When we took Detroit to puppy class, we were told that dogs want to please us, and they will know they are pleasing us by our praise. We were told dogs needed to hear “good girl” or “good boy” often and that a little pat on the head or scratch behind the ear would reinforce the message. It reminded me of an old Amy Grant song about how we all need to hear an “atta girl” or “atta boy” from time to time.

My walks with Detroit became running monologues of what a good girl she is. I would tell her she was a good walker, pee-er, poop-er, squirrel hunter, etc. I would tell her she was the best dog in town. “Good ‘leave it,’” I would say when she actually responded to the command, or “good ‘sit/stay’” when she sat at a corner waiting for me to release her and continue our walk.

At some point during these walks, I became aware that while it might be good for Detroit to be praised, it was also good for me to praise her. I realized that praise was not a habit I had, and I decided to change that.

I made a commitment to praise someone at work every day and to pay a random compliment to a stranger at least once a day.

It was easy to praise people at work because our students, volunteers and staff were always doing good things, a fact I had known, but now I was committed to acknowledging it. I tried to be specific in my praise so that people knew I was truly seeing them and commenting on something they did. I soon found myself being more positive about work and more optimistic in general.

The random compliments part of the commitment was even easier. I would compliment store employees for how the store looked or tell the deli workers what a great job they did in making my sandwich. I would compliment people on their clothes or hair. I would tell people the difference they were making in my life just by doing what they were doing—my car mechanic or the customer service representative or restaurant staff.

I had long been aware of people who love what they do and would often comment on it, but not usually to the person. Now I was acknowledging when someone seemed well-suited to their work. And to the people who clearly did not love what they were doing, I would try to find a way to encourage them or at least empathize with them in their mismatched situation.

I learned that people like to be noticed. Even noticing that someone got a haircut would get a “thank you” in response; “thank you for noticing me” is what the person was saying.

Maybe, like our dogs, we really do want to please others, and maybe Amy Gant was right when she sang that we all need to hear an “atta girl” or “atta boy” from time to time.



13 thoughts on “Praise

  1. Deb

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder to praise others. I was blessed to have had the privilege of working with you and being the recipient of your gratitude of your employees.

      1. Heather

        Keep looking at that card! You do rock all of the time! Love you very much, and would love to catch up. I’ll call you next week. I miss hearing your voice, Lady. 🙂

    1. Anne Marie Lom

      This was so insightful. I wondered if I was the only one who sent letters to HR people at Fleet Farm, my chiropractor and other places of business. We certainly need to give and receive praise. Thank you for stating it so well.

      1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

        Anne Marie, I think this lesson was hammered home for me when Jim was sick. So many people who were just doing their jobs made our lives easier. We continually added people to our Litany of Gratitude who helped us immensely, but they were just going about their business. I’m glad you were inspired to write people; the world would be a much kinder, gentler place if we all did a little more thanking and praising–and a little less complaining.

    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Thanks Libby. Your encouragement helps me to keep writing and posting. I am also writing a novel as part of November is Novel Writing Month. 50000 words in 30 days–it is more difficult than I anticipated.

  2. Pat

    Having grown up with more criticism than praise, I learned how to do the former and considered myself very weak when it came to giving praise. I am reading an important book, Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes, by Alfie Kohn. Chapter 6 is entitled, The Praise Problem. This book, and Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, have convinced me that praise is not always a good thing. He cautions against praise used as a judgment or evaluation; and shows how it can undermine intrinsic motivation. In the latter book he gives examples of what to say instead of “good work,” “you’re a great helper” etc. For example, ask, rather than judge; describe rather than evaluate; invite reflection; and explain the effects of the action on yourself or others. Wish I had the book when I was parenting.

    Madeline, I am inspired by your efforts because the examples you give show thoughtfulness and consideration. You let people know what difference they have made in your life and what you appreciate about their actions. Noticing people and offering expressions of love, support, encouragement. I have lots to learn. I’m glad to be with you as friend on this journey.

    1. Madeline Bialecki Post author

      Pat, I am more and more coming to see that there is a middle ground in praise, incentives, etc., which can be hard to discern and then walk. Too much “praise” can lead to entitlement; too little to low self-esteem.
      I would not worry about your parenting, though; Emily turned out beautifully.

  3. Natalie

    Nice post (as always). I’ve been thinking lately that I am too critical of my boys, always talking to them about what they need to do to take it to the next step, less so about what they have done well. thanks for this timely reminder.

  4. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    My pleasure, Natalie. I remember doing a exercise in l’Arche to help us identify the places in ourselves that were neglected. We had to read a list of statements and then we were asked to write down what we remembered. Then the list was reread to us. The statements we missed, the ones that did not register, were areas for us to “re-parent” ourselves, to give ourselves the messages we did not hear or integrate as children. It might be an interesting exercise to do with the boys to see what they are hearing and taking into themselves.
    I think the fact that you (or any parent) wonders and worries about the messages they are giving their children is a sign your children are probably getting a variety of messages–praise, encouragement and correction.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s