How to Praise

 How To Praise BlogTo Praise or not to Praise
Ultimately, we want to encourage our children to be self-motivated and to embrace challenges, and that means not making them dependent on praise but on their own ability to reach their goals.


When praising children, it is most important to focus on their effort and achievements. Findings by psychologist Carol Dweck and Dr Claudia Mueller suggests that children who are told how clever they are become less able to learn and may even lie about their achievements, compared to those children who are commended for their efforts alone. This holds true for boys and girls of all ages and from all socioeconomic classes. While praise is generally considered to be a positive thing, it could also have a negative effect on how a child perceives their own ability to achieve. Sometimes, rewarding children can make them feel the need to do things well in order to get your or someone else’s approval. As a consequence children may then avoid certain activities due to feeling the pressure of having ‘to do well’. Even though praise is intended to reinforce good behaviour children can sometimes feel like they deserve to be rewarded for everything they do, and then, if they don’t get rewarded, they feel like they have not done a good job. This can lead to low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Decades of research has shown that offering the type of praise to children that does not necessarily benefit them can actually have the opposite effect.

Psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz devoted a whole chapter to the problems of praising in his book ‘The Examined Life’. Grosz recalls collecting his daughter from nursery one day and overhears a member of staff saying to her: ‘You have drawn a beautiful tree. Well done!’. Grosz’ heart sank when he heard that comment as he explains: ‘How could I explain to the nursery assistant that I would prefer it if she didn’t praise my daughter?’. What Grosz found problematic with this seemingly harmless praise, is that instead of paying attention and engaging with the child, the nursery assistant just adorned praise. According to Grosz, this sends out the message: ‘I don’t want to engage with you as a person, I just want to praise you’. 


How to Praise the Right Way

The question is not whether we should praise children or not, but how we should praise them. Describe your child’s behaviour and effort, not his/her attributes. Statements such as, ‘You are a good girl/boy for picking up your toys’, focuses on the child’s sense of self as being good or bad rather than the process of the activity. Such comments may make children (especially older children) relate to how they feel about who they are in relation to their achievements. They might then think that they are bad because they have not solved a problem or completed an activity. Instead, praise your child with an evaluation-free statement like, ‘You picked up all your toys! You did it!’. This kind of praise is effective as it refers to the process of completing an activity.

Also be careful when giving praise after a failure or a mistake. Instead of telling your child to ‘try harder’, which does not give him/her any information about how to improve their efforts, provide praise and identify what the child did accomplish, for example, ‘You missed the goal, but it was very close!’. Praise can both motivate and de-motivate children, depending on how it is used. It is worth remembering that  different types of praise have different effect on different children. Distinctions have been made between the Personal Praise and Process Praise.


Ineffective praise


Personal Praise – Evaluates a child’s traits, like his/hers intelligence, it evaluates a child globally, telling him/her that he/she is not good, smart or outstanding. For example: ‘You’re so good at this!’, can reduce the child’s motivation as it only focuses on the child’s performance and encourages them to compare their performance with others. This kind of praise can give the child a short-lived sense of pride but has long-term negative consequences. It can make the child more afraid of messing up, more likely to cheat or give up, and less confident in their ability to be successful. Furthermore, when children are praised for something innate to them, like being ‘clever’ or ‘good’, they can conclude that their ability to succeed depend on fixed attributes, rather than on things which they can change about themselves, like perseverance, practice and effort.

Process Praise
– This type of praise is related to the child’s effort, and focuses on the process that the child is engaged in. It encourages children to be flexible, confront their weaknesses, and take on challenges. For example, say ‘You tried really hard’, instead of ‘You did really well’. Recognising children’s efforts rather than their achievements supports the development of children’s self-motivation.

Ultimately, we want to encourage our children to be self-motivated and to embrace challenges, and that means not making them dependent on praise but on their own ability to reach their goals.

Process Praise


We have lots of fun activities lined for Holiday Academy Summer Camp! 


Hope to see you soon!