I don’t always want to have to think about how to phrase what I say to my kids. I just want to say it and be done with it. Especially with praise. I mean, I’m saying something nice! Shouldn’t that be enough? Well, unfortunately, overpraising children can feel like pressure on the kids—even if you don’t mean for it to.
Avoid “judging” praise.
Judging when we praise is easy: Great job! That’s perfect! You’re the best! That kind of praise gets our kids in the habit of looking to us—and others—to determine their value. (If you’re a people pleaser, you might have fed on this type of praise when you were a child.) Describing instead of judging is a little more difficult, but a whole lot more powerful.
Try “describing” praise.
Rather than put a label on a child—even a good label—describe what you see, what the child has done, or the choice he or she has made. You cleaned up your toys without being asked! Your piano practice sounded so energetic! I didn’t even have to ask you to take out the garbage. This allows children to evaluate themselves based on their choices.
Stay away from “always.”
Here’s one way overpraising children can backfire. When our kids get hooked on praise, they always feel pressure to meet the mark. “You’re always the best goalie in big games” can lead to your child think he has to stop every goal so he can remain the best. If we say “you are always so kind,” she might feel like a bad kid when she shows any selfishness.
Watch for fear of failure.
When children define themselves by the praise they receive, they can develop a fear of failure, because if they fall short, they won’t be that “special” kid anymore. So they’d rather not try than risk failing. This moves the child away from a growth mindset and toward doing things that will earn him or her a guaranteed gold star.
Use “praise questions.”
Our children do want our praise. They want to impress us, and that’s OK—as long as they also get the chance to evaluate their own accomplishments. A good way to help them do this is to ask “praise questions.” How did you figure out that puzzle? How did you choose the colors for your painting? Where did you find the courage to talk to your teacher about your test? This enables our children to relive their accomplishments and bask in the glow of their hard work and good choices.
What’s your go-to for praising your kids? How do you like to be praised?