Controversies, compliments and giving praise…


A few weeks ago Dr Peggy Drexler published on Huff Post a pretty controversial thought provoking piece on compliments and how the habit of “over-complimenting” our children is creating generations of spot-light babies who don’t know their own self worth if they aren’t praised. In The Key to Raising Confident Kids? Stop Complimenting Them! she writes:

They grow up placing their self-worth in that praise: If I’m not told I’m beautiful, she’ll start to think, then I must not be.

I read the article, then I reread it. Then I sat back and I thought. And I thought. And I thought… Hell no. I do not agree. At all. I am pretty new to this parenting gig and in no way do I see myself as any kind of parenting expert… I am not an expert on my own little fire-cracker so I could never claim to be anything but a novice in the general parenting world. What I am an expert at is the hard knocks that life deals out. I’ve experienced more than a few in my relatively short 26 (almost 27) years of life. And you know what? Compliments feel good, encouragement is awesome and knowing that the one person who is supposed to have your back in life (your mama) has your back and thinks you’re super amazing is sometimes the only thing that you have to fall back on. When you fall hard, it’s nice to have that little bit of cushioning to break your fall.

Drexler writes:

But how often do we find ourselves saying “great job!” to the 4-year-old who cleans up her crayons after a coloring session? Or to the 8-year-old who finishes his broccoli? By dishing out praise to a child for doing things she should be doing anyway, we teach her that she gets rewarded just for being…

Research with children and families has indeed told us that praise has the opposite intended effect. It does not make children work harder, or do better. In fact, kids who are told they’re bright and talented are easily discouraged when something is “too difficult;” those who are not praised in such a manner are more motivated to work harder and take on greater challenges. The unpraised, in turn, show higher levels of confidence, while overpraised are more likely to lie to make their performances sound better. Praise becomes like a drug: once they get it, they need it, want it, are unable to function without it.

I’m not sure where this research comes from, I for one would like to read it as I don’t believe it nor do I support it. Does this mean that praising my little person for learning to crawl, for standing up on her own is going to turn her into an under achiever who pretends to be an over achiever? When I’m having trouble getting her to sleep and she does, she sleeps for five hours (IN A ROW) and I meet her with open arms a smile and a “good job” – I’m doing her some sort of disservice? I think perhaps that is absurd a little extreme.Praising a child for good behaviour, we aren’t talking about rewarding them with a new toy or chocolate bar for behaviour that is expected but words. WORDS! Positive, wonderful words from a parent who loves them. I can’t see much wrong with that. Life is hard, life knocks you down and covers you in bruises and tears and awful days where you just don’t want to get up and try again. Life tells you that you aren’t good enough all the time. That you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, brave enough… As Bo’s mama I want her to know that I am here, that I think she is wonderful in every way, even when things aren’t super shiny and perfect. I have written about this before HERE. I want her to know that even though she is MY number one, that she is no better than or worthy than any other child in the world – no more important than any other person whether they be rich or poor, young or old, male or female no matter their race, religion or beliefs. But that this goes the other way too. I want her to know that she is EQUAL, that she has rights and that she should stand up for her own rights and even more importantly for the rights of others. This things are MY job as her Mama. These are my lessons to teach her. How can I do that if I can’t empower her through words and joyful, loving praise?

What happened to Empowerment? Isn’t it taught through balance? Helpful, constructive criticism is important, that’s part of learning but so is praise. Praise for trying. When a child falls down, and gets up and tries again… is this not praise worthy? I’m not saying everyone should get a trophy, I’m saying that we could perhaps encourage children to forget about the trophy and concentrate on the skill, the joy, the journey. We live in a culture that is so focused on the end result that we often forget that all of the experience lies in the journey itself. We are raising children in an era where they are told they must be “the very best” at everything. Much like we are told we must be “the very best” at raising them. Can’t we all just take the pressure off? Only praising a child when they are “the best” – isn’t that just reiterating this awful competitive lifestyle we seem to be all trying to stay afloat in?

Praise isn’t going to stop a child from becoming a confident, grounded, earthy human being. Can’t we praise children for being the wonderful unique people that they are. This of course needs to come hand in hand with teaching a child that although they may be the center of your (the parent) universe they are one person in a big world and to have empathy, respect and genuine interest in the people around them, but as far as I’m concerned that’s a given. Right?

As an adult I have struggled with self esteem. As a woman I have struggled with self image. I feel better about myself when I make the effort to do positive things well. I want to teach Bo to do the same. I want her to know that she is appreciated, that she has potential and that her effort is noticed and that she did a good job. Children are so full of hope and light and love, they naturally want to please and to impress – I’d be very careful when it comes to encouraging that to be quashed.

I will not stop trying to empower my daughter through encouragement and praise. I will praise her for the wonderful things she does. I will praise her for trying new things and encourage her to try again when she will undoubtedly fall down. Like the little girl she is know pulling herself up on furniture, looking around to see a smiling face. When she catches my eye and I smile at her, she beams from ear to ear. She tries to let go, she teeters for a moment and then she falls. Hitting her bottom on the floor. She catches my eye again. I smile. Instead of crying, she smiles. And she tries again. In my world, that’s a win.

