Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

The Power of Praise

Do we undermine a child's success when we praise too much (and without good reason)?

I believe that recognizing children for their good choices or positive behaviors helps them know when they “get it right.” I also believe this lets them know when I am proud of them and what it is that I appreciate. I think that knowing when someone is proud of you is positive. We all like to be recognized when we perform well – especially when that recognition comes from someone who matters. And we all know that the person who matters most to a child is his or her parent!

I do worry sometimes, though, that we are raising our children in a culture that “over-praises.” It seems to me that somewhere along the way, the practice of praise became associated with children developing a positive self-esteem. Low self-esteem has been blamed as a root for many childhood issues. So to combat this and ensure our children had a positive self image, we began to praise children even when their performance was mediocre. In many circumstances all children who participated in events were recognized. We stopped identifying the “winners” in an attempt to make all children feel good about themselves. If you ran the race you got a prize and it didn’t matter who crossed the finish line first – or does it?

I think who crossed the line first does matter. And I think that we have become so fearful of children feeling like failures that we are failing them. The reality is that I do not expect my children to excel in every area of their life. I expect that there are times they will succeed and times they will fall short. When they experience success I want to recognize that with praise. When they fail or fall short I want to help them deal with the disappointment. When they have really tried but failed I will praise them for their perseverance – but I am not going to turn the failure into a win. I believe that over-praising can actually deplete a child’s self-esteem – while a child overcoming a challenge promotes their self-esteem.

I believe in the power of praise. I believe it can be influential, especially when the praise for the children is coming from his or her parent. We need to praise our children and affirm that we notice their successes – no matter how small. But like anything else, it loses its spark when over-used.

– Carolyn

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