A few weeks ago, at the end of a very trying day with the kids, I saw the Mark Twain quotation, "I can live for two months on a good compliment" at the end of a newsletter. How true it is. As I thought back over my day, the high point was a pretty random, but apparently heartfelt, compliment from a stranger. "You are so patient with your children! That is JUST WONDERFUL to see!!" said an elderly lady in passing in Michael's as I quickly picked out 50 cent treasure rewards while playing rhyming games with the two older kids to keep them from running off and attempting to stop my toddler from eating through all the packages of cupcake decorations in the cart. I'm sure she has long forgotten me and that interaction, but I have channeled her repeatedly since then.
I recently started a sticker chart for my 5 and 4 yr old kids at home in an effort to improve behavior. I used a plain piece of colored paper and wrote on it 12 things I wanted them to do (or in some cases, stop doing). Each time they do those things, they get a sticker on the chart. Ten stickers earns a trip to the candy box, twenty stickers a trip to the treasure box (see Michael's above), and thirty stickers a choice between a family trip to our local ice cream shop or to Blockbuster for a family movie night (school night or no, we honor it) with a movie of their choosing. Each time one of the kids gets to thirty, I make a new chart for him or her which may include some of the same behaviors or new things, depending on where we have made progress. It has worked AMAZINGLY well, so I have been thinking about why that is. Well, there's the obvious: Kids love candy. Kids love treasure. Kids love family trips, but especially those that involve movies or ice cream. But they got candy from time to time or little trinkets at stores or trips for ice cream or movies long before we instituted this reward system. So clearly, that's not the whole story. What they are really responding to is being acknowledged and praised, in some cases for things that I expect of them anyway (e.g. be kind to your sisters). They like the fact that my husband and I are pausing long enough to say "Great job", to stop what we are doing to go choose a sticker with them from the sticker folder, to mingle in more compliments amidst the unavoidable "no"s and redirections and scolding that go along with being a little growing human testing the boundaries of the world.
One of the things I like most about my boss is that she is a reliable complimenter. Her compliments are never insincere. They are never excessive. She just makes a point of acknowleding reliability or patience or meticulousness or creativity or kindness. It isn't that those qualities are so remarkable either--indeed, they are expected in physicians and scientists--but she still appreciates them. And that is probably what should drive a lot of compliments, appreciation of another human being, even if they are doing exactly what you expect of them and not one iota more.
I have decided to make a concerted effort to follow her model for a month and see how I feel and how my relationships with others change. So, when my husband found the dishwasher full of clean dishes and took 5 minutes to empty it before leaving for work at dawn during an awful attending month, I called him to tell him how much easier it made my morning with the kids to find it empty and ready for the breakfast dishes before we dashed out to preschool and school. It was empty the next morning too and the one after that. When my son reminded me back at home of something good his sister had done while we were out that deserved a sticker, I stopped and hugged him and said, "That is true kindness. It makes Mommy so proud when you are kind." He beamed and has been what I can only call excessively, concerningly kind to his sisters for the last 24 hrs. And when I told my clinical associate today that I appreciate how friendly she always is to the patients when taking their vitals because it sets such a nice tone for our visit, she looked at me like I was from outer space. But I couldn't help noticing that she walked off with a little spring in her step. And it was only a little smaller than the spring in my own.