Tag Archive for praise

Six Common Parenting Mistakes

Parenting is both one of the greatest joys of life and one of the most difficult tasks of life. In spite of the many parenting help books, your child does not come with an instruction manual. We know generalities and principles to apply, but every child is unique. Every child demands something just a little bit different than the others. If you have more than one child, you know this to be true. Still, we know some principles that apply across the board. And we know some parenting actions that just don’t work well. In fact, here are six common parenting mistakes you can avoid.

  1. Making comparisons. Comparing our children to their siblings or another child invalidates our children’s uniqueness. It makes them doubt their own worth. Instead of comparing, celebrate their unique personality and strengths.
  2. Invalidating feelings. We all hate to see our child emotionally or physically hurt. For many, it actually hurts to see their child in pain. We quickly rush in and try to make them feel better by saying, “You’re okay.” Actually, they wouldn’t be crying or upset if they were okay. They are hurt. Telling them they’re ok may actually make them feel worse. The more effective approach is to acknowledge their emotions. Give them a hug and label what they might be feeling. Here is a great way to make your children’s emotions your friend and ally.
  3. Global praise. Telling a child “You’re really good at that” or “Great job” or “Super” may actually backfire. It can contribute to the creation of what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset” rather than a “growth mindset.” Children with “fixed mindset” give up more easily and may even avoid challenges. Instead, offer a specific praise by acknowledging an aspect of their activity like and why you like it. “That was a great throw to first base.” “I really like your choice of colors in that picture, especially the yellow.” Follow it up with curiosity. “How did you keep you balance throwing that ball?” “What led to you choose those colors?” And acknowledge the effort that contributed to their work. “Your hard work is paying off. You’re catching more hard-hit balls.” These comments will contribute to a “growth mindset.”
  4. Turning to your child with your problems. Too often I hear a parent talk to their child about problems at work, frustrations with housework, or anger at a spouse. Your problems are not your child’s problems. They are too young and too emotionally immature to manage your problems. Instead, take your concerns up with your spouse, your boss, or a peer. Let your child enjoy their childhood. Resolve your marital issues with your spouse (and a therapist if necessary) so your child can enjoy the benefits of happily married parents.
  5. Name-calling. Of course, avoid all name-calling. Avoid words like “stupid,” “lazy,” “fat,” or any other label. We need to also avoid more subtle name-calling like calling your child “spoiled” or “just like your father.” Even calling your child names in jest can have a negative effect. Rather than name-calling, remember you are the adult—wiser, stronger, and more mature. Don’t resort to childish name-calling. Be the adult and talk to your child.
  6. Jumping in to solve their problems. Our children thrive when we let them experience the consequences of their choices; when we give them the opportunity to solve their own problems rather than jumping in to fix it for them. So, before you jump in to “help them out,” ask yourself whose problem you are fixing. If it is their problem, give them the opportunity to fix it. You can stand in their corner but let them win the match.

Avoid these six parenting mistakes. Your child will be glad you did.

Raising a Confident Child

How do children form a positive self-concept? How do they come to see themselves in a positive light? How do they develop confidence and learn to esteem themselves well? These questions arise in many a parent’s mind as they interact with and discipline their children. We want to help our children develop a persistent confidence in their abilities while not becoming arrogant. Sometimes we doubt ourselves. We wonder if we are really doing the right thing (at least I do!). We constantly search out practical advice for increasing our children’s self-confidence. Friends, family members, experts, books…we search them all to find reassurance that we are doing a good job and in hopes of finding the “magic bullet” to help our kids grow.  Well, I don’t have a magic bullet, but I have found several practical ideas to help raise confident children.

