The Inverse Power of Praise-How Not To Talk to Your Kids

This is an article from 2007 that changed my perspective about parenting. I think about the concepts probably every single day.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids – the inverse power of praise

Read it and let me know what you think. It caused me – and many other parents I’ve sent it to – to reevaluate some of the basic assumptions of being a good parent or a good coach.

OKAY It’s long so if you are too busy the essence is that even a simple comment like “I’m proud of you” can suggest to the kid he/she is performing to impress others. If you say, “you’re smart, you’re a great musician, you’re a great athlete,” its possible for the kid to attach self-esteem to these characterizations and perhaps withdraw from higher challenges to protect the characterization, or become self-image become too wrapped up in the label (e.g., I thought of myself as a triathlete, until one day I was no longer a triathlete. OOPS!)

If you tell a child, “you’re smart”, “‘you’re beautiful” its possible for the child to become socialized to overvalue their innate intelligence or physical beauty and trade on that in life instead of work hard to constantly grow and improve. The article also says that a kid already learns early on they are smart, athletic, physically attractive and it’s not necessary to drum these points to boost self-esteem.

Since 2007 reading, with my kids I always try to praise the effort and minimize importance of results or external measurements and judgements. 

I say, “great effort, you have worked really hard, you should be proud of yourself”. With my kids I might say things like, ‘wow your hair looks great’, ‘that was a really thoughtful question,’ ‘that drawing is really interesting and realistic,’ or ‘you play the game the right way,’ you did a good job passing the ball’, ‘you gave 100% the whole game’, or also, ‘you are a beautiful person’, ‘you’re a great kid’

Contrast this with sentiments like ‘you’re so pretty’, ‘you’re so smart’, ‘you’re the best athlete in the whole school,’, or even worse, ‘you so deserved to get homecoming queen instead of her’, ‘you should be in the starting lineup instead of him’. Statements like these devalue effort and set up a flawed mentality of referencing one’s worth externally instead of emphasizing effort and internal satisfaction. 



Brad Kearns
Brad Kearns
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