19/04/2011 09:26 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Best Compliment? When People Praise Your Children's Behaviour

The best compliment? When people praise your children's behaviour Alamy

Kate Winslet weeps when anyone pays her a compliment about the behaviour of her children, according to Glamour magazine.

In an interview published in the April edition of the magazine, Kate says: 'The highest compliment I could ever receive about my kids - and I can say that this does happen frequently - is when the in-flight crew say to me, "Your children are wonderful. They are so well-behaved." Every time I am told that, I could weep.'

She's not alone, either. 'It is the ultimate compliment, isn't it?' says my friend Tara, a mum of three. Another friend, a mum of four, agrees: 'I positively glow when people tell me my kids are well behaved,' and adds: 'I am also slightly disbelieving as they are either cheeky little so-and-so's or grumpy farts behind closed doors. I love going to parents evening just to be told my kids are great. God help me - and them - when the day dawns that there's a bad report.'

So why do we get such a kick out of hearing compliments about our kids?

Parenthood is a thankless task, at least during the early years, and words of praise for parents can be few and far between. Perhaps it's hugely reassuring to be told that, in effect, you're doing a decent job. Or that, at the very least, the inevitable weak spots in your parenting repertoire aren't visibly wreaking havoc in your children's lives, or turning them into anti-social brats who send other people running for the hills.

Parents get so little in the way of feedback - so the fact that someone takes the time to compliment you for the job you're doing means a lot, and can be a real antidote to the unspoken insecurities that many of us have about ourselves as parents.

But maybe we shouldn't be so quick to melt at a few kind words about our kids? I would be horrified if a stranger were to take me to task about my parenting skills the next time my child flips out in a public place, or throws a wobbler under the watchful gaze of tutting onlookers. I'd be irate at the implication that a tantrum is in some way a reflection of the quality of my parenting - so why am I so quick to feast on praise as if my children's moments of good behaviour are also down to me?

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, agrees that we should be wary of praise where it feeds our desire to be perfect. 'It's the ultimate compliment to have someone comment on your child's behaviour, and I can understand why Kate Winslet feels the way she does when it happens,'
she says. 'But I think many of us face a real danger in trying to be perfect parents of perfect children - and that's not going to do anyone any good in the long run. Children aren't always perfectly behaved - and nor should they be.

'Life is about success and failure and learning to deal with both. Compliments are lovely but they do tend to put the spotlight on external factors, such as how a child looks or acts, which can be rather superficial elements of who a child is, and what they think and feel.'

Mum of one, Lynne, knows how that feels, and is constantly on the slightly awkward receiving end of comments about her son's good looks and long eyelashes. 'It just seems wrong to focus on the way a child looks,' she says. 'I think compliments should be for something you've achieved, not for things that have happened to you. I know he has really long eyelashes, and I get why people comment on them - I would too - but to compliment him about them? It isn't like he's done anything to achieve them, and neither have I for that matter.'

In contrast, Lynne says she bursts with pride when people pay her compliments about things she knows her son has worked hard to achieve. 'I can't get enough of that,' she admits.

Maybe we should all give more credit to our kids - and not be so surprised when they do us proud in public.

Do you appreciate comments on your children's behaviour?