5 Mistakes to Avoid When Praising Your Child

Parents can promote good behavior, maturity, and positive growth in their children through encouragement and praise…well, most of the time. Encouragement and praise can also undermine a child’s growth and maturity. “What’s that you say?” It is true. If we, as parents, want encouragement to promote maturity and positive growth in our children, rather than undermine it, we have to avoid these five mistakes.
     ·         Do not overdo the praise. Go ahead and encourage, but keep the encouragement appropriate to the behavior. Too many times we praise our children endlessly because they completed a chore like setting the table or taking out the garbage. We raise the roof with accolades because they obtained “A’s” on their report card. We celebrate “graduation” from preschool with a big party and catered dinner. Children see through this façade and soon learn to interpret praise and encouragement as simple manipulation. Studies conducted in the classroom have revealed that students believe that praise and encouragement, when given indiscriminately, simply reveal who is least capable and who is struggling most; after all, parents and teachers, in an effort to encourage and build their self-esteem, “pour the praise on” those students who do more poorly. Don’t let this stop you from encouraging your children. Go ahead and praise. Give encouragement. But, make sure the encouragement matches the act. Some behavior requires a simple “thank you” or an acknowledgement that it was completed, not a party or a flood of accolades.

·         Do not praise with global statements like “Good job” or “That’s beautiful.” Such global statements leave room for misinterpretation. What was good about it? What makes it beautiful? Global statements of praise and encouragement also call the credibility of the person offering praise into question. After all, if I praise everything my child does, which acts were truly praiseworthy? A child will begin to question our “praise-credibility” when they hear us praise making their bed and graduation from college as “amazing, you did such a wonderful job.” Instead of offering global praise, encourage, acknowledge, or praise some specific aspect of what they did. For instance, rather than, “What a beautiful picture,” you might say, “I really like the colors you chose. How did you pick them out?” Instead of saying, “You did an amazing job helping with dinner,” try saying, “Thanks for mashing the potatoes.”

·         Do not attach a character label to your praise. When we say things like, “Good boy,” “Good girl,” or “That’s Daddy’s girl” when our children do something for us, we build a performance-based standard of acceptance. We subtly imply that “goodness” is only achieved through performance; our love is tied to performance. Instead, offer a simply smile, a “thank you,” an “I appreciate that,” or a pat on the back. Also, remember to acknowledge and praise the efforts our children make, even if the effort does not pay off with success. Thank them for their thoughtfulness, their desire to help, their effort to improve, even when they fall short of perfection. This communicates unconditional acceptance…and, it encourages continued effort.

·         Avoid the “Yeah, but’s.” You know what I mean…”You did a good job cleaning your room, but…” “Great job mowing the grass, but…” “What an excellent report card, but…” “That is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen, but….” (Notice the “overdoing” in these statements as well.) Any praise with a “but” added on becomes a criticism. It puts our children on the defensive. It makes them feel as though they are “never good enough.” They hear us telling them that they are inadequate and incapable of satisfying us. So, offer up your praise and encouragement, but leave the “but” off. Keep the praise “but-less.”

·         Finally, do not step in and take over. When we step in to finish the job or “put the finishing touches on it,” we communicate that our children “cannot do it” and that we “do not trust them to do it.” When your children wrap a present, let it go. It may not be perfect, but it was their job. Find some positive aspect of the job to acknowledge and let it go. When your children dust the furniture, do not redo it. Instead, offer some supervision while they do it; and, if you see an area in which they can improve, simply teach them. Doing so will communicate that you trust your children to do the job and you know they have the ability to learn the job.
There you have it, 5 mistakes to avoid when praising and encouraging children. So, get out there and praise your children. “You’ll do such a wonderful job. I know you will. You are so talented….” Oops, I got carried away and broke my own rules. I guess we all make our mistakes. Have fun!

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