Praise has gotten a lot of media attention lately and many parenting magazines and blogs now seem to offer conflicting advice about whether or not to praise your children. Personally, I think we’re simply over-thinking the issue. To me, praise is a natural reaction – when you’re impressed by something someone has done, you praise them.
Here are some of my thoughts on praising a child:
- Praise should be used to help build your child’s self-esteem and to reinforce good behaviour and new habits.
- It is important that you do not use praise as a way to bribe your children, but rather to celebrate their achievements. Praising a child for doing something that you’ve already provided an incentive for (such as: If you do your homework I’ll buy you a chocolate) does not help build his self-esteem or increase his motivation.
- Praise has to be sincere – otherwise children are likely to dismiss it. As children get older they begin to understand that people might have motives for behaving in a certain. When your child thinks that your praise in insincere he may begin to think you feel sorry for him or that you are simply trying to manipulate him into doing something. Insincere praise often has the opposite effect than that intended and it may lower your child’s self-esteem rather than help build it up.
- Praise should be proportionate to the amount of work or effort put in. Praising a child extensively for accomplishing a minor feat could either lead him to develop an inflated self-esteem (which is bound to get crushed when the outside world does not respond with the same enthusiasm) or could lead him to believe that you are not being sincere.
- Praise the effort not the outcome. Constantly praising a child for the outcomes he achieve may put pressure on him to attain the some sort of standard. When he is unable to maintain this standard it may create a negative spiral leading to self doubt and a poor self-esteem.
- Praise and encouragement go hand-in-hand. Encourage your child while they’re in the process of applying themselves by saying things like: “You’re on the right track” or “You’ve almost got it”.
- Be specific with your praise. Rather say something like: “Well done for sharing your sweeties with your sister at the party today!” rather than “I’m proud of how you behaved at the party”.
- Don’t praise kids for achievements that come easily. If your child has always been a maths wiz praising him for doing his maths homework is a little excessive, rather praise him for mastering a new maths concept or learning to spell a word he has always battled with.
- The focus should be on mastering skills NOT on comparing your child to others. Don’t say things like: “Your picture is so much prettier than your friends” but rather “I really like the way you remembered to draw five fingers on the hand, well done!”.
- Don’t overpraise children for doing something they enjoy. Rather focus on encouraging them to attempt and complete a task they do not enjoy.
Anel Annandale is a prominent Educational Psychologist with a passion for early childhood development and a special interest in neuropsychology.
She is experienced in the field and has established herself as an expert, often appearing on television shows such as Exspresso. She is also available as a guest speaker at relevant events and functions.