Praise and compliments are viewed as affirming and positive but that’s not always the case. You may think you’re building up kids’ self-esteem, but you may unintentionally be setting them up to struggle. Previous generations were a little too stingy with the praise and while you shouldn’t nix all praise, there are certain compliments that are not beneficial. Here are some compliments that are actually harmful or not beneficial to children.
You’re so smart and good job
Related is praise about their high grades or impressive school performance. Praise is about encouraging positive behaviour. It would be better to praise their efforts and hard work when studying so that they can do more of that rather than just saying ‘You’re so smart.’ Telling them they’re smart ends at that point because they’ll see it as an innate thing. You want to encourage certain behaviours with all your praise. You also want to be specific, not generic.
Instead of good job, you could say about a painting, the colour selection is great or they did a wonderful with the shading to show depth. Then ask them what they think about their artwork so that it’s not your approval that matters but what they think about their own work. You don’t want them dependent on your praise.
You’re a good boy or girl
Telling your child they’re good makes them think their goodness is innate or alternatively their badness. What you want is for your compliments to be specific and related to their actions so that they know what makes a person good is what they do. There are so many people who are convinced they are good people when their actions scream they are anything but that. It would be better, for example, to tell a child what a good thing it was that they apologized to someone they had hurt. Telling them they’re a good boy or girl can make them invested in keeping you fooled and hiding their true nature or it can make them act out in opposite ways to prove you wrong. Always keep the focus on their actions.
You’re so pretty or handsome
Only praise children for things they have control over. People have little control over their appearance and whether they meet society’s ever-changing standards of beauty. It’s also a good idea to avoid focusing on your child’s appearance in a society in which so much stock is placed on appearance with very deleterious effects. For girls, especially, praising looks can have the negative effect of suggesting that’s all that matters about them, that that’s the first thing, the main thing anyone notices about them.
You’re the best
Praising children after every act can make them dependent on praise. Telling them that they’re the best can give them unrealistic expectations about their abilities. If your child feels inadequate telling them they’re the best can make them feel worse. When it comes to something like sports, children benefit more from their parents just being present than they do from their parents keeping scores about goals and who was the best.
Any compliment that’s not sincere
Children have strong BS detectors and they can tell when you’re being sarcastic or lying or insincere or disappointed in them. Any praise you give them should be genuine and meaningful. You don’t want your children to begin to doubt the things you say. Sometimes parents can be insincere with their praise because they think children need praise in order to develop self-esteem. That’s not what praise is for. Praise is a way to reinforce attributes we want to foster in children that will make them good people and successful adults.
Too much praise can be unhealthy. One study found that students who were lavished with praise were more cautious in their responses to questions, had less confidence in their answers, were less persistent in difficult assignments and less willing to share their ideas. The solution is not to withhold praise but to do it better.
How and what you praise your child for is what has a powerful impact on their development. Don’t praise them about things they have no control over like their physical attractiveness, artistic or athletic gifts and intelligence. Focus on areas they have control over like attitude, responsibility, commitment, discipline, compassion, generosity and be specific. For example, “You worked so hard preparing for this test” and “You were so generous in sharing with your sister.” Focus on effort and the specific behaviour you want more of.
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