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Children: The Negative Effects of Praise

Updated on July 13, 2011

To praise a child - it seems like such a simple and instinctive thing to do.  Parents are all too eager to lavish their children with praise, yet science reveals that praising a child inappropriately can lead to more harm than good.  According to Scientific American Mind, the secret to raising smart kids is not to tell your child that he or she is smart.  That doesn't mean that you cannot praise a child.  It just means that you have to be careful about how you praise a child.

How do you Praise a Child Effectively?

1. Focus on Effort

Many studies have found that children who are praised for being smart or intelligent end up underperforming.  These children had a tendency to view intelligence as finite and innate.  They assumed that if they were smart, things should automatically come easily to them.  When it did not, they begin to believe that they were stupid all along.  They fear challenges and avoid making mistakes.  When given the option between an easier and harder test, they inevitably take the easier test to avoid being embarrassed.

On the other hand, children who are praised for their efforts learn that they need to work hard to achieve results.  These children were not put off by failure.  They took it in stride and assumed they needed to work harder.  They were motivated by the challenge and enjoyed taking the harder test.

Therefore, instead of: "You're really smart at that!" one should focus on effort, such as: "You must have worked really hard on that."

2. Be Specific

Praise must be specific to be effective.  It is important to tell a child exactly what is good.  For instance, if a child paints a picture, rather than saying, "I love your painting," be specific about exactly what you liked about it: "I like the way you applied the colours in your painting."

3. Be Honest

Don't offer praise if you don't believe it to be true.  Some people offer praise with the hope of increasing a child's self-esteem even if they do not believe the praise has been earned.  Children are like adults, they can sense when praise is false.  Only young children will take praise at face value.  Older children are suspicious.  If they believe the praise is untrue, they may end up assuming all future praise is also false even if it is sincere.

4. Offer Intermittent Praise

It is important to avoid being overly lavish with praise.  Children who receive too much praise on a constant basis become dependent upon it for future success.  The moment they encounter difficulties, they come apart at the seams and struggle to persevere without the positive reinforcement.

Praise is still the cornerstone for helping children develop into healthy, confident adults however it is important to ensure that the praise given is both appropriate and relevant. 


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    • profile image

      B Wadsworth 

      2 years ago

      There is no replacement for effort and success, attendant to any project. Success breeds success!

    • L.I.N.C profile image


      7 years ago from Montreal, Canada

      Effort and encouragement are definitely key. My kids beam more when they get my big smile, a warm hug and a "wasn't that fun ?" then anything else. They did it, they own it, they are proud of it, nothing else should really matter. Bad or good, the experience and the encouragement is what will keep them pushing forward.


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