What’s your approach to praising children?

Recent research suggests that parents and teachers who heap praise on children may not be doing them any favors. What’s your approach to praising children?

  • Todd

    We are raising what I like to call “self-esteem junkies. They’ve been told they’re the greatest thing in the world, but when they get to the real world and realize they’re not they do not know how to deal with it. They do not know how to take any criticism, even constructive criticism. I think this is one of the reasons so many young adults are moving back home.

  • Steven

    As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. Kids have to learn that “no” is not a dirty word. The experience of rising to challenges and overcoming adversity is essential to becoming a mature adult, instead of a grown-up spoiled brat.

  • Gerald L. Myking

    Children are a lot smarter than adults give them credit for. Heaping praise may be effective at the early stages of childhood but as they get older they get wiser. Some of the lessons they learn are negative. They learn how to manipulate others and you can easily spot the adults who were raised with excess praise. I personally have a great distrust of overly nice people. Honest praise keeps them in touch with reality. Instead of telling them they are the best you tell them they have gotten better if they in fact have. It is all about recongnizing them for real achievement or improvement.

  • dick holt

    With so much competition for the attention of our kids that can detract from the value/importance off education, it is hard not to over praise them for school accomplishments. Our approach with our kids and grandkids is to give lot’s of praise but also suggest they should feel good about what they accomplish, especially if they are putting in the effort.

    Also, modeling the kind of behavior you expect is still the best way to encourage it and perhaps reduce the need to provide extensive praise.

  • Joanna

    First two commenters said it: honesty is key!

    But blunt honesty can also be cruel to children; what about the notion of the happy medium?

    In our family we like the idea of “catching them when they’re doing well/right/succeeding” to reinforce positive behavior (“thanks for helping me carry in the groceries”, “I love to see how nice you are to the little kids”) and setting boundaries (“when you talk to me in that tone of voice, I don’t really feel like giving you what you’re asking for”) when the situation warrants. If we only praise, it’s confusing. If we never praise, children will not have the fortitude to stand up against peer pressure or negative social messages (because there are so many) that contribute to destructive ideas and behaviors. It’s not praise/no praise, but when to praise, what to praise, and how to balance that with setting boundaries.

    There have always been people who spoil their kids by never setting boundaries. Generalizations about how “we” are going off the deep end in one direction or another are not helpful; they only add to the guilt-tripping of parents that seems to be a sport of the idle. A positive approach to this issue would not be to blame parents for raising a generation of spoiled kids (because when you talk to me in that tone of voice, I’m not really motivated to listen to your advice!) but to pose the question such as: how do we balance building self-esteem through praise with building self-esteem by setting boundaries and helping kids learn the consequences of their behaviors?

  • Mike R

    Kids these days! With their long hair and their loud music! We didn’t even HAVE self esteem when I was growing up. All we had was ridicule and denigration, and we turned out just fine. Not like these spoiled youngsters today, with their Spacebooks and Internets.

    Every generation thinks the kids in the next generation are going to send the world to hell in a handbasket. Somehow Western civilization has survived intact through every subsequent generation of “spoiled kids.”

  • Tom Hickson

    My feeling is that it is better to praise specifically, rather than broadly. I try to not say, “you are SO smart!” or “you are such a wonderful artist!” Instead, I tend to say things like, “Wow, you were able to add those numbers together so fast,” or “look how precise you drew those lines.” My thinking is that the broad praise is vague and doesn’t really explain WHY what my daughter (age 6) did was deserving of praise. I also think that it avoids over-praising and giving her the sense that she is uber-smart, creative, whatever.

  • Kerry Johnson

    I also believe honesty and balance are the key. I think overpraising kids, especially older ones, is not helping them face the reality that exists in the work-a-day world. The first authority figure, professor or employer who is honest with them and corrects them will shatter the self-idolatry that has been built by years of unrealistic praise. I’d rather take the correction early and often than with one big wake up call. My parents were generous with both praise and correction. I learned how to take correction, which was hard at the time, but, I believe, prepared me much better for life.

  • Greg Mjoen

    Everyone, not only children, need to hear the good and the bad. If you are never critiqued then how will you ever know to improve or change? Positive self-esteem is a balance between knowing what you do well and what you need to improve on.

  • stephen Wiesenauer

    Matteo Ricci once wrote to a princely friend: the harm done by a friend’s excessive praise is greater than the harm that is done by an enemy’s excessive calumny.(On Friendship,translation:timothy billings)

    I am the father of two. For me it is not a question of how much, but is the praise honest and appropriate? Both honest praise and gentle correction make for good motivation.too much of one and not enough of the other always backfires-at least that is my experience.

  • stu klipper

    When it comes to praising children I resort to pure Skinnerian reward methods.

    I give them tasty little pellets to eagerly gnaw on.

    Or, in some cases I apply a mild electrical stimulus to a pleasure center in their brain via a tiny implanted electrode.

    Seems do wonders. They invariably return for more — at times to the point of sheer exhaustion.

    As you might suppose, I have a BA in psychology!

  • Bob Lucas

    Maria Montessori had it right 100 years ago. Give children meaningful work to do that contributes to their community and they will feel good about themselves and what they are doing. It has been working with children as young as 2 and 3 for many years.