Frank Manners: The Pitfalls of Praise

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January 21, 2014

Praising one’s children is a natural inclination for any parent and while we all know positive encouragement is good for children, studies have shown that delivering thoughtless praise can actually hinder children’s emotional and academic progress.

When delivering praise to your child, always be thoughtful and express your direct reason for praising them. To automatically say, “great job” or “you’re so smart” without explaining the details of why you feel that way about their project, piece of art, or homework, has little tangible benefit in the long run and can actually hold your child back.

Children need context in order to understand their place in the world and where and how their achievements fit into that structure. If a child is praised too often without specific intent, they may begin to think that everything they do is praise worthy, and thus devote less effort to their work. Receiving praise too often and without explanation may also make it harder for children to take constructive criticism. They may instead take it personally, rather than realizing that they just need to work a bit harder to improve.

Thoughtless praise can also make your child less willing to challenge themselves in areas where they do not immediately excel. If your child has been told they are good at everything, the moment they do not receive that recognition, they may shut down.

If you want to tell your children they’re smart, tell them they’re smart, but be sure to give them a reason why. For instance: “You’re so smart, you put a lot of work into that project and look at how good it turned out.” Now, you’ve told them they are smart, and encouraged them to learn that hard work has value.

When children learn to push the boundaries of their potential and begin to understand that true growth comes from being outside of your comfort zone, they will appreciate themselves and their hard work much more.