Embrace the positive, embrace the love and the joy and the praise and remove all of this negativity. Why the hell not?

For the record, I don’t think there is all that much wrong with being praised just for being – especially by ones parent. I often praise myself for creating such a little person – she’s bloody gorgeous. I’m her mama and if I can’t say to her you are the most spectacular little creature in the whole world, just because – then who will? I want her to be loved that way… I think we should all be loved that way by at least a few people in our lives.

Do you think we should stop praising our children?


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  • September 13, 2012 - 10:30 am

    Amy Effemey - Never never never stop praising our babies beautiful post as always sash xReplyCancel

  • September 13, 2012 - 10:57 am

    Michelle Heggie - I totally agree with you Sash! As an individual, I have always thrived on praise and as a teacher, I see children coming into their own and blooming with a little bit of praise. Seeing children who don’t have that positivity in their lives is sad – it’s an essential need for everyone – feeling special and loved and wanted. Another great post Sash xxReplyCancel

  • September 13, 2012 - 11:01 am

    Lilybett - I think (undue) rewards can start to become detrimental to development, but praise is very different from rewards. Words of love and encouragement, especially when kids try and fail but try again, can never be harmful.ReplyCancel

    • September 14, 2012 - 2:14 am

      Lillian - I completely agree! The distinction between material rewards and words of affirmation is really important.ReplyCancel

  • September 13, 2012 - 11:58 am

    Misty - I think food and praise are the most important fuels a child needs to grow. I’m a teacher for young kids, and it’s the youngest of them (4 years old) that thrive on the praise we teachers give them when they’re trying so hard to learn something new. Their sweet little faces light up with every “Good job” and “Wow!” and “Amazing work!”. It’s just the encouragement and validation they need to continue to try and exceed AND to reassure them that they’re on the right track. Our school completely utilizes the “praise” method. We even have the student take their completed packet of work to “show off” to the teachers in each classroom (it’s a small campus) where they get even more praise AND stickers on their work! The kids love it! It’s the highlight of their day. They get excited in their own accomplishments and actually WANT to do classwork and homework and then come to school again the next day. I praise my own 4 month old each and every day and I’ll keep doing it until the day I die.ReplyCancel

    • September 16, 2012 - 4:55 pm

      Sash - YES! YES! YES! xReplyCancel

  • September 13, 2012 - 2:29 pm

    Cath - I totally disagree with this supposed “expert”. Giving unnecessary praise is detrimental, yes, but encouragement and honesty and recognition for a job well done is the most important thing for growth. As an adult, I know that my biggest motivator is praise (even more so than money)and with my students, they have said themselves that they know my praise is genuine and I give it often, so they enjoy my classes and feel like they learn more from me. Stupid woman. Sash, keep on praisin’! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • September 13, 2012 - 4:27 pm

    Lila - You’re absolutely right! The only thing I try to incorporate is to not just praise for a wonderful job for example a painting but to praise the hard work “I can see how hard you worked on that painting”. Just so that they know it’s not an innate skill but their work that has produced something special. I think I’ve said before if we don’t give our children our praise and approval they are going to seek it elsewhere and that’s not something I want for my children.ReplyCancel

  • September 14, 2012 - 2:15 am

    Tamsin Michelle - Sash, you’re so so right. Love this post.

    “It is only with love that we shall move forward….”


  • September 14, 2012 - 11:18 am

    olga - You are spot on. Life is hard and childhood is short. I believe that childhood is given to us as a time to charge up and “save up” positiveness that should last a lifetime. I had self worth issues and I am going to tell my boy he is doing great any chance I have.ReplyCancel

  • September 14, 2012 - 10:39 pm

    Rebecca - I recently read something that said its better to praise the effort, like “i’m proud of how hard you worked on your homework” instead of “you’re so smart.” This seems to make more sense to me. And I agree with you that home/parents should to a soft place to land in this sometimes hard world.ReplyCancel

    • September 16, 2012 - 4:50 pm

      Sash - That makes sense to me too Rebecca… but I still think we can praise children just for being. Why not? 🙂 xReplyCancel

  • September 15, 2012 - 3:12 pm

    Elise - Beautiful post – with you 100%

  • October 6, 2012 - 9:05 pm

    Kate Holley - II totally agree with you. I’m not a parent, but I am a coach and one of the first things I was taught was acknowledgement and validation. Personally, I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without the open support I received from my family, and coach. There is a fantastic book by (I believe) and Aussie journalist called “Be Bold and discover the power of Praise” that discusses praise’s positive role in terms of building confidence, resilience. I’d rather become someone reliant on praise than someone completely lost and isolated because they felt they were never seen or acknowledged.ReplyCancel

  • January 15, 2013 - 7:33 pm

    Bettina - Hey I’ve been browsing your blog to get photos for my upcoming feature, and I found this one. I live by the saying, the things we say to our children become the things they say to themselves. I feel this is so so true. Especially as I can often hear my mother’s voice in my head and it’s not always positive. The more I read, the more I love.ReplyCancel

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