Praising our children is important to their positive development. They need to know what they are doing right and how you appreciate their effort and achievements. Praise makes them feel loved, appreciated, noticed, and secure. We want to help build their self esteem, however, can we really praise too much?It turns out, you can. Brookings Institution’s Brown Center found that countries in which families emphasize self-esteem lag behind cultures where self-esteem isn’t a major focus.
A cover story in October’s Scholastic Instructor magazine covers the issue of “overpraising.” The main problem cited is that too much praise can take away the sense of satisfaction that comes from applying oneself and achieving real goals.“Self-esteem is based on real accomplishments,” Robert Brooks, faculty psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told the magazine. “It’s all about letting kids shine in a realistic way.
As we are focusing on the POWerful Word, “Self Discipline” it’s a great time to connect the character word to our praise.
(1) Praise the effort it took to achieve the goal: How did the children apply themselves to achieve the goal? What kind of sacrifice did it take? Say something like, “You really studied hard for that math test and blocked out all distractions so that you could concentrate on your math problems. You showed an amazing improvement in your grade. Congratulations.” When we praise effort, children understand that they must apply themselves.
(2) Don’t connect love with praise: When children do something well, praise what you did but don’t make your affection contingent upon it. What’s love got to do with it anyway? For example, say, “Wow! You practiced everyday for that competition and you really showed them what you’re made of!” rather than “You did so great it makes me love you even more!”
(3) Be specific: Too often we say things like “good job.” But really, “good job” is meaningless. Be specific with your praise. Say, “I appreciate you sitting so quietly while you wait for class to begin. That helps the teacher and the students who are currently in class concentrate on what they are doing. You really showed everyone what it looks like to be patient and self disciplined” instead of “good job waiting for class.”
(4) Help them to connect the positive feeling to the accomplishment: We want the children to realize that when they accomplish a goal, they are receiving 2 kinds of rewards. On one hand, they are receiving external rewards such as good grades, a pat on the back, or a trophy. On the other hand, they are generating internal rewards which are the positive feelings of satisfaction and pride that come when they achieve something challenging. Ask them, “how do you feel?” Tell them, “I can see how proud you are that you were able to show your teacher that skill you’ve been working on. That great feeling that you have inside comes from working hard and achieving something you really wanted to achieve. It’s the best reward of all!”
(5) Connect praise to their character: Help your children to understand that they have it “in them” to be successful. When they’ve achieved a goal say, “One thing I know about you is that whenever you set out to do something, you do it. Congratulations on finishing your summer reading!” or “One thing I know about you is that you are a great leader. When you stood up for your best friend in class today, you really showed incredible leadership. You’re a great friend.”
Children who receive positive, well placed praise believe in their abilities and know the kind of character it takes to achieve their goals. They are more likely apply themselves than those who receive nonspecific “overpraise” and will likely work a little harder each time they approach a new task.
Here’s to our POWerful Kids!