A Parent’s Guide to Praise

Taking pride in our own accomplishments or those of our children is a healthy thing. Requiring ourselves or our children to continually accomplish things is not healthy. As parents, we need to express our pleasure with our children on an ongoing basis and to tell them we are proud of them at specific times.

  • Whenever you see your child stick out his chest, swollen with pride in his own accomplishment, you should join him in celebrating. It doesn’t matter whether the accomplishment seems significant to you or not — what counts is that he does. You can be proud that he has achieved his own goals. When you see his self-satisfaction, point out to him that he must be very proud of himself. Then tell him how proud you are of him.
  • There will be other times when your child has accomplished something but is not sure of himself. In those times, he will probably look to others for affirmation. Many children experience this when they are experimenting with art. They aren’t sure if it is “good” or not. They look to others to find out if they are okay. When your child begins to “color”, you probably won’t even know what it is he is trying to draw. When he brings you something that he has created, the best thing to do is to describe what you see, in a warm, appreciative voice. Include specifics, such as, “I especially like the colors you decided to use.” Listen eagerly if he begins to talk about it also. When he is done, you don’t need to critique the drawing. You can simply say, “You are really learning to express yourself with your art. I love it.”
  • Perhaps the most crucial situation in which you need to tell your child that you are proud of him is when he feels like a failure. The most important time to tell your child that you are proud of him is when you see him deflated over his lack of accomplishment. Describe positive character traits that you see. Again, be specific — “I know you really wanted to make it to the potty. And I’m proud of you for trying. You could have kept on playing, but as soon as you realized you needed to go, you ran to the potty. You make me so proud and happy. I love you!” Praise for positive character traits does more to build a child’s healthy self-esteem than praise for what you perceive as accomplishments.
  • To build self-esteem, children (and adults) need symbols of their accomplishments. Consider starting a tradition of celebrating your child’s “firsts.” Get a special object like a dinner plate with “I did it!” imprinted on it. Let that be your child’s special plate, for use on days when he does something for the first time. (The plate can also be used as a signal that the conversation at the dinner table needs to include a recounting of his accomplishment!)
  • Another excellent habit to get into is taking pictures that depict each accomplishment or achievement. Be sure and take a picture of your child riding his bike on the first day he manages to balance it all by himself. Keep copies of those “special achievement” pictures in a separate album. Whenever your child is feeling especially low, pull out the album, sit down together, and tell the story of each accomplishment, taking time to remind him how proud you are of all the things he has done.

Children need to try new things in order to grow. Growing is exciting, but trying new things includes risking failure. Learning to deal with success and failure are both parts of the process of growing up. If your child really knows how proud you are of him, whether he succeeds or fails, he will be much more likely to try new things and he will be well on his way to success in life.

Medical Review on: July 11, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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