I'm Teaching My Kids To Be Generous With Compliments (Just Like Their Grandma)

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
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When you see someone wearing a pair of shoes that you really like, do you stop and tell them? If you are obsessed with their haircut, do you let them know? If you see someone pushing the world’s cutest baby in their cart, do you compliment their darling outfit? My mother does. All the time.

It is one of her most admirable qualities. She has an uncanny way of being able to read people. She can sniff out if you are having a bad day and will do her best to turn it around. That often comes in the form of a compliment. And it’s not just a canned, “I like your shirt” — she will find something that she genuinely likes about you. Her knack for making people smile and feel good about themselves is amazing.

I have learned from her and try my best to extend compliments whenever I can, especially to kids. My son got glasses when he was seven. It was a huge change for him and he was a tad self conscious at first. Because of this, I am super in-tune to kids with glasses, especially the little ones. If I see a kid with glasses, I tell them that I like their frames, because I do. I LOVE a kid with glasses. They remind me of my sweet little guy who tugs at my heartstrings with his bespectacled smile. The kids will usually smile, say thank you, and will often push those glasses up with pride. It makes me happy to give them a boost.


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I had to have a procedure done at my doctor’s office a few weeks ago and the nurse wasn’t particularly friendly. She was kind of cold and didn’t want to make small talk. I thought about my mom and what she would have done in that situation, so I gave her a good look and realized that she had the prettiest nail color. So I told her. Once I made that little comment, the mood changed. She was much friendlier and told me she liked my shoes. Complimenting her nails changed something in that room. It gave her a zap of self-confidence that flipped her perspective on our interaction. It felt really good for both of us. And it was a simple four words: “I like your nails.”

I am not going to say that it is always easy to dish out compliments. It’s sort of like the angel/devil thing on my shoulder. The devil is telling me, “Screw them; keep walking.” While the angel says, “Maybe they are having a hard day, say something nice.” Honestly, there are times when people are just jerks and I don’t want to extend kindness. And sometimes, I won’t. But I will often walk away from that kind of situation wishing that I had acted differently. I will wonder, had I said something else, would it have made a difference?

My kids spend a lot of time with my mother and they have picked up some of her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Sure, they may say a few words like her or eat their chips with the same kind of salsa, but her ability to put a smile on someone’s face by simply being kind is what I want them to master. I put it back on them. “Do you like it when someone says something kind to you? Then do the same!”

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My kids have lots of friends and I know that their friends have things that they like. They may have a cool new pair of shoes that they like or a fancy new bike. I want my kids to tell people these kinds of things. I want them to do their best to lift people up.

I have explained to my children that making a simple compliment can change everything. I want them to be able to notice when someone may be in need of a little cheering up. And when they do notice that, I want them to be able to think of something nice to say. I also want them to tell someone that they have done a good job when they make a goal at a soccer game or share that they got a good grade on a test. We hear it all the time, but truly if you can be anything, be kind. The world is filled with unkindness and ugliness. I want my kids to learn to be the light.

Saying something nice doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and it can be done rather quickly. Sometimes, you will be rewarded with pleasant conversation and other times the person will just keep moving. That is all OK. As long as you make a tiny bit of effort, you’re doing your best to be a good human being. That should be our M.O. every day. And whether you realize it or not, people notice.

There may not be a giant smile on their face, but there is a good chance you made an impression on their heart.

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