Ask Dr. Babooner

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I was not at all surprised to learn yesterday that researchers have found evidence to support what we already know to be true about over-indulgent parents – that they turn their children into selfish, sniveling little narcissists by showering them with false praise.

My child is an adult now, but when she was in elementary school I was appalled at the way the other parents hovered over their young, pumping them up with unearned compliments for work that was mediocre at best.

For example, I was volunteering as a classroom helper in the third grade when my little Emily produced a vivid colored-pencil portrait of her art teacher. Because I firmly believed then, (as I do now), that we spoil our children by exaggerating their accomplishments, I simply told her it was “… the best thing I’d seen produced in the room that afternoon.”

That was an undeniably true statement. Of course it was MUCH better than that – she could produce college level work in terms of perspective, composition and shading – but by measuring it only against the art created by her classmates I was purposely downplaying Emily’s talent as a way to get her to try harder the next time.

Mere moments later, the other parent in the room held up her son Jimmy’s chaotic rendering of a bowl of fruit and declared in front of the entire room that it was a work of pure genius – worthy of the great European colored-pencil masters of the renaissance. We all nodded in support of this ludicrous claim so as not to embarrass this helicopter mommy and her incompetent, blotch-scrawling offspring, but really! Next to Emily’s splendid teacher-portrait, Jimmy’s fruit bowl was a ghastly mess.

I could see that Emily was confused, and for that matter so was Jimmy. To have his meager attempt at art praised over her superb accomplishment was confounding to everyone who could recognize the raw touch of a genuine master.

In other words, it baffled everyone.

Years later, Jimmy has become exactly the kind of self-indulgent adult I expected to see – a flamboyant do-gooder who is always drawing attention to his accomplishments by mentoring youngsters, caring for stray animals, raising money for social causes, and working as a paramedic and first-responder to save the lives of people who invariably turn around and praise him in exactly the same extravagant way his mother did all those years ago.

I would tell you how much better off Emily is, but she has instructed me to stop discussing her with other people, especially strangers. Which just shows you how modest and grounded she has become!

Dr. Babooner, why aren’t more people as good a parent as I am?

Darn Impressive Parent of a Perfect Youth

I told D.I.P.P.Y. she has no real reason to gloat. Every parent believes he or she is doing it right and everybody else is wrong. And while I won’t say her techniques are completely sub-par, I do think she might benefit by staying focused on her own work rather than judging others.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

58 thoughts on “Ask Dr. Babooner”

  1. Given that l’m the only person in the world still awake at 3AM, l’ll be the first responder here. Many years ago, a veritable wave of “self worth” philosophy engulfed the nation. The “ignore negatives and praise only the good things your child does” sounded good to me at the time. Since then, it’s been pretty much debunked and replaced with asking your kid “How do YOU feel about it?” rather than gushing yourself. That way, they say, the kid owns his/her accomplishment. Kinda makes sense.


  2. Good morning. Dippy, I agree that it might not be good to excessively praise everything a child does. However, where do you draw the line on giving praise to children and will too much praise be the big problem that you have indicated. There are no easy answers, as you seem to think, on the best way to raise a child. You could make all kinds of mistakes and still get the job done or you could come as close to being a perfect parent as possible and end up with a child that has lots of problems. Why do you think you know exactly the right answer on anything about raising a child?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. there is some current talk these days about how there is no one right way to raise a child these days, and I’d also say there is no one right way to care for an aging parent.

      The fact that in this country we seek to institutionalize both makes me wonder if anybody really means it.

      I have no idea what scores the s&h gets on his tests or how he is otherwise doing. I assume if there is a problem, I will hear about it.

      I will also say that there is no percentage in too much “objective criticism” when it comes to your children.

      As far as I know, I have never really done anything right.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Rise and Shine DIPPY Baboons!

    Dear DIPPY,

    I could rant on and on regarding this particular topic. And maybe I will. Scroll to the next post to save yourself the agony!

    I really wish the parenting world could find a happy medium between the laisse faire parenting my generation received (hands off during childhood, then out of the door at age 18) and the indulgent, helicopter parenting of today. On a sunny, muddy day like today, kids really SHOULD be outside playing without lurking parents each minute worrying about germs and kidnappers. And at the same time, kids need guidance, consequences, as well as unconditional positive regard.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you. I also wish we could have balance. But our society seems to swing from one extreme to the other. Eggs: good, bad, good, bad, good, bad. We should all have “all things in moderation” tattooed on our foreheads!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Well said, Jacque. I am very glad I had a childhood of being free to roam around freely, but oh boy I sure could have used some guidance when it came time to plan what I wanted to do with my life.


