Praising a child is a good thing, isn’t it? Doesn’t praise boost self-esteem, which is crucial to achievement, sound decision-making and healthy relationships?
According to Heidi Stevens’ superb article, “In Criticism of Praise,” in the January 2015 issue of the Southwest Airlines inflight magazine: not if you overdo it.
She describes a belief among parents of her generation that “the more praise the better.” She and other parents like her have believed that kids should get positive feedback for everything they do, even if what they do isn’t their best effort.
However, she cites studies that prove that praise affirming who they are, e.g. “you’re so smart” or “you have a good mind for math,” can make kids want to avoid seeking out challenges. They don’t want to risk failure, which might show that they really aren’t that competent.
On the other hand, when kids are praised for things they did well, e.g., “it looks like all that research you did this week paid off” or “I could tell you were really focused and hustling out there today,” kids are more motivated to repeat the behavior and try harder in the future.
Also, young people know when praise is genuine and when it’s not. When they receive compliments for their half-hearted efforts, they come to distrust the parent’s opinion. If the praise isn’t valid, maybe the unspoken message is that they’re inadequate.
So even if a parent is well-intended and wants to communicate love and support, over-praising can have the opposite effect. It can lead to lower self-esteem and discourage curiosity, innovation and effort, which are essential to success in school and beyond.
The solution is not to stop praising your child, but to praise appropriately:
- Notice a worthy effort based on the child’s capabilities right now.
- Describe the behavior in specific terms.
- Express your genuine delight.
I recommend that you read the article. You’ll be glad you did.