Are You Disrespecting Your Kids With Praise?

Imagine that you invite a good friend over for dinner. How would you feel if the conversation went this way?

Friend: “Good job cooking!”

You: “Thanks. Let me pour you some wine.”

Friend: “I like the way you pour! You are an excellent pourer!”

You: “Oh yeah. Isn’t this wine fantastic? I picked it up at my favorite winery.”

Friend: “You are such a nice sharer! You are the best friend in the whole world!”

So far so good, right? Your friend has complimented your cooking, noticed how nice you are, and even declared you to be her BFF!

Right now you may be questioning my thinking.

Perhaps you’re thinking nobody talks this way to people they care about. And even if that conversation really occurred, it is far from sincere or genuine.

The thing is, plenty of people talk that way every single day.

Adults talk this way to their children all the time.

And they do it in the name of love.

Let’s imagine that the child is working hard on a drawing of a horse and shows it to the parent. While the scenario is different, the flavor of the conversation doesn’t change much.

Parent: “Ooh. Good job drawing!”

Kid: Adding a horn with a crayon. “It’s a unicorn! It can fly!”

Parent: “Wow! This is the best picture ever!”

Kid: “You can have it!!”

Parent: “I love it! You are the best artist in the whole world!”

What do you think? How does it make you feel? If you read my previous article you know that I am a reformed praiser. I had many conversations like that with my own child when she was little.

Today I want to share why empty praise can be harmful, and some alternatives to “good job.”

Why Change

For many of us, “good job” is a verbal confirmation that we are proud of our kids. It’s a great statement — when used sparingly and with sincerity. The words “good job” (at least in principle) mean someone has put great effort into something or accomplished something big.

The problem is words mean very little when used too often and without sincerity.

If a parent says “good job” every time the child hastily draws a stick figure, eats a vegetable, or goes down the slide no matter how much effort was put in, where is the sincerity and encouragement in that? And how can a child who grows up hearing that he is constancy doing great things supposed to learn to manage constructive criticism from a teacher, boss, or spouse in the future?

Most of us don’t mean to be insincere. We praise because we want what’s best for our children…

  • We want them to develop healthy self-esteem.
  • We want them to know we see them trying.
  • We want to teach them to feel good about their accomplishments.
  • We want them to feel connected to us.
  • Most of all we want them to feel loved.

Alternatives to “Good Job”

Since we want all of those things for our children, let’s rethink how we talk to them. Each of the strategies below encourages self-worth and connection. I give an explanation and some examples for each.

Say Nothing

Sometimes no feedback is the best kind. Try simply observing without making suggestions, opinions, or corrections to what she’s doing.

Let her discover that her block tower will fall if she builds it too high.

Let her color her trees pink.

Let her build a fort from couch pillows.

Make observations

Instead of praising, simply say what you notice.

“You used a lot of blue paint.”

“That was a big bite!”

“You are really trying hard!”

Ask Questions

Praise tells your child what you think. Instead, turn it around and ask him a question and listen to his response.

“What made you decide to paint the dragon purple?”

“How did you learn all of the words to the song?”

“What do you need to grab to stay warm outside?”

Show Appreciation

Praise and rewards don’t build empathy and a sense of right and wrong. Try showing gratitude for your child’s kindnesses and cooperation.

“Thanks for getting ready for bed so quickly. Now we have time for more books!”

“When you shared your cookie I felt really lucky. Thanks!”

“It really is helpful when you take your dish to the sink!”

That’s it! As you can see, all of the strategies that I shared are simple and sincere. By talking this way to the children in my own life, I have learned things about them I wouldn’t know otherwise.

I’m confident that you too will see a big difference in your level of connection if you give them a try.


Originally published at parentingpaths.com on October 27, 2015.

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