As writers, we’ve all had the experience of publishing a piece we’ve worked hard putting together, and then posting it to Facebook, sharing it on Twitter, and pinning it on Pinterest…and having it just sit there, unliked, unshared, untweeted, and unpinned. Now, logically, we might know that only a small percentage of our audience sees what we share at any given time. And we know that, while some pieces we write hit just the right note at the right time and go flying around the blogosphere, others might need time to catch on or might simply remain a lonely, little, unread, unloved piece of ourselves that we’ve bravely put out there and the world has overlooked. But even knowing all of that, in those times when we share and no one hears us, when we bare our hearts and no one responds, the silence can feel like rejection, the work can feel pointless, the investment can feel wasted.
Our readers have lives of their own that usually don’t include hours of research and writing and editing and formatting and tagging and linking. They may not realize that their likes, comments, and shares are major motivators for us. They might not understand that, while our passion for our message, whatever that may be, is what drives us, their response is like a pat on the back, and a simple “Well said!” can make our day. And they may not be remotely conscious of how deflating, demoralizing, and depressing that awkward, deafening silence can be when a post goes ignored.
Most of us don’t make a penny from our blogs, but we’re okay with the heavy time investment, the personal sacrifices, and the risks involved in sharing our hearts so transparently…as long as we are heard. And how do we know if we’re being heard? Our readers’ responses, their ‘likes,’ their pins and tweets and shares, and their comments that tell us they’re listening, that they care, and that they appreciate our work.
And what makes writers want to quit? What makes them want to shut down their laptops, hang up their message, and go back to watching sit-coms, reading books, or doing whatever they used to do when they actually had downtime? Well, certainly meanness from people who’d rather cause trouble than just move on to another site, for one, but often it’s simply the silence that drains away the motivation. Sharing your heart with a world that doesn’t respond makes a person feel small, insignificant, unappreciated.
Enter the child.
A child comes to his mother with a drawing that resembles a game of pick-up-sticks and proudly announces that he’s designed a new airplane. She grins and says, “Good job!” and he runs off happily to draw some more pick-up-stick inventions. But his mother is cringing at her choice of words, wishing she’d stopped mid-diaper change with the new baby and turned her full attention to her son and said something like, “I see that you worked hard. You used lots of colors,” or something, anything that didn’t pander to his need for attention or approval. What if she turned him into a ‘praise junkie’?!? Bad mom! she castigates herself. When her son returns a few minutes later and enthusiastically shows her his pick-up-stick submarine, she’s ready. She smiles awkwardly, nods her head and says, “You obviously are trying to use your imagination. I see that you are in a creative mood. What else are you going to invent today?” in a stiff and unnatural tone. Her son stands there for a moment, not quite sure how to respond, then shrugs and drifts off to another activity.
Now, clearly, using “Good job” as a brush-off in lieu of taking the time to pay any real attention to a child is the core issue that parenting experts are getting at when they encourage parents to focus on the child and the effort instead of the product or achievement. But so often parents read these kinds of articles and come away feeling, as a concerned mother recently expressed to me, “Like I’m doing it all wrong. I feel like I’m messing up my child when I tell him I like what he’s done.” That mother wasn’t brushing her child off with her praise. She was interacting with her child with a natural, honest enthusiasm that may now be damaged by something she read. It breaks my heart to think of her little guy running up to show her his latest creation only to be met with an unnatural and stilted response because his mother is afraid her instincts aren’t good enough.
Here’s the thing, a healthy, natural, loving parent/child relationship trumps all. It is the foundation for autonomy, not merely a satellite aid to independence. It is the wellspring of confidence and trust that leads to exploration, creativity, and innovation. It is the safe harbor from which daring and boldness and risk can be launched to take on the world.
A parent whose focus is on connection will respond to their child’s need in the moment, whether that need is praise for a job well done or encouragement in the face of failure. A parent focused on ‘getting the words right’ may well inadvertently leave their child’s present needs unmet because they are afraid to respond naturally.
Just as it is the hungry child, not the satisfied child, who craves food, it is unmet needs that lead to attention seeking behaviors and unspoken approval that can create ‘praise junkies’ as the unpraised child seeks to fill the very human need we all have for validation.
Just as with adults, and specifically with those of us who are writers, children need to know they are being heard and appreciated. A ‘like’ on a post to us is like a pat on the back to a child, and a “Well said!” to a writer is like a “Good job!” to a child. In the same way that these acknowledgements don’t undermine our driving passions, but support and encourage them, spontaneous and sincere expressions of appreciation to a child don’t undermine a child’s passion to learn and grow and become. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. A parent’s sincere, spontaneous praise encourages and motivates a child to blossom in the warmth of their approval.
With my six children, while they are infants I am happy to let them independently scoot and shuffle and roll in an effort to reach a toy, but I am there to offer help the second they express frustration so they will grow up knowing that they never have to struggle alone in life. When they are older and happily working on a drawing or popsicle-stick invention, I don’t hesitate to spontaneously express my enjoyment of their creation. That isn’t interference. It’s a connection point, a message that they don’t have to actively seek my approval for it to be theirs.
I know that the world won’t always treat my children kindly. I know that failure, disapproval, and rejection will inevitably be a part of their lives. But I want my children to grow up knowing that there is one place in the world where help is always available, and approval, acceptance, and appreciation are always freely offered. I want my children to have the assurance of a safe harbor to return to so that they will have the confidence to take on all the challenges the world will throw at them.
And so, parents, the message here is this: Read and research and educate yourself about all the various ideas and methods and theories about how to raise happy, healthy, confident children, but at the end of the day remember that you are your child’s parent. You love your child more and know them better than anyone else on earth. Don’t let anything stop you from responding naturally and lovingly to your child’s needs, whether those needs are for a high-five, a “Good job,” a thumb’s up, or just a great big bear hug.
Remember, the only bad praise is the sincerely meant praise that is silenced. ~L.R.Knost
“Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matt. 25:21
Listen to the sound of silence.
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.