3 Harmful Types of Praise

· June 28, 2016

Every self-help book talks about the importance of praise during childhood. It’s definitely something that increases our self-esteem and shapes our personality. It’s really simple: we praise our children when they pass an exam, when they do something good, when they draw a beautiful picture, etc.

But telling your children how well they do certain things, showing them that you consider them to be truly marvelous, does that really make them secure in themselves? Does it make them happy and guarantee that they’ll have strong self-esteem?

“When someone abuses me I can defend myself, but against praise I am defenseless.”

-Sigmund Freud-

The dark side of praise

girl and bunny

Of course it’s good for people to celebrate the things you do. Positive words keep us going, and help us develop our potential to achieve something or do it better. For example, if you pass an exam and people commend you for it, this will motivate you to keep studying and get better grades. Or it’ll help you to put more effort into passing a course that you’re not doing so well in.

But what happens when the praise becomes repetitive? What happens when you start to expect it, and then are surprised when you don’t receive it? Too much praise can make us choose the easy road instead of trying to excel, despite the difficulties we might encounter.

What’s more, it can also push us towards things that we don’t actually like. That is, we might only get a positive result in order to receive praise, but that doesn’t mean that we enjoyed the task. It’s important that children don’t think about rewards every time they do something. Think of it as them receiving a gift every time they get a positive result.

They should understand the responsibility involved in doing what they do. The results they get should be consistent with the amount of effort they dedicate to the task.

“He that does good for good’s sake seeks neither praise nor reward, but he is sure of both in the end.”

-William Penn-

Praise that destroys your self-esteem

birds flying around head

When it comes to praise that children receive from a very young age, there are 3 fundamental types that we tend to think promote a healthy self-esteem, when in reality, it’s quite the contrary.

1. Praising their abilities, not their effort

This is a very serious mistake that can cause many problems. Hard work is what counts, what’s really going to influence the result. Even if you’re really intelligent, if you don’t put in any effort, you won’t achieve anything.

Are you familiar with the kind of student that has the capacity to succeed, but doesn’t take advantage of it? What you get from them is a lack of effort. We should always praise effort, because praising ability will destroy self-esteem.

2. Exaggerated, unspecified praise

Some praise is very exaggerated.  What are some good examples? “You’re a genius,” “you’re an artist,” etc. This can have a counterproductive effect in children. Instead of elevating and strengthening their self-esteem, it does the opposite.

Learn to give more specific praise, like “I like that you…,” “you did…really well,” but don’t try to artificially raise their self-esteem. If you tell them they’re a genius, they’re going to believe it! And that can cause them to stop trying.

3. Adding more pressure

When we praise children, sometimes we put more pressure on them than we should. If you tell a child they’re a genius, they’re going to realize that they have to maintain that status. This puts them under way too much unnecessary pressure.

It’s important for them to put forth effort and excel, but pressure is not the same as motivation. It’s important that the child feels motivated, not pressured. Do they really need that stress and anxiety at such a young age?

“We shouldn’t believe too much in praise. Criticism is sometimes quite necessary.”

-Dalai Lama-

Even though the word “praise” has a positive connotation, it can be pretty negative if it’s not used properly. Learn to do it in the correct way and remember that sometimes it’s not necessary, at least not in excess.

girl playing violin on world

Praise effort, excellence, and motivation, but don’t reward or exaggerate what comes easy to them. It’s important for them to work towards achieving something. Only then will they learn the true value of things.

Images courtesy of Claudia Tremblay