  4. Dearest DIPPY: You sound like a wonderful parent! Your problem is not having a child that appreciates all that you’ve done for her. Emily sounds like a louse. You should adopt a child that will love being spoiled rotten. That child would delight at the opportunities to travel to exotic locales to cultivate his artistic talent. Painting outside the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid or the Vatican Museums in Rome would be excellent occasions to showcase your new son’s abilities compared to Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Monet. It’s too bad those guys are dead; they may have learned something from your gifted child. It may take a year or four of world travel with luxurious accommodations to fully acquaint the art world with your modern day van Gogh. Have easel; will travel. You will need to move to a state that allows unrestricted adoption of adults. I will be proud to have you as my loving, caring, pampering, indulgent, mollycoddling parental unit.
    Yours very, very, very truly.
    Doctor of Paintology Babooner
    PS. Tell my soon to sister, Emily, hello.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I could rant about this like Jacque. I find myself getting parents to focus less on negatives and more on positives with their children, mainly when the attention to negatives is increasing the frequency and intensity of negative behavior, The positives I ask them to focus on are respect, kindness, responsibility, cooperation, etc, not achievements. On the other hand, i also have to tell parents that they need to have stiffer consequences for wrongdoing. I am beginning to question the concept of unconditional positive regard when it causes children to think only of themselves and to have no respect for anyone. There is nothing wrong with children worrying about the impact that their behavior has on others and worrying about disappointing their parents. Everything in moderation.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Renee, about praising qualities other than achievement.

      Sunday afternoon a little girl – about 8 or 9 years old – rang our doorbell; she was selling Girl Scout cookies. Her dad was standing on the sidewalk with a little red wagon containing boxes of Thin Mints.

      I had already purchased some from a neighbor’s kid, so I politely declined. She smiled and said “thank you anyway,” and turned around and walked away.

      I was so surprised and taken aback by her good manners, that I just stood there. Then I grabbed my purse and ran after her. I made a point of telling her that the reason I had changed my mind and purchased three boxes of cookies was that she had taken my rejection with such poise, to which her father responded, “see, good manners do matter.”

      Liked by 6 people

        1. So much more respect for that than the all of the Girl Scout cookies sold by mom’s and dad’s who simply put out their kid’s order sheets at their place of employment. What’s that supposed to teach the kid?

          Liked by 2 people

      1. as a former Girl Scout, I can tell you, those Thin Mints will last and last, in the freezer or out.

        We just finished our last box from last season a couple of weeks ago.

        You have made a sound investment on a number of levels.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Parenting is truly a challenge. Now that I get to observe it up-close, I’m amused by my grandson Liam’s response to my daughter’s parenting. Kids don’t necessarily do what they’re told to do: they imitate what their parents do. Liam’s parents often tell him what to do. Why is it surprising that he–just turned five–is now telling his parents what they should do?

    To my daughter’s chagrin, Liam has become a backseat driver. The other day Molly glanced at her cell phone during a red light stop. “Mama,” said Liam, “you know you aren’t supposed to look at that thing.” This is all the harder to take because he is right.

    And he is now reading speedometers. Liam was nervous the other day because my daughter was driving him in her husband’s car while her Outback was being fixed. “Do you even know how to drive a Jeep?” asked Liam. Molly passed one of those signs that flashes your speed. The light flashed because she was going 36 in a 35 mph zone. “See,” noted Liam, “you can’t even drive the right speed!”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Molly and mislandgirl are both raising very gifted children. Such children are a challenge to raise. I faced that challenge. I will claim not to have been a success at it.


      1. I don’t know either of your children, Clyde, but I do know this: Your daughter donated an organ (kidney?) to someone. That attests to exceptional courage and generosity. Don’t know that you can take credit for it, but at least cut yourself some slack.

        One thing about parenting that few people seem to focus on is parents’ roles in the lives of their adult children. Some parents do a wonderful job of parenting when their offspring are young and in their formative years. Once the offspring is grown and begin to make adult decisions for themselves, such a choosing a mate, careers, life-style and how to parent their own offspring, the older generation often becomes critical and judgmental. I know many adults who have cordial, but not warm and loving, relationships with their parents because of this. Perhaps it’s an attempt to prevent their kids from making some of the same mistakes they made themselves, but it could also be a lack of respect for their adult children’s judgments. I see this again and again when grandparents’ deliberately interfere with or sabotage their adult children’s parenting strategies.

        Sorry to be so long-winded about this, but it’s a topic that I’m passionate about.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That won’t get better.

      I still remember getting the silent treatment for the remainder of an evening after a white pick-up being T-boned by a red sportscar right in front of us elicited an expletive from me….

