself.

Three Elements to Motivation

In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink shows that there are three primary elements to motivation in all but the most repetitious monotonous work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

1. Autonomy: Allowing people maximal autonomy in figuring out how, when and with whom to accomplish their work increases inventiveness and performance.

2. Mastery: Mastery is approached through engagement, effort and practice.

3. Purpose: Inspiration is personally acquired; it can’t be supplied by other people, though it can be diminished. When people find a purpose greater than their own self-interest, their drive intensifies.

When your child gets good grades, the learning and the grades themselves are generally reward enough. Much of the purpose of schoolwork is to teach a child how to plan, analyze, and think creatively. Schoolwork also teaches two of the most important keys to a fulfilling and happy life:

– the ability to delay gratification and

– the ability to tolerate frustration.

Schoolwork should convey knowledge and encourage children to set goals and achieve them. The inherent appeal of learning and achieving goals are undermined when the purpose of schoolwork becomes making money. In contrast, achieving good grades without being paid for them allows children to have ownership over their accomplishments and to feel pride in their own autonomy.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

*Recommended : Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

Read “Inspire vs. Pushing: ‘Why don’t you just believe in yourself!'”

Screen Time
From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik

“Think” – Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

I sometimes joke that in a few millennia humans will have evolved into stooped beasts able only to look down at whatever glowing device they hold in one hand. But, how naïve; of course, Apple will trump Darwin and implants will preserve our posture. What though of our ability to distinguish between virtual reality and…well, reality? What of our ability to pay attention to one another and to the world around us?

Alarmist hyperbole? Walk into any restaurant, any sporting event, any school, any place at all where people are gathered, and look around. How many people do you see looking at a screen—or two? How often do you see a family of four eating together when each of them is looking at a phone? How often do you see people sitting next to one another, each on a device and never exchanging a word or a look? Exactly.

This is old news by now, so old that we barely remember the quaint days of yore when we scoffed at people bellowing pressing news into their cellphones: “I’m in the vegetable aisle at the market. Where are you?” As we’ve become increasingly inured to the beeping, pinging, quacking, barking, and ringing that intrude on our lives, we veer from grudging acknowledgement of a problem to celebrating the cleverness of the marketing geniuses who sell us so much of what we so rarely need. What we don’t do is address the problem for what it is: an addiction.

More alarmist hyperbole? Ok. How often do you check your email, texts, and social media? How often without justifying it, without thinking that you might better spend your time in other ways? Do you dare to calculate the number of hours in a day, week, or year that you spend on your devices, “connecting” with other people or, more accurately, their avatars? What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last before you go to sleep? Can you cut back? Can you stop? No, you can’t, but, really, so what? How harmful is this so-called addiction?

We’re beginning to find out, to go beyond the anecdotal and actually find out. Two recent studies provide some answers: We risk brain function; we risk our ability to engage with other people; we risk the ability to pay attention to one thing for very long. We risk our cognitive ability; our emotional equilibrium, and we risk depression. We risk altering or destroying relationships with the people we love because we don’t pay attention them. We risk friendships and, yes, we risk that vague notion of “happiness.”

Have a look at some specific findings.

“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

“Your Smartphone Reduces Your Brainpower, Even If It’s Just Sitting There”

When I showed these articles to a friend of mine, she asked me how I thought parents might best talk to their children about the problem. I think a better question is how adults and children can talk with each other about it. Two parents wielding cellphones and warning children about the dangers of too much screen time is akin to two parents wielding martinis and warning children about drinking. Besides, it is axiomatic that children have robust powers of observation. Even very young children miss little that occurs in their families; adolescents miss next to nothing. We adults aren’t fooling anyone. If it’s true that young people stand to lose the most from “screen addiction,” it’s also true that adult addiction can have an equally profound impact.

