March 28, 2022

The Ultimate Guide to Praising Your Kids

Dad carrying confident child to fly

The Ultimate Guide to Praising Your Kids

Your children are likely to follow your example, especially when it comes to effective praise. If you’re constantly criticizing their efforts, they’ll start to see criticism as the norm rather than the exception and stop taking risks in the face of uncertainty or failure.

For this reason, it’s incredibly important that you encourage your kids with constant praise—not just when they get things right, but also when they make an effort even if their performance isn’t perfect.

Here’s the ultimate guide to praising your kids.


What is “Effective Praise”?

Children often need positive reinforcement, to develop a growth mindset. Effective praise can be defined as praise that motivates a child and makes him want to repeat or continue that behavior.

It should also make him feel proud of himself for doing something good, which will increase his self-esteem. Praise needs to be sincere and honest, as well as specific and descriptive so children know exactly what they are being praised for.

Mother praising children for baking cookies

Is Praising a Child Bad?

Dealing with disappointment is one of life’s harder lessons. Most people don’t like to fail, and even worse than failing is watching our children fail. Since most parents know how horrible it feels when our children are disappointed, we often do everything in our power to protect them from that feeling.

We encourage them not to try so they don’t get discouraged or hurt if they don’t succeed right away, and we praise them when they do things well so they won’t be discouraged or upset if a little later on they haven’t quite mastered it yet.

Studies suggest that some types of praise can actually undermine your child’s motivation (e.g., Mizokawa 2018; Xing et al 2018).

Depending on the circumstances, praise may also damage a child’s self-esteem, or fuel the development of narcissism (Brummelman et al 2017).

Excessive praise can also make your child feel that your approval and love are conditional on their performance and achievement.

Too much praise can create “praise junkies” who crave the approval of others. These children may come to depend on the evaluation and judgment of others rather than learning to form their own opinions.


What Positive Effect Can Effective Praise Have on Your Children’s Self-Esteem And Intrinsic Motivation?

There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that praise can have positive effects on self-esteem and motivation. Research has shown that children who are praised for their intrinsic interest or pleasure in an activity are more intrinsically motivated by that activity.

A variety of studies show that by praising children’s intrinsic interest, children develop a deeper interest in what they’re doing and engage more fully with it.

Family having a homework and art time at the table encouraging children

Intrinsic motivation examples:

Here are some examples of intrinsic motivation in children.

  • Participating in a sport for fun rather than for awards.
  • Studying math for fun, not to please your parents.

Children also report enjoying an activity more when they are praised for their own interest in it. If you praise your child’s natural inclination toward something, you’ll likely notice a change within a few days or weeks.

This will help your child develop a sense of pride and self-confidence. Parents can also encourage self-motivation by being positive, optimistic, and persistent.


What Happens When You Praise a Child Too Much?

confident little kids playing with cardboard plane

Too much praise could ultimately have a negative effect on children, especially if they’re praised for things that don’t require any effort or aren’t praiseworthy. Over time, children develop an inflated sense of their abilities and may not recognize when they need to improve.

Praising children can also leave them with unrealistic expectations about what is possible in life. Children are more likely to be successful if parents praise them for trying hard instead of just being smart or talented. Descriptive praise can work well for children of all ages, including teenagers.

Grandpa teaching grandson how to paint

What Are Effective Praise Examples?

Praise is given in response to an effort or accomplishment, not as a substitute for one. If you think about it, praise shouldn’t be used as a reward – it should always be preceded by action or good deed. For example, you shouldn’t say I like how you turned off all of our lights last night!

Now go take out that trash and I’ll give you some praise later on! Rather, say I like how quickly and efficiently you took care of turning off all of our lights. That sure made it easier for me to clean up here after dinner. Do you see what I did there?

Also, note that praise isn’t just positive – we all make mistakes now and then, so don’t be afraid to point them out when necessary (and respectfully).

Children will learn from their mistakes when they hear constructive criticism from their parents. How else will they know what they need to do better next time?

Mom giving constructive criticism to her young son

When praise feels insincere, children are more likely to feel pressured into performing well in order to earn more compliments. This can actually have a negative effect on their performance over time because they start paying attention to pleasing you instead of focusing on doing well for themselves.

The Praise Paradox is when and why praise backfires in children with low self-esteem.


How Can I Praise My Child Effectively?

Praising your child is one of those parenting things that often feels as if it’s a complete mystery. It can be difficult to figure out how to praise children when to praise them, what you should praise them for, and more.

A positive comment said immediately after something positive happens goes a long way in encouraging your child.

Praise needs to be said directly and in person; sending a text message or email is no good!