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Once again Dale and I are in sync. I happen to have written on this topic from another point of view just yesterday. I may post it or maybe not.
    Wonderful wisdom so far. I will support a couple comments. In response to Renee, I ran into many children with social problems, self-motivation problems, anger issues, etc. When I dealt with their parents, I found they were parents who showered their kids with negatives. Sandy was raised by an abusive father who told her all through her childhood that she was sinful because she was why her parents had to get married, that she was good for nothing and therefore would not be able to do anything as an adult. She did not even consider college, but 1958 was still an era when women become secretaries or nurses or teachers. She chose the first. My d-i-l suffers from similar issues. And I did meet parents who put their children on too high a pedestal. Three parents pulled their children out of our school because I pushed their kids to do better, kids who had a lot of ability. The other common complaint against me was that I was too strict, mostly I say for expecting the basics of being a human in contact with other humans. However, one thing ex-students have told me is that they learned this from my classroom: if you obey the rules then the rules are no issue. I taught the kids, and many kids had me from grade 9 through 12, at least one semester each year, that if you don’t make me be strict, I will not be and we can have some fun and fool around, which they did learn, those who stayed with me, except for those few parents.
    BUT here is the single thing I learned from 24 years in the classroom. Every student is different. Some students flourish under criticism. Some shrivel. There are very few hard and fast rules for dealing with kids. You have to read the child and adjust. But all negative or all positive will work for very few. On every paper I used to indicate what was the best thing about that paper and the weakest. I would indicate what was a frequent strength and what was a frequent negative in their writing.
    I am not sure if any of it mattered. The home is the constant in good students. Students from good humans and good ability will succeed despite me more than because of me.
    I learned this: there are more good students coming out of bad homes than bad students coming out of good homes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Based on my fourteen years at the alternative school, I saw very, very few good students come out of bad homes. I know it happens, but kids pay a terrible price when their home environment is neglectful, violent or lacks any kind of normalcy. Good teachers and mentors can be life savers for such kids.


      1. In a regular school you do see a the good students who come out of bad homes, which you won’t at an alternative schools. My real point was that home life matters or has to be overcome. But you are right. Home life makes or breaks kids. It is hard to overcome that. But a piece of research on this topic showed that the kinds who succeed despite bad homes have resilience (but were that comes from was not discovered), have had some one adult intrude in their lives in a positive way, and some one other thing I forget.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Third thing: they thought in long term and bot only the short term. In other words they had plans. This seem to come from adult mentoring.


      1. When I was in graduate school for education, we were given a test to show in which philosophy we fell: idealism, realism, pragmatism, existentialism, and a couple others. I came out, on the basis of the teaching practices I used, a solid pragmatist, which I was.


        1. I think we are using the words a bit differently, Clyde. I’m sure you were practical. I’m also fairly sure that, compared to many or most teachers, you were idealistic and highly committed.


  8. I wrote this awhile back and stumbled upon it yesterday.

    Schools are not factories,
    students are not cars.
    Coming not from nowhere,
    Hide or show their scars.

    Some: homes of blessing.
    Music played; art known.
    Meals together eaten.
    Language ever grown.

    Most: homes of dull gray.
    Parents working to the bone.
    Children fed, not nourished.
    Surrendered to the loans.

    A few: live days in hell.
    Beaten, starved, alone.
    Who try to hide the pain.
    Building hearts of stone.

    She learns best with others.
    He learns best just reading.
    He learn best with rote.
    She the point is needing.

    She will please the teacher.
    He cannot sit still.
    She fears being wrong.
    His mind grinds like a mill.

    We count success by numbers.
    Not light bright in the eye.
    We want it in one score.
    We want to hear the lie.

    We blame schools and teachers.
    And let the TV drone.
    No wonder many look so dull.
    In our culture they have grown.

    Our hope we put in laws.
    In money spent, or not.
    We will not look into the mirror.
    And see what we have wrought.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Much food for thought.

    Somewhat related is a story I learned in teacher training about the rewards system, something like: A kindergartener loves to paint. She is given a gold star for every painting, and she collects lots of gold stars to put on her reward page. Then the teacher stops giving the gold stars. She stops painting. Collecting the stars had become more important than the act of painting.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I will know say after all my wordage the phrase I believe every American should learn to say at the end of every statement: But I could be wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I must not understand you correctly, PJ. It seems to me that it is one of the ills of our times that people are too convinced of the correctness of their opinions. “In my opinion” is WAY too humble for the way most people talk and think. This is one reason I treasure the model of Abraham Lincoln. He was consistently thoughtful and courageous, but always while acknowledging that he could be wrong.


