Everyone likes to be complimented for a job well done, a choice well made, or a skill well mastered, and that especially holds true for children. The struggle for parents is determining the right balance between how much is too much or too little praise in trying to raise confident, well-grounded kids. Parents tend to believe that giving children constant praise will help to build self-esteem, but excessive praise without direct purpose can actually cause children to avoid taking risks or trying new things in fear of becoming a failure in the eyes of their parents. Experts say that it is the quality of praise, rather than the quantity, that has the most lasting and positive effects on children’s sense of self-worth. Compliments should be given for the effort put into something, rather than the outcome. Here are a few suggestions to make the compliments that you give to your children more focused and meaningful.
Praise the determination, not the person
Instead of telling your child how great or wonderful he or she is at something, instead focus on how hard they tried to accomplish it. Praising their effort will show them that you are proud of their desire to succeed and grow, and are not only concerned with their current abilities. Try to replace compliments such as “You’re such a good artist!” or “What a great soccer player you are!” with praise such as “I am really impressed with how hard you’ve been practicing!” or “I’m so proud of how you never gave up trying to score a goal today!”
Be as specific as possible
One of the most overly used and vague compliments that a parent can give is “good job!” The more often a child hears “good job” in his or her daily activities, the less likely it is that the child will believe the compliment to be sincere or genuine. Instead of saying things like “Wow, what a beautiful drawing!” you can give your compliments a much greater authenticity by being specific, such as “I really love the way you drew those speckled dots on the birds’ eggs, they look so real!”
Validate the achievements
Parents tend to compliment their children by labeling their behavior as “good” far more often then necessary. We say things like “You were so good today while we were shopping,” or “What a good girl you are being right now!” We need to instead explain, especially to younger children, just what part of what they did or how they did it we are giving accolades for. Better compliments would be “I am so proud of how well you behaved at the store today by holding Mommy’s hand the whole time and not trying to touch anything,” or “I really like the choice you just made to sit next to your sister and share your snacks with her.”
Even young children can sense when parents are being insincere. Honesty and tactfulness are important qualities to keep in mind when formulating praise. If your child is trying and failing to play an instrument successfully, he or she will not believe you if you tell them that the music sounds great, as they themselves know that it does not. Instead, simply let them know that you are noticing their drive and focus and tell them that you are impressed with their dedication to improving. This kind of praise will be much better accepted than any false flattery.
Over-complimenting is a rut that far too many parents find themselves in, especially as it relates to toddlers and preschoolers. We want to show them how amazing we believe that every single thing that they do really is, and we can oftentimes get carried away with our compliments. There is such a thing as overdoing it and too much of a good thing when it comes to praise, because kids will begin to discredit their own achievements if we are constantly gushing over the most simple, everyday actions. Instead, save the compliments for the truly remarkable feats, and in doing so your words will have a much greater impact and give your child a much truer sense of accomplishment.