Oftentimes, children receive continual praise for their efforts rather than what they accomplish, and while it’s certainly a good idea to encourage and inspire them, is there a point when so much complimenting becomes too much?
According to Ashley Merryman, author of NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children and Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, failures and mistakes help to make individuals stronger. Thus, constantly rewarding children for their efforts alone does not simply lead to higher levels of self-esteem — it leads to greater likelihood of narcissism, as found in a study conducted by three University of British Columbia psychiatry professors.
On the contrary, praising children too much can actually decrease their level of self-esteem if they feel too pressured to reach unattainable goals and essentially set themselves up for failures that they think should not happen. Those failures, though, are essential for individuals to learn and grow, as Merryman points out, and it’s more important to “focus on process and progress, not results and rewards.”
Failure is a part of life that can truly help students discover what their weaknesses are (because everyone has at least one) so that they can make conscious efforts to improve in areas that need sharpening. But that does not mean that the efforts students make in those failures should not be acknowledged. Dr. Jonathan Fader, a licensed performance psychologist, said in Psychology Today that kids who receive accolades for their efforts rather than their abilities typically exhibit more determination and handle failures more effectively than others.
Fairmont Private Schools counselor Jill Thomas, LMFT, also noted that cheering on a child for attempting something is often more beneficial than only acknowledging what was or was not achieved.
“Do not praise traits children have no power to change,” she said. “Praising intelligence alone could backfire. Instead, praise the effort put forth to receive the grade — even if that grade was average.”
In terms of praising too much or too little, it is important to find a balance so that your child is not only able to cope with failure but also able to stay motivated to make even stronger efforts for improvement in the future. Thomas said that different levels of praise for children are appropriate at various stages of life.
“Praise while being aware of your child’s developmental level,” she said. “Babies and toddlers benefit from praise that encourages exploration. As a child develops, not every action needs an award attached to it. The child has an opportunity to internalize his or her own thoughts and feelings about what he or she did.”
When those feelings begin to feel like too much for the student, however, it might be necessary for the parent to step in to offer some words of affirmation. Praise is often needed in situations that do not involve rewards or significant achievements but, instead, cause the child to feel unwanted emotions.
“Praising a child for his or her resiliency in managing through a difficult or embarrassing moment will benefit the child in the long run more than merely allowing the child to avoid the uncomfortable feelings,” Thomas said.
What is important is that children are encouraged to pursue their passions and learn the necessity of rising up from failures along the way. No matter what the achievements are, children should know that accolades and awards do not determine who they are or what heights they are truly capable of reaching.