Praising your child comes quite naturally. It is a powerful way of showing appreciation and encouragement while creating a positive and impactful experience for your child. Effective praise can help shape your child’s behaviour and strengths; you can see more positive behaviours in your child and it also helps them build certain skills. The question is “Can too much praise be a bad thing, is there a right way of praising your child or is it all good as long as there is praise?” The answers may not be as straightforward, but here are a few good pointers to go by.
Praise is crucial to children of all ages. It works as a reward for your child and is something they thrive on. It makes them feel appreciated, seen and heard, much as it does for adults. It nurtures their confidence and self-esteem while shaping self-appreciation and acceptance. Praise can help your child recognise their strengths. It can motivate your child to repeat positive behaviour or work better next time.
Most child experts say that for every negative interaction (shouting, scolding, losing your cool) with your child, it is important to have 5 positive ones. So when you “catch” your child being good, tell them and show appreciation. Praise doesn’t need to be overdone as that can be counterproductive, but praising your child in little ways can help build a loving and nurturing bond. Non-verbal praise in the form of a thumbs-up, a hi-five can also be effective in showing appreciation.
Apart from words, we can also praise children with certain rewards and privileges. Eg; letting them pick what they want for dinner for putting their toys away. Older children might appreciate getting more screen time or a later bedtime.
It is also important to be mindful of a child’s age to ensure praise is effective. Young children might enjoy being praised in public more than teenagers who may want to stay away from the spotlight.
If you find yourself using general praise a little too often, you’ll need to change your game. Although initially flattering, if your praise isn’t genuine, your child will figure it out at some point which will take away your credibility. Eg, saying “you’re an absolute genius. You know everything!” will make your child think “I'm not really a genius? I don't always get all the answers right”
Avoid general terms of praise. There’s only so many times saying: "you're a good boy” will work effectively. Instead, look for something specific and descriptive. Specific praise is seen as more sincere and genuine. It lets them know you are paying attention to their unique contributions and strengths. Instead of saying, “that’s awesome” when your child shows you a painting, say “I love the combination of colours you’ve used”. So even if it takes a little more time and effort, look for something specific about your child’s efforts that you can praise.
This lets your child know that their efforts matter, irrespective of the outcome. This can also encourage them to put in the hard work, practice more and do their best while working on anything. Recognition makes them understand that they need to put in effort instead of deciding they are good only at what they find easy to do. Children can fail at tasks even when they put in their best efforts and we need to appreciate them trying. Eg; your toddler might want to help you in folding clothes and end up piling them in a mess, say “ It’s thoughtful of you to want to help me with doing the laundry, you are trying so hard”. If we focus more on praising their ability, they are less likely to focus on their efforts to experience success. Instead of going with “You’re a really smart boy” which focuses on their ability, say “ you spent time and kept trying until you got that puzzle right, bravo!
It seems so easy to fall into the comparison trap. As parents, we sometimes genuinely believe that comparison might motivate our children to do better. Even with the best intentions, comparing our children to others sets them back in two ways. It discredits their efforts and secondly makes them feel peer pressure, focusing on winning rather than putting in their best effort. This can happen not just with peers but also with siblings. If you find yourself telling your child “you are great at football, just like your brother: switch to “ you can play football really well”
Praising every little thing your child does or things that require low effort is going to encourage just that; to do things they can succeed at without having to put in much effort. It can also lead to a false, narcissistic sense of self. It can also make them conditioned to expect praise from everyone and for everything and even over-emphasize any failures they experience.
It’s difficult to always praise your child the right way in the right amount, effectively without it backfiring. Using these pointers above can help but what can make your praise most effective is being spontaneous and sincere in your praise. Your children will feel encouraged, loved and motivated this way.