  • Warm up. Develop a warm relationship with your children. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities. They share their children’s joys and excitements. Doing so makes their children feel noticed and valued. It increases their self-esteem. It contributes to their self-confidence. (For more on the impact of a warm relationship, read An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts)
  • Praise effort, not ability. Acknowledge your children’s effort and investment rather than just the end product. Let them know you see how hard they work to make things happen. This helps our children learn their effort impacts their world and their success comes through effort. It teaches them to value effort and notice the successes found in effort, even if the end result was not what they initially intended. Effort, as opposed to waiting for something to “fall in our laps,” leads to success.  And, success builds self-confidence.(Build Your Child’s Success Mindset offers more tips.)
  • Do not overpraise. Our children need us to acknowledge their effort and appreciate their accomplishments, but overpraise will backfire. Excessive praise actually contributes to lower self-esteem. Overpraise can contribute to arrogance. Sometimes extremely positive, inflated praise can contribute to narcissism, a sense of personal grandiosity. Excessive praise can also set our children up to worry about falling short of the standards for which they have already received lavish amounts of praise.  So, go ahead and appreciate achievements. Acknowledge accomplishments. Praise effort and investment. But don’t overdo it. Don’t overpraise. It just gets in the way of healthy self-confidence. (Read How to Ruin Your Child with Praise for more.)
  • Value failure. Treat failure as a time of learning rather than a catastrophe. Failure is simply an opportunity to learn what does not work and explore changes that can lead to a better result. I like Oprah’s quote, “Think like royalty. Royalty is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness” (I hope she’ll excuse my changing her use of the word “queen” to “royalty.” If not, I guess I’ll learn from the failure.) Confident people fail gracefully. Confident people know failure is not the end of the world. Confident people recognize failure as a signal for problem-solving, making changes, and moving toward “greatness.” (Do Your Child a Favor)
  • Give your children important tasks to complete. Let them have chores around the house. Chores and tasks build a sense of competence and competence contributes to confidence. (Chores: The Gift of Significance will explain even more.)
  • Model healthy confidence in your own life. Work to improve your self-confidence and your children will follow in your example. Value your failures and talk about what you learn from them. Acknowledge your achievements while focusing on the effort and investment that led to those achievements. Accept their acknowledgements of your success with a smile and a simple “thank you.” Maintain warm loving relationships, especially with your children. Children imitate those they see and admire. They become like those they imitate. Give them a self-confident parent they can look up to and imitate.

Put these six practical actions in place and your children will grow in confidence daily!

Nurture Your Children’s Muscles of Optimism

Optimism is not about wearing rose-colored glasses. Optimism is the muscle that focuses on “what I can do” rather than “what I cannot do.” It focuses on the importance of effort to grow and learn. It also realizes most difficulties are specific to a context and situation rather than “ruining everything.” Difficulties are temporary, not permanent. With this in mind, an optimistic person looks at a difficult situation or a failure and begins to explore what aspects of the situation they can influence. Then, they set about to exert their influence and produce a change. You can see why this muscle helps to prevent depression, increases perseverance, and promotes success. But, how can you nurture the muscle of optimism in your children? I’m glad you asked. Here are four practices that will help develop your children’s “optimistic muscles.”

