“You are so smart!” my friend said to her 11-year old the other day. I didn’t blink an eye. We’ve all said it. It was the boy’s response that surprised me. With a look that screamed “duh!” he told her, “That’s like me saying ‘wow, congratulations, you’re tall.’”
Children learn to see through parental over exuberance, discounting compliments as a matter of course.
If praise is genuine and focused on the effort—the process, not the product—it will be more accepted by your child.
Dr. Gene Beresin, the executive director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, suggests that parents who build a bond of trust with their children by giving honest feedback, mixed with encouragement and support, help build a child’s self-esteem.
Praise-worthy praise should be specific. Instead of saying, “You’re such a good soccer player,” say, “You are a good teammate and kicker. That was a great pass directly to the other player.”
Also praise kids for traits they can control and strengthen. While “Look at your beautiful blond curls,” really does not do a lot for a child, “Your helping dust the family room helped mommy save time today and I appreciated our doing it together,” empowers confidence.
The best kind of praise acknowledges your child’s efforts to push themselves and work to achieve a goal. Praise your child for trying new things, like learning to ride a bike or tying shoelaces, and for not being afraid to make mistakes. Of course not all kids will be fantastic athletes or students, but children who learn to work hard and persevere have an important talent as well.
I am sure my own children have learned to take some of my exuberance with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, that smile on their faces when they share an achievement makes it all worth it! _
Lisa Monette is the Director of the Sheila and Eric Samson Family Early Childhood Center at the Merage JCC. Contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.