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Overly positive parental praise leads to lower self-esteem in children

You did incredibly well! Your drawing is amazing! Parents often give their children overly positive, inflated praise, as they may think this will raise their children’s self-esteem. However, this study found that inflated praise actually leads to lower self-esteem in children.

 Praising your child

There are different forms of praise. Some are more effective than others. For example, it’s better to praise your child for:

  • His/her success at difficult tasks rather than easy tasks: if you praise children for easy tasks, they may think they lack ability (e.g. “You must think I’m really dumb if you praise me for something this easy”)
  • Their effort (e.g. working hard) rather than their ability (e.g. being smart): if you praise children for their ability, they may think it’s unchangeable and may avoid difficult tasks to prevent failing.

 Overly positive praise

Inflated praise involves very positive evaluations and is often associated with extreme words like “incredibly” and “fantastic”. Parents may believe inflated praise will make their children feel better about themselves. However, children may feel like they should continue to meet these high standards, for example that they should perform “incredibly well” all the time. Children may even feel worse about themselves if they cannot meet these high standards due to struggles and setbacks.

 Inflated praise leads to less self-esteem

This study followed parents and children between 7 and 11 years old. The results of the study showed that:

  • Inflated praise led to lower self-esteem in children over time
  • Parents gave more inflated praise to children with lower self-esteem
  • Children with lower self-esteem had lower self-esteem later in life partly through inflated praise

So, inflated praise can have unintended outcomes for children’s self-esteem.

 Tips

  • If you praise your child, try to not be overly positive
  • Be aware that inflated praise may have unintended effects on your child’s self-esteem
  • Praise your child for his/her success at difficult tasks and their effort, rather than for easy tasks and their ability

 More information

Brummelman, E., Nelemans, S. A., Thomaes, S., & Orobio de Castro, B. (2017). When Parents’ Praise Inflates, Children’s Self‐Esteem Deflates. Child Development.

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