The Pitfalls of Praise

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD Executive Director Sound Discipline

How many times have you heard or been told that it is important to praise your children, or to “catch them being good?” This has been touted as the “recipe” for building self-esteem in our children since the 1960’s. Of course most parents want their children to have self-esteem but it isn’t working. It’s time to re-think this idea.

Part of this “advice” makes sense. Children do not thrive surrounded by negativity. But what they need instead is a sense of connection and encouragement. That is different than praise. Imagine for a moment that you are a child living on a diet of words like:

– Good girl (boy)!
– You are the best player on the team!
– Your painting is beautiful!
– I’m so proud of you.
– You did it just like I wanted.
– You know how to please me 100%
– You are so smart!
– I like it!
– You are great!

What happens when your parent stops saying things? Many kids automatically assume that when the praise stops, there must be something wrong.

Now fast forward into adulthood. How would you know if you are doing a good job? (Probably when someone ELSE tells you). This isn’t self-esteem is it?

So if not praise, what kind of diet do we want for our children? I’d propose that we want something that helps them develop their sense of right and wrong from the inside. We’d like them to be able to do the right thing even when no one is looking – for the pure internal satisfaction. Connection and encouragement are powerful tools to support your child in developing self-esteem.

“Wow,” you might be thinking, “stop praising?” An easier way to think of it is to shift from praise to encouragement. You can think of praise like junk food. A diet of junk food isn’t healthy. A little bit won’t hurt. Adding a healthy diet (encouragement and connection) is what makes the big difference. Need help with what encouragement “looks and sounds like?” Check out our blog.

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