I know it does, but I still do it; it is ingrained in me that praising is proper parenting behaviour and I am really having to work hard to break the habit.
It starts with “What a clever girl, you ate all your greens!”
and goes on “What a brilliant picture!”
and on “You’re a great teenager!”
and on “Really, you look perfect!”
and on “You’re so kind – such a good friend!”
Praise is patronising. It is paralysing. It is impersonal.
It’s patronising. You wouldn’t do it to your adult friends, so why to your young ones?
It’s paralysing. Superlative praise is impossible to live up to.
It’s impersonal. General praise is meaningless, especially when dished out indiscriminately.
Although praise may temporarily give a boost, it often doesn’t even do that. Children discount the superlatives, and discard parents’ opinions as biased. Praise can even make a child feel worse because it conjures up in their minds all the times when they aren’t good, perfect, or kind.
No wonder they hate it. Especially our teens, they’re so onto us with the whole ‘praise me to get me behaving how you want me to.’
We also praise to please, and we praise to bolster, and we praise to motivate. And yet praise does the opposite of all three. Research shows that children who are praised perform less well and like themselves less. This may seem paradoxical at first; but when a child is constantly told how clever they are, the pressure to match up causes them to do less well. Some children were set a maths test and afterwards half were praised and the other half were not – then they were set another harder test, and not only did the praised group perform less well, but they lied about their results to make themselves seem better.
A strong self-esteem does not come from someone else’s compliments. If you come to rely on another’s commendation for a sense of well-being, you become dependent on others for your sense of self, which never feels solid.
Real self confidence comes from being truly seen and heard. A child can experience this when an adult clearly chooses to spend time with them, and then that adult listens and pays attention, and any remarks that adult makes demonstrate the quality of their attention:
“You ate all you greens, did you enjoy them?”
“Your picture has a lot of pinks, reds and oranges…”
“Now that you spend more time with your friends, our family mealtimes seem so precious.”
“You’ve done your hair differently today.”
“Your friends seem to call on you for support.”
Praise ends conversations ~ while noticing and describing starts them.
Parents who praise are often trying to make a change from their own childhoods when inconsiderate criticism was cast out without much thought. Now it’s praise that is flung about and this is just as damaging.
Praising turns out to be a hard habit to break. Just start by observing, and when you say something, be specific rather than general, and say what you see without passing judgement on it. You may find that this initiates some really illuminating conversations with your daughter.