Why We Have to Stop Praising Our Kids

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve been a part of Mom 2 Mom classes at church, and how we’ve studied numerous books by highly proclaimed childhood behavior expert, Dr. Kevin Leman. It was during one of these studies that I heard for the first time, that we should NOT praise our children with the typical “yay, Good Job!”, and instead,  encourage them.

This topic was brought up again today during a Parent Cafe at my son’s preschool. Parent Cafe is designed to support families and encourage healthy familial dynamics by discussing important topics like trust, role models, relationships, and more. The moderator informed a parent who was engaged in a discussion about disciplining children, or the lack thereof, and how as a result, she’s told her young nephew time and time again that “he’s bad” due to his behavior.

“Oh, but I praise the good behavior more though! I tell him good job and when he’s being a good boy!” the parent defended.

“But you never want to praise a child, always encourage!” Explained the moderator. That statement was met with a confused silence. What do you mean? I could feel some of the parents thinking.

Well what’s the difference between praising and encouraging? Why is it a big deal?

Think about when you praise your child. I personally have done it plenty of times. When Jabin, my oldest son comes to me and shows me his homework has been completed, or that he successfully completed his sentences, I would say “Good job!”

But what does “Good Job!” really mean? 

  • Its judgmental. Throwing out “good job” is empty and can just as easily be equated with “bad job”. Its expressing if they met up to your standard of quality work and can cause your child to fear failure if they don’t get that “good job!”. What makes it a good job? Focus on what they did and how they did it vs the fact that they simply did it.
  • Its dismissive and a very shallow compliment. Think if you, as an adult, just completed an assignment at work. You put your all into it and you go over with a fine-toothed comb to ensure its as perfect as it can get. You show your boss, and they reply “Good Job!” And thats it. Wouldn’t you feel that they didn’t REALLY look at your report? Would’t you feel kinda put off and dismissed? Wouldn’t you want to know what made your report “good”? Same concept with our children.
  • It can create a praise-a-holic. If all you throw out are praises, treats, and good jobs/way to go’s, then eventually your child will just crave the praise. Imagine when they go to school and their “good job” writing that the parents have thrown at them is now being critiqued and challenged? It can even cause the child to lose interest all together in that activity if the praise ceases.

Praising can translate that its about you, not your child.

One time, Caleb, was learning to write his name. He was struggling. So in school the teacher told me she was going to focus on him learning to master circles and lines first, and then once that was accomplished, they would move on to his name.

So when he came home with a paper scribbled with tons of circles and o’s, I resisted my natural instinct to say “oh my goodness Caleb, good job!” Instead, I said “wow, your circle’s are perfect! And I can tell you were very careful on making your lines straight!” He was beaming! It showed him that I actually looked at his work, and I took the time to point out and acknowledge elements of his assignment that he could be proud of. Likewise, its a time to also offer feedback. Example, “I see you tried really hard with your circles! Let’s practice some more so I can see how mommy can help you.”

Had I simply said, “Caleb! That makes mommy so happy that you drew your circles and lines!” or “Mommy is so proud of you!”,  that praise is actually telling him how what he did made ME feel. And that’s what I learned praising does. It turns something they did and highlights your feelings in response to what they did. Does that make sense? Our feelings should have nothing to do with it. Instead of saying “I am so proud”, say, “You should be so proud of yourself, you worked really hard!”

TheKidCounselor.com created a table to show the effects of praise vs encouragement.

Praise Encouragement
stimulates rivalry and competition stimulates cooperation and contribution for the good of all
focuses on quality of performance focuses on amount of effort and joy
evaluative and judgmental; person feels “judged” little or no evaluation of person or act; person feels “accepted”
fosters selfishness at the expense of others fosters self-interest, which does not hurt others
emphasis on global evaluation of the person-“You are better than others.” emphasis on specific contributions -“You have helped in this way.”
creates quitters creates triers
fosters fear of failure fosters acceptance of being imperfect
fosters dependence fosters self-sufficiency and independence

And here are specific examples that shows how to encourage vs praise!

Praise Encouragement
You are the best student. Any teacher would appreciate you.
You are always on time. You tried very hard to be on time.
You did great! You did it!
I am so proud of you. You should be proud of yourself.
You’re a good helper. You straightened all the bookshelves.
Your picture is so pretty. You used all those different colors.

Now I’d like to hear from YOU! Is the concept of praise vs encouragement new to you? Or is this something you’ve already been warned against and have implemented into your parenting? What are specific ways that you encourage your child, and how have you noticed your child’s response vs if you had praised them instead? What are areas of “praise improvement” that you now are noticing?

Thanks for reading! Until next time <3