Parenting With the Right Level of Praise

By Christina Schnell
Too much indiscriminate praise can lead kids to believe they should be praised for everything.
Too much indiscriminate praise can lead kids to believe they should be praised for everything.

Every parent considers their child's accomplishments wonderful and praiseworthy, and while praise is certainly important in establishing appropriate social behavior, it can be damaging when given indiscriminately, according to the National Network for Child Care. This doesn't mean you should stop praising your kids all together, and it certainly doesn't mean you should start being overly critical, but you'll find benefits in the short and long term to selective, focused praise.

Purposeful Feedback

Phrases such as "Good job!" or "You were amazing!" aren't specific, and therefore not particularly beneficial, according to Jim Taylor, an expert in the psychology of business, sport and parenting, writing at Instead, the next time your child does a particular flip during gymnastics, try saying, "I'm so proud of you for practicing really hard and today you finally nailed that back flip!" or "You used so many colors in your painting today, when we get home we can hang this on your art wall!" Providing purposeful feedback tells her specifically what she did that you like so much.

Don't Praise What's Uncontrollable

Telling your grade-schooler, "You're so smart!" can ultimately backfire, warns Taylor. A study at Columbia University, according to Taylor, found that children who were told, "You did very well, you must be really smart," were less likely to persist in challenging activities and more cautious when answering questions. This was because they'd come to attribute their previous success to their natural intelligence, which therefore linked mistakes and poor performance with low intelligence. It's much better to comment how hard he's been studying, something he can control, now and during future tests.

Keep Praise Genuine

It's tempting to thank your 5-year-old for washing her hands after she uses the bathroom, but here's the thing -- by age 5, washing her hands isn't difficult. As points out, praising your child for tasks that are easy and well within the boundaries of expected behavior might leave your preschooler thinking: She must really think I'm not capable of much if she's praising me for something as simple as washing my hands. This can lead to a loss of self-confidence in other areas.

Praise Controllable Actions

Praising for social skills, such as empathy, generosity and kindness, are beneficial, particularly for younger toddlers who are still learning the ropes of human feelings and relationships. Especially when your child does something you know was challenging, such as a preschooler sharing the candy he got at school with his younger sister, it's encouraging for him to hear you say, "thank you for being so generous with your sister," so at least he knows his generosity, and his sacrifice, haven't gone unnoticed.

About the Author

Christina Bednarz Schnell began writing full-time in 2010. Her areas of expertise include child development and behavior, medical conditions and pet health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations.