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One Mistake Parents Make When Praising Children That Can Backfire

Parents with a child

Loving your children is one thing, but one mistake parents make is praising a child’s personal qualities instead of efforts, according to the American Psychological Association.

Now, this might sound a little strange, but studies of late have shown a very distinct correlation between praising personal qualities and feelings of failure and lower self-worth. How does this work? When a child has low self-esteem, parents opt to take the sweet road and reassure through magnifying characteristics that make the child unique. This, however, raises expectations and increases shame if met with failure.

What is recommended for parents?

• Don’t praise Donna’s musical talents, but smile approvingly when she finally masters a piece she’s been working on. Careful about calling Edward a math whiz, because failing a calculus test might hit his ego like a sledgehammer. Instead, praise him when he solves math formulas faster than he did yesterday, encouraging improvement.

According to a study published lately in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 357 parents from the Netherlands were asked to provide praises for 6 hypothetical children, ranging from low to high self-esteem.

What’s the conclusion?

• Children with low self-esteem are praised for qualities they possess more, while the high were faces with efforts praised. The former suffered more in the end, when realizing they don’t live up to the praises about being great artists, while the latter were markedly better equipped to tackle new artistic projects.

Why would this be a problem?

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• Children with low self-esteem praised for inherent qualities are made to feel that they are valued only when successful. If they fail later on, or do not meet expectations these praises set, self-worth plummets considerably.

So why is it better to praise efforts taken instead?

• Instead of associating failure with one’s worth, children praised for effort seem to regard it as merely a slight setback for the long run.

What would be some tips for parents and teacher then?

1. Praise a child’s positive behaviour. Even if they are normally quite frustrating, praising a moment’s concentration, good grades, act of kindness, etc., might give them the boost they need to feel they are not so bad after all.

2. Praise the efforts taken to master a subject. They may be failing, but spending hours trying to grasp the concepts. Praise each successful step and give a helping hand. They are not perfect and you shouldn’t expect them to be. After all, neither are you.

3. Praise the baby steps taken. They may be wary and slightly half-hearted, but that might be due to very low confidence levels. Don’t praise the qualities they seem to possess but focus on the small victories achieved.

It may sound strange, and there may be little difference between the phrasing of the praising, but the difference in response by children is rather staggering. Be careful and always think before you speak. You will raise more confident and hard-working citizens of the world this way.

Reference: American Psychological Association