Every self-help book talks about the importance of getting praise during childhood. It is certainly something that enhances our self-esteem and shapes our personality. It’s really simple: we praise our children when they pass an exam, when they do something well, when they make a nice drawing, etc.
But does telling our kids how well they do certain things, showing them that we really love them, actually make them feel more confident? Does it make them happy and guarantee that they will have strong self-esteem?
The dark side of praise
Of course it’s good that people show appreciation for the things you do. Positive words encourage us to keep going and help us achieve something or get better at something. For example, if you passed an exam and people praise you for it, it will motivate you to keep learning and get even better grades. Or it will help you put in a little more effort to pass that subject that you are not very good at.
But what happens when the praise is repeated over and over? What happens when you start counting on it and then are disappointed when you don’t get it? Too much praise can make us take the easy road instead of trying to excel, despite the difficulties we may encounter.
Plus, it can push us in a direction that we actually don’t like. That is, maybe we will get a positive result so that others will praise us, but we actually did not enjoy the task.
It’s important that kids don’t think about the reward every time they do something. Think of it as if they would get a present every time they get a good result. They should understand the responsibility that comes with what they do. The results they get should be commensurate with the effort they put into the task.
Praise that destroys our self-esteem
When it comes to the praise children receive from a very early age, there are three basic types that we tend to think promote healthy self-esteem. In reality, however, this is not the case at all.
1. Praise their ability, not their effort
This is a serious mistake that can cause a lot of problems. Hard work is what counts, that which will really affect the result. Even if you’re extremely intelligent, you won’t achieve much if you don’t put in the effort.
Are you familiar with the type of student who has what it takes to succeed but does not benefit from it? What they show is a lack of effort. We should always only praise the effort, for praising the ability will destroy self-esteem.
2. Exaggerated, non-specific praise
Some praise is greatly exaggerated. Some good examples? ‘You are a genius’, ‘you are an artist’ etc. This can be counterproductive in children. It does not elevate and strengthen their self-esteem; it does just the opposite.
Learn to be specific when you praise your child, such as ‘I like that you…’, ‘You’ve done…extremely well’, but don’t try to artificially boost their self-esteem. If you tell your child that he is a genius, he will believe this! And that can make him stop trying.
3. Putting more pressure on it
When we praise children, we sometimes put more pressure on them than we should. If you tell a child that he is a genius, he will realize that he must maintain this status. This puts way too much unnecessary pressure on him.
It is important that they continue to make an effort and try to excel, but pressure is not the same as motivation. It is important that the child feels motivated, not pressured. Do they really need all that stress and anxiety at such a young age?
While the word “praise” has a positive connotation, its effect can be quite negative if not handled properly. Learn to do it the right way and remember that sometimes it’s not necessary at all, at least not in excess.
Praise your child for making an effort, for wanting to excel, and for being motivated, but don’t reward him or give him excessive praise for something that is easy for him. It is important that children work to achieve something. Only then will they learn the true value of things.
–Images courtesy of Claudia Tremblay–