The Art of Praise

the careerclub the art of praise

Well done. Good job. You’re great. That was fantastic!

Most parenting books these days will tell you that praising your child is a good thing. That praise acknowledges good behaviour and by rewarding that behaviour we encourage our children to repeat it. It makes sense. But is it always true?

Dr Haim Ginott describes praise as “emotional medicine” and counsels that we should use it with the same care and attention with which we administer any other drug. Too much praise, or praise in the wrong place, at the wrong time, can actually be harmful.

Of course, the positives of praise are numerous. It boosts a child’s confidence, it acknowledges their work and their achievements and it rewards them for their efforts.

As we have already mentioned praise can be used to encourage a child to repeat a positive behaviour or action. In recent studies, it has been shown that children who were asked to help another child, and they were praised for doing so, were twice as likely to help again.

Perhaps the most important effect of praise is that it gives a child ownership of their actions and outcomes. 

Praise teaches a child to believe that they can improve themselves through effort

So if praise is so good for a child’s learning, growth and emotional development, how can we say that there are any negatives attached to it?

It really comes down to the type and style of praise given. For instance:

Insincere praise

This is praise given when a task is not completed or not done to the child’s ability. Children are not stupid, when we offer praise in this instance they know that we are either lying, don’t understand the child or we feel sorry for them. This type of praise will not boost a child’s confidence and will ultimately cause them to lose trust and belief in praise given for other accomplishments.

Inflated praise

Inflated praise is when we offer over-the-top praise for a task that was easy to complete or when we exaggerate the praise. “You’re perfect” “that was the best I’ve ever seen” “You’re better than everyone else”. This not only sets the child up for a fall; for example if they are beaten in the next race. It also puts huge pressure on them to continue to live up to that kind of praise, to be ‘perfect’ all the time. It has been shown that inflated praise actually causes a child to shy away from upcoming challenges due to fear of failure.  When you praise for a task that was easy to complete, the child will not only lose respect for you and for any praise you give, they also are led to believe that your expectations for them are low, causing them to lose self-esteem.

Praise for what they can’t control

Praising a child for their ‘talents’ or ‘gifts’ belittles the effort and work that they have put in to achieve their goal. It is not praise for them, but praise for something ‘special’ that they have been given. This type of praise does not encourage a child to work hard or to improve and it can be detrimental to their belief in themselves should they fail in the future.

So how do we praise our children in the ‘right’ way?

The difference in praise that helps a child grow and praise that is damaging to their self-belief is quite often just down to how we phrase our praise, Here’s a few good tips. 

Be specific

Instead of “good job!” try, “good job on tidying your room, now we’ll be able to find your toys when you want to play with them.” Pointing to a specific task and explaining why it has made you happy, gives the child a reason, and the motivation, to repeat the action in the future.

Praise the effort, not the outcome

Praising success is a sure way to demoralise your child should they fail at something in the future. Praising the effort “well done for getting the lids back onto the paint pot, I know it was hard, but you didn’t give up” shows the child that you believe in their abilities and encourages them to keep trying.

Praise their style, not their looks

Phrases like “You’re so pretty’ can actually lead to a decrease in self-esteem, not only does it praise the child for something out of their control (see above) it also leads to enormous pressure on them to ‘stay pretty’ as they get older. “Wow, I love the way you’ve styled your hair” is a much more positive way to praise.

Pay attention

Yes, you’ve seen sixty finger paint drawings this year, but a flippant “that’s lovely” is demoralizing for your child. Try to pick out something specific in the picture that tells your child that you’re paying attention. “I love the colour you chose for those flowers.”

Realise if they’ve worked hard

Has your child been studying for that maths test all week? Then praise the work, not the result. “You got a C. Well done, I know you worked really hard, I’m so proud of the effort you put in.” They may not have achieved an A, but they still deserve recognition for their hard work.

Being conscious of how and why we praise our children can really benefit them as they grow older. Instilling confidence and self-esteem at a young age is vital for their happiness as they mature. So taking the time to think before we speak is important. Recently my daughter Clara told me how proud she was as she looked over my shoulder as I uploaded a video of myself talking about the Careerclub. She then had to look on as I burst into tears! At the end of the day, we all want to be recognized for the work that we do and our children are no different.