Trust me, you can make too many compliments, and no, you shouldn’t. While you might have the best intentions at heart and you want to build your children’s self-esteem, you may involuntarily put too much pressure on them.
And don’t get me wrong, complimenting your kid is so important, especially when they really deserve it, however, you need to be cautious with what you say around them and how you’re saying it.
But one thing is sure, though, it’s not ok to throw compliments at your kid for every little thing they do on a daily basis. Read on and learn how to avoid the praise trap!
“You’re very smart!”
I think we can all agree that back in the day, previous generations like our parents and grandparents were very strict about complimenting their children and grandchildren. However, things are totally different now, as parents tend to praise their children way more than they should.
Parents often think that by praising their children will encourage them to have a positive attitude and behavior. But complimenting your children and telling them on a daily basis how smart they are is often interpreted by kids as something they have no control over, according to child development experts.
So praising them for it “is not helpful because kids—and adults—usually think that being smart is innate and fixed,” says Christia Spears Brown, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky.
“They think you are born with a certain amount of ‘smartness,’ and if schoolwork comes easily, then you are smart, and if schoolwork is difficult, then you are not smart.”
If you continue to call your kid “smart” every time they do something good, it will inevitably put so much pressure on them, that when they’ll fail at something, they will feel very discouraged.
So, instead of calling them “smart” better compliment them on how hardworking and ambitious they are.
“Saying things like ‘I am so proud of how hard you worked on your math,’ or ‘I am proud of how hard you studied for spelling’ tells a child that success is due to effort,” Dr. Brown says. “Then, when kids face a difficulty, they are more likely to work harder to be successful than to give up because they simply ‘aren’t smart enough.’”
“I’m so proud you got an A!”
As a parent, your kid getting good grades is always a reason to be happy and proud, however, you shouldn’t forget that the end result is not always the most important, but also the improvement.
“Research shows that people are happier when they have a ‘growth’ mindset rather than a ‘fixed’ mindset,” says Laura Markham, PhD, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.
According to a Standford study, children that have a growth mindset developed more study skills and got better grades, because they understood that hard work leads to progress.
“We want to encourage children in ways that will help them develop a growth mindset, which will help them become more resilient and able to work hard to accomplish their goals in life,” Dr. Markham says.
Let your kid know how important it is to be ambitious and hardworking, show them that effort often leads to success, and teach them to never give up.
“Encouraging them with work-in-progress praise—’You really are getting the hang of that piece now after all that practice’—can give them a real sense that they are making strides towards becoming more proficient,” say Paul J. Donahue, PhD, the founder/director of Child Development Associates and the author of Parenting Without Fear.
“Likewise the child who may not love reading but worked to master his first chapter book should hear solid words of encouragement: ‘You really worked hard to stay focused and sound out all the words, and to finish that long book.’”
Your kid will be inclined to repeat the action if you continue to give them such compliments.
“Your artwork is so beautiful”
There’s nothing wrong with complimenting your child’s artwork, but the thing is, you might encourage them indirectly that they need other people’s approval.
“It teaches the child that his work can always be evaluated by others, which undermines his confidence,” Dr. Markham says. “It also teaches him to ‘produce’ more and more paintings with less and less work, since the parent just keeps saying, ‘That’s beautiful!’”
A study published by Sage Journals showed that kids who were overpraised by their parents about their artwork had very low self-esteem and were inclined to make a simpler drawing because they didn’t want to fail.
Instead of complimenting their artwork, tell them how dedicated and talented they are. Say things like “I see you used texture to show the waves in the ocean” and don’t forget to ask them what they think about the final result.
“Why not focus on the effort, and what the child actually did or felt, rather than evaluating the product?” Dr. Markham says.
“You’re a good girl/boy!”
No one is just “good” or just “bad.” By calling your kid “good” you create only those two possibilities for them, and you place an inherent value on them.
“Every child knows they aren’t always ‘good’ and that they have thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t like,” Dr. Markham says. “So if you tell them they’re good, they need to show you otherwise by acting bad—or they become heavily invested in keeping you fooled, and they feel like they have to hide their true selves and be perfect, which is even worse.”
Dr. Markham suggests complimenting your child’s actions, rather than their personality.
“You’re very beautiful!”
This is especially for girls, as they get a lot of compliments on their beauty from a young age. What’s not ok about it, is that it creates a gender bias. You wouldn’t want your little girl to grow up and think that she must be attractive simply because she’s a female.
“The problem lies in the messages that girls receive from every front,” Dr. Brown says. “Girls are growing up in a culture where their value is constantly linked to their appearance, so the collective message that girls internalize is that they must be attractive to have worth.”
A 2016 Girlguiding survey showed that girls feel the pressure to look good from elementary school. Moreover, they see beauty as something that can’t be controlled, so a girl that doesn’t see herself as being pretty or beautiful, often feels unlovable.
Moreover, girls that don’t consider themselves beautiful might put in a lot of effort to look pretty, forgetting that there are more important things in life, like having skills and interests.
“In general, there is no reason to evaluate how a child looks—and every reason not to,” Dr. Markham says.
“You did a great job!”
You might think that saying these words over and over again will motivate your kids to do better but that’s actually not true.
“This creates a praise junkie who needs constant reassurance,” Dr. Markham says. “The child learns to do the task for the praise, and stops finding the inherent reward in the task, which steals the child’s motivation.”
As a parent, you want your kid to feel good about themselves, so we choose to compliment every little thing they do because we assume that this will help. What this does, is transforming your kid into a narcissist, according to a recent Ohio State study. Nevertheless, you’ll make compliments lose their meaning and your children will grow up thinking that he deserves them.
“Saying positive things to our children is always positive, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be praise,” Dr. Brown says. “For example, instead of saying, ‘Good job for setting the table,’ parents can change it to, ‘Thank you for helping.’”
“You’re the best!”
You should never teel your children that they’re the best at something, even if they may seem like they are. You’ll only create false expectations that will be hard to reach.
“Offering too much absolute praise can put a lot of pressure on kids to feel that they always have to be the best at what they do, a standard that can be unbearably high,” Dr. Donahue says.
A study made by researchers at Reed College and Stanford University showed that by calling your children “the best” you will only make them feel like they can’t live up to it.
“It can also backfire, and teach children to limit their focus to activities at which they know they can excel,” Dr. Donahue says.
Dr. Markham says that this often leads to children not wanting to try new things or doing things they don’t like just because they want to live up to the expectations you’ve created for them. Instead, try creating realistic and achievable standards for them, and never compare your kid to others.
A compliment that’s not sincere
Believe it or not, kids can feel you when you’re not sincere.
“Children can easily recognize when we are disappointed in them, or when our praise is faint, insincere, or worse, sarcastic,” Dr. Donahue says. “One of the most important things children desire is for their parents to be genuine with them in their affection, in their support, and in their constructive criticism.”
For example, you shouldn’t tell your children that they have a pretty voice when they sand horribly off-key in the school talent show. Instead, say something like this, “I am proud of how brave you were to get up in front of everyone—and you remembered all the words!”
Moreover, a study made in South Korea showed that kids praised by their parents had poorer school performance and were more prone to depression and anxiety than kids praised based on reality.
“The goal is to make the praise meaningful, and show children what traits and attributes we value, such as hard work, being helpful, and being kind,” Dr. Brown says. “Parents should not think of praise as a way to build self-esteem, because it doesn’t. Instead, praise can be a way to reinforce the specific attributes we want to foster in our children that will help them be more successful adults.”