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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.

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."

Your son may not be the best basketball player on his team, Donahue says. But if he's out there every day, shooting baskets, running drills, and playing hard, you should praise his effort regardless of whether his team wins or loses because it's above and beyond the norm.

Praising the effort and not the outcome can also mean recognizing your child when she has worked hard to clean the yard, cook dinner, or complete a history assignment, Donahue says. But whatever the scenario, praise should be given on a case-by-case basis and be proportionate to the amount of elbow grease your child put into it. Here are some real-life examples from the experts that demonstrate the praise fitting the accomplishment:

  • If a child strikes out a few times during a ball game and then finally gets on base with a good ground ball up the middle, he deserves praise. You should praise his resilience and his willingness to push through when the going got tough.
  • If your child is usually a responsible student who consistently does well in math, for example, you can recognize her good study habits, but don't go overboard every night when she sits down to hit the books if that's her normal routine. Give your praise when your child has done something special that's out of the ordinary.
  • When your daughter practices for weeks and finally learns to ride a two-wheel bicycle, give her praise for sticking with it.
  • When your son jumps on an amusement ride, you can tell him he is brave and adventuresome, but don't overdo it with the praise since he's not really working hard -- he's having fun.

When your child does make that special effort that deserves praise, you can certainly dish it out as you see fit. But one no-no that experts agree should be avoided at all costs is praising with cold, hard cash.

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