The power of positive parenting is amazing and parents who grew up with little praise understand that children respond better to positive encouragement than they do to reprisals or the promise of punishment. But sometimes, praising your kids becomes such a habit that we tend to overdo it.
“Somehow, parents have come to believe that by praising their kids they improve their self-esteem,” Paul Donahue, PhD, founder and director of Child Development Associates, says. “Though well-intentioned, putting kids on a pedestal at an early age can actually hinder their growth.”
It’s ok to lose
Sometimes you need to praise the process rather than the outcome. If your child’s baseball team lost, but they went to every practice and tried their little hearts out, then you should praise their resilience, their tenacity and their effort. But take care not to pretend that they didn’t lose. Losing is part of life and they have to learn to deal with the disappointments.
When you over-praise, your kids lose the value of a positive word from mom or dad and the good feeling that comes with achieving something noteworthy. This will mean that you will have to find other ways to motivate your child. Some parents here turn to cash or material incentives but, warns Jenn Berman, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy and Confident Kids this will lead to kids who can’t self-motivate: “I believe that we want children who are self-motivated. If you tell your daughter, ‘If you get an A on the test I’ll give you $5,’ then you are creating a situation in which your child is motivated by money, not by the positive feelings of success.”
Steps to proper praise
Each child and situation is unique and as their parents, you know best how and when to praise, but the experts do agree on a few pointers:
Be genuine: Focus on praising when you are sincerely impressed. If words like ‘good job’ and ‘that was great’ pepper your every sentence, it may be time to cut back.
Be specific: Pick out the exact things that you thought they tried really hard at and praise those for example, instead of saying “You are great at science” try “I was really impressed by the work you put into your science project. I know the other kids didn’t do their share so you had to work a little harder and you did a great job of managing your team.”
Say it like you mean it: To praise your children’s every action, even when you aren’t impressed, is to reduce the value of their efforts, so choose wisely.
Praise younger children more: In a study of 24-month old children (Kelley et al 2000), researchers recorded how mothers responded to their toddlers while they attempted a challenging task. A year later the same families were invited back and kids were tested again. Researchers found that the 36-month old kids who were most likely to take on new challenges were the ones whose mothers had praised them more.