Can you praise your kids too much?
It’s a good question. I think the answer could be yes, if it’s the wrong kind of praise. But if we keep a few simple rules in mind I think the answer might just be no. Our children need all the positive input we can give them.
If your praise is full of glowing, sweeping, generalisations, like,
“You’re so great, you’re wonderful, you’re fantastic”, then yes, that may not be so helpful.
They can sense the emptiness of praise like that. They know that they are not always fantastic or wonderful. They may even feel pressured that they have this incredibly high standard to live up to.
But in an honest relationship, where you also talk openly about mistakes and times they haven’t done their best, then when you do look them in the eye and give them a genuine, detailed and heartfelt compliment, it goes right to the heart, and it fuels them in a way no amount of “nice words” can do.
We can’t talk about praise without also talking about the importance of honest relationships.
Each week after our son Jonah played footy, he and his dad would drive home together and debrief the whole game. They would talk about the great kicks, and also the near misses, or the times Jonah could have extended himself more.
And as my husband relived the excitement of watching Jo do an incredible kick or take an excellent mark it carried more weight, because Jonah knew he really meant it.
If we say we are proud of our kids, we had better be ready to explain why we are proud of them.
Here are a few pointers about the best kind of praise:
As we mentioned, be genuine and sincere.
Use eye contact. Think about what you are saying, and really mean what you say.
Be specific. Describe what it is they did well. In detail.
“I loved the way you waited quietly while I was on the phone. You were so patient. Thankyou.”
“I’ve noticed how much you’ve been helping your brother lately. I really liked the way you explained that Maths problem. He is so lucky to have you for a sister.”
And you don’t need to wait for perfection to give specific praise. Too often we only see what our kids don’t get right. Practise noticing and appreciating where they have made a good attempt.
“I notice you made your bed without even being asked today! “Well done. You are getting so good at making it neatly.”
When you praise, resist the urge to add a lecture or a negative. Ever fallen into the trap of saying something like,
“Thanks for making your bed today. Now if only you’d do that every day!”
We can quickly turn a positive into a negative. Give the compliment, and leave it at that.
Be generous with praise. As long as it is specific and genuine, be wholehearted and enthusiastic.
If you are trying to establish a new behaviour, then frequent praise and rewards are important.
I know if I cook a great meal, I can’t get too many compliments! The more I get, the more I want to cook that same dish again!
Another suggestion: Add to the praise by giving a hug, or a pat on the back, even a hand on the shoulder as you comment on how well they have done. Physical touch adds strength to our words.
And finally, there will be days when it just seems like there is nothing to praise. In those moments be creative. Set up a situation where they will receive praise.
It may take some imagination, but the effects are worth it!
With little children, you might get them to practise the desired new behaviour. Maybe it’s getting them to stay in bed until you come back to say goodnight.
Make a game of it. Practise it in the middle of the day. Have fun and heap on the praise. Even when you are just practising! When night time comes, you can remind them of how well they did in the practise.
We all love genuine compliments. We all do better when others see our efforts, and acknowledge our strengths. When they notice and appreciate our work.
Few of us would say, “I’ve just had too many compliments today.”
Can we praise our kids too much?
I think the answer is clear. When praise is genuine, specific, wholehearted and only positive, our children won’t be puffed up, they will be built up.
They won’t become full of themselves, they will become more fully themselves: more aware of their strengths and their potential, as they begin the long journey of becoming the person they were made to be.