Praise and Children: Building Real Self-Esteem

Can praising kids be a bad thing? Not as long as we remember a couple of helpful strategies. Check out this video we did with our local TV station to demonstrate the power of praise:

 
The right kind of praise and encouragement help our children develop the self-confidence and knowledge they need to reach their potential. That is why it is so important to really understand what good praise looks like - and when it falls short of meeting the mark.
 
Here are four ways that praise might undermine what our kids need to succeed:
 
  • Insincere praise can lead to doubts of competence. Showering kids with words that hold no meaning or substance can cause children to lose trust in your words. Worse yet, they may grow to doubt their skills and abilities in the absence of meaningful, accurate feedback. 
  • Generic praise may lead to risk avoidance. If you constantly tell children that they are naturally and universally smart, they may be less likely to challenge themselves and take risks, lest they disappoint you.
  • Constant praise can decrease persistence and cause 'constant checking.' Children may become dependent on praise if they becomes accustomed to continuous positive feedback. This erodes self-reliance and confidence to work through challenges on their own.
So where does this leave us? We absolutely want children to feel loved, known, and encouraged by the adults in their lives. That is exactly why we want to make sure that we praise kids in ways that boost their confidence and self-esteem, instead of eroding it.
 
Here are four quick tips for good praise: 
 
  • Praise the effort more than the ability. Instead of "Honey, you are so good at math," try "I am so proud that you worked hard on that problem set even though it was difficult. Nice job." 
  • Make praise specific, not generic. Instead of "Nice job today." try "I noticed that you reached out and included Natalie today at soccer practice. I love that about you."
  • Praise has to be sincere. Instead of "I am sure that your presentation in class today was perfect! try "I know that getting up in front of people is hard for you. I am so proud that you tried it in class today. How do you feel about how it went?"
  • Praise should be intermittent, not overdone. Instead of taking a small thing and blowing it out of proportion, match the praise to the action. Sometimes just naming an accomplishment and smiling is enough. "You just finished that whole book!"
For more on self-esteem and praise listen to Dr. Dave and Erin Walsh's podcast on the subject!