“Praise your children, it will increase their self-esteem and improve their behavior.” Well, at least that’s the message we hear on the street. In reality though, not all praise is equal. Some praise can actually interfere with your child’s success. It can actual contribute to your child’s failure. Yes, you read that right. Parents can ruin their child with praise. Let me explain four ways that praise that can ruin your child.
1. Praising children for global attributes like intelligence or ability sets them up for failure. This global praise (“You are so smart,” “You certainly are talented,” or “You are one great kid”) tends to create children who are extremely image-conscious and performance-oriented. They want to “look the part” of the “smart/good/talented kid.” To fall short of that label through a less than perfect performance would lead to embarrassment. To avoid that embarrassment, they may choose easier tasks or simply drop out of challenging tasks rather than face the stress of potential failure.
2. In addition, the child who receives global praise will seek constant approval while working on a task. The global praise of being a “smart/good/talented kid” prevented them from developing the internal motivation to enjoy completing a task for the sake of doing it. Instead, they need the constant motivation of outside approval. Without constant reassurance and encouragement, this child will avoid challenges and run from healthy risks. By time they get to college, they may just as soon drop a challenging class rather than risk being a “smart kid” who only earns a “B.” Global praise has taught them well. Unfortunately, it has taught them to “look good” and avoid any mistakes at the expense of growing through challenging tasks.
3. Praising global attributes of our children also teaches them that image, appearance, is the top priority. One way to maintain a praiseworthy image is to tear other people down. As a result, this child may become overly competitive. In the midst of competitiveness, they ridicule their peers in order to maintain their own “praiseworthy image.” They belittle and demean others in an effort to build themselves up and assert their own praiseworthy status as the “smart/talented/good” child.
4. Giving a child excessive praise sets them up for failure as well. Excessive praise distorts a child’s motivation, encouraging them to perform just to hear the praise of others. The child who receives excessive praise needs praise every step of the way. They never develop a sense of autonomy or independence. Instead, they constantly look to their teachers and parents for affirmation and assurance in the form of praise. Take away the praise and they quit performing as well. Without praise, they cannot persist in their task. Even more disturbing, they do not learn to engage in an activity or task simply for the sake of personal enjoyment. They have no intrinsic satisfaction or motivation.
Praising children for global attributes may create a child afraid of risk, avoiding of challenges, in constant need of approval and reassurance, and demeaning of others. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love praise. I do believe that we need to praise our children. Praise is effective and motivating…when done properly. Next week we will learn 4 secrets to making praise effective and motivating for your child.