If you’re like me, then you feel joy and pride in watching your child grow, learn and achieve in life. Loving parents are their children’s biggest “cheer leaders”.

With young children you often hear parents say “great job” or “well done” and as their children become tweens and teens you might witness parents saying “I’m so proud of you”.

When I was growing up – it was SO different.

My father never gave me praise, in fact he did the opposite he often criticised me, based on the belief that I might get “a big head” or get “too big for my boots” if he said good things. What was it like when you were growing up? Did you get praise or put downs?

Here is a short video of a presentation I gave at a parenting conference on how to support good self esteem and self confidence in kids.

Parents are often generous in their praise telling their children how wonderful they are and how well they have done on the various activities they’ve completed. But is this a good way to parent?

While positive reinforcement and praise helps children feel valued and important, if parents aren’t careful it can also have a negative impact on children by getting them used to only looking outside of themselves for praise, feedback and ultimately self worth.

“self-worth comes from within not from outside”

Do you find your children are constantly looking to others for praise or recognition for the things they do? And if so, are you worried about it?

A few years ago I became concerned about our son becoming a “praise junkie” when he turned to me one day and said “Mummy do you love this?” as he held up his masterpiece with pride?

Until that day, it seemed right to simply be supportive and positive about anything Cameron did – even if he drew a single line with a black pencil I’d exclaim with joy “that’s wonderful honey!” Does this sound familiar?

That day, I reflected and something just didn’t feel right about me praising him for his work all the time. So I followed my gut feeling and started to do some research into praise and external validation. My gut feelings were right, my research revealed that continually praising a child’s achievements conditions them to being solely reliant externally for validation and self worth.
If your child constantly looks to others like parents, teachers, siblings or friends for approval and praise, this puts them in a vulnerable position. Vulnerable as your child has no control over how others will feel or respond to their work or respond to them as a person.

Children need to develop a balance between evaluating and accepting themselves – internal validation and getting some feedback from outside themselves – external validation.

How can you support your child to self evaluate and build self-esteem?

You can support your children to build a healthy sense of self and good self-esteem by encouraging them to self-evaluate their work first. For example if your child asks “do you like this?” You can reply with something like:
“thanks for asking my opinion, but before I give it, how about you tell me how you feel about it? OR “before I answer, I’d love to know if you like it?” OR “if you enjoy doing it?”, OR “if you could do it again what might you do differently to improve it?”

I generally find that after I have encouraged our son Cameron consider his work first, by focussing his attention on how much he enjoyed doing it and thinking about other things he could do … he generally isn’t interested in my opinion at all! Too funny! The key for me is that I have helped him look internally for validation rather than relying on me telling him he’s done “a great job”.
Having said that, it is also good for children to be open to other people’s ideas and feedback – but not as a reflection of their self worth. Helping children to be open to a teacher’s feedback and their parents support are wonderful skills for them to learn and develop. However, if after your children have answered all of the questions you posed to help them look inside themselves for feedback and validation of their work and they still ask for your opinion; then you can give it.

“Praise your child’s efforts rather than their outcomes”

You can also comment on and praise your child’s efforts or actions rather than their outcomes. For example you could say:
“I saw how long you worked on your picture/homework/building. Staying focussed and working on something for a long time is a good skill to have when you want to get things done.”

I hope this simple activity helps you to support your children to become aware of the:

  1. dangers of only looking externally for praise and recognition.
  2. many benefits of starting with an internal focus for self validation, self appraisal and building self esteem
  3. importance of referring internally first when evaluating and validating oneself or one’s achievements and balancing this with referring externally as needed or for further information.

The key is to remember that teaching children important life skills like self assessment and self validation takes time – so it is about continual reinforcement that creates good results.

I know it works, just yesterday Cameron and I were doing craft together making origami lady beetles and finishing them off by sticking some little sparkling gems stones on their backs. Cameron said something along these lines:
“Mum, your lady beetle is beautiful. Do you like mine? I know it’s most important that I like my work, but I want to know what you think.” I responded “Yes, it’s been fun and relaxing doing lady beetles with you. I think our lady beetles look great together. Do you want to make another one?” Cameron suggested we make an elephant instead!

I felt so good inside knowing that Cameron is on the road to learning how to look inside himself and feel the personal joy of his own achievements rather than focusing on whether someone else likes them or not!

  • My dad thought he was encouraging. When I showed him a spelling test where I got 99 out of 100 right, he said “How much better would feel if you got 100 right? How about aiming for that next time?” He thought he was encouraging me to try harder and do better. All I thought was he was disappointed in me for not being perfect. It’s a fine line we walk as parents

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  • I think there needs to be a balance I don’t think my kids are addicted but it does make a world of difference to them when they get it.

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  • i never thought about it this way….

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  • What a great article. I love how you turn the question back onto the child to answer their views. I have a child who loves to draw and she ALWAYS wants me to comment during her drawing and I always tell her that I will wait until it is totally finished before I tell her what I think. Sometimes she is happy with this and even forgets to ask me when she is done. Other times she keeps asking and yes agitated if I don’t look. Sometimes its a hard thing to do but I understand and see from your article how it can benefit. Thanks for writing it.

