Praise can certainly be beneficial for our children. When we overpraise our children, however, we may be overusing praise and that may actually lower a child’s sense of self-worth.
You might be wondering…how is it possible to praise my children too much? Can we overpraise our children?
I hear you. Our children’s accomplishments are amazing.
From the significance of witnessing my oldest son take his first steps, to the simplicity of watching him master a button on his shirt, I’m guilty of showering him with praise.
Observing him grow, learn, and create is an incredible privilege and I want to make sure that he continues to feel inspired to do so.
I have come to realize that my overpraise was really more about my feelings than his. Honestly, my words may have even been lazy at times.
Let me explain.
A few weeks ago my son questioned why I had rewarded him with a “good job” when all he had done was put his shoes on, a task I had asked him to complete moments prior. “Interesting,” I thought to myself…..”Why had I done that?”
Turns out I had been doing just that, on autopilot, to the point that my praise had become meaningless. Even more, to the point my five-year-old, in his keen awareness, felt the need to let me know. My overpraise–something I felt was beneficial for his own self-love–may actually have been setting him up to continuously rely on me to evaluate his actions.
But, as parents committed to our child’s personal development, what can we do instead?
Practice Mindful Praise
Overpraising without a clear intention becomes insignificant. Take note of what prompts you to praise your children and how often you do so. This knowledge alone makes praise a more mindful practice and allows us to select when we really, truly believe it is best to do so.
Inflated, or exaggerated, praise (“that design is the most amazing one I have ever seen!”) can even deflate a child’s feelings of self-worth. As self-worth declines, and a parent’s praise increases, the situation becomes even worse. This praise paradox research is particularly true for children with low self-esteem.
Praise Effort Instead
Research has found that praising effort vs. person praise—complimenting an individual directly, such as, “You are so talented”— fosters a sense of hard work in children. Children receiving compliments on their effort (“I am proud of how much work you put into this project…..”) are more likely to accept challenges and adopt a growth mindset.
Show Interest and Excitement
Instead of the usual praise for my son’s artwork, I have been making an effort to dive deeper into the story behind his creations. “Wow, what do you think about that painting?” “What inspired it?” “Tell me more about it.” These open-ended questions and statements allow us to tap into more meaningful conversation and seem to leave him inspired to continue creating because of it.
I never intend to stop praising my children of course, but my attention is increasingly flowing to how I am doing it. As with everything in life, the more present we are with our actions, the more healing they can become for ourselves and the littlest among us.