Praising Kids: How Proper Praise Helps Children, Part 2

Praise your child constructivelyPraising Kids: “Good Job!” Doesn’t Cut It Anymore, Part 1 discusses the problems with over-the-top, glowing praise that focuses on stroking your child’s ego instead of constructive praise that teaches him what it means to do a good job. By focusing on a child’s efforts, not on the child himself, you help build a child’s self-esteem.

When Praise is Good

Before you throw out praise, let’s look at when it’s good:

PRAISE IS GOOD IF IT’S REALISTIC. When praise is consistently reality based, you give your child a fair yardstick with which to judge himself.

PRAISE IS GOOD IF IT’S EARNED. “The yard looks wonderful; you did an excellent job of collecting all the leaves!” Or: “Thank you for helping clean up the corner of the garage, it looks really organized and tidy thanks to you.” Earned praise reinforces your child’s effort and is encouraging.
PRAISE IS GOOD WHEN IT IS SPECIFIC: The more specific, the better. Specifics are more instructive than blanket praise; specifics teach your child that she is in control of what she can accomplish. It also helps keep a child from believing that he is infallible which in turn will prepare him future criticism, disappointments or losses.
PRAISE IS GOOD USED SPARINGLY. When you repeat a compliment too frequently, constant, arbitrary praise gets tuned out in the same way that yelling does.
So if the right thinking is to moderate praise, how do you make your child feel valued? How do you build his self-confidence?

6 Paths to Effective Praise

With sweeping praise “out,” here are praise approaches you can implement easily:

1. Encouragement. Encouragement is effective because it: a) allows you to select a characteristic or behavior you want to develop or foster in a positive and constructive way, and b) lets you call attention to the process; you support the process and make progress in building your child’s confidence. When she comes home with a poor grade on a test, you might say: “I like the effort you put into studying. Maybe a bit more next time, you think?”

You are praising the process, not the outcome. You are making her responsible.

2. Mirroring. If you are consistently responsive, your child is more likely to be confident. It can be a trick on a skateboard, a gymnastic feat, a piano piece mastered or almost mastered, a tennis match won or almost won. Let her know that you see her and recognize her accomplishments, large and small. Ask to see her collection of dolls, or rocks, or something similar. Observe and talk about how orderly it is; how well she’s protecting it. Or ask, “Where did you find all these things?”

Your undivided attention is worth more than platitudes shouted from another room. Showing an interest in what’s he’s interested packs more of a punch than simply saying, “What a fabulous collection.” It positions your child as an expert — what a confidence boost!

3. Listening. Most of us are overscheduled and distracted — often too distracted to give children what they need. They need you to acknowledge them and give them an honest assessment of what they’re doing. Take time to listen, and make sure your children know you’re listening. Listen to complaints and be empathetic. Don’t immediately take your child’s or the teacher’s side, for instance. Hear his point of view.

Allowing your child to explain tells him you value his point of view and observations. Being heard is a powerful motivator.

4. Rewarding. Focus on the direction your child is moving in. You might say: “You improved so much since your last report card. Aren’t you proud of yourself? You should be.” When your child is memorizing a poem or words for a spelling test, you might say: “You almost had it. You’ll get it.” And when your child succeeds (a grade improvement; a sports milestone, for example), you might say: “You got an A! You just proved to yourself that you should never give up.”

You are teaching your child to internalize her abilities and to eventually be able to evaluate herself accurately.

5. Reinforcement. You might say: “I like the song you sang for grandma and grandpa. Would you sing it for me now?” Or, you might ask your child to retell a joke or ask for instruction: “The dog seems to respond so well to your training. Show me how you get him to do that, please.”

Reliving bright moments reminds children of their “strong suits.” You are telling your child she has something worthwhile to offer and share with you. Showing a genuine interest allows a child to relive accomplishments—and this kind of response can cultivate diligenceand determination.

6. Questioning: You might say: “How did you choose the colors for that picture? What did you use to make those lines? It’s so unusual, interesting, real, pretty, cheerful…”

You’re asking about the process—making your child think about how he created his work or tackled a project and what he might do next time.

When you combine these techniques and use them regularly, you put your child on a direct, merited path toward self-confidence. Isn’t that what praise is for in the first place?

Related: Praising Kids: “Good Job!” Doesn’t Cut It Anymore, Part 1

This post was written by Susan Newman, Ph.D., she is a social psychologist and author. Her latest book is The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.


Don’t forget to enjoy your day.

Praising Kids: How Proper Praise Helps Children

The Problem with Hollow Praise

Praise your child constructivelyWhen you say, “good job,” “beautiful painting,” or “great performance” to a child, the comments become “white noise,” or empty words with little meaning — eventually platitudes not even heard. While it may seem like the mark of a loving parent to do so, praising your child expansively not only devalues the praise, but also prevents her from actually knowing what doing a “good job” means.

Praising in glowing terms — especially if it comes after less-than-perfect behavior or performance — can actually send a message that he or she doesn’t need to try harder to improve. Children who don’t receive specific feedback may come to feel they’re entitled to praise no matter what they do. They start to believe that they can coast along, assuming credit will come anyway. When it doesn’t, they will be unprepared to cope.

In her study, “Mothers’ Daily Person and Process Praise: Implications for Children’s Theory of Intelligence and Motivation,” University of Illinois’ Eva M. Pomerantz used interviews to assess mothers’ praise in response to children’s success in school over a period of 10 days. The results: “the more mothers used person praise (i.e., ‘You are smart.’ and ‘You are a good kid.’), the more children held an entity theory of intelligence and avoided challenging work in school six months later, which prior findings suggest undermine achievement.”

Person Praise vs. Process Praise

Furthermore, when you praise a child who is not doing as well as she could, she ultimately learns to believe she doesn’t have to do better to be accepted. She can coast or she feels entitled, expecting that everything should be coming her way whether she strives for her best or not.

Another problem with too much praise is that you are not training your son or daughter to deal with criticism and failure. You run the risk of having your child dissolve when he fails his first test or gets a C; when he isn’t invited to a party or included in a get-together with friends; when he doesn’t get into the college of his choice. He will think, “I’m great — that’s what my parents told me my whole life, so what’s wrong with me?”

You cheat your child when compliments are hollow. Recent findings reinforce these points; Scientists at the University of Chicago and Stanford University discovered that the kind of praise a parent gives a child influences attitudes toward difficult tasks later on. The researchers describe two types of praise: “Person” praise (which includes those unspecific phrases like “You’re awesome!”) and “Process” praise, which revolves around more valuable specific feedback on a child’s actions and accomplishments. The authors found that having more “process” praise will better mold a child to have more perseverance in approaching and solving tough challenges.

Constructive praise with specifics and emphasis on performance encourages a child to strive and work harder. What does constructive praise sound like? Read Part 2

This post was written by Susan Newman, Ph.D., she is a social psychologist and author. Her latest book is The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.


Don’t forget to enjoy your day.

When Your Mother Says She’s Fat

Mother and child


Yes, it stops with me too.

When Your Mother Says She’s Fat

Dear Mum,

I was seven when I discovered that you were fat, ugly and horrible. Up until that point I had believed that you were beautiful — in every sense of the word. I remember flicking through old photo albums and staring at pictures of you standing on the deck of a boat. Your white strapless bathing suit looked so glamorous, just like a movie star. Whenever I had the chance I’d pull out that wondrous white bathing suit hidden in your bottom drawer and imagine a time when I’d be big enough to wear it; when I’d be like you.

But all of that changed when, one night, we were dressed up for a party and you said to me, ‘‘Look at you, so thin, beautiful and lovely. And look at me, fat, ugly and horrible.’’

At first I didn’t understand what you meant.

‘‘You’re not fat,’’ I said earnestly and innocently, and you replied, ‘‘Yes I am, darling. I’ve always been fat; even as a child.’’

In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.

