A horror of criticising our children leads to an equally harmful practice, a top psychoanalyst explains to Sian Griffiths
Collecting his daughter from nursery one day, Stephen Grosz overheard the assistant tell her: “You’ve drawn the most beautiful tree. Well done.” A few days later he heard her say of another drawing: “Wow, you really are an artist.”
On both occasions, writes Grosz in The Examined Life, his first book, “my heart sank. How could I explain to the nursery assistant that I would prefer it if she didn’t praise my daughter?”
It seems an extraordinary statement. Why would a father — and a psychoanalyst, to boot — not want his daughter to be complimented? Sitting in his consulting rooms in Hampstead, northwest London, Grosz pours me a cup of tea before answering.
“Admiring our children may temporarily lift our sense of self-esteem but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self,” he says. “Empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism — it expresses indifference to the child’s feelings and thoughts.” (read more)