Praising Kids – Is It A Good Thing?

Kids and Praise


Positive reinforcement. Positive psychology. Praise. Affirmation.

Popular parenting buzzwords. Drummed into us from Day One. Tell your kids how wonderful they are. Tell them they’re special, unique, can achieve anything.

Sounds good.

But are we ultimately setting them up for a fall?

The world – the nasty, real, complicated world Out There – doesn’t really care if your mother or father thinks you’re fabulous. ‘They’ will pass judgement on you based on the current social standards of the day. And those standards shift and move, morph and change.

The kids don’t stand a chance.

So what happens when they don’t get into the course they want, don’t get the job they apply for, don’t get the life they expected?

Does it hit them harder? How do they move on from their first rejection? How do they cope when the world doesn’t work like a pass-the-parcel where every child gets a prize?

Are we doing them a disservice not to prepare them for a world that may very well chew them up and spit them out? Should we prepare them for a life that may or may not go the way they want it to?

But what would happen if we didn’t praise them? What would happen if we told them what they do is average, ordinary or even sub-standard?

What would be the impact then?

And could we even do it, as a parent?

I know I couldn’t.

All of us just wants our kids to be happy. We don’t want them to feel pain or sadness. We want them to be able to follow their dreams and make their way in the world.

It’s just that the world doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

So, we are torn. We make our children sad as children or we set them up for sadness in adulthood.

I honestly don’t have an answer. Like every parent, I’m trying to raise my kids without an instruction manual or a crystal ball.

My instincts tell me to do all I can to make them happy now. And I just hope, if I can raise confident, positive children, that they will weather whatever storms the world throws at them.

Hope. Hope and Love. That’s all we’ve got. And keep your fingers crossed.



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18 thoughts on “Praising Kids – Is It A Good Thing?

  1. I don’t have an answer either. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I chose not to have children because of the conflict – what do you say? When do you say it? I suppose, of course, that praise is better than the opposite or nothing at all. I can’t help think that the last phrase of “you is kind, you is smart, you is important” is the, well, the most important.


  2. There’s a term for non-specific, rah-rah cheerleaders with pom-poms praising: it’s called “throwing marshmallows”.

    What psychologists within the movement known as positive psychology advocate is this: look for what the kid (or adult) *is* doing “right” – genuinely doing well; make the praise specific and descriptive – what exactly is s/he showing skill at? Not globalisations like “You’re so clever/fantastic/amazing”; be aware that focusing overly or constantly on a certain attribute can come across as controlling (inviting resistance) or can set a bar so high the kid/adult baulks at the perceived hurdle.

    That said, neurological research does show the brain responds creatively to reassurance while creativity shrivels in the face of criticism: the parts of the brain activated by criticism – external or internalb- are the parts associated with inhibition and behavioral constraint.


  3. Oh please, yes, praise them. My mom (I love her dearly) was very critical (your hair is too long, your dresses are too short) as I was growing up and it took me a long time to realize that it was her nature and not a reflection of who I was as a person. I think praising your children is absolutely necessary, and it can be tempered with lessons of how life can be in the real world.


  4. I hope that no matter what others say to them, they will never doubt the support and encouragement they have waiting at home. It is so true though, you quickly learn you are not quite so amazing as your mother always told you!!


  5. There is a very interesting article I just read on how parents are dealing with their children now and how it was different just a few years ago. Your question here reminded me of this article. Am posting a link here because I think this goes right along with the whole issue you’re questioning. Still no answers, of course, but it did give me alot to think about!


    • I watched the playgrounds in my area slowly remove all the equipment my kids loved most – the high twisty slide, the see-saw, the merry-go-round. They stopped wanting to go. I wish I’d had something like The Land for them.

      I rejoiced the day their school introduced the Cubby space – milk crates, bits of pipe, etc to build forts and cubbies. Then I watched it get whittled away in the face of parental concerns after a couple of minor accidents.

      And in regard to my post, I’m going to remember this bit: “We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises.”

      Thanks for the link. Loved it.


  6. Such a tough call. I personally try very hard to praise when it’s due–like when my son is really trying hard. Because some things are tough for him: like swimming and riding a bike or getting math homework done, and he needs the encouragement, otherwise w/his personality and anxiety, he’ll give up and never try. But I certainly don’t praise for mediocrity for no reason. As bikerchick said, I too had a mom who criticized EVERYTHING I did, and yes, I have great coping skills now and figured it out myself eventually, but honestly do not know how, and don’t feel that’s a way to bring up children–with poor self-esteem to figure out themselves some day. I worry my child won’t have great coping skills–he doesn’t now. But he’s only 9–we’ll keep working on that.


    • I think you’ve got it right, Robin. There is a school of thought that follows a “praise the effort, not the intelligence” method that has shown that kids praised for trying or working hard will go on to more success than those who are told they are smart.


      • Great video–thanks for forwarding that video. Need to watch myself and make sure I’m doing this w/ carefully chosen words–makes a big difference.


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