279. “You Acted So Grown-Up Today”

It’s not unusual for a child to hear this compliment from an adult: “You acted so grown-up today.” I think there’s something wrong with that compliment. We may occasionally compliment adults by telling them they look young, but we don’t usually say to them, with pride in our voices, “You acted so much like a child today.”
Since growth is usually a goal we have for our children, we try to reinforce it in the way we bestow our praises. And children learn to take pride in their growth. They’d probably feel pretty good about it whether we praised it or not; it’s fun to be able to do and to know what you couldn’t do and didn’t know before. Still, praise can sometimes help.
But there’s another way to think about this. Children are, in fact, not grown- ups. From their point of view, they won’t be grown-ups for a long time. What they are is children. So in a way, the proud words and looks say to them, “I’m so proud of you that you make me forget about your intrinsic inferiority. You make me think you’re something you actually aren’t, and because I think that, I’m proud of you.”
I may be nit-picking. If we’re proud of the growth we see in our children, it may not matter so much which words we use to let them know about our pride. They may quickly, unconsciously translate any inaccurate statements we make, and simply feel appreciated: “I’m not a grown-up, and I know that. What this adult really means is that I did or said something good.”
Since children mostly want to grow up, we can begin to think of maturity as the carrot at the end of the stick: “Do what I want you to do, and I’ll think of you as more of a grown-up.” Maybe the child shares, waits, or stays quiet at appropriate times. And there are actually plenty of adults who do those things, too. But we and children also know adults who don’t.
And besides, what’s wrong with being a child? If there’s something intrinsically better about being a grown-up, then there must also be something worse about being a child. And I don’t think there is. Maturity will come in good time, and childhood is good, too. Patience, generosity, etc. are not quite so dependent on age.
But really, I don’t think it’s such a big deal. I hope this article didn’t make you think you’re doing anything wrong. In fact, I’m proud of you for reading the whole article; most young and middle-aged adults probably wouldn’t have finished it; I think reading the whole thing was very old of you.

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