Posted by Fitz

I remember sitting at a little deli in Westport last summer, heavy with pregnancy and disappointment that I hadn’t made any progress towards birthing my Bean.  I was alone, sweating, and in very close proximity to my fellow patrons (a single man in his mid to late 50s reading the paper, an elderly woman managing a salad at a table for one, and a young mom with a three year old daughter). 

Since three out of the four of us were alone, we could hear every word that the mom spoke to her little girl.  The girl was clearly a stubborn eater, and the mother gently coaxed her to have some more grilled cheese and fruit salad.  When she was done, the mom said, “Good job honey.  I’m proud of you for eating so much of your lunch – you’re great!”

The mom and the girl packed their belongings and left the rest of us sitting at our separate tables.  When they were well out of earshot, the man turned to the elderly woman and said, “Can you believe that?  It’s ridiculous how parents have to buck up their kids every minute of the day now.  Eating lunch is what you’re supposed to do, for God’s sake – you don’t tell someone they did a good job for doing something they are supposed to do!”

This experience is seared into my memory because I had just been thinking that I wanted to be exactly like that mother.  Gentle, encouraging, leading my daughter down the right path without forcing her to do something she didn’t want to do…letting her be herself.   I was so angry with that crochety, ornery jerk of a man for so many reasons – for butting into other people’ business, for talking smack about a woman who was trying to do her best, but most of all, for not recognizing how important positive feedback is. 

We all need positive feedback – at home, at work, with our friends.  It helps us to feel good about ourselves, to feel comfortable in our own skins, to feel like there is someone out there who values who we are and what we’re doing.  In my opinion, small children need this feedback the most.  They are growing into themselves and learning how the world works – I want my Bean to know when she has done something good while just being herself.  I want her to feel important in her own rite.  I want her to know that she is enough, just the way she is – and that she doesn’t need to change any part of herself to please anyone else.  Not me, not her teachers, and especially not some big old crankypants in a restaurant.

Now, I know that my desire to provide positive reinforcement to my Bean could be disastrous without also teaching her appropriate behavior and manners.  I know there are plenty of moms out there who struggle with their decisions regarding how to discipline their child while maintaining their self-esteem, and my opinions have not yet been road tested with a child who knows how to talk back or spitefully go against my will.  These caveats aside, however, I will tell my Bean when she has done a good job when she has finished a healthy lunch.  I will praise her up, down, and sideways when she makes me her first fingerpainting.  I will hug her (and let’s face it, probably cry a little), when she takes her first steps.  I will give her the feedback she needs to feel strong and successful.

I will give The Bean this feedback because I love her.  More importantly, I want her to love herself.