  1. Acknowledge effort and strategy rather than global traits. Telling our children they are “smart” or “gifted” leads to children who avoid a challenge so they do not lose their position as “smart” or “gifted.”  Calling your children some global label, like “lazy” or “stupid,” contributes to them believing they cannot change. But, acknowledging effort communicates that success comes through effort, an important message. Acknowledging strategies (how your children go about reaching a goal) communicates that a momentary problem can often be overcome with a little strategically placed effort. This also opens the door to discuss alternative solutions when problems do arise. Children who know that effort and strategy produce positive ends learn to become optimistic children.
  2. Describe specifics rather than end results when praising your children. This helps your children focus on the process, the strategies involved in reaching a goal. It communicates that even if the end result is not perfect, some parts of the process are good. They can be built upon to create a better end in the future. So describe choices made, actions taken, or obstacles overcome rather than looking only at the end result. The trophy becomes more meaningful when the choices, actions, and perseverance displayed in achieving it are acknowledged, recognized, and described. This also helps your children know they have the power to influence the end result (the product) by adjusting their actions and choices during the process.
  3. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Mistakes do not “ruin everything.” Instead, they represent a “temporary setback,” an opportunity to learn what did not work in a particular time and specific context. Celebrate the mistake as an opportunity to learn. Why did it not work in this situation? Is there ever a situation in which it might not be a mistake? Was the mistake a matter of timing? When, if ever, might it be helpful? How could you do it differently to avoid the same mistake in the future? How could you correct the mistake now? Thomas Edison reportedly said, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will” (The actual quote was likely somewhat different but making the same point. Read this from Quote Investigator to learn the documented quote.) Children who realize that mistakes are learning experiences are more likely to accept challenges, persist longer, and be more optimistic about their efforts. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
  4. Try new things. Go new places. Experience new adventures. Sure, you might have some let downs, but they’re just learning experiences. You’ll also enjoy many exciting adventures. Your children will learn they can overcome obstacles that arise. Their confidence will grow as they step out of their comfort zones and survive…even have fun and thrive.

Put these four practices into place and over time you will see your children’s optimism grow. They can flex those “muscles of optimism” and experience greater success in relationships and life!

Family Wisdom from the Rolling Stones

Behaviors and traits have consequences in our lives. Everyone knows that. That’s why we discipline and guide our children in developing traits and behaviors that will bring them the greatest success and happiness. Through discipline, we steer our children away from several negative traits, such as entitlement…and for good reason. Researchers have recently mapped out the pathway from entitlement…and it doesn’t end well. In fact, the pathway leading from entitlement begins with chronic disappointment…and goes downhill from there. (Read Entitlement May Lead to Chronic Disappointment for more) When a person believes themselves better and more deserving than others (entitled), they enter a spiral of habitual behavior leaving them “frustrated, unhappy and disappointed with life.”

  1. Mother And Son Doing LaundryFirst, entitlement creates feelings of disappointment. Entitled people have expectations that they deserve more than others. As a result, their expectations often remain unmet. After all, life is hard. In the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” Entitlement leads to disappointment in response to these unmet expectations and life’s hard knocks.
  2. Disappointment can lead to dissatisfaction and negative, even volatile, emotions like anger. Entitled people feel like they are not getting the good things they deserve, the good things to which they are entitled. Once again, “you can’t always get what you want….” In anger at not having their sense of entitlement satisfied, they lash out at others verbally or physically. Of course, this pushes people away. The entitled person may suffer the pain of rejection and isolation along with their disappointment.
  3. To escape the pain of these negative emotions, entitled people reassure themselves of their specialness. They reinforce their feelings of superiority, bringing temporary relief from the disappointment and other negative emotions. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time until they return to step #1 and begin the cycle again.

As you can imagine, a sense of entitlement can make your children miserable; a sense of entitlement can make your family life miserable. Who wants to live in a home filled with entitled people constantly experiencing disappointment and anger in response to perceived unmet expectations of superiority and deserving? Not me. We want a family filled with non-entitled people.  What can we do to limit a sense of entitlement in our families? Begin with the Rolling Stones by teaching, “You can’t always get what you want….” Then, add these three ideas into the mix:

  • Practice gratitude. It’s difficult to feel chronic disappointment while noticing all the good things people do around us. And, a grateful person gains the realization that other people and their contributions are important…maybe even more important than the “almighty me.” Begin practicing gratitude in your family by modeling it. Take time to notice what other family members do for you and your home. When you notice it, acknowledge it. Let “thank you” and “I appreciate your help” become common phrases in your household.
  • Recognize and reward humility. You can encourage humility by modeling it. One way to model humility is by expressing gratitude. You can also encourage humility by serving. Serve one another. Offer to get your spouse or child a drink when you go to the kitchen during commercials. Help clean the house. Willingly do the “dirty jobs” around the house with a smile. Ask for help when you need it. Allow others to serve by asking ask for help even when you don’t necessarily need it. Serve those outside the family as well. Feed the homeless. Visit a nursing home. Shovel the neighbor’s driveway. You get the idea. Gratitude and service contribute to humility. Humility negates entitlement.
  • Praise effort and hard work. Success and opportunity arise from hard work, not because we are entitled. Accomplishment and recognition result from effort, not our entitlement. Recognize your family members’ effort and acknowledge that effort. Even when that effort has not led to public reward, praise the effort. Let effort and hard work become its own reward.

