You’re Such a Big Boy!

When a little child takes his first steps, we all gather ’round and clap and cheer. He is so proud and excited to be walking. He takes a few wobbly steps and then falls onto his diaper-padded butt and we all laugh and smile and tell him what a big boy he is and encourage him to get right back up and try it again. Soon, he’s walking around so much you wonder why you ever wanted him to walk in the first place. Later, he learns how to control his bowels. One day he will make his first poop in the toilet and we’ll call 5 people into the bathroom to cheer and coo and tell him what a big boy he is. He will again beam like the sun and show off what he produced for all who will look. Later yet, he will ride a bicycle for the first time, he’ll go off to school, he’ll make a birthday present for someone, and each time, you will clap and cheer and tell him what a big boy he is and each time, his chest will swell up so big you’ll think it might just explode with happiness. And, later yet, that just sorta stops. We expect him to ride a bike to school where he will, no doubt, use the toilet, and do his school work, and make friends, and smile at his teacher, and share his sandwich with a less fortunate peer. He comes home and is greeting with a mundane, “How was your day?” and offers the unenthusiastic, “Fine,” before turning on his Play Station and losing himself in the world of the Mario Brothers. We no longer tell the 10-year-old what a ‘big boy’ we think he is. We don’t clap and cheer for a 13-year-old. We don’t call relatives over to see what a 16-year-old made, and we certainly don’t yell and clap when our husband takes out the trash. No, older kids and grown adults get very few “atta boy’s.” You might win an award at work, but how often does that really happen? Once a year? Every couple of years, once a decade, or perhaps once a career? Why do we stop providing praise and enthusiastic support for people as they age? The general reason is that children need a great deal of external reinforcement so they can develop internal reinforcement so that they, eventually, can provide themselves with all the clapping and hootin’ and hollerin’ they need to keep themselves motivated. A grown adult is not supposed to need continual praise to continue to take care of his responsibilities. However, it still feels good, and it still works to motivate the behavior of adults and older children. I encourage you to all consider being more generous with your praise and encouragement for all people in your life, not just the young children. We grown ups sure like to hear what a good job we are doing every now and then. If you tell me you don’t need it and you don’t care, you’re kidding yourself, but you’re not fooling me. We all enjoy a well-deserved pat on the back. Make a note to yourself to give sincere praise, thanks, or a compliment to at least 3 different people in your life today, at least 2 of them being your age or older.

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