Why I believe in positive praise

I’ve just read the Netmums discussion, entitled “Are you raising a praise junky?” and I would like to say that YES I am and I am proud to be doing so!
The discussion explains that
“Latest research suggest that over praising your child can make them emotionally resilient and damage their self-estemm, writes Professor Tanya Byron in The Times. She says parents today are raising a generation of ‘praise junkies’ as they applaud and celebrate their every achievement.”
While I agree that OVER praising children can have a negatove effect- as there are chances they would then grow up to be unable to accept failure. Or coming second. Or not winning a race at sport’s day. Or being a sore loser- surely there is nothing wrong with SOME praise of ALL achievements? Ignoring a child’s achievment is like telling them they need not have bothered at all. Who are we to pick and choose which achievment is worth celebrating or not? Sometimes just a ‘well done’ can go so far.

The discussion is a response to a Times article, which you can read here.

Apparently, there are “five rules of praise. We should be specific about what we are praising, be sincere, be strategic, be sparing and focus on efforts as well as achievements.”

mage source: pacon.com


In my opinion, all four of these make perect sense. Perhaps it is the teacher in me but I am always going to have high expectations of my children so that they are inspired to reach for the top. Therefore, when they reach ‘their top’ (whether it is tying a shoe lace or running a marathon) I will never be sparing with my congratulations! Even if ony for the briefest of occasions, I want my children to know that they achieved something!!!

As a teacher, positive praise works so well. Never underestimate the power of a sticker. Sometimes you need no words at all- just reach over and place a sticker on a child’s jumper and they just know they have achieved something. There are some children in my class who go home each night practically COVERED in stickers and pockets bulging with notes home from the ‘praise pad’- but each and every achievment was deserved!

There has to be a limit; I appreciate that. There needs to be a point where an achievment needs to be extended. I won’t applaude like a lunatic each and every time my child manages to tie her shoe laces. I will let her know that the achievment of doing so now has to move on to an attempt to acheive something more. That way, she is always moving on. And isn’t that what positive praise is all about anyway? A child who is told their efforts are fruitless (either by words or by silence) is a child who will give up even trying.

So, yes I probably am raising a praise junky. But I’m also raising polite, kind and considerate children too. They may like to win and to achieve something, but they also accept that they can’t do everything straight away and that sometimes there has to be another winner. Is that so wrong?

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11 responses to “Why I believe in positive praise

  • Catherine Ross

    I’m with you. A little praise goes a long way and I’m always keen to reinforce good behaviour. For that reason, we always give a little round of applause as each child finishes a meal. It might seem over the top to some, but it let’s my children know that they have done well and that is what we expect.

  • Julia Skinner

    I agree that praise is so important for all. I think it is a matter of a tap dripping with constant ‘well done’, ‘good try’ as well as rewards like stickers & other extrinsic things. If the children are in that environment where they know they are being noticed because someone has said ‘well done’ they often don’t need the sticker. My concern is for those children who do feel that they deserve a reward every time they do something because the ‘prizes’ have to get bigger & that is not the idea. Building intrinsic satisfaction can be tricky but very rewarding & you will see children replicating it with their peers, encouraging them on.

  • Renee

    I wonder if this Tanya actually has kids? As if she did she would see that positive praise not only builds self esteem but leaves a child feeling secure. I am not suggesting over praise but something that says that’s great what u have done! Keep it up!

  • Sam

    This interesting article by Alfie Kohn made me rethink how I encourage my children and it has been really helpful: http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm. Though I am not a fan of stickers, I respect your experience as a teacher and believe, as both you and Mr. Kohn assert, that balance is always good. Dan Pink, author of the best-selling “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us” provides some recent insights from neuroscience on this topic too. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  • Emma

    I completely agree, praising children for the things they achieve is extremely important; it teaches them that trying hard is worth it, that there is reward in working at something and that you as a parent appreciate them. Emotionally healthy adults come from supportive families, who praise.

    • Andy Warner

      The unfortunate disconnect is that when we get older, we think we do not need praise–that is, praise others, but we do. Praise not only encourages adults to do better, but it encourages yourself to seek the positive contribution of others. Thus, praise is not only good for the receiver, but great for the giver.

      Whether we have children or not, there is a terrible disconnect in our society that says, “too much praise for kids is a bad thing.”

      I agree with Emma (kind of) when she stated that “emotionally healthy adults come from supportive families.” The data suggests this, but do not forget the kids that make it despite growing up in abusive homes–example, Oprah.

      Oprah made it because of her relentless internal strength, but also because she was encouraged by others–parents, grand-parents and adult peers as her career exploded. The praise Oprah received became fuel to help others.

      Is praise a bad thing? Ask the multitude of kids helped by Oprah’s generosity.

  • Another MADS Blog Awards post… « ghostwritermummy

    […] will win (have you seen the other bloggers on those lists?!) BUT readers of yesterday’s post, Why I Believe in Positive Praise will know that I am a sucker for a good competition which involves all who take part trying their […]

  • Help children grow | Teachable moments | Who is Andy Warner?

    […] Why I believe in positive praise (ghostwritermummy.wordpress.com) […]

  • Nazima

    I so agree with you and the other commenters. We can see from adult friends how deeply we are affected by our early life experiences, and the approval of our parents has such a profound effect on self confidence. I read something else this weekend that praising effort is important and encourages children to try harder (and better than just praising intelligence). This is quite an interesting read http://www.highlightsparents.com/parenting_perspectives/interview_with_dr_carol_dweckdeveloping_a_growth_mindset.html

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