Are you praising your child too much? Is there a risk that he or she might become a narcissist? According to some studies, this is what happens when parents tend to go overboard with their praise. Parents may think that they are building the child’s self-esteem but that is not borne out by the studies. But the right kind of praise can be powerful for motivating kids. Here are 8 things to keep in mind when you want to praise your kids so that they grow up with a healthy self-esteem.
“People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others.”- Brad Bushman (co-author of the above study).
1. Avoid general blanket statements of praise.
Telling your kid that she is a clever girl or that he has done a great job is risky. You need to be more specific. Focus on the effort she put into it. Your kid’s team may not have won the match but you were really impressed with the effort he put in. He played well and that was also because he practised a lot. It is better to say, “Your practice paid off because I saw you hitting that ball really hard.” This is much better than making a rather weak, “Pity your team lost.” This is focusing on the negative outcome and not making any reference to all the hard work and sweat.
2. Make sure the praise is sincere.
It was a difficult job and the kid did well so that deserves praise. If you praise the child for every little mundane task, then this is counterproductive and may not sound sincere. The danger here is that the child may not risk trying new challenges because she may fail and she may lose her champion status! There is another problem in that the child must always get the parent’s approval and this is very limiting.
3. Don’t offer cash incentives.
Money may be a motivator but if the child grows up thinking that life is like the stock exchange, we are missing out on instilling values such as gains in self-esteem following success. Also, this could become expensive if cash is the only reward for doing well! A much better idea is to celebrate with a treat, outing or a special meal because you are also sharing in the success. It is the hard work and persistence we want to reward, rather than making easy cash.
4. Don’t overdo the child’s talents.
Praising a child’s good looks, intelligence or artistic ability on a regular basis is really overdoing it. If the child always hears “You’re a born musician”, then he or she assumes that not much effort is needed to improve. The child may also tune it out because it has been repeated too often. It becomes meaningless.
5. Praise must be geared towards new objectives.
The aim of praise is to encourage and motivate towards achieving new goals and milestones. One of the best ways of doing this is to mark steps in progress. You can say, “You’ve really improved in Math since last semester. You should be proud of that.” You can then remind your kid of the next hurdle which may be another test or exam.
6. Stop showing off about your child.
If your child hears you bragging about his or her achievements (Isn’t Maria the best speller you’ve ever seen?”), it puts unnecessary pressure on your kid to be always the best, always at the top of the class. That can be negative and also creates an over competitive environment among children. Inevitably, they will sometimes fail or do less well and that may have a negative effect on their motivation. In addition, the child is lulled into a false sense of security which defeats the learning benefits of praise.
7. Use body language when appropriate.
Often, verbal praise may be inappropriate and may interrupt some activities. Giving kids a thumbs up while they are picking up is much better because you are not going to interrupt the job. When a child is concentrating on her reading and being really absorbed, you can pat her on the back or give her a gentle hug.
8. Don’t use sarcasm.
If you use sarcastic remarks which are supposed to be praise, they are pretty useless. First, the child does not understand sarcasm and may also resent the fact that you are harping on about his or her previous failings or unsuccessful efforts. Instead of saying, “Finally, you have learned to swim without the arm bands,” you should say “I bet you can’t wait to show your friends that you can now swim.” Always concentrate on the achievement and celebrate it with an appropriate remark. This is much better than reminding them of their past errors or failures.
As we have seen, making praise constructive is the key. Keep focusing on the effort and commitment your kids show. They will grow up much more independent and resourceful and also have a healthy self-esteem.
Featured photo credit: Nate swimming/Mike Young via flickr.com