Always praising a child can have a long term effect of making them feel unsuccessful forever when they hit a snag. They lose confidence and feel insecure or uncertain about their true abilities because they have become so dependent on external reassurance. The moment they reach a major challenge, they will pull back and stop want to try. This could also cause them to feel like a phony or simply fear failure itself. So it’s important to understand when to praise and what type of praise is best.

When to Praise

  • When your child is demonstrating an appropriate behavior that you like. For example, “I like the way that you are eating all of the vegetables you don’t normally like to eat. I can see you want to take care of your body.”
  • When sending a cheerful uplifting message. For example, an enthusiastic exclamation (“wow!”) or a supportive gesture (like a high five) can engender good feelings.
  • When you notice they are working through something challenging. For example, “I like the way that you working through that difficult problem.”

Some studies even suggest that some types of praise can actually undermine your child’s motivation (e.g., Mizokawa 2018; Xing et al 2018). Depending on the circumstances, praise may also damage a child’s self confidence, or fuel the development of narcissism.

When Praise is Damaging

  • When praise is insincere. For example, over time, children analyze our beliefs and motives and may become sensitive to the effects of insincere praise (Mizokawa 2018). This can make them think that we feel sorry for them, or that we are trying manipulate them in some way.
  • When praise is about intelligence or talent and not growth. This is harmful because it will cause them to become more cautious of making mistakes, and therefore, they will avoid challenges that may contradict what they “believe” about their intelligence or talent. Instead, children must understand that challenges help us develop and grow our intelligence and talents.
  • When a child is doing something they already enjoy but is praised for it. For example, it’s perfectly fine to occasionally praise them for doing things they naturally enjoy, but over-praising in this area can make them question their true motivation for doing those activities.

As a parent, it’s important for you to look at how you are praising your child. Are you setting them up for strong confidence and strong resilience in the face of setbacks or are you unconsciously setting them up to take a hard fall when faced with life’s challenges? These are guiding questions to ask yourself in order to affect change, growth, and development.

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