These three practices will help your family learn the rest of the wisdom from the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need!”

How to Raise an Overly Self-Critical Child (…or not)

No, we do not want to raise self-critical children. We want to raise hard-working children who accept themselves and others. Unfortunately, we can easily slip into a style of parenting that promotes self-criticism and perfectionism in our children. How do parents unwittingly nurture self-criticism? Let me offer a couple examples.military police

  • Our child is working on a puzzle but keep trying to put the wrong piece in the wrong place at the wrong time. We jump in to take the wrong piece out and quickly replace it with the correct piece. In effect, we took over the puzzle for a short moment. We robbed our child of the chance to recognize their mistake, learn from it, and correct it on their own. We communicated they can’t do it on their own, they’re never good enough. We’ve nurtured a self-critical tendency toward anything less than perfect.
  • Our child starts to color their tree pink. In our desire to teach, we jump in to correct. We quickly take the pink crayon from them and give them a green one while explaining, “Look, those trees are green.” We intruded upon our child’s imaginative perception. We squelched their creativity at that moment and limited the way they can look at the world to align only with our perspective or the common perspective. We also sparked a moment of doubt about their decisions and aroused a fear of being different. We’ve nurtured a self-critical attitude toward any uniqueness in their lives and art.
  • Our teen wants to take an extra music or art class. We jump in to redirect them to something more useful, a math or science class for example. We explain the necessity of math and science as well as the frivolity of music or art. After all, they have to graduate from high school and find a well-paying career. Eventually, they succumb to our nagging and begrudgingly take a math class. We have subtly taken over their schedule and intruded upon their dreams. We’ve communicated their inability to make wise choices, explore options, have multiple interests, and even learn from mistakes. We’ve nurtured a self-critical tendency toward interests and decisions that don’t “fit the mold.”

In each of these scenarios well-meaning parents intruded upon their child’s decision and activity. They took over an experiment, a creative expression, a self-exploring decision. They left their child no choice but to “do it” the way their parent wanted it done. They put excessive pressure on their child to comply with their desire and their needs. When parents intrude upon their children’s lives, children become more likely to exhibit an overly self-critical nature and maladaptive perfectionism. What can a parent do instead?

  1. Focus on effort, NOT achievement. Recognize your child’s effort in everything they do.
  2. Acknowledge specifics of what your child has done right, or the things you admire, BEFORE discussing mistakes.
  3. Allow your child to experiment “outside the box.” Encourage creativity and uniqueness. Let them do things “their way” even if it takes longer, is not the traditional method, or is different than the way you would do it. You might explain how you do it, but allow them to try their unique approach as well.
  4. Let your child struggle with mistakes and choices. Allow them time to learn from their mistakes. While they struggle, do not say “I told you so” or “If you would have listened….”

Practice these four tips and you can help your children develop a sense of adventure and joy in exploring, learning, and growing.

Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success

Our children’s success depends on more than talent and ability. In fact, some children have amazing talent but still avoid challenges, shun effort, and shrink from difficulties. They often believe ability is static, fixed or unchanging. This “fixed mindset” (as Carol Dweck calls it in her book Mindset) interferes with progress and growth, hindering children from Fun on the ropesaccepting challenges. It encourages them to give up too soon. On the other hand, children with a “growth mindset” have learned that ability and intelligence can be nurtured and developed. As a result, they embrace challenges, persist when faced with obstacles, and believe effort leads toward mastery. As you can imagine, a growth mindset will contribute to success. In addition, children with growth mindsets don’t just get upset when they experience failure. They persist. They figure out how to improve. As a result, their abilities grow. Here are four ways you can help your children develop a growth mindset.

