Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Doting parents who sing the praises of children for next to nothing do their little ones more harm than good

Balancing act: parents should take care to praise children without flattering them
Balancing act: parents should take care to praise children without flattering them

By Lindy McDowell

I was sitting quietly in a local coffee shop the other day, minding my own business and flicking through a newspaper when suddenly from behind me, an enthusiastic voice began to cry out - rather loudly - above the hubbub of subdued chat and clinking cups.

"Oh my goodness, look at you! Oh, you are so, so good!

"Oh, well done you! Oh, I am so proud of you. So very, very proud of you."

Obviously, then, not aimed at me...

At this point a small child toddled past my table, en route to the cafe's litter bin, into which he deposited what looked like a paper napkin.

"You aren't littering! You are so good. Oh, I am so proud of you!"

Fuelled by this flattery, the small boy then did what any of us would do in the circumstances - kept it coming.

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There then followed several more minutes of him to-ing and fro-ing between his table and the bin.

What I assumed to be his adoring parent continued to trowel on the very, very loud and very, very lavish praise.

At one point as he toddled determinedly past amid cries of commendation, I did mutter under my breath: "There goes a boy who will never suffer from self-esteem issues."

And, fair enough, I know what you're probably thinking here...

You oul' curmudgeon.

The mother was only encouraging the child to do the right thing. So, where's the harm in that?

And, taken down a decibel or two, I suppose I'd have to agree.

Maybe what irritated me most was the sense that this very vocal performance wasn't just about letting the child know what a community-spirited individual he was.

It was also about alerting the rest of us to that fact.

And indeed pointing up what a fine parent he had who'd obviously tutored him in his litter awareness.

Virtue signalling by proxy.

But apart from anything else, I'm not sure this sort of gushfest does a small child any favours.

If you're taught to expect this sort of effusive applause for minor attainment, what will you not expect when it comes to something really important?

A brass band and cheer leaders?

Absolutely, a bit of praise and encouragement is a great thing.

I think we all accept that a parent who is always putting their own child down will do irreparable harm. But with the over-the-top praise, I think you can also way overdo it.

Not least because, once out in the real world, children will soon discover that not everybody is as enthralled with their obvious 'specialness' as their doting parents.

We all need to learn a bit of perspective in life. To expect that a pat on the back should be just that. Not a public performance where an entire cafe's clientele are alerted to your good behaviour.

And okay, I accept that that little boy's mother is not a villain - probably a lovely woman who just wants to encourage her child to do the right thing.

But honestly, she really did go on a bit.

So no, this is not a call for a return to the era of children being seen and not heard.

However, I think I might be able to argue a case for similar clampdown on doting parents.

Belfast Telegraph


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