How much praise we give to children is a growing debate in the United States. There are some who say too much praise will give kids a false sense of reality, an inflated ego, or a pride complex. In places like China, praise is so rare it is a cultural taboo. However, withholding praise to children can also be emotionally damaging. There is a right and wrong way to give your kids the praise they need.
Foremost, parents should make an effort not to throw insincere, unspecific praise at their kids. Praise should be earned and sincere. Praise should convey positive focus on accomplishments, effort and traits that kids can feel confident in. It should never be used for a tool of comparison with others or basis for their self-worth. Too much praise can unintentionally give children a false sense of worth, while not enough praise can lead to inadequacy complexes.
Where is the balance? Most of the time, when parents simply have an awareness of when and where they offer praise support to their children, it will give them the natural balance they need. Be mindful not to praise them too much for things they already know they can easily accomplish. Kids know what false praise is, and it renders your authentic praise worthless. Don’t set too high of standards, instead, focus on the importance of effort and skill mastering.
Be specific with the feedback you give. “Good job!” is a rather ambiguous statement. Instead try, “I like the way you chose lots of red in your picture,” or “I can see you have been working on starting your paragraphs with a variety of sentence structuring. It makes for a more descriptive read.”
These patterns of authentic praise don’t just feed your children mindless approval, but they give comparisons, standards and welcoming feedback. This makes it much less likely for your child to associate accomplishment with self-worth. Dr. Paul Donahue, founder and director of Child Development Associates reports that feeding kids false praise isn’t healthy. “Somehow, parents have come to believe that by praising their kids they improve their self-esteem. Though well-intentioned,” Donahue explained, “putting kids on a pedestal at an early age can actually hinder their growth.”
Experts stress that quality of praise trumps the amount you give. If praise is authentic with a focus on the effort rather than the outcome, parents can praise their kids as often as warranted. Some kids and adults feed on the need for verbal affirmation, words of praise and validation more than others. Sincerity is the key. Shallow praise will leave people feeling shallow. Demonstrating depth with your approval and honesty in your feedback will bring the value into the validation. Praise, when done properly, can bring your child through tasks small or large from potential to success.