3 minutes reading time (602 words)

Over-Praising Your Kids Can Hold Them Back

In her new book, Getting Real, Gretchen Carlson tells a story about her son. His hockey team had just won a tournament, yet he didn’t seem as happy as his mom expected him to be. He told her that everyone on the teams got the same medal—even the fourth place team received the same medals as his team did. This has been a common practice for many years in children’s sports, because parents do not want their children to be disappointed or to experience failure. Carlson goes on to say, “Losing is hard, but it’s as important for kids to experience having to cope with failure as it is for them to win. When we praise mediocrity and give everyone a trophy, children don’t learn how to deal with setbacks.” When children are protected from ever experiencing failure or disappointment, they might feel they don’t need to work as hard. It doesn’t matter as much, because the end result will be the same.

Here are some ideas for ways to encourage your children to do their best in all situations.

  • Praise only when it’s merited. Adolescents in particular can see through false praise. When your son hurries through a homework assignment that barely meets the minimum requirement, don’t tell him you are proud of him. Instead say in a non-judgmental tone of voice, “Is this the best you can do?” Follow that with specific suggestions on how it can be improved, and ask him to work on it again. You might say, “The assignment says to write a paragraph, and this is a paragraph. It would be a better one if you included some examples and details to support your ideas.”
  • Encourage resilience. When your daughter fails, encourage her to give it another try. Let her know that failure is a normal part of growing up. If she doesn’t get a part in the school’s musical, she needs to figure out why. She can talk to the director to find out the reason. If she learns that she must know a few basic dance steps to be in the school’s musical, then she can work on that. Perhaps she needs some voice lessons. Be careful that she accepts the result graciously and knows that it does not mean anything about who she is as a person. It just means she didn’t get selected for this one part. It is important that she try again if being in the musical is important to her.
  • Help set reasonable goals. It's good for teens to have goals. They often need help, however, in coming up with goals they can actually reach. A child with attention issues should not set a goal that he will never talk to his friends in class, because it is unlikely that he will be able to do that. He can say that he will move himself away from his friends in class and work to reduce the number of times his teacher has to call on him to be quiet. He may need help figuring out how to measure his success. Perhaps he can ask his teacher to give him feedback once a week. In weeks when he does not meet his goal, discuss it together and encourage him to keep trying.

Parents can help their children learn to work hard. Learning to praise only when it’s well-deserved is an important step. Teaching them to be resilient—to keep trying even after a failure—will help them understand the need for hard work. Finally, parents can help their children set reasonable goals and encourage them to work hard to reach their goals.

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