“Your daughter is beautiful.” Aw she is, isn’t she? Thank you.
“I love her coat.” I know, isn’t it gorgeous?
“Your son is so funny.” Yeah, he cracks me up.
“You look gorgeous.” Aye right, I haven’t even brushed my hair.
“I love your top” Penney’s best.
“Those are nice jeans.” Oh I’ve had these old things for years.
“Is that a Hilfiger shirt?” It was on sale!
We don’t know how to take a compliment. Nothing new there. We all knowthat the Irish don’t take compliments well. We are suspicious of them. We don’t like them. For some reason, they make us feel very uncomfortable.
But when someone compliments our kids, we are more than happy to agree with them. If someone points out something positive about your little minion, chances are that you will be delighted that they’ve noticed and you will nod in agreement, as proud as punch.
However, if the same person tells you with their next breath that your hair is lovely, you will most likely find yourself disagreeing and parting your hair to show them just how badly your roots need redone.
So what the hell is wrong with us?
If I tell Mini-Me that she looks beautiful or that her hair is pretty, she smiles at me and says “Thanks Mum” or “I know!” (shock horror!) She takes the compliment. She doesn’t NEED it to feel better or to affirm her or any other such nonsense. She takes it, because at 5 years old, she doesn’t find it strangethat someone would praise her or compliment her. It is not unusual to her that someone might point out something positive. She is not suspicious of compliments. She doesn’t need to be.
So when does that stop? When will she suddenly begin to apologise for her positive features? When will she become flushed with embarrassment because someone comments on how well she dances? What will happen to make her suddenly feel that she should disagree with someone who tells her she is clever, or pretty, or talented or funny? Will she simply wake up some morning, feeling the need to apologise for being good at something, or for being nice?
Now, of course I know that we must teach them to be humble also. No one likes a boaster. But why the hell should we teach them that they should apologise for being good at something? Why should we teach them to disagree with someone who is genuinely being nice to them?
When did humility become humiliation?
Because somewhere along the way, we’ve confused the two.
If someone admires your hair today, reply by saying “I know! It’s sitting nice today isn’t it?” I dare you. And watch their reaction. It’s pretty likely that they’ll flinch in surprise. If someone admires your top, try “Thanks, I like it too.” (Would you have bought it if you didn’t?) If someone points out something that you are good at, thank them and tell them “Yeah, I try hard.”
If they walk away from you thinking you’re big headed or conceited, then who has the problem? If they meant the compliment, they won’t mind that you agree with them.
Does it not make sense that if we were to let our kids see us accepting compliments more comfortably, maybe we’d be helping them? Our kids learn by watching us, our behaviours, our responses. Someday soon, when Mini-Me hears me answering “Oh God, this old thing?” or “Aw my skin’s a mess” or “God now, I sound dreadful!”, then she’s going to store it in her bank of “Acceptable grown up things to say” isn’t she?
And therein begins that humiliation.
We all do it.
I do it. I did it yesterday when a friend praised me. I automatically told him he was full of nonsense. Why? If he hadn’t thought I was good, he wouldn’t have bothered to tell me I was, so why did I disagree with him?
Because we are trained, somewhere along the line, to apologise for ourselves. Because acknowledging our own strengths and positive characteristics is seen as terribly obnoxious and wrong. Because one day, without even realising it, we learned that to accept a compliment was wrong.
We’re hardwired to think the worst about ourselves; to worry about what others think. Being a parent brings a new level of this. We are constantly comparing ourselves, berating ourselves, apologising for our decisions, for our behaviour, for our children’s behaviour. But the sooner we can rewire ourselves to look more closely for our own positives, the more chance we have of teaching our children that it’s OK to say “thank you” when someone compliments us.
Plenty of people will thrive on bringing them down, on highlighting their weaknesses and flaws. We need to teach them to recognise those people. And we need to teach them that if someone feels the need to comment on them in a negative way, then it’s that person who has the problem, and not them.
So accept the compliment. Let your children hear you accepting it. Let them see that it’s OK to be proud of yourself sometimes and that you don’t need to ever apologise for being good, or kind, or talented or clever.
And give someone a compliment today too. You never know whose day you’ve just made.
By the way, you have a lovely smile.