How Praise Can Have a Positive & Negative Impact

By Kathryn Hatter
Praise efforts immediately, when possible, to encourage your youngster.
Praise efforts immediately, when possible, to encourage your youngster.

Most parents praise their kids when they perform admirably. Praise can be a tricky parenting tool, however. Used incorrectly, the results of praise could be negative instead of positive for youngsters. As you seek to encourage and build your children up, praise carefully so your feedback has the desired effect.

Positive Effects of Praising Effort

When a child puts measurable effort into an activity or a project, praise is not only positive, it’s an effective way to note your child’s accomplishments. Positive praise that acknowledges effort should focus on perseverance, hard work, tenacity, practice and admirable choices, according to clinical associate professor of psychology Kenneth Barish, writing for Psychology Today. A child receiving this type of praise often learns and believes that effort will improve and build abilities and skills. Children typically feel motivated to work hard when they receive encouraging praise.

Negative Effects of Praising Abilities

It’s easy to slip into negative praise habits with children. When your son hits a triple at a baseball game, you might shout, “That’s my boy! You’re a natural all-star baseball player!” When your daughter masters a difficult piano solo, you might say, “You are such a talented pianist!” A potential problem with these forms of praise is that they focus on the child’s abilities, talents or intelligence instead of focusing on the efforts behind the actions. When your praise focuses on these innate qualities, you risk shifting the focus from your child’s efforts and placing it in an area out of your child’s control, which could negate the praise. Your child may also tend to give up more easily in an attempt to protect himself from failure, warns psychologist Mike Brooks, writing for the APA Center. Strive to focus most praise on efforts rather than innate qualities to avoid possible negative repercussions.

Problems with Lack of Specificity

Praising your child by making comments such as “nice work” or “great job” might seem positive, but this praise often falls short due to lack of specifics, asserts Jennifer Henderlong Corpus and Mark R. Lepper, authors of “The Effects of Person Versus Performance Praise on Children’s Motivation: Gender and Age as Moderating Factor,” published in “Educational Psychology." When you give specific details about the efforts you are praising, you give your children important information about exactly what they did that was praise-worthy. This information helps your youngsters take your praise and use it in the future, both because it motivates future actions and it helps them apply the information to future situations. For example, you might say, “You really slugged that baseball. All those hours at the batting cages working on your swing are paying off big-time!”

No Mixed Messages

If you combine praise and criticism in the same message, you send your youngster a mixed message. The criticism often overshadows the praise and your child hears only the negative message without hearing the praise, cautions child psychologist Carolyn Webster-Stratton, writing for the Incredible Years website. Ensure that the praise you communicate to your child is separate from any corrective feedback you share.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.