We all love our children more than anything (at least I hope that’s the case) and want the best for them. So naturally as parents we love to praise our children because obviously our offspring are perfect little creatures.
However, when it comes to an impressionable child, too much praise can actually be detrimental to their well being and future development.It seems parenting styles have changed over the years.
Centuries ago, parents were often authoritarian in how they parented their children and little praise was offered. Today other forms of parenting have taken over such as attachment parenting or RIE parenting.
Parents want to be involved in their children’s lives (often more so than is necessary, such is the case with over parenting aka helicopter parents) and it appears that many want to avoid conflict as much as possible. This is when over praising a child often occurs.
Don’t get me wrong, praise has its place and should be given accordingly, but, praising a child for every little thing can cause more harm than good.
Praise & Encouragement Are Not The Same Thing
Praise is typically vague (e.g. “great job”, “good boy/girl”) whereas encouragement is more specific and given when deserved (e.g. “You practiced every day and your hard work has paid off”).
The following are often the result of children receiving too much (generic) praise:
Develop Narcissistic Tendencies
Over the years, especially in Western countries, narcissism rates have been increasing. There are differing theories on what causes people to be narcissistic and here are 3 in particular that I would like to point out.
The first is that narcissism is a genetic trait.
The second states that narcissism occurs when parents overvalue their children (social learning theory).
The third theory suggests that the opposite is true. In fact, according to this theory – psychoanalytic theory- narcissism is the result of parents being distant with their children. Thus the child needs to look to outside sources for approval.
A recent study conducted by Eddie Brummelman looked at children ages 7-11 in the Netherlands. Parents and children were required to fill out questionnaires every six months for an 18 month period. The participants were required to answer questions and rate statements such as “kids like me deserve something extra”.
The results of this study found that the children with the most narcissistic tendencies had parents who regularly offered excessive amounts of praise.
However, I am sure nobody intentionally sets out to raise a narcissistic child.
Praising A Child DOES NOT Necessarily Equal Higher Self Esteem
An interesting observation was found as a result of the study conducted by Brummelman and that is that the children with narcissistic characteristics did not necessarily exhibit higher levels of self esteem.
I believe that parents praise their children in hopes of building their child’s self confidence and self esteem. A child’s self confidence is probably boosted to some extent as a result of being praised, but it certainly is not the case in overpraising a child.
You should praise your child, but only praise when praise is warranted. In these situations it is usually encouragement that a child needs. Constantly saying things like “good job”, “way to go” and “you’re the best/smartest/prettiest” will not help your child learn. Rather, make sure the praise you are giving points out what you are proud of.
So if your child learned to tie his shoe say “you tied your shoe all by yourself! You practiced a lot and now you can do it without my help!” This teaches the child that she is responsible for her actions.
Children Might Not Try As Hard As They Could
If a child is constantly being praised, where is the incentive to try harder? I learned this in many of my speech therapy sessions.
Here is an example from early on in my career. Little Bobby was working on his “R” sound. Every time he practiced saying the sound correctly I would say “way to go Bobby, that’s great!”
However, it actually wasn’t great because he was still saying “wabbit” for “rabbit”. But I didn’t want him to get discouraged, so I kept the praise coming. A few months went by and Bobby’s “R” wasn’t getting much better.
I decided to hold off on the praise and tell him when he had made a mistake. In order to keep it positive I would say things like “thanks for trying, but I still heard a ‘w’, try keeping your lips straight like a smile next time” and then I would have him repeat the word.
Instead of giving vague praises, I became more specific and told him what changes he needed to make in order to get the sound right.
Telling Bobby how great he was doing did not help him produce a correct “R” sound. Giving him the tools to correctly make the sound and encouraging him to keep trying is what made him successful.
If your child is struggling with something offer suggestions as to how he can learn rather than praising him for trying and giving him a false sense of accomplishment.
Lead To Feelings Of Failure And Anger Later On
Unfortunately our world isn’t always a happy place full of love and praise. A child who is used to receiving praise for something as routine as getting out of bed in the morning will be in for a rude awakening as an adult.
The child who relied on praise to feel good about herself will most likely become an entitled adult. She will expect praise from those around her, whether it is warranted or not. Unfortunately as an adult, her boss won’t praise her simply for showing up to work.
Research has shown that narcissists may also struggle with aggression and violence as adults because they believe their worth to be higher than that of others. There are many narcissists that actually have low self-esteem, and this group of people are at further risk for issues with anxiety and depression.
Encourages A False Sense Of Entitlement
When a child thinks she is the best at everything she does, she will start to feel entitled. This child will not believe that she is accountable for her actions. Now, this can easily be overlooked in a child; however, this child will become an adult and now this adult will feel entitled.
I am not saying to be cold-hearted towards your children, in fact, the opposite is true. Be warm and loving, but don’t give your children a false sense of reality.
You can be nurturing while still teaching your child that they aren’t the best at everything they do and that each person has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Prepare Your Children To Succeed As Adults
Teach your children to be proud of themselves and always try their best. This is what leads to positive self esteem and being happy with oneself! Narcissists believe that their worth is higher than that of others and often there is nothing backing up these types of thoughts.
Let your children know that you struggle as well and that you are not perfect.
Praise when praise is due, be warm and attentive, and let your child know that hard work pays off! Interact with your child through play and games. Let them make mistakes. By doing these things you are setting them up to be successful adults!
Remember That Praise & Encouragement Are Different
As was mentioned at the beginning of the article, children do require encouragement, we all do! Children need the adults in their lives to encourage them to keep trying. Successful people would not be successful had they given up!
Do not confuse praise with encouragement. Praise is offered for a job well done, whereas encouragement helps an individual keep trying.
Also, try not to get into a habit of becoming overly critical of your child in order to avoid over valuing them. Both extreme criticism and over valuing a child can be harmful in the long run.
As I say in many of my articles, the key to successful parenting is moderation. Try not to take any parenting tips to the extreme!
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.