My Little Praise Junkie

“Was I so nice to get Wyatt his lunch box?”
“Did I throw that ball just great?”
“Is this paper airplane so awesome?”

Rory wants approval. Specifically, she wants my approval, and I’m torn.

On the one hand, I buy my Parenting on Track guru’s take on praise: kids should learn to value what they think of their accomplishments, not just what we think. She suggests we turn questions like that back on the asker: “Do you think you were so nice? Did you like the way you threw it? Do you think the plane is awesome?”

But that doesn’t satisfy Rory. Sometimes she buys it–yes, she does in fact think the plane is awesome–but mostly, questions like that make her look sad and disappointed even now, months after I first noticed her quest for my rousing endorsement of every last drawing, letter or creation and began to temper my enthusiasm with encouraging her to consider how she herself felt about her accomplishment.

Praising Rory is dangerous. If i show myself to be impressed by the way she caught that firefly, we will need a Costco sized jar. Admire her printing on a sheet of paper, and by the time I’m done making dinner, I will have a full book of identically printed pages. She doesn’t just ask for my praise. She courts it. She craves it. I think she needs it.

But I’m struggling with those two downsides. I don’t want a giant jar of fireflies or a book of words that could have been Xeroxed from the first one, and I don’t want to have to cough out a repeat note of praise while she does either. Taking it even farther, I don’t want her to carry my farmer’s market basket. I don’t want her to stand in the kitchen to open the trash can for me when I need to throw something away, and I especially don’t want her to do those things, then ask me–isn’t she so good/so nice to do that? Don’t I “preciate” her?


Would she do this, I wonder, if I had been easier to live with during our first months together? If it hadn’t been so clear so often that I did not ‘preciate her? Is this still a side effect of my behavior, that she’s so glad she gets a big ole’ share of my love now but she feels like she has to do this stuff to be sure to keep it?

Or is it just adoption? Is this not about me (no!) but about Rory and only Rory and her need to be reassured? I’m really leaping here, but I’ve noticed that she’s really anxious lately–lots of hugging the dog and thumb-sucking, which I hadn’t seen in a while–and there’s nothing of note going on. School will end soon but hasn’t yet. We’ve had no guests, no trips, no big switches–oh, wait, we did move the beds around in her room, including her bed. But the biggest thing I can think of is that we are coming up on our two year anniversary. Is it possible that she feels it? I’d say the change in season and shift in school would cue it, but of course the seasons and schedules in China were not ours. I think it’s unlikely.

But still, I’ve got an anxious, needy praise junkie on my hands in a way that feels suddenly escalated from where we were before, and I’m not sure what to do. I want to give her the loving reassurance she needs, but I’m reluctant to do it on those terms. Instead, I’m fluctuating between pushing her requests back on her and falling right into them—because yes, it was so nice that she carried Wyatt’s lunch box. Even though I don’t want her to do that.

If only I knew what I want ME to do!

7 Responses to “My Little Praise Junkie”

  1. Slawebb says:

    I would think the 2 year anniversary would trigger her feelings. It will always be there. And as time goes by she will feel more secure. 2 years isn’t all that long though.

    As for the praise. I used to fall into that trap all the time. It takes a huge shift to change it and the kids didn’t like it at all. They still ask for it though. Turning it back on them makes them crazy. A couple of other options I use are: “I notice you…(used a lot of blue today or have been working really hard on that.) Another is using a Marble Jar for everyone in the house for appreciating each other. Have them earn the privilege for filling the jar. Look for times to appreciate everyone when they aren’t asking for it. Another thing is when she comes seeking praise take her into your lap and give her a big hug and tell her how much you love her and how happy you are that she is a member of your family.

    I have to use these with my kids. Lat year when she started preschool she was extra needy. She would ask me to help her get dressed or pick her clothes for her or brush her teeth. All stuff she can and does do fer herself. I would say to her, “No, I not going to pick your clothes, but would you like a BIG 30 second hug?” After I did that she would happily walk off and put on her own clothes. She just needed a bit more connection with me. I used it to help her actually go into school and she would go from burying her head in my legs to skipping off to get in line.

    I hope that helps.

  2. Carol Anne says:

    I think it’s that school is ending. My kids always get weird when school is ending or right before and after school starts for the year. Regression, bickering, clinginess. My oldest is 12 1/2 now, so I’ve just come to expect weird behavior. Try to be generous with the weirdness, but don’t be afraid to set a boundary and let them know when they’ve crossed it. It’s all about learning to handle change.

  3. Gina says:

    We listened to Parenting on Track and read the workbook…it didn’t work for our adopted daughter. We needed to shift to Parenting Outside the Box for her with a dash of Therapeutic Parenting thrown in for good measure. We say around here, everyone gets what they need. Anniversaries are as hard as the end of school…just think, it’s another Goodbye for your daughter who has had to say many forever goodbyes already at her young age. The body remembers.

  4. Oh, your relationship with Rory is so parallel to mine with my younger son (adopted). I was actually planning to write a post on his near-constant use of the phrase “watch this, mom”. I can’t dial back the praise at all without it being earth-shattering to him. And he will go a stretch of days doing pleasant things (which I praise him for, which makes him want to do even more to receive praise) and then for no reason I can find, he will get in a bad place emotionally and intentionally do things that are extremely unpleasant (which I reprimand him for, which then makes him want to be even more pleasant, and I reprimand more). We seem to find ourselves always in a spiral. A spiral of praise or a spiral of unpleasantness.

  5. whoops–in my comment above I said “which I reprimand him for, which then makes him want to be even more pleasant, and I reprimand more”. That should say UNpleasant.
    PS–I didn’t know you wrote for Kiwi. Just picked it up and saw an article by you! It’s a great magazine. So cool!

  6. That’s a pretty nice problem to have, actually. I guess after Cloud’s sack-of-potatoes beginning, during which he was nearly indistinguishable from the furniture, I’m now impressed that our kids can do anything.

    Take that ambition and run with it! If Rory becomes a brain surgeon just to impress you, hey, at least she’ll be a brain surgeon.

  7. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    It isn’t the worst problem to have, that’s for sure! I’m trying to be mellow about the moment’s weirdnesses. It also just occurred to me that one of our dogs recently died, which could certainly explain a spate of other-dog-clinging and thumb-sucking (something has…)

    I am going to try the hug idea. We have the needing “help” with stuff we can do thing going on, too, and I think interpreting “help” to mean “hug” is going to work just fine.