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How Much Praise Is Too Much?

How Much Praise Is Too Much?

In an excerpt from his new book, “Pride & Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems,” Dr. Kenneth Barish discusses an often-heated point of debate: are we praising our kids too much or too often?

Dr. Barish challenges what many might consider conventional wisdom – he doesn’t believe it’s possible to over-praise children. While he doesn’t believe in empty praise, such as simply telling them they’re wonderful or special for no particular reason, he says that praise doesn’t hurt kids. What kids need, he says, is the right kind of praise.

He goes on to cite the research of psychologist Carol Dweck, who found that praising children’s abilities, rather than their efforts, could be harmful. These studies demonstrated that children need to be taught that their effort is the key to their success – not any sort of innate ability. Children with a “fixed” mindset believe that abilities are unchangeable traits. However, children with a “growth” mindset believe that their abilities can improve if they put in enough effort.

While children with a fixed mindset will experience anxiety when faced with challenges, and try to avoid anything that might “test” the worthiness of their abilities, children with a growth mindset will regard potential failures as learning experiences. So children shouldn’t be praised for their intelligence, or any other innate traits. Instead, they need to be praised for their accomplishments – and when they fail, for the effort they put in. This growth mindset, Dweck’s research shows, improves effort, achievement, motivation, and the ability to respond to stress in a healthy way – even in high school students.

Dr. Barish also dismisses the idea that children can become “praise junkies,” seeking unhealthy approval from others to validate themselves. He writes:

For this reason, when we praise our children, we do not create an addiction to praise. In fact, the opposite is true. Children are more likely to become praise junkies in the absence of our praise and approval.

When children feel proud, when they have been successful at any task, they instinctively look to others to share this feeling. Kids need this acknowledgment. Without sufficient praise, a child will suffer symptoms—especially discouragement and lack of enthusiasm—or he will seek this nutrient elsewhere, or he will become angry and demand praise, even if it has not been wholly earned. I therefore believe that we should offer children generous praise for all of their efforts, including their good behavior. Over time, they will come to learn that praise is earned—by hard work and good deeds.

 

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Photo credit: Michael Miner

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33 comments

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5:25PM PDT on Mar 14, 2012

Great article. Thanks.

10:28PM PST on Mar 7, 2012

excessive praise becomes meaningless, but no praise is harmful. somewhere there is a healthy medium.

3:18PM PST on Mar 7, 2012

Good article, thanks!

Just wanted to mention that there is a third option, besides praising for effort and praising for abilities: how about just telling your kid that she is worthy, that she is good just for being who she is, that she is not somehow worse than others, that kind of thing. Not praise, exactly, but making sure she (or he) knows he has a basic worth, just for existing, that will keep him from contrasting himself with his peers and coming up short. Kids who do not receive this kind of affirmation at home suffer greatly.

6:30AM PST on Mar 7, 2012

When nothing you do is ever good enough. When you are told constantly you are fat, ugly, stupid and might as well give up now....well, guess what...One Does Give Up!

When your only option is marriage to an abusive man who tells you how lucky you are to have him...guess what...You Marry Him and Suffer in Silence!

Acknowledgment of a child's effort is paramount to developing a good dose of self-esteem and a desire to try more and more things. Letting a child know it is ok to fail at some things, not all of us are rocket scientists, it's huge when a developing mind is figuring out where they belong in this world. Letting them know it's ok to want more, supporting them when they try harder to reach a goal, even if you don't understand why, it's THEIR goal and as long as it isn't illegal or painful, it's good to try. If you fail, ok, you tried. If you do well, then praise is given freely.

Don't let your children go elswhere for acceptance. You won't like what happens and they won't be happy.

2:58AM PST on Mar 7, 2012

I've never known an attention-seeker who had actually received positive attention from their parents. It's either no attention, bad attention or money - or a combination. This just backs up what I've seen in life. If we give our children positive attention, they will no longer be desperate for it.

11:01PM PST on Mar 6, 2012

This article is very helpful to me personally. The author addresses the damage done from withholding praise from a child. It never mattered what I did, or how hard I tried, nothing was ever good enough to elicit even an acknowledgement from my family. I decided pre-puberty to never have or raise a child, and have never regretted that decision, but in my relationships with animals (catzendogs), I have ALWAYS used positive reinforcement/praise, with great results.

10:22PM PST on Mar 6, 2012

I always told my daughter that she was wonderful, intelligent, creative, capable and beautiful, but that she wasn't any more wonderful, intelligent, creative, capable, and beautiful than everyone else. And wasn't it terrific that everyone was wonderful, intelligent, creative, capable and beautiful. I just wished that everyone knew that about themselves. She turned out quite well!

9:32PM PST on Mar 6, 2012

Everyone will have multiple failures before one great success. Without failure, we never get the chance to become stronger people. Kids need to hear that failure is commonplace and necessary, and is never a measurement of their worth as a person. Failure is simply a given of the human condition -- no biggie.

8:49PM PST on Mar 6, 2012

I think Barish makes a good point when talking about how it's more positive and helpful to praise children for effort than just mouthing empty praises or always focusing only on results alone - after all, children are in a learning phase of their lives and just working hard at something (even if it turns out wrong) gives them valuable skills. But at the same time they also need to be praised when they achieve success and to be taught how to handle failure with grace (and to accept that in most things in life they aren't going to be the best - or anywhere near the best) - because that's what they're going to encounter in the real world when they grow up. No matter how hard I work, no matter how wonderful my effort - my boss isn't going to care much unless the results I achieve are also good.

8:34PM PST on Mar 6, 2012

You should praise your children's successes and good behavior, but they also need to learn how to be human, a.k.a. not perfect. I agree with Tamara learning to deal with failure is just as important as being praised for a job well done.

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