Think for a moment about how it feels when your boss gives you a compliment about your work on a project. Now think how it feels when you overhear your boss singing your praises to another manager.
The first one feels good in a “Oh yay, they noticed how hard I worked on that” sort of way. But the latter feels even better, doesn’t it? To overhear someone sing your praises can boost your confidence, fill you with pride and increase your motivation to keep impressing them.
Kids are the same way.
I first heard the advice to “gossip” about kids’ good behaviour from Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block. On the Happiest Baby blog, Karp explains why this is so effective:
It works so well because all of us (kids and adults) are more likely to believe something if we overhear it than if it’s told directly to us. Gossip makes your praise 5 times more effective. (And it makes your words of criticism have 5 times more impact too.)
Karp says you can start singing a toddler’s praises to others within earshot once they’re about 15-18 months old; simply cup your hand and whisper your compliment loudly. “Emma put her toys away all by herself today!” But don’t smile and wink at your child after you say it — it’s key that they really believe they’re overhearing you.
If you’ve never done this, give it a try. Kids absolutely beam when they overhear you saying positive things about them. We used this trick often when my son was a toddler/preschooler, but even now at 8 years old, I frequently “mention” his good deeds to my husband when he’s nearby.
“He fed the dog without me even asking today,” or “I’m so glad he was with me at the store because he loaded up the whole cart for me while we were checking out.”
Karp says not to be afraid to repeat the compliment to a couple different people, too: “Your child will be pleased and think, ‘Wow, this must be true, because I’m hearing it a lot lately.’”