So, how do we talk with our children about all of this? We can save time and avoid the, “When I was your age” trope; and we can skip the Luddite vs. techno-savvy argument because we share the same addiction. Given those time-savers, we might consider discussing what’s important in our lives, what’s wonderful about what we share as families, what’s cool and useful about our devices and what isn’t, about what we gain and what we risk losing. Certainly, we might share some persuasive evidence, like that noted in the articles above, but hold the pontificating. This is one of those times when we are enmeshed in the same fast-moving phenomenon and we are no less vulnerable than our children. That’s an advantage, as it turns out, because it allows us to begin a collaborative conversation

And, perhaps vulnerable is a good word to consider. We are, demonstrably, every bit as vulnerable as our children and it’s good for them to see that vulnerability, to understand that this is not about “responsibility” or taking out the trash. We have no other motive than to help one another to live in the world—the real one, the off-screen world, the world of our friends and loved ones. Those are the people with whom we need to connect.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “The Truth About Success” and other articles.

The Limits of Parental Indulgence

"Sergio's Finish" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“I feel terrible about not being able to buy my kids what their friends have. But I can’t afford to buy them new ipods and shoes right now.”

Your value as a parent lies in what you communicate to your children and the values that you convey, not in what you purchase for them. You are not doing your kids any favors by buying them everything that they want or that their friends have. You are doing them a favor by not doing so and explaining to them why not.

Even when parents can afford things, they are giving more to their kids by NOT teaching them to feel entitled to have everything they want. Learning delayed gratification and planning for the future are valuable gifts that will go a long way in encouraging capability and independence.

Simply say,

“Right now we need to save money for the mortgage, emergencies, retirement, and your college.”

Or

“It’s important to have money put away to ensure that we will survive another potential downturn. Twenty dollars here, a hundred dollars there, add up surprisingly fast.”

It’s all in your attitude that says they’ll be fine without the new merchandise. If you don’t show anxiety about their wanting things or about their being “without,” then they will learn to live more comfortably with desiring things and not having them right away.

You can also suggest to them that they can save up for what they want themselves. If children learn both to wait and to work for what they want, they will end up appreciating the items more, or they will lose interest in acquiring them all together.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Feeling rejected by your teenager?
“I was upset at my teenage daughter for not travelling with me to visit family, preferring to catch the bus two days later so she could catch up with her friends.”

Detail from “Sultry Adele” by Mimi Stuart ©

It is normal for a teenager to want to spend more time with friends and less time with family. It may be painful and aggravating as a parent, but you should not take it personally.

It is important to balance your desire for control and closeness with your teen’s desire for autonomy and growth. Too much control and manipulation will cause the child to rebel and resent you and become secretive. Allow your teen to make decisions and grow, while you maintain reasonable boundaries and expectations. As long as teenagers are accountable for their actions and responsible for contributing to the family by doing some chores and spending some time with the family, it is best to allow them to develop increased independence as they grow.

When situations arise in the future where your daughter wants to spend her time with friends instead of with you and the family, try to be understanding, remain self-composed and by all means, avoid acting hurt. Be relaxed and self-assured and say something like the following:

“I understand and am happy that you want to spend time with your friends. But we love seeing you too. Why don’t you pick a night this weekend to have a family dinner with us / a day to join me to visit your grandparents.” Or

“I know you’d really like to see your friends this weekend. But it’s important for me and our family that we have some family time together. Let’s figure out what day would work best for everyone.”

When children grow to be teenagers, then young adults, and finally independent adults, the parent will suffer an unavoidable loss. However, to avoid raising a dependent, incapable grown child, you must embrace this loss. Look at the positive side: you are likely to gain a capable and responsible family member whom you like and respect.

In the meantime, you may want to focus on your interests, friendships, and making your own life more fulfilling. After putting so many years into parenting, it takes time and effort to re-focus your life away from parenting. Once you push yourself to do it for a while, you will feel happier and more vital. Your teenager is likely to notice and respect you more for it too.

In summary, avoid pursuing too much closeness and control over your teenager. Maintain reasonable expectations and mutual respect while your teen is living under your roof. Be understanding, yet focus more on your own life and expand it in new directions.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD