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Praising Children

Most parents totally accept the idea that praising children is very important. You can use praise in any number of ways e.g. you've noticed their actions and appreciate them; or you may use praise to recognise and commend their talents or abilities. It can help boost self-esteem and reinforce good behaviour. All fabulous things, right?

But, it occurs to me, that sometimes we can be somewhat over-keen to praise.

Perhaps it's because we're so keen to make sure that we've given praise we neglect to pay attention to *how* we're giving it. It's certainly something that I'm trying to be more aware of.

The truth is, that when praise is given too often, or somewhat unthinkingly it can have the opposite of the affect which we so desire. For example - we may with the very best of intentions commend our children on their sporting prowess... Even if, they're not the best. An empty comment like:

"You were amazing at football today!"

... Might not have quite the effect that you were hoping for.

Chances are, if you're child isn't all that great at football, they already know it. Your praise, whilst undoubtedly well intentioned (perhaps with a view to boosting their self-esteem) really isn't going to go very far - they know they weren't amazing - if your praise isn't genuine then they'll lose trust in it. Plus of course, when they do get really good, you'll have run out of adjectives to describe just how good they've become!

In this instance I would suggest giving more specific praise e.g.:

"You've really improved at dribbling - looks like all the hard work you've put into practising is really beginning to pay off"

I'd suggest that this sort of praise is far more beneficial - firstly because your child will know that you've been paying attention - you've been watching them at the game and when they've been practising, and it shows that you appreciate the effort that they're putting in. It's also far more genuine - you're not telling them they're amazing when they probably know that they're not, well not yet anyway!

Another classic which I hear a lot of is offering praise with a sting in the tail. It often happens when parents are tired or a little ratty etc. And I'm certainly not immune either. Here's an example of something I said to my son just last week:

"Thank you for tidying up your toys so well, I really appreciate it. Now if only you could tidy up them every day..."

My husband pulled me up on it. He's asked why I'd decided to slot a negative comment right at the end. To be honest, I'm not sure I was even aware of doing it.

But nonetheless it negates what I was trying to do - the negative comment almost outweighs the positive. It sounds like very conditional praise doesn't it? The subtext perhaps is something like - I'm really glad you did that today but I have no faith whatsoever that you'll continue to do it in the future. Ouch! Not the message I wanted to send out at all!

So, in short I'm going to try harder. Both to be more specific about the praise which I give (and also to ensure that there's no nasty sting in the tail). How about you? Do you have any tips to share about giving your children praise?

Also if you'd care to raise your hand and admit to also offering praise with a sting in the tail I'd feel a lot better - tell me I'm not the only one ;)

Image credit Rev Dan Catt

Leave a comment

    From Lucy Quick
    Hi Mummy Zen,

    That's an interesting idea - and I guess it feeds into some of what I've said. However like you, I'm not 100% sure that I agree completely - whilst praising effort is important, I think if that's all you ever praised then that too might start to feel a little hollow.

    I guess I think it's important to praise the effort and where appropriate, the result :)
    From Mummy Zen
    Great post! It's an important element to raising children but like you say, it should be used wisely and not too often or too broadly. A friend told me she'd read an article which said you shouldn't praise what they've done but should praise their effort. I'm still not sure what I think about that....
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