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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.
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The ABCs of Praise continued...

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.

"I believe that we want children who are self-motivated," Berman says. "If you tell your daughter, 'If you get an A on the test I'll give you $5,' then you are creating a situation in which your child is motivated by money, not by the positive feelings of success."

While offering your kids cash incentives isn't a smart idea, you should embrace opportunities to celebrate their hard work and achievements. "Going out for ice cream or a special meal after a good report card or musical performance or some other achievement is a way of celebrating children's hard work and persistence," Donahue says.

Tips for Giving Practical Praise

Praising your kids is an important part of building their self-esteem and confidence. But before you break out in applause, there are some important dos and don'ts to keep in mind that will help your child find value in your words of encouragement:

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