The “Right” Way to Praise a Child

In a recent post I shared a study by Psychologist Carol Dweck that revealed the possible negative impact of evaluative praise (“You’re Smart!”) on a child’s willingness to take risks and challenge him/herself.

This article, offered by the University of Minnesota as a resource for families, shares more specific insight on the ways in which broad, Evaluative praise such as “You’re great,” “You’re wonderful” can do more harm than good, creating dependency and insecurity.

Descriptive praise, on the other hand, builds self-esteem and reinforces specific successes, helping children become independent, creative thinkers and doers.  Instead of looking to somebody else for approval, they trust themselves and their own judgment and learn to make corrections based upon their own evaluations.

Effective praise comes in 2 parts:  First, the adult describes a specific contribution or effort the child has made and expresses appreciation.  (“I see you’re ready to go to recess. You picked up your toys, put on your jacket, and got in line.”)  Second, the child, hearing the accomplishment described, draws conclusions based on this specific statement and praises him or herself, (“I know how to plan ahead and be responsible.”)

The S'Match Parent's Guide encourages parents to support young players with descriptive praise

Descriptive praise has two parts:

  • Describe what you see and hear.
  • Describe what you feel.

For a mother, telling her son, “You’re so strong” is not as effective in building self-esteem as saying “That was really a heavy load. Thanks for your help.” This boy can then think to himself, “I must be pretty strong.  Mom thought I was a good helper.”  These internal conclusions are much more believable to the child than a parent’s general value judgment.

As a teacher I found it enormously helpful to post language around my room like “I notice…” and “I like the way you…” to prompt me to make these kind of reinforcing, descriptive statements. This type of praise takes more work and may not come as naturally as first, but the benefits to your children and students are worth it!

Have any tips on how to “retrain” the ways in which we praise our children?  Please share!

3 thoughts on “The “Right” Way to Praise a Child

  1. Amanda

    Great post. Thanks Charlotte. I’m sharing this with my friend who is a teacher and mother of a 6yr old who LOVES playing Thinkfun games! :)

  2. Peggy

    I’ve tried these same strategies with new employees and it has a tendency to empower them to do good work, and reward them by being noticed, at the same time. I think these phrases are good for all ages. builds an aura of respect and appreciation for the

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