Praising kids on their efforts is a large part of parenting in general but did you know that giving your child too much praise can actually have the opposite effect then you intended?
I’m a big fan of the positive and gentle parenting movement and and a big part of it in the use of encouragement towards children, which is a good thing.
But encouragement and praise are actually too very different things and learning how to avoid empty praises brings new challenges into the parenting journey.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to use praise when celebrating efforts but I’m saying that if you praise them too much (which is another word for negative praise) and too often it can be damaging children’s self-esteem which is not the best thing.
And don’t we want our young children to grow up with confidence in their abilities and a growth mindset? Too much pressure on kids can cause them to have lower self esteem, and can make it more difficult to have a growth mindset.
Too much praise can negatively effect a child’s self esteem. Gentle and positive parenting focuses on helping children process their emotions which also includes dealing with negative and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Therefore, excessive praise is something to watch out for.
Keep reading to find out why praising can have negative effects on child development according to studies.
Why Praising Children Can Have A Negative Effect (Science Says)
Before you go off and think how crazy I am that’s believing the words good job and nice work can actually harm a child and damage their self esteem you should read as to why too much phrase can actually have a negative effect on your child.
I mean don’t teachers often write good job with gold stars on papers when the child deserved a good grade or has completed a challenging task using their best effort? These positive comments happen on a regular basis at my children’s school for my 6 and 8 year olds.
Oftentimes these comments actually seem quite harmless however if you think about it I mean you’re telling your child that they did a good job, If they were to show that same item or accomplishment to somebody outside of the family.
Specific feedback can actually be more beneficial because then the child will know what they did well and what they can improve on. A good parent educator will usually praise the child’s efforts and give corrections.
Your child is more likely to respond with I know instead of a thank you because your child has been conditioned to receive a lot of praise.
According to brain research, we respond to social comparisons in the same way we do to monetary incentives (Bhangi and Delgado 2015). It feels wonderful to be praised. And certain kinds of praise can have a positive impact. (Source)
Your child now believes that they are really good at that 1 thing (usually an easy task) that they received a good job for and now they’re also not as likely to attempt doing that same thing again because they’ve already done a good job so why would they try to do a better job.
Even if your child is a hard worker and gives 100% all the time, this kind of praise can make your child work less hard! This is called the praise paradox according to the study author Brummelman e and is explained in further detail with this graph here.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at Exeter University, said: ‘The urge to congratulate children for the smallest of achievements is irresistible for most parents.
‘This, after all, is affirmation for us as much as them.
‘It’s so tempting to think that showering children with positive words will help them.
‘One of the hardest lessons for parents who want the best for their children is to cut down on excessive praise.’
They also might have set themselves up with high standards for that same job so they are less likely to want to do it because it was difficult to get it to that degree. We want to encourage a growth mindset, not low self-esteem, according to Carol Dweck.
When we praise our children we really want to focus on words of encouragement so they can think about the future. That’s the kind of effective praise that breeds positive attitudes and has no negative consequences on human beings.
This new study shows that different types of comparison trigger paradoxical effects of praise and criticism in the sense described by Meyer (1992). University students participated in Study 1 (N=120) and Study 4 (N=83). The Study 2 sample consisted of 180 seventh to ninth grade students, and Study 3 investigated paradoxical effects with a sample of 130 elementary school students.
I took a parenting course called positive parenting solutions and it changed my life.
Amy McGrady is the creator of this course and she actually has a whole section about praise and encouragement and how we should be empowering our children through the quality of our praise and the words that we use but raising a” praise junkie” is something that most parents don’t even realize they’re doing. There are big differences in behaviors of children who’s parents used less praise in a more involved way than the parents who used inflated praise for low value tasks.
So the bottom line is instead of using words such as great job you can say “I can see you worked really hard on this, I love the way you did that”. It’s always a good idea to get specific so you can praise your child’s efforts on their hard task and help them avoid low self esteem.
An example of a specific form of phrase could be “I love the tone of blue you used on your ocean and the different tone of blue you used on the sky in your drawing.”
Praising is a powerful influence on your children and too much can have a negative effects on their life & child’s self-esteem and it can also determine how they behave in their teenagers and early adulthood as well.
There is mounting evidence that praise increases intrinsic motivation when it gives explicit information about what it means to do well and conveys realistic performance expectations.
This knowledge is critical so that children can focus their efforts and manage their task participation in the future.
See also: 5 Parenting Styles And How They Work
In today’s Western society, children are frequently showered with exaggerated praise (for example, “You drew a really lovely drawing!”). Excessive praise is frequently provided in an attempt to boost children’s self-esteem.