  • First, set your children up for success by setting achievable goals. Break larger goals into smaller objectives (goals) that are more easily and quickly attainable. Each time they achieve a goal, they experience the benefit of effort. They can see how smaller goals lead to greater goals. They learn to persist. As an example, break down the goal of “cleaning your room” into smaller goals like “make your bed,” “put your clothes away,” “pick up your toys and put them away,” etc.
  • When your children complete a goal or achieve some success, acknowledge their effort and the strategies they used rather than praising their intelligence or ability. Praising traits actually undermines motivation and performance by contributing to a fixed mindset. Consider some of these statements in praising and encouraging your children. Each of these statements will encourage a growth mindset.
    • I really love watching you play.
    • That looks like it took a lot of work.
    • Your hard work is definitely paying off.
    • I can tell you worked hard at learning that.
    • Wow, that took a lot of time and effort, didn’t it?
    • You never gave up.
    • You’re getting better every time.
    • I like that. How did you come up with that idea? Or, how did you learn to do that?
  • Ask your children questions that will promote a growth mindset. You might try some of these ideas.
    • What did you struggle with today?
    • What did you learn today?
    • What was the most interesting thing you did/learned today?
    • What was your biggest challenge this semester? How did you deal with it?
    • How did you figure that out?
    • How many ways did you try before it turned out the way you wanted?
    • That was a challenging situation. What did you learn from it?
    • Tell me more about how you did this?
    • I really like (name a specific aspect of what they have done). What do you like best?
    • What was the most difficult part of doing this? Learning this?
    • Some things take a lot of time to learn. Do you think this is one of them?
  • Use stories of successes that resulted from effort, persistence, and time. Use stories of well-known people (athletes, leaders, scientists, etc.) who overcame obstacles, persisted, and put in great effort to become well known in their field of expertise. Telling stories about family members who overcame obstacles in their life can prove even more effective. Tell about the time and effort family members invested in creating a positive legacy for your family. Stories that reveal the time, effort, and persistence invested in overcoming obstacles are a powerful tool in building growth mindsets.

These four steps will help you build a growth mindset in your children…a growth mindset that will help them embrace the challenges of life, persist in the face of life’s obstacles, and experience growth!

6 Phrases to Avoid in Families

I remember the saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” I see the truth of that statement more and more as I age. Some things are just better left unsaid. Here are six phrases that are better left unsaid in families. These phrases can devastate family relationship and family members.