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  • Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative article; a comprehensive and good read. It is important not to over praise children; as children will grow into needy adults that require praise for everything little thing and require constant validation! Will be sharing this article and information.

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  • What a great article! I’ll definitely keep this in mind for when my little munchkin gets to these particular stages of development.

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  • I think praise is important, but there’s definitely a balance to be struck too, to stop it becoming unhelpful.


    • Praise for “effort” supports children as it encourages them to understand the benefits of working towards something rather than just praising outcomes or achievements

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  • all children like praise and know when they shouldn’t be getting it I think


    • Thanks for your comments – I agree balance is the key, however, I am not sure that children know when they “should” or “shouldn’t” be getting praise.. if we condition our kids to receive praise then they will look for praise and expect it as normal. If we help them to look within and not be so dependent on external validation they are more resourceful and less dependent on other’s opinions … food for thought

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  • I give my kids a lot of praise and encouragement, but also tell them if I don’t think they did a good job. Balance is the key I believe

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  • I praise my kids all the time! Kids need praise for their self esteem. It’s not about giving them a big head, but about encouraging them to continue!


    • Have you ever experimented with asking your kids about how they feel about their work – or withholding praise on some occasions just to see how it impacts them? Praising kids feels good and we always seek more of what feels good… learning to feel good about ourselves is a great skills for life as you don’t have to rely on others. Remember “self”-esteem comes from within not from outside. Here is a link to a video about self-esteem and self confidence hope it helps:
      http://drrosina.com/blog/?category=Personal+Power

    Reply

  • Praising my kids is important to me so they feel good about themselves and will not be looking for negative attention as any attention good or bad is what kids crave. I was not praised enough as a child.


    • I wasn’t praised as a child either so I praised my child a lot… until I realised this might not be good for him. Thanks for your comments



      • I can relate to both comments. I had to take a step back recently, as I realised I had become a rather helicoptering parent and unlike both of you was not praised as a child and because my son’s father and I are separated and he has had to go through a court battle that if it was my choice I would have avoided, along with his allergies, eczema and asthma ADHD etc, I became very guilty of over compensating and praising far too much. I have stepped back and reassessed things and now have a new approach, one not without praise but in a different manner than what I was doing with my over compensation. When it boils down to it I think I was accidentally spoiling my child.

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  • Some seem to need some praise to achieve enough self esteem, especially you feel neglected when it is obvious your younger sister is Mum’s favourite (and called Mum’s baby constantly)and you are completely ignored by her unless you do something wrong. I witnessed this with a relative’s family. It was so blatant. The younger one “played on it” and regularly trashed her sister’s room, knowing that when her Mum saw it her elder sister would have to tidy her room and she would have Mum to herself even more. She even bragged about it to her Grandma about it a few times who got accused of lying by the Mum when she repeated only once. It always happened before their Dad got home from work, so he could never catch her doing it. She also misbehaved at school and the eldest one constantly got “you’re…….sister” The kids in the youngest ones class obviously went home and said something to the older ones who were in the same class as the eldest one.
    The teachers’ comments didn’t help matters either.
    It took a long time for the eldest one to re-build her self-esteem with the assistance of those could see what had been happening and others she felt comfortable confiding in.
    We had her for weekends on some occasions with the sole purpose of getting her away from the situation and giving her the love and attention she deserved. Other times we had the younger one so the elder one could have quality time with her parents. Were it not for her Dad being home and not having to go to work, that would haver been complete disaster.


    • What a tricky situation … one that must have been hard to watch play out. I feel for both children. The younger one for feeling like she had to be mean to her sister to get more time with her mother and the older sister for not feeling as loved as the younger sister. Very tough on both of them.



      • The younger one used ADD as an excuse for her behaviour and even held a knife to her sister’s throat on occasion just so she could have something her Mum wasn’t going to give her. She knew what she was doing the whole time, and Mum’s pet got away with it….and bragged about it to others like with other stunts she pulled. She has a violent streak in her. As a result the 2 girls no longer associate at all. The elder one understands the medical condition as she did a study on it. She is married with 2 beautiful children who will probably never meet their extended family because the potential danger to the little ones.

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  • Fantastic article and yes I always praise my children with praise when they deserve the praise and it’s good to let them know.

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  • I’m not sold, most adults still rely on others for self validation, praise yor kids for thin think gs they do well or with enthusiasm, just be realistic.


    • Interesting point you make. I wonder if most adults rely on others for self validation because they were conditioned to do so in childhood. Perhaps if we help children focus inwards, they won’t be so dependent on others to feel good about themselves and then most adults won’t be externally focussed. Just a thought

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  • An interesting read. We focus on building resilience too and a lot of the points relate to that too


    • I think resilience is one of the key personal characteristics underlying life success. Life is filled with challenges. Resilient kids can pick themselves up and keep going. I read once that people who are failures only fail one. Successful people fail many times.

      “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
      ― Thomas Edison
      Food for thought

    Reply

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