It can be said that the “Good job, Tony!” and the “You’re the best, Michelle!” go a long way when a child hears you speak those words of endearment. However, is there such a thing as too much praise? Are there ever times that you offer your child a compliment when he/she doesn’t really deserve one, but you fear what may happen if you don’t? There are interesting points to consider with regard to praising your children and once you’ve read this article, you may have a new perspective on the behavior you engage in with your own children.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool when it is used properly. Many experts have stated that positively reinforcing good behaviors will encourage those behaviors to be repeated. Numerous psychologists believe that over time, consistent positive reinforcement of the good behaviors may decrease the occurrence of the bad, undesired behaviors.
With this in mind, it is imperative that parents provide specific praise to their children to allow them to identify which exact behaviors made their parents proud. When children see what behaviors yield rewards (praise or gifts), they are more likely to repeat them in the future. It has also been found that positive reinforcement enables parents to manage their children’s behavior. For example, if a child begins to get restless while sitting in the cart at the grocery store, a parent can say, “I love the way you were sitting quietly in the bread aisle.” Once the child calms down, immediately offer him/her praise for altering his/her behavior.
Since positive reinforcement is such a powerful tool, it is crucial to note the dangers of using it indecorously. Sometimes, parents commend their children when they don’t really deserve to be. As adults, we know the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; you’re not benefiting your child when you pay him/her compliments that you don’t actually mean or even worse, that aren’t true.
Now, by no means is it being said that you shouldn’t encourage your child to work hard, achieve his/her goals and follow his/her dreams because you should whenever you get the chance. However, if your 7-year-old child brings home a terrible report card, don’t respond with a high five and a “You’re so smart, Timmy! I’m so proud of you!” Timmy will either believe his parent because he believes everything that his parents say or he will know his parent is lying, which will cause him to discredit that parent (now and in the future).
If you give your children false praise, you create two dangers, one of which is that they will believe they are better than they actually are at something and the other is that your child will face severe disappointment in the future. For example, if you constantly praise your 7-year-old child for being the best dancer in the class and then, she tries out for a dance team in the future and doesn’t make it, her level of disappointment as well as failure will be extremely difficult for the both of you. Having built her confidence with false praise, she may gain unrealistic expectations for a talent or an ability she actually lacks. This type of life experience may not be as detrimental to a child’s self-esteem at 5 or 7 years of age as it may in his/her teenage years, but it may discourage your child from pursuing other goals, passions or interests with the fear of experiencing the same rejection and disappointment they suffered from before (that’s heartbreaking to both parents and children).
Offering praise to your children when it’s appropriate is extremely beneficial to them. If your child has a talent or a passion, foster it and compliment him/her when it is earned. If your child fails at something, but shouldn’t give up, offer them a “You really gave it your all and I’m proud of how hard you worked for this. You’ll have another chance, so you can’t give up now!” Providing support and encouragement is incredibly useful when this happens.
If your child isn’t good at something, but loves it, try to encourage participation in a new activity (you may find your child has a talent in something different); a child may lose interest in the activity he/she doesn’t have a knack for when he/she finds his/her talent in something new and exciting.
You may feel that it’s your job to unconditionally praise your children (regardless of how good or bad they may be at something) because you are their parent, but reality will not hesitate to knock them down with their criticism and harsh truths. The next time you praise your children, make sure it is for the things that deserve that pat on the back or those words of admiration and approval.
Positive reinforcement has helped me with my son in so many ways. I completely understand your points of view here and hope to implement some of these for myself. Thanks for the info Tali!