Appropriate Praise For Young Children

For children, praise is an essential confidence-boosting part of the learning process. It encourages perseverance, rewards hard work and fuels the self-fulfilling cycle of success.  But, not all praise is productive or effective.

Praise that is genuine, sincere and, most importantly, appropriate promotes growth. Praise that is excessive, insincere or contrived hinders growth.

Appropriate and Effective Praise

Young children thrive on receiving praise and recognition. So as your child learns a new skill or achieves a noteworthy accomplishment, it is important to celebrate his success with sincere, genuine praise.

Appropriate praise highlights for your child the progress he is making by reminding him of the challenges he overcame to achieve success. Just as children are apt to forget they already had a snack when asking for a second snack, children also quickly forget the challenges they faced at an earlier time and tend to instead focus on their most recent success.

Appropriate praise also fuels your child’s self confidence by focusing on the specific positive actions leading to his success. By highlighting the specific thing he did well, you help him see that he is capable and successful. This belief will fuel his self confidence as he begins to view himself as competent and capable.

Inappropriate and Ineffective Praise

Unfortunately not all praise is created equal.

When you give your child excessive praise, gushing over everyday behaviors or routinely using grandiose words, several unintended consequences can occur.

  • Your child may stop believing you. Despite your best attempts to seem genuine, over-the-top praise has a phony ring to it. And kids are keen detectives at sniffing out phoniness. As your child begins to realize your praise is insincere, he may start doubting the truthfulness of other things you say to him.
  • Your child may come to expect that same enthusiasm from others. And while you may think properly using the scissors is cause for a ticker-tape parade, your child’s teacher probably won’t respond so strongly. As a result, once in the classroom, your child will likely be left feeling disappointed or wondering if he has done something wrong when his teacher does not jump out of her chair with excitement at each minor accomplishment. This feeling of disappointment or failure will undermine his confidence in the classroom.
  • Your child may become unable to accurately assess his own performance. By deeming a sloppily completed worksheet “perfection” and running to tape it to the refrigerator, for example, you will inadvertently interfere with his ability to accurately assess the quality of his own work.
  • Your child may begin to believe there is no need for improvement as he begins to think his average performance is already perfect. When that happens, he may stop trying to improve even though he has not yet mastered all there is to learn.

Try this at home

Positive praise is such an important part of a young child’s development, it is important to create a routine in your home to ensure your child is probably acknowledged for his accomplishments. Fortunately, proper praise can be given in short, simple ways each day.

Children thrive on receiving their parents’ undivided attention. When your child accomplishes something noteworthy, momentarily stop what you are doing before praising him.  For example, the words “I am really proud of you for finishing that entire coloring page” will mean much more to your child if said after you have stopped working and are staring right at him. Saying the same words while you are washing dishes and your back is towards him will not mean as much.

Also, bend down to your child’s level when you are speaking to him, so you are eye-to-eye with him. First, this physical gesture will make it clear to your child that he has your undivided attention and that what you are about to say is important. Second, being at your child’s eye level will give him a clear and unobstructed view of your face so that he can clearly see your smile or other facial expression of happiness or pride at his accomplishment.

Praise in the classroom

Lastly, find a special time each day when you can mark your child’s latest accomplishments. For example, after dinner each evening, before clearing the dirty dishes, consider giving each family member a few minutes to share a recent accomplishment. This activity will serve many goals.

First, it will give your child something to look forward to each day, as he knows he will have an opportunity to share an accomplishment with the family and be recognized. Second, it will give you and the other adults in your family an opportunity to acknowledge your child’s accomplishment at a time when you are not distracted by other activities or responsibilities. Lastly, it will give your child an opportunity to practice acknowledging others’ accomplishments, as he will have the chance to congratulate other family members on their accomplishments.

What can you share with other parents?

What creative ways have you found to celebrate your child’s accomplishments? Does your child enjoy talking about his own accomplishments or does he prefer to hear you discuss them? When congratulating friends or family members on their achievements, has your child begun expressing himself with appropriate praise also?

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Images used under Creative Commons from teaperson.