Effective praise tends to happen right after something pleasing has happened. Ask What was so good about that? Children learn by example, so praising even small efforts helps set an example.


Praise Sincerely and Honestly

Praising kids gives them a big emotional boost, but be sincere and honest about it. Don’t overdo it with artificial praise just for their sake, but don’t pull back too much either. What does insincere or dishonest praise look like?

Mom and daughter reading popup books

Saying something like Good job! when you think they could have done better, or failing to acknowledge their effort at all (e.g., When they try hard to help you in some way). You need to strike a balance between being too hard on yourself or your children and being overly congratulatory at every turn.

Neither attitude will help them move forward; find a nice medium that acknowledges their accomplishments while still fostering confidence in themselves and their abilities.


Be Specific and Descriptive

Encouragement is vague, non-specific praise. You might find yourself saying things like, You’re a great kid. or I’m proud of you for winning that award.

Both of these are good examples of encouragement because they’re short and sweet; however, they can also be very ineffective because they’re hard to quantify.

Baby learning to walk with holding her mother's hands

When we encourage our children to use phrases like these, it’s hard for them to know how much we really care about their efforts and achievements.

For example, when a child asks us what he or she did well on in school and we respond with You’re a great kid, it’s unlikely that those three words will hold much meaning for our child.

Offering descriptive praise shows that you are paying close attention. For example: “I noticed how you took time to show the new student around the school. I am sure she appreciated the help.” I can see that you enjoy math.


Praise Children’s Efforts and The Process, Not Their Achievement or Ability

Encourage effort and hard work, not just success. When we praise our children for how well they are doing, how smart they are, or how easy a task is for them, we’re focusing on their achievement or ability.

By contrast, when we praise effort and process (e.g., You tried really hard! That’s great!), we focus on what our child can control—and also encourage persistence.

Praising effort and process also encourages children to view obstacles as challenges rather than threats; with these kinds of support systems in place, kids are more likely to be resilient in times of stress or failure.

proud parents with daughter learning how to bake

Avoid Controlling or Conditional Praise

Avoid conditional praises in kids. As, it makes them feel worthless and powerless because their adults are controlling them through rewards and punishments.

Instead, give honest feedback on behavior without commenting on whether it’s good or bad. If you take an honest interest in your child, you will give them a solid foundation for success as they grow into their adult selves.

Mother comforting crying girl

Children’s Self Esteem Deflates

Avoid comparison praise

Praising kids based on what they do as opposed to who they are can lead to them being overly concerned with doing whatever it takes to be recognized by others.

It’s not just that you won’t have a child who grows up understanding their intrinsic value and worth; you could also create an adult who is insecure and constantly seeking external validation, which is clearly not in their best interest.

So avoid focusing on accomplishments or pointing out comparisons between your child and others. Instead, try to emphasize things like how much you love them for who they are, not for what they do. “You know I love your singing voice because it is beautiful, not because you don’t sing so well”.

Sad girl in lonely thoughts

It gives kids something tangible about why you love them, rather than comparing two different kids. COMPARE THE CHILD TO HIMSELF/HERSELF: Nobody likes to feel bad about themselves—not even little kids!

This means that when praising your young ones (or anybody else for that matter), don’t beat around the bush by complimenting some skill or ability but providing no real substance behind why you’re impressed.

At first blush, it might seem like a good idea to praise kids for out-performing their peers.

After all, research has shown that such social-comparison praise enhances a child’s motivation and enjoyment of a task (see review in Henderlong and Lepper 2002).


Avoid Easy-Task Praise or Over-Praise

When it comes to praising your child, easy-task praise and over-praise can backfire. Easy-task praise refers to a situation in which you praise a child for doing something that is within his or her normal range of performance.

For example, if Bob is really good at math, but he still gets an A on his latest math test, when you give him easy-task praise for getting an A on his test, you’re not providing positive feedback for anything extraordinary that he’s done.

He does get A’s often enough that an A+ just isn’t very meaningful anymore. You could end up inadvertently sending Bob a message that getting an A isn’t very impressive. This doesn’t meant that you should not acknowledge that he is very good at math, in fact you can use this as an opportunity to set a positive expectation for him. You could say something like “math comes very easy to you. You are a natural at math.”

Set the positive expectation up in his mind that math is quite easy for him. Our mind’s believe what we continually tell it. So even when we are faced with a new challenge, if it is something that we believe we are naturally good at, our perspective immediately shifts and we deal with the challenge differently.

Father and son high fiving giving his son approval

Be Spontaneous

Just because you’re trying to encourage your kids doesn’t mean you have to be so stiff. In fact, new research shows that spontaneous encouragement is more effective than planned encouragement.

