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The Right Way to Praise Your Kids

When it comes to praise, quality over quantity may be the answer to building kids' self-esteem.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

A lot of moms and dads struggle with finding the right balance when it comes to praising their kids: How much is too much? How much is too little? Is quantity that important, or is it the quality of praise that really matters?

While there's no secret formula, experts say understanding the when, where, and how of praising is an important tool in raising confident kids with a healthy sense of self-esteem.

How Parents Typically Praise

Parents everywhere praise their kids when they do well in school, win a ball game, or build an impressive sandcastle, anything that seems to be something remarkable -- and, in many cases, anything that's just plain old vanilla.

Jenn Berman, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy and Confident Kids, says, "We are becoming praise junkies as parents. We've gone to the opposite extreme of a few decades ago when parents tended to be more strict. And now we overpraise our children."

By giving kids heaping portions of praise, parents think they're building their children's confidence and sense of self, when, in fact, it may be just the opposite.

"Somehow, parents have come to believe that by praising their kids they improve their self-esteem," Paul Donahue, PhD, founder and director of Child Development Associates, says. "Though well-intentioned, putting kids on a pedestal at an early age can actually hinder their growth."

Too much praise can backfire, it seems, and, when given in a way that's insincere, make kids afraid to try new things or take a risk for fear of not being able to stay on top where their parent's praise has put them.

"There is something about praising your child constantly that is belittling," Berman says. "There's an underlying message that the child has to get his parent's approval all the time and constantly look to the parent for validation."

Still, don't go too far in the other direction. Not giving enough praise can be just as damaging as giving too much. Kids will feel like they're not good enough or that you don't care and, as a result, may see no point in stretching themselves for their accomplishments.

So what is the right amount of praise? Experts say that the quality of praise is more important than the quantity. If praise is sincere and genuine and focused on the effort not the outcome, you can give it as often as your child does something that warrants a verbal reward.

The ABCs of Praise

"We should especially recognize our children's efforts to push themselves and work hard to achieve a goal," says Donahue, author of Parenting Without Fear: Letting Go of Worry and Focusing on What Really Matters. "One thing to remember is that it's the process not the end product that matters."

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