  • Person Annoyed by Others Talking“Can you be more like…?” “Your brother never did that!” Comparisons diminish people. They wreak havoc on a positive self-image. Most comparisons place the listener on the negative end of the comparison. But, even being on the positive end of a comparison tears a person’s self-image down. No matter the comparison, the person being compared is thrust into a competition for acceptance and value, one in which they are always at risk of falling on the negative side. Avoid the risk; don’t compare.
  • “I should have never gotten married.” “I wish I could just get out of this place.” Any threat of separation, divorce, or leaving—whether it be direct or indirect, blatant or subtle—increases fear, insecurity, and distrust in the person making the threat and in the overall family stability. Insecurity, fear, and mistrust results in misbehaviors tantrums, arguing, clinging, and other behaviors that strain a family and demand your attention.
  • “My mother says….” “When I grew up, my family….” “You’re acting just like your mother (or father).” Bringing the in-laws or grandparents into every family argument is a sure way to push your spouse away. Whether you praise your own family or criticize your spouse’s family, you will alienate your spouse. When you marry, you leave your father and mother to form a new family with your spouse. Sure, our parents can provide us with a model to emulate and offer us advice on occasion, but our conflicts belong to use. Our decisions are ours to make, our traditions for us to establish, and our lives for us to shape. So, leave the in-laws out of it.
  • “It’s about time you….” “Good job, finally!” “Yeah, that was a smart decision.” Sarcasm and back-handed compliments do not build stronger family relationships. They break down relationships and people. They make others feel like they “are not good enough” and can “never do enough to make you happy.” Ultimately, they make us feel unaccepted, inadequate, and unworthy.
  • “Why are you upset? You have no reason to be upset!” “You like this and you know it.” “That does not hurt; now quit crying!” Telling family members what they like and how they feel is intrusive. It communicates a belief that you know them and can manage their inner life of emotions and thoughts better than they can themselves. It sounds rather arrogant, doesn’t it? It also makes them feel like something is wrong with them. It produces an extreme sense of guilt and inadequacy. It creates a sense of dependence. Let your family members tell you what they like and how they feel. You can simply take the time to listen…and learn.
  • “How come you never…?” “Why do I always have to yell to make you…?” When absolutes (words like “never” and “always”) enter into family conversations it “always” spells trouble…oops, I mean it “often” means trouble. Absolutes are powerful words that imply unchanging traits, no exceptions, never right, and always wrong. These phrases damage a person’s self-image and motivation. They replace understanding with resentment and intimacy with bitterness. If you hear absolutes coming out of your mouth, slow down and recall times that counter the absolute…then watch your perspective of the person’s behavior change. Rather than using absolutes, focus on the specific, temporary situation being dealt with.


These six phrases can devastate family members and family relationships. Avoid them. Even better, replace them with phrases of encouragement, love, and appreciation.

Get Your Child’s Head in the Game with MEATT

Parents like to see their children perform well. Who am I kidding? I like to see my children perform well. In fact, if you are like me, you may get more nervous than your children do when they get out on the field for the big game or up on stage for the first act. We want pianothem to experience success. That success, however, begins long before they walk onto the field or stage. It begins even before practice starts. Our children’s performance success begins with their mindset…and their mindset begins with us! How we encourage and praise our children helps develop a mindset that promotes success or a mindset that promotes fear and anxiety. Praise that focuses on innate, natural talent promotes a fear of failure. If our praise voices a belief that genetics or natural talent made our child the excellent performer, we have raised the ante on performance anxiety. I know it sounds paradoxical; but, if I think my talent is inherited, “just who I am,” or a natural ability, I may believe that failure simply shows the limit of my ability. Rather than face that limit, I might underperform. I might stick with what I know I can already do and not risk reaching the limit of my ability and the start of my failure. Praise that focuses on natural talent creates anxiety and teaches our children to underperform. When they experience failure (which we all will) or finds themselves struggling (which we all do), they may believe they have reached the limit of their ability and quit…since other kids seem to have more ability now. Broad, generic statements like “You are really smart (or talented or good)” will have a similar result.


On the other hand, when we send a clear message that we value effort more than achievement, we promote success. Studies suggest successful people, even elite performers, have at least four things in common:

  1. They practice hard and they practice deliberately.
  2. They practice consistently.
  3. They practice consistently over the long-term in spite of any experience of failure or temporary setback. In fact, they come to see failure as a key factor in their growth.
  4. They believe that persistent effort will bring success.


Notice what each of these factors have in common: practice, effort, and hard-work! When we teach our children to believe that hard-work and effort (not simply natural talent) reveals the true extent of their ability, we have helped them get their head in the game. When we let our children know we value effort more than achievement, and practice more than perfection, we help them get their head in the game. So, here are five ways we can send the message (he real “M.E.A.T.T.” of teaching our children the importance of effort) that effort is more important than the final product.

