You are smart! Great job! You are the best! How often do we use these phrases to give praise to our children?

Praising sounds like an easy strategy when it comes to parenting, but it’s more complicated than it seems. Research has shown that it’s not the quantity but how we deliver praise that can make all the difference. 

In their book, “How to talk so little kids will listen,” Joanna Faber and Julie King give some good insights and tried-and-tested strategies to offer praise and encouragement to your children. 

The authors share that it’s essential to think about what we are trying to accomplish when we are offering praise. Unfortunately, when we use words that evaluate, what we may achieve has the opposite effect. It may make children focus on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. “I am not that great; you should have seen me yesterday.” 

Praise at times can also make the children doubt the sincerity of the person offering the compliment, or make them feel threatened: “What if I can’t do this again?” Automatic praise can even feel dismissive: “Did the person even look at the work I did?”

In addition, children who are constantly told that they are intelligent and talented may find it very hard when they face a real challenge. Their label is confirmed when things are easy. But the moment they struggle, their faith in themselves may be shaken. “Maybe I am not as smart as they think after all. Better to not get out of my comfort zone and reveal weaknesses.” 

Have you praised your child in a moment when they are playing on their own and being creative? Joanna Faber and Julie King write that when a child is engaged in an activity, there is no need to disturb their concentration by looming over them and offering unsolicited comments. Often the children, just like adults, need their own space. Imagine watching your favorite movie and having someone say, “I notice how attentive you are.This is a good show. Tell me more.” “Oh look at the way you are sitting straight, “Wow, I notice your concentration level”. How many of these comments can you handle before having the urge to say “Leave me alone”? 

These are a few tools that we can use to show our appreciation and encouragement without evaluation. 

Tool 1 Describe what you see 

Instead of “Good job” 

Try – “I see that you picked up all of your toys. I see a bare floor now.” 

Instead of “That’s a beautiful picture”

Try “I see that you tried using many different colors in your drawing.” 

Tool 2 Describe the Effect on Others

Instead of “You are such a kind girl.”

Try: You helped your brother to tie his shoes. I see a big smile on his face. 

Tool 3 Describe Effort 

Instead of ‘What a smart boy you are” 

You can say, “You have been working on that puzzle until you figured it out.” 

Tool 4 Describe Progress 

When a child makes a mistake, it’s tempting to point it out, so that we can “help” them. Criticism, however, in the middle of a struggle can be discouraging. At the same time, insincere praise (Don’t worry, you are doing fine) can be infuriating.

This is when descriptive praise can come in handy. We can point out progress in a way that feels supportive and genuine. 

“The first two measures make me want to dance. The second line has a tricky rhythm. Let’s work on that next.” 

Encouraging and helpfully praising your child can bolster their self-esteem and enable them to deal with challenges in life.