It's important to praise your children. Positive comments by parents about children's accomplishments and about their good qualities help them to feel good about themselves. Praise helps to build children's self concepts.

But sometimes praise can be bad. If praise is too frequent, it may cause the child to become dependent on praise or it may feel meaningless because they've heard the praise so often. If praise is too extreme, it Mother & daughtermay cause children to internalize feelings of pressure because they feel they can't live up to the expectations which are set up by the praise. Praise communicates your values to your child.

If you praise children for hard work, good thinking and perseverance, they know that you value hard work, good thinking and perseverance. If you praise them as intelligent, innovative or creative, they know you value those qualities. If you comment on their kindness and their sensitivity, it will encourage improvement in those important areas.


On the other hand, if you praise them with extreme statements, like you're brilliant, you're gorgeous or you're the smartest in the class, they will hear these as expectations. Praise enthusiastically, but please avoid the extremes. Perfect, spectacular and brilliant don't exist in the real world of children. It is difficult for children to live up to the values they hear being communicated by your extreme praise. They will feel that their parents are putting pressure on them.


Your negative comments also convey a value to your children and may provide a label which will cause them to have behavior problems. If they often hear your negative comments to them, or to others about them, they will increase the problems they've heard you describe so frequently. When you chat on the telephone to a neighbor about how much trouble Chad seems to be getting into, it is a message of non-confidence to Chad.  He will get into more trouble.  Children hear what you say and try to live up to your expectations. Here's a real story:

A family came into the clinic because they were worried about their fourth-grade daughter's feelings of insecurity. They explained that if she had a problem at school or at home, she would lose her temper. The parents would try to discuss her problems, but that didn't seem to help. She would lose her temper again and march off to her room in anger. 

Girl PoutingAfter her anger subsided, her father would go to her and talk things through. She would explain to her dad that she felt very insecure and didn't think that he loved her enough. Her dad, in an attempt to build her confidence and make her feel better, would reassure her that indeed "she was the greatest daughter, a terrific kid, the best and the most delightful child and that he loved her very much." Despite all Dad's reassurances, the young lady's behavior worsened. 

I pointed out to the father that indeed his attempts to reassure his daughter and to tell her she was the "greatest," actually served as reinforcement for her temper tantrums and that she would continue to have them as long as the tantrums brought him into her room to spend personal time in intimate conversation.  Furthermore, I explained that his messages about her being the "greatest" were actually causing her to feel pressure by causing her to believe that he expected her to be the "greatest" and the "best." 

Too much of a good thingThe parents changed their approach by ignoring the tantrums and the child's problems at home disappeared. However, the father noticed that when his daughter played basketball, even though she played very hard and very aggressively and did her best, all of which he was pleased about, she displayed a similar problem at games. If she missed a shot or if her team lost, she would become very upset and lose her temper and put herself down as a poor player. 

The dad analyzed what he had said to his daughter before the game and realized that he was giving her a pressure messages relative to sports. He would say "go out and beat that team, you're the star, you're the best player" and of course, she tried to live up to that praise. 

Dad decided he would give her a message that would take pressure off her. He changed his advice and said, "It's only a game. Go out there and enjoy yourself. Don't worry about who Basketball - Girlswins or loses. The idea is to have some fun." Then he watched her next game. Atypically, she seemed to be daydreaming, ignored the coach, didn't seem to care about the game and had a good time chatting with her friends. 

It was unbelievable to the father that she had suddenly lost interest in the competition of the game. He came in to me and asked "Now what did I do wrong?" 

My response to dad was, "Perhaps if you give a more moderate message to communicate to your daughter that she should play her best and try to win, but if, in fact, the game didn't go well or she made a mistake, then she should realize it was just a game and learn from her experiences." 

We should moderate our praise so that children will not feel so pressured that they can't live up to what they perceive are their parents' expectations. Although you believe that you are building self-confidence, praise does convey your value system. 

Give moderate praise so that children may live up to a realistic value system.

©2010 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.