Praising children properly: why too much praise can hurt

Praise child: Children show their mother pictures they have drawn

Praising is said to be just as bad as scolding? Why false praise can harm children and what you need to look out for in order to praise your child properly, we explain here.

In this article:

Why too much praise is harmful

"But you made that picture beautifully!", "Now you’ve brushed your teeth like a good boy," and "It’s great how you ate your lunch!" These are phrases we say to our children to motivate them, to praise them for their behavior.

However, there is a theory, and studies to go with it, such as those presented by author Alfie Kohn, that praise can be just as harmful as punishment.

In a study by the University of Utrecht, psychologists have investigated the effect of excessive praise on children. The result: children who were not praised or were praised appropriately in the test, subsequently dared to perform more difficult tasks. The children who were overpraised decided on the easiest task. The excessive praise ensures that especially children without much self-confidence trust themselves even less.

This sounds totally illogical at first. Praise is a great thing. Something that shows us we are doing the right thing. It is said that too much praise makes children insecure. It can seem patronizing, it makes dependent on recognition and can be used manipulatively.

Praising children can manipulate and make them feel small

When your kid ties his shoes on his own for the first time, that’s very praiseworthy. At the 15. Times that is no longer necessary. Excessive praise for everyday things suggests to the child that you don’t give him much credit. Over time, your child will take on this attribution.

The most important thing is that the praise is sincere. Children already have a sense of this too. Exaggerated praise is not authentic and leaves your child with negative feelings. With the right amount of praise, your child should learn to trust itself.

With too much praise you only achieve that your child does tasks for the sake of praise.

This is what happens when we praise children too much

These children sometimes later become adults who go through life unsure of themselves and always need someone to tell them whether they have done something well or not. Someone to pat them on the back. But basically, we want children who shout with pride "I have managed!", instead of chewing their lips insecurely and asking "Was that so good mom?".

Author Alfie Kohn explains this theory particularly clearly in his book "Love and Independence- The Art of Unconditional Parenting, Beyond Reward and Punishment". In it, he describes what it can do to praise less:

"People who know they are loved regardless of their performance often achieve quite well. Knowing that they are accepted unconditionally helps them to develop a healthy self-confidence and to have the courage to take risks and try new things."

"The courage to accomplish something is rooted in deep satisfaction."

Not to praise, but to be appreciative and appreciative means to see the child as a personality, not his performance. Parents should therefore not only look at the result, but at the way there, the efforts.

Praising children properly: 5 tips

The effect of praise stands and falls with the choice of words. With statements like "You did a great job!"How nice of you to say that" or "How nice of you to say that" you are evaluating your child’s performance. Especially the famous "Well done" conveys that there is also a bad performance.

Your child will ask himself more and more often if he was good or good enough. Instead of praising the child throughout the day, parents should prefer to think about what they could have said in person instead.

1. Praise what you see

Your child showing you a picture he or she drew is one of the most common situations in which praise is conveyed incorrectly. Instead of a "Well done!"Try to put into words what you particularly like about it. For example, how exactly the color of the car is hit or that you like how much people smile. Pick out a detail that you would like to emphasize.

This mere statement is intended to make the child feel as happy as he or she would be about a "Painted beautifully!", but at the same time not change its intention. Praise can also lead to the child trying to paint only "beautifully" in the future; it can even create pressure to paint so beautifully again next time so as not to disappoint mom.

2. Do not make comparisons

When you praise your child, be sure to avoid comparisons. With a "You can jump much higher than xy you do not promote self-confidence, but only competition.

It becomes particularly critical when comparisons are made between siblings. Your child must learn that everyone has different strengths and that he or she is valued for his or her just as much as big brother is.

3. Emphasize the effort, not the property

"You’re such a great athlete" or "What a talented painter you are!", do not motivate your child to face new challenges. On the contrary: When your child is praised for qualities he or she is already good at, he or she will want to play it safe for fear of not being able to fulfill the requirement just as well.

Therefore, you should emphasize your child’s efforts. A "I saw how hard you tried" or "I can see how much effort and time you put into your painting" is much more effective.

4. Do not judge character

Grandparents in particular tend to be "You are such a sweet child" or "You are a good boy". Instead of judging your child’s character, describe how the behavior affects others.

Instead of "How sweet of you to share your sweets" try to convey to your child how others feel about it. For example: "You gave dad the tools, that was very helpful for him".

5. Praise according to age

A toddler responds to praise differently than a school-age child or teenager. Young children need to be motivated by praise more often during an activity and afterward as well. Older children, on the other hand, are better able to reflect on their behavior and internalize praise even at a later stage.

Not praising is incredibly difficult

Not praising our child is incredibly difficult, and it requires us to engage more intensively with our children. If my daughter shows me a picture, I can no longer end it with a cursory "Quite nice!" dismiss.

I have to look. I have to think carefully about what I say now. So when swinging at the playground, I no longer shouted "Great job!!" but "You swing really high!". When she had completely eaten her breakfast, I did not say "Well done, all eaten up!", but "Your plate is empty, you must have tasted good today!".

So the difference between the praise and my reaction was that I valued my daughter’s efforts, dedication, and actions, showed her my appreciation.

We praise children far too often without really realizing it. And my daughter was not less happy without praise, I had more the feeling to be more honest with her, not to manipulate her. This kind of recognition is also important later when it comes to grades at school. I’ve made a firm resolution to praise less – even though I catch myself doing it all the time.

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