​Praising kids - how much is too much?

​Praising kids - can you do it too much?
18 January 2016

If I mention that in my house we're currently contemplating potty training the youngest, it should make sense when I say that I seem to spend a significant part of the day praising my kid - to the extent that I frequently sound like a deranged, potty-obsessed cheerleader.

"You sat on the potty for twenty minutes and not a single thing happened? GOOD GIRL, what a great job. Mama is so proud of you!"

It's wearing thin but I remain convinced that lavishing praise on kids is part and parcel of being a good parent.

But it seems praising kids is more of a minefield than I realised - you can actually get it wrong.

Carol Dweck is a psychology professor who specialises in what's called the growth mindset, and she reckons it's a mistake to offer kids empty praise merely for having a go at something. Here's how a recent Quartz article explained it:

"Reams of research show that kids who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, shying away from taking risks and meeting potential failure. Kids who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist with tasks longer. These "effort" kids have a "growth mindset" marked by resilience and a thirst for mastery; the "smart" ones have a "fixed mindset" believing intelligence to be innate and not malleable."

Apparently, we're doing praise wrong if we praise kids for trying at something - we need to do it in such a way that it encourages our kids to learn something, too.

As far as I understand, that means praising your child not merely for having a go at something, but for the effort they make to achieve something. If they fail, we shouldn't stop at patting them on the back for having given the thing a shot, but should praise them in a way that helps them still learn something from the experience.

What I'm not clear about is how this translates to something pretty basic in the parenting stakes such as potty-training. I guess the idea is that my child shouldn't come to think, based on my praising her potty efforts, that the 'point' is just sitting on the potty to my rapturous applause. Yes, she should feel worthy of my praise if she has a go and nothing happens, but the whole point of praising her is to help her learn that we're doing much more than spending a lot of the day sitting on the potty watching Peppa Pig and getting a sticker in reward for doing so.

In practice, this praise malarkey is just so much more complicated than I first thought.

In fact, it sometimes feels as though I'm not doing anything right as a parent according to the experts. But a quick glance at my daughter's face which shines with pride at her potty efforts (even when they yield literally nothing) tells me that all this praise can't be doing her any harm.

What's your view? Do you think some parents overdo the praise with their kids? Or do you think that's not even possible to do? We'd love to hear your thoughts over on our Facebook page.

TOPICS:   Parents

1 comment

  • vanityfair

    Of course praising children for a job well done is good but it should serve to reinforce and encourage positive behaviour. I don't praise children for doing things or behaving well as they are expected to do some things routinely.

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