My daughter came running up to me all smiles and big eyes, wanting to show me what she'd done to clean up her room.
This is an unusual thing in our house. My kids would rather live in chemical dumps than in pristine spaces, but we recently informed her that to earn back some privileges, she needed to show us she was mature enough to handle them. We assigned her the task of keeping her room neat, clean and tidy.
I walked in, looked around and was impressed.
I said, "You know, if you pick up these things over here in this box, and take care of those doll clothes under that chair there, and..."
She had left the room trying not to cry.
I called her back and met her in the Jack & Jill bathroom she shares with her brother. I got down on my knees, looked her in the eye, and said:
"I'm so sorry, honey. I did that really poorly. May I start over, please?"
"I am so impressed with what you've done in there. Your room looks absolutely beautiful. Everything has been put away and you took so much care in straightening things out and lining up your dolls. It looks wonderful and I'm just blown away by it."
She smiled and gave me a big hug.
We walked back into her room and I spent another few minutes pointing out some other specific things she did that I noticed and talked up how much nicer her life would be thanks to these improvements. Only then did I try again:
"Now, what you've done is great. To make it absolutely perfect? We just need to take care of a couple things."
This time, as I pointed out a pile of rubbish near her bed and desk, she said she was planning to take that downstairs and throw it out. Then she had an idea. "Can I get a bag, put this in it and then empty the rest of the trash cans upstairs and downstairs too?"
What a difference!
See, I first focused on the areas for improvement, not on the accomplishment she had made. This left her thinking that she'd not done well enough and wounded her big heart.
Instead, remembering everything I've learned about "praise sandwiches", I realized that principle applies to my home as well as my work.
So I wedged my pointers between two big old slices of praise and she was happy beyond measure, and took all my ideas to heart. And added some of her own!