Recent studies (Investigation 1) and a naturalistic study (Study 2) discovered that people are especially prone to lavishing praise on youngsters who have low self-esteem. This predisposition, though, may backfire.
Inflated praise may send the message to youngsters that they must continue to maintain extremely high standards, which may deter children with poor self-esteem from taking on tasks. Another study (Study 3) discovered that exaggerated praise reduces challenge seeking in children with low self-esteem while increasing it in those with high self-esteem.
These findings indicate that, while well-intended, excessive praise may damage children with low self-esteem to avoid crucial learning experiences.
Praise Can Be Motivating If Done Right
Praise that praises a child’s decisions or hard effort is known as “process praise.”
“I like the way you tried to sound that word out, instead of just giving up.”
“I can tell you’ve been practicing!”
When done correctly, this type of praise can motivate children to open in a new window continue working on difficult activities (e.g., Kelley et al 2000; Henderlong and Lepper 2002; Gunderson et al 2013; Gunderson et al 2018a; Gunderson et al 2018b).
Process praising may also help to cultivate the most important attitude for success: the notion that we can better ourselves with effort. Experiments reveal that when we accept this concept, we learn better, as I’ve mentioned previously.
Consider what occurs when you praise and support a child for being helpful.
“Look! Olivia dropped something. She can’t reach it. Do you want to help her?”
“Thank you! You’re such a good helper!”
In a study of 13- to 18-month-old newborns, those who got this type of feedback were more likely to help. When given the chance, they volunteered twice as often as youngsters who did not get such coaching (Dahl et al 2017).
There’s also evidence that praising older children – preschoolers — for good manners helps them develop greater social skills (Garner 2006; Hastings et al 2007).
Helicopter Parenting and praise
Recently, “helicopter” parenting — the word we now use to describe to overprotective/overbearing parenting that is frequently permissive – has come under fire.
It is said to have contributed to a generation of children who are unable to cope with ordinary concerns.
Excessive praise from parents can lead to a sense of entitlement in children, as well as inflated egos.
“People with strong self-esteem believe they are on par with others, but narcissists believe they are superior.”
Telling your children that they are superior than others is not only counterproductive, but it may also be harmful.
- Narcissistic children believe they are better than others. They’ll think they’re entitled to special treatment, and they’ll seek continual attention and praise from others.
- They may lash out forcefully if they don’t get the attention and praise they desire when they want it.
- People who are narcissistic are more likely to become addicted.
The Best Ways to Use Encouragement And Get Out Of The Habit Of Praising Children
It could take a little bit of practice to start encouraging and ditch the praising.
Here are some things you can do to you can do to use encouragement as a loving parent more around the home without too much effort.
Reinforcing positive actions
When you see something that your child did and it was a positive thing you should be reinforcing that good behavior.
If your child is able to express their feelings without fighting with a sibling you can reinforce that good behavior by acknowledging those actions with common praise for example. “Great job expressing those feelings I know how frustrated you are let’s come up with a solution to make the situation better.“
Keep those I told you so’s to a minimum or get rid of them altogether
When we use the term I told you so we are basically telling our child that’s whatever decision they make is always going to be wrong.
For example if your child has made some friends at school and these friends made a bad decision and your child did the right thing by not getting involved with that bad decision, you can tell your child how proud you are of them for making the better decision and coming home instead instead of telling your child I told you that those kids were big trouble.
These conversations can have a significant impact on children’s self-esteem even though you had good intentions.
We need to allow our children to make their own mistakes because how will they really learn how to deal with the real world if we don’t allow them to make these mistakes and give out unearned praise.
When you tell your child I told you so you basically telling them that making that mistake was very bad and that they shouldn’t be listening to their inner instinct.
The Downfall of Praising Kids Too Much Bottom Line
The point of this article wasn’t to tell you that you shouldn’t be praising your children in fact praising your children is something that can positively impact your child’s self esteem.
A nice balance between praising and encouraging your child is really the best way to parent parents according to my gentle parenting resources. The devastating effects of praise can hinder a child’s self-esteem and all positive effects are diminished.
I found myself that my children behave a lot better when I provide them encouragement and use alternative phrases when praising their efforts and telling them that I’m proud.
The thing is high self-esteem is very easy to break down and gives kids less confidence in all aspects of their lives… and it’s very hard to build backup.
I’m not here to tell you how to parent but these are the things that I’ve learned in my gentle parenting journey and hopefully you can use some of these tips next time you need to!