  • Model working hard toward a goal and enjoying your work toward a goal. Children learn a lot by watching us!
  • Encourage your children to persist in reaching their goals. John Hayes, a cognitive psychologist, found great composers, athletes, and artists had a “decade of silence” in their field before reaching success. This “decade of silence” was filled with practice…practice…and more practice. Effort!
  • Acknowledge the effort your children exert in reaching a goal. Rather than simply praising the finished product or performance, let them know you recognize their effort and enjoy watching that effort pay off. “You put a lot of effort into learning that and it really paid off today.” “I can tell you worked hard on that picture/song/pitch. It’s very cool.”
  • Teach your children how to practice deliberately. This might include breaking the final goal into multiple steps, breaking a task into component parts and practicing each part individually. This also includes slowing down, practicing specific skills, and getting feedback.
  • Teach your children to have fun! Add variety to their practice to avoid boredom. Let part of the practice involve aspects your children really enjoy. Work hard and have fun!


Give your children the MEATT of effort and you will find their persistence improves and, as a result, their performance will improve. They will have their head in the game.

The Dark Side of Praise

What should parents do when their children do something well? Praise them, of course! Praise them with statements like: “You are so smart.” “That is a beautiful picture.” “Good job cleaning your room.”  Well…at least common knowledge on the street says to praise a job well done. However, praise does have a dark side. Let me give you three examples from the dark side of praise.

daumen hoch - rahmen aus vielen händen

When we praise our children by attributing their success to some natural ability, we create an environment primed for underachievement! In one study, two groups of students were praised for completing a puzzle. One group was praised for their natural ability–“You are really smart.” The other group was praised for their effort—”You worked hard on that puzzle.” Sometime later, both groups were given the opportunity to choose another puzzle to complete: a hard puzzle or an easy puzzle. The children who had been praised for their natural ability overwhelmingly chose the easy puzzle while those children praised for their effort choose the harder, more challenging, puzzle. Attributing our children’s success to natural ability means they have no power to influence their success.  It is natural to them or they cannot do it. And, to fail means “my ability is limited…and so am I.”  A person cannot change what they have no power over. Attributing success to effort, on the other hand, gives our children a realistic measure of control. They can accept a challenge because they believe that exerting more effort will bring greater success.


Another study found that students quickly identified insincere praise. Students learned that praise from their teacher actually indicated a student’s limited ability. They learned their teachers tended to praise the poorer students, those with less ability, in an effort to encourage them to perform better. In other words, students recognize blarney when they hear it…and so will our kids!


One other aspect of the dark side of praise is seen in excessive praise. When we overpraise our children, they learn to work only for the praise. They may also seek constant reassurance, doubting their ability unless fawned over with praise. Or, an activity with little inherent praise (like household chores or expected study habits) will leave them unmotivated, uninterested. They only have interest in receiving praise, not in learning and achieving for the intrinsic joy of doing so.


Praise is not all bad though. Here are four tips to avoid the dark side of praise and stay in the light.

  • Recognize effort. Rather than giving praise that involves some global, non-descript label (“You are such a good girl”), recognize effort invested (“You really studied for that test”).
  • Show interest and recognize specifics. Don’t just praise the whole finished project (“Oh, that’s beautiful”). Instead, ask a few specific questions: like “How did you choose that color?” “Where did you come up with that idea?” Find out more about their project and their thoughts behind the project. Then, recognize some specific aspect of the finished project, like “I like the combination of colors you chose.” “You show creativity in the way that character solved his problem.”
  • Don’t rush in. Step back. When your children appear stuck, step back and wait. Don’t rush in to fix, correct, or help. Let them struggle to find their own solution. Then recognize their effort. Acknowledge the solution and a specific aspect of that solution that you find especially creative, unique, or interestingly.
  • Finally, reframe failure. I love the way the Robinsons respond to failure in “Meet the Robinsons.” (Click Here to watch) Failure was a celebration, an opportunity to learn. Celebrating failure as an opportunity to learn gives our children the freedom to put in effort, fail, learn, and continuing working toward a better solution…tying the first three points together.


Don’t go to the dark side…of praise.  With a little thought and effort, you can easily step into the light and enjoy the benefits of well-spoken encouragement and praise.

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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