Praise vs. Witnessing

I remember hearing “Good boy” and “You’re such a good boy.”

That was certainly better than what some kids hear… not a word of praise or recognition.

Still, as I read the invitations to witness, and try on what it would have felt like to receive those words growing up, they feel more… deeply rooting to me.

I remember learning to pogo stick. Yes, lots of bruises and scrapes. Then I learned to pogo stick for a long time, and up and down stairs, and do tricks. One day I pogo sticked for almost 3 hours straight without stopping.

I was praised by my Mom for the achievement. What I cannot recall every sensing was that she was really aware of the journey I was on, the devotion I was showing to that skill.

No wonder I keep waiting for the pat on the head and to hear, “Good Dog!” (I mean Good Boy!)

Now I just need someone to tell me, “Good Dad!” each time I use witnessing rather than just praise. @Jem ? :innocent:


Being truly seen makes all the difference in the world. “Generic” praise can feel confusing, and not always sincere.

I used to work for someone who rarely if ever gave kudos to anyone, and at some point someone said something to him about it. So, he told me what a good job I’d done on X thing, and I knew I’d done a not great job (due to being insanely busy and giving it the bare minimum due to lack of time.)

So, the praise he was trying to give me felt insincere and it backfired.


Good dad! :wink:

It’s true that witnessing is more grounding, helpful, and empowering than plain, generic praise… and to do that, we need to have greater Presence and awareness of each other, too. We can only offer specificity if we’re really paying attention — which can be hard to do in our world of constant distraction and long to-do lists!

I see how much our boy appreciates really Being Seen for what he’s doing, rather than just being given a “good job” (although he certainly likes that better than no acknowledgement at all!).

If I’m looking at my phone or his sister or something else when he wants to share something with me, he constantly looks up to check if I’m actually watching him… I’ve learned that I can’t just look briefly and say “that’s great!” — especially when if I’m also making dinner or something; if he doesn’t meet my gaze and know that I’ve truly seen him, or if I don’t comment on a specific aspect of what he’s wanting to share with me, he gets grumpy and/or increases the demand for attention until the need to Be Seen is actually met.

Once that need is met, something settles in him, and he can go back to his project feeling more full, more grounded through that connection.

It reminds me a little of when people ask “how are you?” but don’t seem very interested in our response — if we just say “fine”, there’s not much room for deeper connection.
Saying “good job” kind of ends the conversation, rather than allowing it to deepen or open into new realms of connection, as can happen with witnessing.

Witnessing with genuine curiosity and appreciation helps build the We-Space of deeper, more genuine, thriving relationships.

(And, if that wasn’t modeled for us, it’s a lot harder to do!)