Comedians Amy Poehler and Bill Hader met when they worked at Saturday Night Live. They talked to journalist Neil Pond about how their parents’ specific words of praise made an impact on their future.
Hader: “I grew up in Tulsa, Okla. I was maybe 5 or 6, and we drove past Oral Roberts University, and in front are these giant praying hands. My grandmother said, ‘What are those?’ And I said, ‘They’re the praying hands.’ And she was like, ‘Oh.’ And I said, ‘And at midnight, they clap.’ She didn’t laugh; I think she thought I was serious, because I said it very dry. But my mom started laughing so hard. And we got home and she told my dad and he laughed really hard and asked me, ‘You just said that, huh?’ That was a moment I realized, Oh, that was funny.”
Poehler: “What you said about your parents saying ‘That’s funny’ is important, because kids can tell when parents notice that. When a parent says, ‘That was funny’ and means it, that’s the kind of encouragement that can send you on a crazy, 40-year journey.
The human spirit responds to praise relying on specific description.
Eric Sondheimer wrote: “Myrna Rivera was a teenager herself when she became a mother. Now she puts in long hours as an office worker to support her family, and there is little time to rest, let alone collect her thoughts and write a letter to her boy. A request from her son’s football coach coaxed her into describing his character and her feelings for him:
“I admire your efforts to be a better person. I am happy to have you in my life, though I know sometimes I may get on your nerves, but I just want you to know that all your dad and me want is a better life for you.”*
Another mother, receiving the coach’s same request, wrote in Spanish, “I’m very proud. You’re the nicest kid I’ve ever raised and during hard times you don’t ever ask for anything.”
The coach passed out letters to all his players at practice one July day. “What happened next took everyone by surprise. For the next 15 minutes or so, wherever you looked you saw players sobbing—against walls, in corners, bent over in chairs.”
A family activity teaches young kids how to give descriptive praise
The Sprinkler Wand: Young children will delight in a wand with streamers hanging from it to sprinkle family members with kindness. Teach the children what can and cannot be sprinkled on each other. Practice phrases such as, “good for you,” “you did it.” Show them how to sprinkle appreciation in the form of joy, humor, peace, happiness, brain power, safety and love. (Conscious Discipline)
Tweetable: The human spirit responds to praise relying on specific description more than on a “good job!”