Parenting advice: You’re the most amazing kid ever, and other mistakes

Parenting tips: how to praise

You are the parent. You wish to build up your child’s self-esteem. Therefore, you look at her latest arts and crafts project and tell her she’s the greatest thing ever to grace this Earth. Moreover, she is the most amazing child ever, the best at everything, the most beautiful, smart, kind and truly awesomest. Can that possibly be wrong?

Surprisingly, yes. Even while your intentions were wonderful, such words will not build anyone’s self-esteem. Kids can spot praise that is false, exaggerated or just plain meaningless, and after a short while will learn to tune it out. If you want to give her some good feedback that would actually stick, follow these five easy rules.

  1. Be specific. Telling a child she is just wonderful actually tells her you are not watching her carefully, and that you are only saying what you have to say as a parent. Instead, tell her what is actually great about her. Is she a good friend? A talented softball player? Good at arts and crafts?  
  2. When possible, tie your praise to a specific action. If you praise what she actually did, your daughter would know what she’s done well, and will repeat it. Tell her you saw her console her sister when she cried, that you are proud of her high grade on the English pop quiz, or that you are so pleased she straightened her room so well on her own.
  3. Sometimes, efforts count more than success. Even if your daughter did not get that A on the test or won the championship round, you can still praise her for trying her best and working hard.
  4. Don’t exaggerate. Not everything is the most amazing thing ever. Sometimes, a “good job” or “I really liked it” would count more than superlatives.
  5. Do not tamper it down.
  6. Don’t include references to past misbehavior in your praise, as in “you finally got it right”, and don’t indicate future expectations, as in “I hope you can keep up the good work.” Say just the positive, and stick with it.

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