With every grimace at your reflection in the mirror, every new wonder diet that was going to change your life, and every guilty spoon of ‘‘Oh-I-really-shouldn’t,’’ I learned that women must be thin to be valid and worthy. Girls must go without because their greatest contribution to the world is their physical beauty.

Just like you, I have spent my whole life feeling fat. When did fat become a feeling anyway? And because I believed I was fat, I knew I was no good.

But now that I am older, and a mother myself, I know that blaming you for my body hatred is unhelpful and unfair. I now understand that you too are a product of a long and rich lineage of women who were taught to loathe themselves.

Look at the example Nanna set for you. Despite being what could only be described as famine-victim chic, she dieted every day of her life until the day she died at seventy-nine years of age. She used to put on make-up to walk to the letterbox for fear that somebody might see her unpainted face.

I remember her ‘‘compassionate’’ response when you announced that Dad had left you for another woman. Her first comment was, ‘‘I don’t understand why he’d leave you. You look after yourself, you wear lipstick. You’re overweight — but not that much.’’

Before Dad left, he provided no balm for your body-image torment either.

‘‘Jesus, Jan,’’ I overheard him say to you. ‘‘It’s not that hard. Energy in versus energy out. If you want to lose weight you just have to eat less.’’

That night at dinner I watched you implement Dad’s ‘‘Energy In, Energy Out: Jesus, Jan, Just Eat Less’’ weight-loss cure. You served up chow mein for dinner. (Remember how in 1980s Australian suburbia, a combination of mince, cabbage, and soy sauce was considered the height of exotic gourmet?) Everyone else’s food was on a dinner plate except yours. You served your chow mein on a tiny bread-and-butter plate.

As you sat in front of that pathetic scoop of mince, silent tears streamed down your face. I said nothing. Not even when your shoulders started heaving from your distress. We all ate our dinner in silence. Nobody comforted you. Nobody told you to stop being ridiculous and get a proper plate. Nobody told you that you were already loved and already good enough. Your achievements and your worth — as a teacher of children with special needs and a devoted mother of three of your own — paled into insignificance when compared with the centimeters you couldn’t lose from your waist.

It broke my heart to witness your despair and I’m sorry that I didn’t rush to your defense. I’d already learned that it was your fault that you were fat. I’d even heard Dad describe losing weight as a ‘‘simple’’ process — yet one that you still couldn’t come to grips with. The lesson: you didn’t deserve any food and you certainly didn’t deserve any sympathy.

But I was wrong, Mum. Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalising these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is crueler to us than we are to ourselves.

But this madness has to stop, Mum. It stops with you, it stops with me and it stops now. We deserve better — better than to have our days brought to ruin by bad body thoughts, wishing we were otherwise.

And it’s not just about you and me any more. It’s also about Violet. Your granddaughter is only three and I do not want body hatred to take root inside her and strangle her happiness, her confidence and her potential. I don’t want Violet to believe that her beauty is her most important asset; that it will define her worth in the world. When Violet looks to us to learn how to be a woman, we need to be the best role models we can. We need to show her with our words and our actions that women are good enough just the way they are. And for her to believe us, we need to believe it ourselves.

The older we get, the more loved ones we lose to accidents and illness. Their passing is always tragic and far too soon. I sometimes think about what these friends — and the people who love them — wouldn’t give for more time in a body that was healthy. A body that would allow them to live just a little longer. The size of that body’s thighs or the lines on its face wouldn’t matter. It would be alive and therefore it would be perfect.

Your body is perfect too. It allows you to disarm a room with your smile and infect everyone with your laugh. It gives you arms to wrap around Violet and squeeze her until she giggles. Every moment we spend worrying about our physical ‘‘flaws’’ is a moment wasted, a precious slice of life that we will never get back.

Let us honor and respect our bodies for what they do instead of despising them for how they appear. Focus on living healthy and active lives, let our weight fall where it may, and consign our body hatred in the past where it belongs. When I looked at that photo of you in the white bathing suit all those years ago, my innocent young eyes saw the truth. I saw unconditional love, beauty and wisdom. I saw my Mum.

