The Right Way to Praise

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying, “Don’t praise your children, ever.” Praise is a natural and necessary part of our relationship with children. There is however a right and a wrong way to praise children. Praise is made up of two parts: what you say, and what children think about what you say. Your goal is to give children a mirror-image of their efforts or accomplishments, and our feelings about them. For example, “Thank you for helping me prune the hydrangea bush; you saved me at least 30 minutes of work,” is better than, “You’re mommy’s little helper; what would I do without you?” The first is specific and real, while the second is vague and puts a grade on the child’s personality. Our words should tell children what we like and appreciate about their effort, help, work, or achievement, not what we think about their whole personality. Non-judgmental, descriptive praise tells children we like them regardless of how well or how badly they behave. They feel safe to make mistakes, because they know it won’t change how you feel about them. When our comments are true and appreciative, children feel good about themselves, and they draw their own conclusions.