2017-10-06 / Opinion

In Praise of Praise


David Treadwell David Treadwell During a recent visit to Burlington, Vermont, we were chatting with our 12- year-old granddaughter Tess, and Tina said, “You have a beautiful face!” Tess beamed shyly. Then I chimed in: “You could even be a model!”

I immediately regretted that comment as I’d read a recent “New York Times” piece that described the horrendous treatment of big-time, waxen-faced, anorexic-prone fashion waifs, er, models by the industry. I recovered somewhat by talking about that piece and warning Tess not to be drawn in by the promise of a modeling career.

Some time later we offered more substantive praise to young Tess. We gave her huge kudos for being such an avid reader, a habit which would pay huge dividends throughout her life. She smiled. (I wondered, though, if she was still thinking about the “You could even be a model!” comment.)

These compliments surely made an impact on Tess, especially since her superstar sister Emma often gets the major spotlight. I’m glad that we took the time to lift her up because she’s a superstar in her own right.

What we older folks say to kids (praise or criticism) really matters, even though it might be a throwaway line at the time. They might remember our words for years — even decades — although we might not.

I well remember some things adults outside my family told me as a kid. There was the second grade teacher — the foreboding Mabel Tidd, an old biddy who looked like her name — who admonished me in front of the class for absent-mindedly scratching myself in a, let’s put this delicately, inappropriate place. That didn’t feel so good. On the brighter side, there was the Little League coach — a crusty old scrapper named Herman Ross — who said to me when I was nine years old: “You’re fast; go out there and play center field.” That did feel good. And then there was the tenth grade English teacher -- the prim and proper Miss Pettigrew, who sported horn-rimmed glasses perched atop a long sharp nose. She praised my writing in front of the whole damned class -- not a welcome compliment in West Virginia, a state which values football, marching bands and coal mining (and now Donald Trump), not reading and writing. That felt both good and bad.

These days I find myself looking for good things to say to a young person -- and then saying them, honestly and with enthusiasm. I try to be as specific and authentic as possible. So much of what we see and hear in “the media” is all sell, no soul; all sizzle, no steak. I want young people to appreciate their gifts. I want them to think, “I am somebody; I have something to offer.”

When my 9-year old grandson Aiden visited from Seattle, I praised him for being such a good beachcomber. He went on to spend hours finding horseshoe crab shells or fishing for live crabs in a makeshift trap, rather than playing computer games, the most common activity in past years. I commended his younger brother Anderson, a six year old whirlwind, for his ability to pronounce complicated words correctly during rousing games of Apples to Apples. Sure, he made some mistakes (“foreign” became “foreejun”) but he was good natured when corrected.

Come to think of it, we should all take more time to offer specific compliments to people of all ages -- to family members and friends and even to strangers. Let’s build bridges, not walls. What’s to lose?

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or suggestions for future “Just a

Little Old” columns. dtreadw575@aol.com.

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