“Did you hear what Jenny has been saying about you?”
“Well I heard that she lost her job & now they might have to move!”
“My son is such a pain. Every time I ask him to clean up after himself, he mouths off to me!”
Pick-a-little, talk-a-little, cheep, cheep, cheep, talk-a-lot, pick-a-little more.
I’ve mentioned the dangers of talking about your child in front of them (“Help!”), but I have never discussed how gossip can be used for good!
If you don’t know, I’m mad for good praise. I think that it’s one of the best inventions ever. But in his book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp points out that while direct praise is excellent, it’s the things we overhear about ourselves that we assume to be the most true. If you think about it, how many times have you given a compliment to someone that you only half meant? Your kid is really talented! That dress is really cute! Mmmm, delicious! Trying to be kind is a valid reason for saying these nice things. But how many times have you chatted to someone else about how well that kid could sing or how much you liked that dress without meaning it? You never talk glowingly to Frank about Michelle’s kids unless you really mean your complimentary words.
So what does this mean when thinking about kids? It means that showing them you like them or appreciate what they’re doing with direct praise is nice and useful, but perhaps it shouldn’t be your only praiseworthy trick. Why not try this on for size? Praise them within their hearing, but act as though you don’t want them to hear. There’s plenty of reporting about kids that goes on immediately within their hearing. Don’t do that. In this case, if you’re on the phone with someone and your kid is nearby, lower your voice but try to make sure that you’re overheard as you say, specifically, something your child did that you liked.
You can also gossip to imaginary friends or favorite stuffed animals. “Pssst. Hey teddy bear, do you see what Gemma is doing right now? She’s cleaning up her toys all on her own! It makes me feel so happy when she takes care of her toys.” Make sure you’re not looking at her as you talk about her.
You can also enlist teddy bear’s help to teach her lessons while reinforcing her behavior. “Teddy bear, today Gemma practiced looking both ways before crossing the street. I was so glad to see her being careful and checking for cars. I love her a lot and always want her to be safe while crossing.”
I’ve even taken this one step further by including siblings in the mix. I’ve gossiped praise to a brother about his sister and vice versa. While the sister is getting praised indirectly, through the “gossip,” the brother is also learning that sideways praise is a good thing and that one way to get it is to do whatever his sister is being praised for. Aha!
Once the seed of truth has been planted, repeat the compliment directly to the child. Reinforcement! Now they’ll have to believe it, no? And hopefully that means that they’ll learn from it and show us those praiseworthy behaviors again.