        1. I remember a previous conversation here on the blog, Steve, where some baboons felt it unnecessary to write “in my opinion.” They argued that if I wrote it, then it follows that it’s my opinion. I reasoned that writing “in my opinion” makes clear that I realize others may not agree. As I recall, Clyde and tim, didn’t agree with me on that, but I could be wrong about that. So I’m merely suggesting that if you take it for granted that whatever I write is my opinion, and that therefore it is superfluous for me to actually write it, then it should be equally as obvious that I could be wrong if what I have expressed is an opinion as opposed to a fact. Nicht wahr?


  11. When Young Adult was about 6, she asked for something that I had to say no to. She pouted a bit and pointed out that a friend had the desired item. I said “I’m not _____’s mother. I’m yours – your mean old mom”. She piped up immediately, “you’re not old”. Hmmmmmmm.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. well, that’s something at least πŸ™‚

      I’m a mean mom too, as are the mom’s of most of the children my child has for friends.

      They are all surviving and have rare moments of gratitude for being blessed with a “mean” mom.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. My daughter actually had this discussion once with Liam. He protested because she had turned down one of his requests. She told him she could be the sort of mother who granted every request or the sort of mother who tried to do what was best for him. As I recall, he found this way of looking at the issue troubling, seeing that it might be better for him if his mother occasionally told him “no.”

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I certainly think children need guidance. On the other hand, children, as wells as adults, do not have accept guidance. If you absolutely need to have a child accept guidance because of if they don’t they might be doing something dangerous or harmful in some way, then you should insist that they do as you say. Other wise, they sometimes will not follow your guidance and that should be their choice if they choose to do that. You can’t, in my opinion, force children to do what you ask if they refuse and it isn’t really necessary for them to do it.


  13. There are a couple of ways to think of “unconditional positive regard”, too. It’s a form of love, or it’s a form of praise, and probably others. I don’t think praise is always warranted, and can be very detrimental if it’s undeserved – and kids know, as Dr. Babooner pointed out. But if you can come from a place of love, it’s better. You can say, after some horrible behavior, “I (still) love you, but I don’t like what you’re doing”. And I remember reading the parenting tip of saying “good job” instead of “good boy”, which came naturally to me anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The principal of the alternative school where I worked had the policy that every single student – every single one – should receive an award of some sort on the last day of school.

      We had some very dedicated and creative teachers, and they would always manage to come up with a reward for an accomplishment, no matter how minute. I recall one year, there was a student who was absent more than he attended school, routinely skipped class, never did any homework, was disrespectful and generally was a royal pain in the butt. No one could think of any reason to give him a reward, but somehow they finally managed to come up with one.

      These rewards were meaningless, and the students knew it. It was not uncommon to see students who had received awards for academic achievement dump them in the garbage on the way out of the assembly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Heh. Youngest daughter did various sport in her school; it was a small school, so there were no tryouts. While she wasn’t the most talented, she always played hard and to the best of her ability. At the end of the season, when there was a banquet, she would get the award for Most Improved almost every single time. This happened for years, for various sports.. The first couple of years, it was okay, but after that she said that it made her wonder just how bad was she at the beginning of each season that she would get the Most Improved award every single time. It became meaningless. Or an insult.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. One context for this issue of unconditional praise is the relatively fresh research that says what takes us far in life is not intelligence but “grit.” If that is true, we shouldn’t automatically praise our children for modest accomplishments but we should encourage them any time they seem to have stuck with a frustrating situation and gave the problem their best effort.


    1. The rugged individialistic rewarding only accomplishments ans successes idea got an interesting challenge for my very tough on himself child last week.

      We attended an info session at the U for a competitive program he is applying for. One of the factors they are looking for are students who can ask for help when they need it.

      The U is not going to be yourclifeguard and notice you are drowning, but will be more than happy to set you up with help if you request it. Current students strongly recommended checking in with profs and TAs as the best path to success.

      Yup, you aren’t expected to know it all before you get there. You are there to learn, not to show that you already know it all.

      Trust me, some kids really need to hear that.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. The rugged individialistic rewarding only accomplishments ans successes idea got an interesting challenge for my very tough on himself child last week.

    We attended an info session at the U for a competitive program he is applying for. One of the factors they are looking for are students who can ask for help when they need it.

    The U is not going to be yourclifeguard and notice you are drowning, but will be more than happy to set you up with help if you request it. Current students strongly recommended checking in with profs and TAs as the best path to success.

    Yup, you aren’t expected to know it all before you get there. You are there to learn, not to show that you already know it all.

    Trust me, some kids really need to hear that.


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