Unwarranted Praise is Bad for Kids

If you’re anything like me, you became a parent either at the beginning of, or during the height of the child-empowerment era. When I was first learning how to communicate with daughter, I wanted her to know how special, smart and capable she was, so I was sure to tell her all the time.

Is it wrong to want to empower our kids? No way, but some experts suggest that too much unwarranted praise will backfire, leading kids down a path to laziness and self-defeating behavior.

When you tell your child constantly how smart they are, even though they haven’t done anything to warrant the praise, over time it could encourage a sense of overconfidence. They may begin taking the easy path with everything they do for two reasons. First, they don’t want to let you (who thinks they are so smart,) down, so they will take the easiest route to guarantee they succeed. Second, according to the Free Press, they start to think intelligence is “fixed,” and won’t understand the amount of effort and work required to successfully achieve goals.

Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck says there’s a right way to administer praise that fosters your child’s understanding of the effort and work necessary, empowering them to try harder to achieve their goals.

Dweck’s strategy is called “process praise,” and incorporates the explanation of why the child is receiving praise, as well as the steps they took that makes you think they are smart. For example, try telling your child, “Wow! I really like the way you tackled that problem. You did X and Y, and even though it didn’t work out, that was a really creative way to approach things.”

Empowering our kids is a beautiful thing, but lending them constant praise even when they haven’t done anything could discourage them. I think I’ll go upstairs now and tell my daughter I appreciate her lending her efforts to clean the bathrooms every day, but maybe a different, more thorough approach would mean she only has to clean every other day. I’ll let you know how that goes!