A child comes home from school with an A on her English test.
Parent says, “Good job, you are so smart, let’s put it on the fridge!”
A few weeks later the same child comes home with a D on her science test.
How would the parent respond to this child? “We have a problem. We have to fix this. Maybe we should hire a tutor. What were you thinking? I know you can do better.”

In this light, it’s easy to see the limitations of praise. How do you praise? You don’t. As parents, we inadvertently send the message that we are disappointed and bring the learning process to a halt.

Praise focuses on:

  • Perfection rather than progress and improvement.

(Praise trains children to depend on constant feedback regarding what a “great job” they are doing. This dependency shatters rather than builds a child’s self-esteem).

  • A right or wrong outcome rather than a meaningful experience.

(Praise trains children to inquire, “Do you like it?” “Did I do a good job?” “Are you proud of me?” “Did I do it right?” Children begin to believe that what others think is more important than what they think about their choices, actions, accomplishments and mistakes)

  • Good or bad decisions rather than the decision-making process.


(Praise jeopardizes the child’s ability to develop their own internal compass to guide the decision-making process.)

  • Pride or disappointment rather than acceptance and support.

(Praise fractures the relationship between parent and child. Without even realizing it, parents may be using praise as a tool to direct and manipulate the child’s behavior. The message is clear — “I approve of you when you … “and “I do not approve of you when you. … “Living with this kind of constant judgment can damage not only the child’s confidence but also the relationship.)

 If you are preoccupied by feeling proud or disappointed, you miss the opportunity to be curious and help the child learn more about himself, his learning style, the situation and what he might do differently the next time. After all, it’s more important that the child know himself than it is for you to pass judgment on his experience.

Take time today to pause as your child shows you the work they’ve done.
Describe what you see–including the feelings of your child.
Notice the L-O-N-G brush strokes across their painting and say something.
Notice the colours they chose and tell them that’s what you see.
Pay attention to what they called upon to get through a tough moment and name it for them.
Ask them questions about what it took to accomplish what they are grinning from ear to ear about.
Use struggles as a time to name and affirm their feelings, rather than find something to praise in order to ‘make them feel better.’
Use struggles as a time to identify the inner strengths they are trying to tap into to succeed
– “That puzzle is really difficult.
– It is frustrating for you!
– I can see you are working really hard to figure it out…

Recognize the good in people; Look out for it.
• Seek and you shall find.
• Look for tiny incremental progress.
• Describe what you observe, not only ‘praiseworthy’ results.
• Benefit to the noticer: helps us see the best in others and by actually naming it and talking about it, it gives it more energy

• Effort – progress – persistence – determination
• The process – initiative – reaching goal
• What may not need reinforcement: Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

• Be specific: Specific descriptions are by definition not exaggerated, so they are not easily dismissed. They are not empty or hollow because they are rich in content. The child knows you are paying attention because you are describing in detail. When they hear vague praise, they think it sounds hollow.
• Wait until the child shares her pleasure in her work before doling out praise. Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, “Good job!”, though, we’re telling a child how to feel.
• Keep it real. Offer authentic praise for real achievements. Don’t say, “That must have taken a lot of effort” when it clearly did not. When they hear exaggerated praise, they dismiss it.