Sometimes Praise Is Exactly the Right Thing for Kids
byDan PetersNov 23, 2016
a video went viral of a U.K. mom blogger ranting about over-praising our kids. One thing she talks about is telling them
their artwork is good when it is “rubbish. They’re not gonna be an artist.”
know a talented videographer and professional musician. He was talking about
his first big show. He couldn’t believe that he was playing at such a big venue
and that his dream had come true. After the show, he wished his mom had been there
to see him. He called her and said, “Thank you for lying to me.” His mother was
surprised and said, “When did I lie to you?” He said, “You always told me I was
a great drummer even when I wasn’t. But because you made me think I was, I
continued with my dream and worked hard and made it happen.”
type of situation comes up daily in my office as a psychologist when I’m consulting with parents
about their children: “She thinks she has friends, but she really doesn’t." "He
thinks he is a good reader, but he really isn’t." "He loves basketball and thinks
he is good, but he's definitely falling behind his teammates.” All of these
conversations end with something like, “Should we tell her the truth?” and
“Should we still let him play?”
back to when your young child showed you the first few times she dressed
herself. What did you say? I am guessing something like, “You look so cute! Did
you do that all by yourself?” And when your young child showed you his scribbly
scratch drawings, you probably said, “Look at that beautiful picture! Tell me
what you drew.”
think parenting today is more difficult than parenting used to be. It is more
difficult because we have become more aware of how our behavior as parents, and
as people, impacts our children’s development—their sense of who they are,
how they feel in the world and how they cope with life. As an example, child-development experts and
psychologists warn against praising kids too much. Yet withholding feedback also has adverse outcomes.
most important issue that I have seen in my practice, and in my own life as a
parent of three (now all adolescents), is to be aware of ourselves and our own
parenting behavior and goals. We all have “parenting footprints” that were left
on us by our parents, and we are all leaving “parenting footprints” on our
kids. This may feel like a big responsibility, but the good news is that we can
choose the footprints we want to leave on our kids by being aware of ourselves—aware of our triggers, our emotion or behavior, and yes, what we say to our
two high-schoolers have a pretty rigorous test and homework load this year.
They are each different, with different approaches to organization and school
work. When one gets an A without studying, do I say, “Good job!”? When the other
works hard on an essay for a week and gets a B-, do I say, “You could have done
better. I want to see an A next time.”?
The issue is not what the “right” or
“wrong” thing to say is, but that what we say matters. It matters because our
kids care what we say (even if they say they don’t), and they internalize the
messages they hear from us and incorporate them into their internal sense of
self. Our children’s internal voice sounds like this: “I
can … I can’t … I am good … I am bad … I am loveable … I am not loveable … I am worthy … I am
not worthy.” When we are aware of the footprint we want to leave on our
children, we can choose our goals for our children, which then drives our
parenting behavior and what we tell our kids.
The issue is not what the 'right' or 'wrong' thing to say is, but that what we say matters.
you think about what you are going to say to your kids before giving them
feedback about their behavior or performance? Since I talk with parents all day
about parenting and their children, I feel strongly that I need to practice
what I preach. Even being immersed in the parenting field, I can tell you that
it is very hard to always think before responding. However, I think it is very
important to think before we respond to our kids when they ask us about
something that is important to them. It's challenging when we are tired or emotionally reactive,
but we also have the opportunity for a teaching moment.
strategy I use is to think about the person I want my child to be in the future
and then consider how different responses and feedback will either help shape
that behavior—and ultimately that person—or not. My suggestions:
• Give yourself time to think
• Remember we don’t have to come up
with all the answers in the moment, especially when we are angry or emotional.
• Let your child see you as human—a living, breathing person, not just Mom or
• Communicate that you care.
• Tell your child you want to think
about the situation or question, and want to make sure you have time to think it
through before answering.
we need to be kind to ourselves and have reasonable standards for ourselves as
individuals and parents. We don’t have to choose every single word we say to
our kids, but we do need to be aware that our emotions, behavior and words
matter. The next time your child thinks they are good at something when they are
not, what will you say? Or better yet, what will you say to yourself before
responding? What footprint do you want
Daniel B. Peters, PhD is a psychologist, author and
co-founder of Parent Footprint, an interactive parenting education
community and website that offers Parent Footprint Awareness Training with the
mission to make the world a more compassionate and loving place—one parent
and one child at a time. He is host of the “Parent Footprint Podcast
with Dr. Dan” and is a regular contributor to the
Huffington Post and Psychology Today.