At Aeon, Carlin Flora looks at the pros and cons of praising children and what psychologists say to avoid:
Over-praising children (You’re amazing!) can make them feel your standards are very high, causing the fear that they won’t be able to keep living up to them, say the psychologists Jennifer Henderlong Corpus of Reed College and Mark Lepper of Stanford. Praising them for easy tasks can make children suspect that you are dumb (don’t you know how easy this is?) or that you think they are dumb. Here’s an especially tricky finding: praising them for things they naturally enjoy can backfire if you do it too much, sapping motivation instead of urging the child on.
Doing it all wrong, I was a worthy recipient of this self-professed rant by the University of San Francisco psychologist Jim Taylor: ‘Good job? Well, it’s lazy praise, it’s worthless praise, it’s harmful praise… If you’re going to be lazy with your praise, at least say Good effort! because it focuses them on what they did to do a good job… The reality is that children don’t need to be told Good job! when they have done something well; it’s self-evident… Particularly with young children, you don’t need to praise them at all.’
But the discussion about overpraising our children is drawing away from the real problem, says a child psychologist from Cornell, which is the way we criticize them:
‘I have met many discouraged, angry, and unhappy children. I have met demoralised kids who were unable to sustain effort when they encountered even mild frustration or disappointment, and others who had developed attitudes of entitlement. And the culprit is not praise, but criticism. Most of these children were over-criticised; very few were overpraised.’
Photo: U.S. Army