To Praise or Not to Praise
That Really Isn’t the Question

Making the Most of Praising Kids

As a parent, you may have thought that as long as you use a lot of praise in your home, you are doing something that is absolutely, unequivocally positive for your child’s self-image. But have you been reading recent information about praising children?

lots of praise words
Experts say that while praise is necessary for your children’s self-esteem, there are actually more effective and less effective ways to do it.

Does that mean all that praise you’ve given your children over the years has been done improperly? Probably not. But what does it all mean – praise more, praise less, don’t praise at all? Read on!

First of all, relax. If you are taking the time to read this article, there is a good chance that what you’ve been doing has been somewhat successful and healthy.

Praise is almost always a positive thing, but there are some simple guidelines that may make it even more beneficial to your children.

How to Praise Effectively

Praise specifically

Specific praise means stating what the child did and how you feel about it.

  • When your child independently picks up toys that were scattered about the floor, you can say, “You picked up the toys without me having to ask you. I really appreciate it.”

  • “When you pick up your toys, it keeps the house looking neat and clean. Thanks for helping.”

  • When asked your opinion about a drawing, instead of saying, “What a beautiful picture you made,” you can say, “You made the sun such a bright shade of yellow – I can almost feel the warmth it is giving off.”


Limit general praise

Children are less likely to believe the general praise, while they are more likely to incorporate the specific praise they hear from their parents into their view of themselves.

For instance, if your child sits quietly at a restaurant and afterward you say, “You were a good boy,” the child might not know what made him a “good” boy. Is he good for sitting still, for eating his dinner, for dropping his fork on the floor?

General praise, while not a negative thing, can be restated in a more effective way, such as, “I liked the way you stayed in your seat at the restaurant tonight. What an effort!”


Learn when to praise

Praise as soon after an accomplishment as you can. But you don’t have to praise your child continually.

  • For instance, if you want homework done by a certain time and your family has worked out a plan for a homework schedule, praise the child regularly when homework is indeed done on time.

  • After the behavior has been learned or changed, you can reduce the frequency of reinforcement. Once the homework schedule becomes routine, you can gradually stop the consistent praise; but you can keep an eye on things and occasionally – once or twice a week – say something like, “Boy, you sure remember to do your homework on time, even when I don’t remind you.”

Just those few words are a form of praise and can be very encouraging to a child. Remember if you want to encourage a particular behavior in your children, “catch them being good” by acknowledging it.


Be sincere

Try to pick out the things about your child that truly please you.

For example, if your child cannot seem to understand her music lessons, but is really trying hard and practicing almost every night, you can praise the effort by saying, “It seems to me you are trying your best to learn your music. I think that’s terrific!”

Also, too much praise loses its effectiveness, especially if the frequency or intensity is too great. Kids stop believing you when you praise them all the time, for every little thing they do.

Let your kids overhear you tell someone else how well they are doing.

This is one of the most effective ways to send positive messages to your children. Tell about an accomplishment that they achieved or a quality of theirs that you appreciate.

telephone two recievers

For example, when you know they are within earshot and you are on the phone with their grandparents, you can make a point of telling them about your son’s good study habits or the kindness he showed to the new boy who moved in next door.

Overhearing you describe to someone important to him a specific thing he has done well or a character trait that you admire often means more to a child than when you praise him directly.


Parting Thoughts

  • When you comment on and describe clearly a specific behavior which demonstrates their capability, your children are more likely to incorporate that message into their self-concept.

  • On a very deep level, they become more aware and accepting of their own strengths and abilities. So the child who picks up his toys in the first example may begin to think of himself as a helper or a cooperative family member who is able to make a contribution to his home.

  • By giving your children specific positive images of themselves, you are equipping them to deal with some of the difficulties they may encounter in the “outside world.”

Specific, sincere praise is part of conscious parenting. While it can be hard work and actually requires practice, the pay-off over time will be tremendous. Praise can influence how your children feel about themselves.

As you concentrate on praising your children effectively, keep in mind that each child is unique and may take in your praise in a different way depending on his or her temperament.

And remember to praise yourself for your efforts, good intentions, and small successes as you empower your children with good feelings about themselves!

By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator


For more information about self-esteem, check out the following books. Purchasing from through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Perfectionism: What's Bad about Being Too Good by Adderholdt Hearing is Believing by Elisa Medhus Self-Esteem: A Family Affair by Jean Illsley Clarke How Children Succedd: Grit, Curiousity and the Hidden Power of Character by Tough
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