People like to be recognized for their hard work, so if you see an A+ on an assignment and start pointing it out right away, people won’t feel as excited as they would if you handed them a card later that evening when they were helping their brother with his homework.

Spontaneous encouragement is more authentic; since it wasn’t planned in advance, it means even more because people can tell that you recognize something special that happened right then and there, not days or weeks ago.

In other words, spontaneity makes recognition feel more genuine. So make sure you are recognizing your kids in real-time — often.

Or at least once a day for each kid. The best way to do that?

Be honest about what inspires you about what they did, give immediate feedback on how things went from their perspective, and then ask questions such as how do you think…followed by acknowledging what was good about the outcome – focusing praise on specific actions rather than character or personality traits.

Child playing with a first aid kit toy on the floor

What Does Science Say?

There’s no question about it.

Brain studies indicate that we respond to social approval in much the same way that we respond to monetary rewards (Bhangi and Delgado 2015).

Praise feels good. And certain types of praise can lead to helpful outcomes.

For example, experiments suggest that kids can benefit from vague, cheerful messages.

An enthusiastic exclamation (“wow!”) or a supportive gesture (like a high five) can engender good feelings. It may also motivate kids to try again after a failure (Morris and Zentall 2014).

Similarly, there’s evidence that process praise can be motivating.

“Process praise” is praise that recognizes a child’s choices or hard work, e.g.,

  • “Well done!”
  • “I like the way you tried to sound that word out, instead of just giving up.”
  • “I can tell you’ve been practicing!”

Done right, this sort of praise can inspire kids to opens in a new window keep working at challenging tasks (e.g.,Kelley et al 2000; Henderlong and Lepper 2002; Gunderson et al 2013; Gunderson et al 2018a; Gunderson et al 2018b).


How to Encourage Your Kids?

Encourage your kids properly, and they’ll be healthier. These methods will help you.

  • Be sure that praise is specific. Be careful not to generalize when you’re telling your kid how awesome they are. NEVER say I’m so proud of your hard work! You never stop working! Praise them for doing well (for example, during their soccer game last weekend) and give clear examples whenever they have worked hard.
  • Compliment negative behavior improvements and changes as well!
  • Be specific and praise efforts AND outcomes.
  • After ignoring all positive behavior for several days, giving random praise will mean nothing to your child and can backfire! Praise often with smaller doses rather than fewer but bigger ones – we often just once praise a child before sending them off on a big day or before they go out in public …which is probably not necessary after all…you may find just small things throughout each day are enough to keep energy levels up.
  • There are many ways you can help your child become resilient, confident, and self-sufficient by helping them learn skills every day.


Growth Mindset For kids

Developing a growth mindset with children can be tricky, especially when they’re very young. How do you praise them for trying hard and being persistent?

The key is to start as young as possible. Most parents wait to really begin affirming their child is good at something or that they did a great job at something until they can effectively communicate; however studies have shown that children can understand language must earlier than when they can communicate verbally to us.

Some parents automatically focus on praising intelligence, regardless of a child’s performance (e.g., good job! You are so smart!). This only sets up children to give up as soon as things get difficult because they don’t believe that their abilities can be improved upon.

mom encouraging baby to learn how to walk

These kinds of comments tend to diminish intrinsic motivation and set children up for failure later in life. To encourage your kids to develop a growth mindset, it’s important to recognize that character traits such as persistence and self-control contribute just as much or more than talent.


How Do You Explain Growth Mindset to a Child?

Instead of a fixed mindset, a growth mindset involves believing you are a powerful person and focusing on yourself. Kids with a growth mindset believe that even if they struggle with certain problem-solving skills, their abilities aren’t set in stone.

They think that with work, their new skills can improve over time. Hence: they take professional advice and practice positive things.



There’s a mistaken belief that it’s important to constantly praise our kids. Praise is instinctive. So, praise your child’s effort, persistence, effective strategies instead of their abilities. It’ll boost motivation and get them to keep going.


How Do You Praise a Child Effectively?

You might be surprised to learn just how much of an impact you have on your children’s self-esteem, especially if you are a parent.

While often overlooked in favor of disciplining misbehavior or encouraging good behavior, parent praise is one of the most effective tools when it comes to building self-confidence and reinforcing good habits.

Fortunately, positive reinforcement doesn’t have to involve some complicated hidden meaning—your kid is keenly aware that you’re sending a message about their behavior when you praise them for it.

If you aren’t doing so already, make a point of praising your children for their strengths and good behaviors; as an added bonus, it will show them that self-criticism isn’t necessary in all cases.

Taryn Crimi

Taryn Crimi

Taryn is an international intuitive, focused on helping to empower you manifest your best life!

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