For years, I taught a parenting course called, Dynamic Parenting ©. The course was designed to improve the behavior of children. One of the skills taught was how to praise a child. Praise was broken down into teachable parts.
- Look at your child
- Move close to your child
- Give a nonverbal gesture of approval
- Praise immediately
- Praise the behavior, not the child
Parents were then sent home to practice this skill and reinforce appropriate behavior when they saw it. Often, parents would ask, “Can we over praise our child?” My answer was, “Not if the praise is genuine, based in reality and focused on behavior.” Praise is needed to change and reinforce behavior. It is an important parenting skill that needs to be used often.
However, parents can over praise if they don’t follow the guidelines. Praise is not about how good or exceptional a child is or can be. It is used for specific behavior like spending time studying, taking out the trash, complying with rules, etc.
Today, we have parents who praise their children for everything and that praise is not based in reality. This type of praise, over-inflated praise, can lead to a child feeling entitled and create poor coping when it comes to failure or working hard to reach a goal.
A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that over praising can harm children. Think about it. If a child is constantly told he is so smart, so accomplished and then finds out he is not really the best when he goes to school or out into the world, it can deflate his esteem—the exact opposite of what the parent is trying to do.
Studies now tell us that when parents try to inflate self-esteem by over praising, kids aren’t prepared for life. Dr. Mark Leary at Duke University, explains that children as early as age eight are impacted by what others think of them in terms of their self-esteem. When kids feel valued, loved and accepted, they usually develop good self-esteem. But parents who over protect their kids from any negative feedback or realistic views of themselves may actually be creating self-esteem problems. Balance is the key. Too much positive not based in reality, and too little negative, can create relationship problems in the future.
So parents, be careful. Be specific and realistic about your praise. For example, rather than tell your child she is the best soccer player on the field, tell her you noticed how much her hard work has paid off.
Finally, all children need to know that their esteem comes from God, not others. No one has the power to define their worth but God. And God declares each child loved, valued and accepted just because He created him or her. Worth is not defined by accomplishments, abilities or beauty. In God’s eye, we are esteemed because we are one of His.
For more advice from Dr. Linda Mintle, check out her book, Breaking Free from Negative Self-Image.