What’s the Right Way to Praise Your Child

By Janis Meredith | Posted 4/20/2020

Everyone agrees that praising your child is important. They need encouragement. In fact, we all do!

Encouragement keeps us moving forward and working hard. 

There’s a lot of discussion these days about parental affirmation. We constantly hear about the importance of telling our kids how awesome they are and how proud we are of them. But is there such a thing as too much praise? Or perhaps it’s more a matter of what parents are praising.

In addition to turning up the volume of praise, we’ve become a bit careless with the content. Without thinking, we make reckless, flattering remarks that feel good in the moment but that may steer kids in the wrong direction. That flattery is likely focused on their smarts, looks or talent–and can actually do more harm than good.

When we affirm things on the outside–clothes, hair, eyes, grades, performance in a game–kids’ values become twisted. Don’t get me wrong; I will always sincerely compliment my kids if they look particularly beautiful or handsome, if they bring home an awesome report card or if they have a stellar athletic performance. But those externally-focused affirmations are often about things that are out of their control, while compliments on their efforts and behavior–things in their control–are neglected.

If I were to ask you what kinds of behaviors you want to see in your child, you’d probably say things like honesty, hard work, persistence, compassion–all character traits. So, if that’s what you want to see in your child, remember this important saying: What gets rewarded, gets repeated.

Be intentional about your praise. Think about what you want your child to work on, then praise those behaviors.

In the book, 12 Huge Parenting Mistakes You Can Avoid, the author identifies three common praise mistakes: 

1.    Praising “fixed features.” We praise things that they actually don’t have any control over.

2.    Praising carelessly. We praise without thinking, telling them things that simply are not true, just so they feel better about themselves. Careless praise becomes hollow and means little in the long run.

3.    Praising that doesn’t match performance. Parents often exaggerate because they are trying to make a point. They may say “awesome” or “excellent” when a child really only put forth the minimal effort.

“Somehow, parents have come to believe that by praising their kids they improve their self-esteem,” Paul Donahue, 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.” 

So how should you praise your kids?

Praise them for effort.

Reward their character traits.

Teach them to enjoy the process as much as the end result.

Make sure the praise matches their effort.

Praise with sincerity.

Affirm unique features that your child has that are different from other kids.

Tell them you love watching them perform, no matter what the outcome is.

Allow them the freedom to fail and then learn from it.

Work on building a secure home that does not cater to their every whim, but where they know they are loved.

When in doubt, always praise what is in their control.

In looking for ways to praise your child, look for what your child has on the inside, not just what they display on the outside.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com


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