Of course we should praise our children — and we should do it often, but is there such a thing as too much? Will we spoil our children or give them a distorted sense of reality if we fawn over them too frequently?
Psychologist Pamela Varady says the simple answer is no. However, she explains, there are right and wrong ways to go about praising your child.
Generalized or insincere praise doesn’t feel genuine to a child because it isn’t. Use praise that is sincere and specific. Varady points out that praise should be given when a child exhibits values like kindness, integrity, honesty, and helpfulness. Giving kids kudos for superficial things like athletic talent or physical beauty may teach them that winning is more important than being a good person. Instead of saying something like, “You’re the best soccer player ever,” say something more like, “I can tell you’ve been practicing and working hard on improving your skills. What great determination you have!” That way, you are keeping the focus of your admiration on those qualities and values that you want to instill in your child.
Pediatric nurse and parent educator Dara Entin echoes these sentiments. She even asserts that there just might be such a thing as too much praise, and that it can ultimately be damaging. Her advice? Use what she calls “the three A’s of praise.”
- Appropriate — When Entin says that praise should be appropriate, she means that you should attach your praise to the “process” not the “product.” It’s important for kids to understand that the work they do in achieving something is what matters most. When you only look at the finished product as praise-worthy, kids may develop the attitude that cutting corners or being dishonest is permissible as long as the end result is favorable.
- Amount — Quality over quantity is key. A bit of sincere praise is better than constant adulation for every minor accomplishment. Overuse of compliments can dilute their power. Too much shallow praise can eventually create an attitude of entitlement. The child may grow to believe that he or she should be rewarded even when no real effort is put forth.
- Authentic — When you give your child praise, make it honest and heartfelt. Don’t use sweeping or inaccurate terms. Be specific and descriptive. Tell your child exactly what it is that you admire about them and why. Not only is this type of praise healthier and more effective, it will also help children learn the value of being sincere when they compliment others.