Compliments: Creating a New Trend

October 19, 2020 | by maritza pardo, guest contributor

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Ever hear that catchy phrase? Sure, you have. Who hasn’t? Now there may be certain women who are immune to the sting of negative statements, gossip, or criticism but for many of us words can cause irreparable damage. Just take a look at social media. A female celebrity posts a selfie of herself and a slew of negative comments often follows. Maybe it doesn’t feel like a major problem, but as a female and educator I can say without a doubt, it’s a problem. At the end of the day negativity and criticism of people we don’t even know gets mass attention as some form of entertainment.

Now, while my past graduate work in education and current work as a certified behavior analyst might give me more cause for reflection, I speak out simply as a concerned female for the future of the next generation. A study was conducted (Herbert, Robert K. â Sex-Based Differences in Compliment Behavior.â Language in Societywww.jstor.org/stable/4168132), and concluded that women accept compliments 40% of the time and only 22% of the time when given by other women. Another study by Randy Larsen, PhD, concluded a multitude of chemical and biological components which contribute to our tendency to hold onto a negative event, or insult, over a compliment. So, we have studies telling us that we are naturally hardwired for this with social media adding more fuel to the fires. Going against our natural tendencies to create a new social climate won’t be easy but it’s worth the effort. We are not doing this to simply feel better as females, but to raise young girls who are more likely to compliment than criticize and in turn accept praise at increased levels.  

So, where to begin?                                                                                                                                   

It starts in everyday opportunities that often get overlooked...

  • Casual conversations with our female friends, which has the potential to lead to gossip but could instead be used to deliver affirmations. Trust me, I know how easy it is to meet up with girlfriends and discuss the latest celebrity scandal or misfortune, but as Eleanor Roosevelt famously stated, “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.” 
  • What about when your waiting in line out in the community? You could jump on your phone to catch up on Instagram or complain about the wait time, but what if, instead, we gave a compliment to the girl standing nearby wearing a nail color we like?
  • Or, what if instead of just “liking” our friend’s Instagram post, we followed up by attaching a compliment?

Opportunities to practice the fine art of positivity and voicing compliments are plentiful, yet it takes practice; especially considering that, as women, we only accept an average of 22% of compliments received by other women. Those who have a hard time accepting compliments are often more aware of their faults and insecurities than their own strengths. If that’s the case, here’s a simple exercise. Ask a few trusted loved ones to tell you or write down the strengths/abilities they see in you. Then take those abilities/strengths and put them around your house in places you typically walk by (e.g. sticky notes on the mirror, night table, by the refrigerator, etc.), so that every day you’re reading an affirmation or compliment about yourself. The point is getting used to seeing wonderful things said about yourself (compliments), so that when it happens outside the home it doesn’t feel like a strange or misplaced phenomenon. And as you know, we’re not working on this just for ourselves but for the other girls who look up to us.

Mothers can also get a jump start here by creating a home environment with an equal amount of praise (compliments) to re-direction (correction from the behaviors that are not ok). When I teach compliance training it often involves gaining a child’s attention first by calling their name followed by an affirmation (e.g. “Lily, I like the way you’re trying to put on your shoes.”). In this way, a child doesn’t expect to be called out only when they’ve done something wrong but also when they’ve done something right. Likewise, when mothers are out in the community, complimenting another person in front of their child is setting another example (e.g. “Oh my goodness, I love your shoes!”).

As for early educators, teaching children to praise and compliment their peers has never been more essential. During my clinical observations, I look not only at a child’s home environment but their learning environment, too. I am always amazed to see how early girls begin to form cliques to the exclusion of others. So whenever possible, I try to impress upon the teachers or day care providers to facilitate inclusive play activities and intermittently praise the children (e.g., “I like the way you are sharing.”). Children catch on quickly and learn by imitation of words and actions. I once observed a teacher who saved time at the end of the day for individual children to come up and show a piece of artwork or other creation they completed. Next the children were given the opportunity to tell the student what they liked about it, leading into a compliment (“I like the colors you used,” for example). To be clear, the goal is not to encourage false flattery, but model and practice the genuine acknowledgement of each other’s abilities.

From the mature female down to the young and impressionable, we need to turn the tide. We, as females, need to celebrate our strengths and abilities rather than continue the current trend of negativity.

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