When I was in high school, my mom came home from bowling one night and mentioned that a teacher had said something nice about me to my parents. “Of course Dad’s head swelled with pride,” she said matter-of-factly. Wait – my dad was PROUD of me? I’d always been a non-trouble-making good student, but I’d never realized my accomplishments meant anything to my dad. He’d never said much more than, “You sure don’t get your brains from me!”
If I asked your middle school/high school student what you think of her, what might she say? Don’t go and ask her now; you’ll just get an embarrassed shrug followed by, “I dunno.” But think back to the last time you paid her a genuine compliment – more than just a “Good job!” or “Way to go!” When did you last say something specific like, “I appreciate your responsibility – I can always depend on you to lock the doors when you leave,” or “You have such a good eye for taking pictures”? Don’t take for granted that she knows what she does that makes your head swell.
Speaking well of your teen to someone else in his hearing is also powerful. We adults are the same way – when I overhear my husband say something nice about me to someone, I can’t help but smile. When I’m in conference with a parent and a student, I try to do both: compliment the student directly AND say something nice about him to his parent. It’s a powerful opportunity.
Sometimes, when I say something to a student like, “I appreciate how helpful you are,” another student will ask, “What do you appreciate about me?” I like to turn the tables and say, “You should know the answer to that by now. What do you think I like about you?” It gives me good insight into how the student thinks I view him, and it gives me the chance to publicly hand out some compliments.
Find ways to compliment your teen. It will make you both feel better. It was Mark Twain who said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”