Some kids expect kudos every time they turn around. But general praise for their brains, beauty or brawn can backfire. Instead, get specific about your child’s effort.
Use praise that hones in on how well your child perseveres, suggests Ann K. Dolin, a former teacher and president of a tutoring company based in Virginia. When words are too general, children discount their parents’ good intentions as insincere.
Praising children for effort rather than intelligence gives them more motivation to keep trying, says Dolin, author of “Homework Made Simple” (Advantage Books, 2010). Her suggestions include:
• Replace “great job” with, “I like the way you kept trying even when the problems became harder.”
• Replace “I’m proud of you” with, “You went back to check your work. That extra step paid off.”
• Replace “You got an A” with, “Those extra practice problems you did really made a difference.”
Studies at Columbia University have shown that kids praised for being talented don’t fare as well as kids who are praised for being hard workers. Students praised only for their intelligence and natural strengths can eventually lose confidence in their abilities.
Beyond ‘good job’
Here are some suggestions from Mary Jo Rapini, counselor and co-author of “Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever” (Bayou Publishing, 2008), about how to get beyond “good job.”
• Be careful praising your child for what comes naturally. If you dole out praise for high math grades that come easily, your child may be less willing to try more difficult challenges.
• Be careful praising your child for what he already loves to do. This can lead to a kid thinking he has to be passionate about something in order to be good at it.
• Using comparisons will backfire. Telling your child that she is better, stronger or more attractive than someone else fosters a competitive, win-or-lose mindset. Teaching your children to understand others and be polite is more highly correlated to their future happiness and success than promoting competition.
• Praising your child’s attractiveness should be done with caution. Encouragement and modest praise when your child is frustrated while learning a skill, for example, will help build your child’s self-esteem much more than telling her how pretty she is.
• When praising, keep in mind the child’s age and developmental level. A toddler will need encouragement more often, but a teenager may feel manipulated by your comments.
Pitfalls to praise
There are also pitfalls when it comes to praising children’s artwork, according to the N.C. State University Extension Service. Well-intentioned comments such as “that’s a beautiful house” can lead to these common misunderstandings:
• Children may expect praise every time they create something.
• Children may stop forming their own opinions of their artwork and look to their teachers for feedback.
• Children may stop being creative and start creating what they think their teachers will like.
The best way to give children feedback is to praise their effort using descriptions instead of applauding the product they actually created. Help children recognize how hard they worked – at mixing colors of paint, gluing down leaves, cutting out strips of paper – and encourage them to be proud of their own accomplishments without seeking an adult nod of approval. UNIVERSAL UCLICK FOR UFS
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and preschool teacher. If you have tips or questions, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.