Praise You

The boy went for broke today and used the potty six times successfully without ever missing the mark. Generally a good day has him being "a big boy" twice; once before lunch and once after his afternoon nap. However, today was quite a bit different in that he was in search of something specific: praise from his mum.

Mothers seem to have a particular way of delivering encouragement to their children. When the young person accomplishes something, no matter how small, they are showered in a disproportionate amount of praise. Watching my wife and son today, you'd think he received a full scholarship to Harvard. If it were possible, she would likely throw bouquets at the boy for knowing when to stop playing, run to the potty, pull off some clothing, and urinate. I'll admit that this is a crucial skill that everyone must know but, while I'll congratulate the child and give him a high five, I don't over-act. Reiko, however, does.

And the boy gobbles it up.

Sometimes I wonder if I come across as having too high an expectation of the boy. I think it's great that he's able to walk, talk, sing on key, frequently use the potty, read two of the four character sets used in Japan, eat with both western and Japanese utensils, and almost completely dress himself after just 36 months outside the womb, but my praise is specific and controlled. I want him to succeed in life. I want him to do his best. But I'm also rather critical. It's one thing to know how to use chop sticks. It's another to use them properly as tools to eat rather than as drum sticks.

Yet this parental imbalance seems to work. Reiko lavishes the boy with compliments and positive emotions that I haven't successfully expressed in 30 years while I congratulate him and say that he's done something good, then reward him with a treat of some sort1. People love to be praised, so will this pattern continue? Will the boy be just as keen for his mother's over-reaction at 13 as he is at 3? How about when he's 23 and potentially graduating from university? I wonder.

When I was a young man, praise was a wonderful thing. But by the age of 15 the kind of praise I wanted was rather particular. I didn't want to know whether someone liked what I did; I wanted to know what it was specifically that people liked about my effort. Generalisations meant nothing to me … and still do. Will the boy be the same way?

Every couple of weeks it seems the kid is doing something new and pushing his skills ever further. Monday will be his first day at kindergarten, which means he'll be interacting with a lot more people his age pretty soon. This will give him a lot of opportunities to develop new friends, new interests, and new skills. What sort of things will we see him excel at in the near future?

Regardless of what he might do, I look forward to seeing him develop into a contributing member of society over the next two decades. May my neurosis not rub off on him.


  1. Treats are often in the form of a tangerine, a yogurt drink, or a trip to the park. He loves these things so much, but we're careful about how much of the edible treats he consumes. The boy never gets more than two tangerines a day, and never more than one yogurt drink a day.