Critics argue that praising in abundance can hinder a child's self-esteem and perpetuate a fear of failing. New York Magazine reported that a large percentage of gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimated their own abilities because they were used to receiving an abundance of praise. These talented students often lacked confidence to tackle a new problem unless they knew they'd be good at it.
Similarly, a report from the Brookings Institution's Brown Center found that countries that embrace praising students to boost self-esteem in learning math lag behind countries that do not believe in promoting self-esteem. Studies found that student performance in cultures that didn't value praise actually scored higher than in countries where self-esteem and praise are more valued.
How to Praise Appropriately
At some point, your children will become less cooperative and frustrated with their school and homework. At times like these, a healthy dose of praise coupled with a clear understanding of the final goal can help minimize your child's anxiety and get him/her back on track. Here are five tips to create positive praise relationships with your children:
1. Base praise on real accomplishments and be specific. Telling your children they're smart does not tell them what they did right. Give specific praise related to the tasks completed. For example, you might say, "You did a terrific job figuring out the solution to this difficult problem."
2. Encourage perseverance. Parents naturally hope their children put forth their best efforts. When your child is working hard to solve a problem, praise his work at each milestone. If the effort results in a C grade, praise the C if you know your child did his very best job.
3. Show constant interest in your children's studies. Staying the course and accepting criticism can be challenging for a child, but showing interest and support at every turn provides comfort. Ask questions about what your children learned in school and even have them "teach" you. This is a terrific way to reinforce your children's confidence in understanding the material while encouraging them to continue to try.
4. Do not compare one child's progress with another's. Be mindful not to compare your child's progress with another sibling or friend. Learning should not be about measuring one child against another, but tracking your child's individual growth.
5. Be sincere. Children are intuitive. They can sniff out the true meaning of praise and find hidden agendas if they exist. If they feel that your praise is meritless or insincere, it can discount not only the current praise but future praise as well.
Acknowledgment and encouragement are vital parts of building confident, motivated and self-reliant children. Letting your children know that you're in their corner with a healthy balance of praise will not only boost their self-esteem, but also motivate them to achieve more and learn more on their own because they believe in themselves.
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