With school back in session, there are new projects to do, instruments to learn, and sports to play. Parents understandably want to encourage their children to excel and be happy. Often, this leads to heaping on the praise at every corner.
Unfortunately, there is tons of research that indicates that the praise that is easiest to give could also be the most damaging to a child's longterm well-being and academic performance.
Here are 6 things experts recommend keeping in mind when praising a child:
1. Credit the process, not the result.
If a child repeatedly gets As on tests or report cards, it's really easy to say, "You're so smart!" But what happens when the child doesn't get an A? Are they not smart anymore? They won't feel like it.
Instead, credit the process itself, not the person or the end result. "You really took a lot of time making your science project beautiful!" and "Those flash cards you made for your multiplication tables paid off!"
Children who are told they are naturally smart have been shown to be less interested in the learning process as opposed to just the end result, which can have serious consequences down the line.
2. Be realistic.
Let's be real: not every picture your child creates is the greatest piece of art you've ever seen, worthy of a museum. Scoring one goal does not mean they will be Team Captain at the World Cup.
While it is important to encourage children to be creative and aspire to do things, heaping on praise and saying things that far exceeds what the child actually accomplished will give them an over-inflated view of their abilities and won't drive them to work harder and improve.
Also, if the child does something badly (like miss a shot or have trouble drawing a picture), acknowledge that not everyone gets it right all the time, and even the pros have to work hard.
If you're coming from a place of love, kids can take a dose of reality.
3. Save praise for when it's really deserved.
When a kid is seeking approval for doing things they have already mastered, like tying their shoes, it becomes obvious that constant praise has gone too far. At a certain point, the child is just expected to do something and does not need parade-level accolades.
This one sounds kind of harsh, but it's for the best.
4. Acknowledge growth.
If your child has been doing something for a while, acknowledge progress that has been made. Maybe she became a more skillful athlete or he became a better artist. If you've noticed that she's able to run the bases faster or his cars are drawn with better detail, go ahead and call their attention to the fact that they've improved since they first started doing something. Knowing that they've already come a long way will keep them focused and excited about improving even more.
5. Give your attention instead of praise.
When your child shows you the grade they got on their book report, don't just say, "Great job!" and then leave it at that. Be interested in what they did. Ask them why they chose that book, what was most interesting, why they decided to include some details and not others. Knowing that you genuinely care about their achievements is worth a lot more than a casual "Way to go!" and ending the conversation.
6. Be positive.
When it comes to dealing with your child, remember to keep it positive. Even if they did do something badly, criticism is pointless unless it is constructive. Yes, it is the job of a parent to prepare their children for a world that will not always meet them with kindness, but it's up to us to bring them up in an environment where they feel loved and appreciated, not broken down and unworthy.
It's not always going to be easy, and there will be times when what was said might not have been the best. If that happens, regroup, apologize if necessary, and do better next time. Parenting is a journey.
[Header image: iStockphoto]