Is Your Child Becoming A Praise Junkie?
By Michael Grose
Do you praise your child when he fulfils a basic bodily function? Do
you praise your child for obeying the laws of gravity? Do you give
praise for simple socialization procedures that your child practices
No, you say. Have you ever praised your child for finishing all his
meal? Ever praised a child for staying on his bike or perhaps
staying vertical on roller-blades? Ever praised a toddler for their
terrific smile and fantastic manners?
In the last few decades parents in many parts of the world including
the US. UK and Australia have enthusiastically followed the positive
parenting teachings, but for some praise for a job well done has
become like a nervous tic.
"You finished your meal. What a guy!"
"That’s the best work I’ve ever seen!"
"You are such a clever little swimming girl."
"You used the toilet. Let’s ring grandma and tell her what a clever
girl your are!"
Sound familiar. Yes most parents are well aware of the notion of
praise but are we going too far? Parents and teachers can praise
children so much that it becomes a little like water off a duck’s
back and so lack any real meaning for kids. Too much praise can
actually be demotivating for kids.
Before condemning or pushing the virtues of praise it is worth
remembering why parents have been encouraged to use it in the first
place. Its origins can be traced to the need to provide a child with
a positive level of self esteem. The benefits of positive or healthy
self esteem has been well-researched in recent years with one recent
British long-term study indicating that self-esteem is a better
indicator for positive outcomes for kids than intelligence or high
Children gain their self-esteem from the messages that they receive
and through their interactions with the world. The main
developmental tasks for children under ten is to work out what they
can do and how they fit into the world. Am I a chump or champ? is a
question that concerns many children. Praise has been promoted as
the predominant parental tool to boost children’s self esteem. But
like any tool it can be misused and indeed overused so that it
I have my concerns about praise as a successful parenting strategy.
Yes, it can be overused however I have never met an adult who says
that they can’t cope because they were overpraised as a child. But
too much praise can be demotivating. If a child is told everything
he does is FANTASTIC then how will he ever really know when he has
done something that really is fantastic. Sometimes mediocrity needs
to be recognized rather than boosted to another level.
I also have a hunch that overpraising kids also makes them dependent
on others for their self-esteem. I have seen kids brought up on
lavish diets of praise always checking in with their parents and
teachers about how they are progressing. Constant comments such as
"Is this good, Mum? Did I do well, Dad?" are signs of
praise-dependent kids. You may say does this matter? I am not sure,
but I think the more kids depend on others for their feelings of
self-worth the more likely they are to be open to peer-pressure
later on. Peers replace parents as people to please.
Encouragement is a far more powerful esteem-building tool than
praise and it doesn’t have the adverse side effects. The differences
are slim but important. Encouragement focuses on the process of what
a child does whereas praise focuses on the end result. Encouraging
comments focus on effort, improvement, involvement, enjoyment,
contribution or displays confidence whereas praise concerns itself
with good results. An encouraging parent gives children feedback
about their performance but they ensure the feedback is realistic
and they work from positives rather than negatives.
parent will note a child’s efforts in toilet-training and recognize
that mistakes are part of the learning process so they are not too
fussed about the results. Praise however is saved for a clean nappy
and a full potty. Encouragement recognizes that a child is
participating and enjoying a game while praise focuses on winning or
a fine performance. Okay, the differences are academic and it may
seem like splitting hairs but the results on the potty, in a game or
even at the kitchen table should concern children more than they do
adults. As soon as we become more concerned about results than
children we move into areas of children’s concern and out of areas
of our concern. In short, praise is about control and encouragement
is about influence.
In some ways kids can become saturated by encouragement just as they
can by praise. And of course some children need more encouragement
(or praise) than others. Certainly there are times in kids’ lives
just as there are times in adults lives when an encouraging word is
needed more than others. But the art of encouragement (or praising )
is about giving it when it is needed and when it is due rather than
giving it thoughtlessly and with little meaning.
The use of encouragement, like praise, requires some moderation and
restraint for it to be effective. Just as a child who gorges himself
on lollies will soon lose interest in something that was once a
treat a child who is praised for every little deed will eventually
need a veritable phrase book of positives to get him motivated.
Michael Grose is a leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and over 300 parenting columns in magazines and newspapers in three contintents. For more practical ideas to help you raise happy kids and resilient young people visit
parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids, Michael's free email newsletter and receive free report - sven ways to beat sibling rivalry.