Love, Kasey xx

Kasey Edwards is an author from Melbourne. Learn about her books on her website, or follow her on Twitter.


Tantrums In Public – How Do We Cope With A Mortifying Display?

My three kids and I had a lovely morning this morning, relaxed fun and lots of cuddles. This evening was pretty cool as well; a drama free dinner and contented and quiet train track building on the floor while I nursed babygirl on the sofa. Then a fairly painless bedtime.  Good times.

But the middle of the day horrendous.

We had a busy mid morning planned but with enough activities to keep 2 and 6 year old boys interested enough to prevent any playing up I thought.  A trip to the health visitor to have babygirl weighed and measured (toys for the boys to play with, check).  Walk into town dropping off christmas cards to 2 year olds nursery (exciting to be seeing nursery staff on a non-nursery day, check). Pop into Waitrose for a few groceries (drink and cake at the cafe, check) then a visit to the shop for 6 year to spend his £5 pocket money.

I remember while we were sitting in the cafe and I watched my two boys excitedly eating their cakes and blowing bubbles with the drinking straws, that being a stay at home mum was a really lovely thing.

Then came the visit to the toy shop.

What I expected was that my son would pick a couple of items from the under £5 shelf.  He would take a little while making up his mind but we should be out of there in ten minutes or so.

What transpired was horrible.

He did not want any toys from the under £5 shelves of course.  The planned 10 minutes turned quickly in to twenty with all kids and myself getting more and more frustrated.

In exasperation I told him that we would take a catalogue home and he could choose something from there.  Then we could come back to the store tomorrow to get it.

A full on melt down tantrum followed.  Screaming, crying, begging, shouting; all but throwing himself on the floor.   This lasted for 3/4 of an hour.  All the way from the toy shop, down the high street, passed the park and down our long street.

I was mortified.

There are two positives.  I did not raise my voice to him and I did not smack him.  Not yelling and not smacking – not getting angry – is my daily struggle/fight/battle.  It must be like doing AA.  I made a promise to myself some time ago, for the happiness of my children and the quality of life of our home, that I would not lose my  temper with them.  But kids will test you to the limit.  And I live in constant fear that I will fall off the wagon.

But I’m still emotionally raw from the experience because I know I did not handle it in the way I should have.  Instead of being firm and consistent I hissed in his face, told him to shut up (really upset about that) and pulled out threat after threat to try and get him to behave.

Why?  I know I’m not feeling well, that I’m tired and that I was seriously embarrassed but these are not good enough excuses.  Who is the adult here?  It’s my job to show my child how he should behave.  Teach by example.

He did not have a good example today.

So what should I have done?  I have thought about it all day.  I don’t want to fall of my self imposed wagon again.

Here’s what I think I could have done.

  1. I should not have taken him when time was short and I had all three kids.  Dad would have quite happily taken him tomorrow.
  2. Forward planning.  I could have taken the catalogue home a few days ago, let him choose his toy, and dropped into the store to pick it up.
  3. I could have set his expectations more effectively.  Laying down the ground rules well ahead of time and priming him continually so he was well aware of what was expected of him in the store.
  4. I should have handled it as a mature adult.  Let him scream and cry.  Later at home when he was calm we could have talked about his display.  If I had handled it as I wanted, I could have used my behaviour as an example.

Either way I should have kept my cool.  There is no need to loose my temper.  I don’t want to loose my temper.  And for me to feel good about my parenting and myself I need to keep my temper.

I’m sure there are those that would say I am overreacting and a good clip around the ear and a forced march home would have sorted him out – but that’s not the way I want to parent.

So, tomorrow is another day.  And I will do it better.

How would you have handled the situation?


Don’t forget to enjoy your day.







Sunday Humour

A little humour to brighten your Sunday…


Unknown6 year old:  “Mum do we own a hoover?”

Me:  “Yes darling, of course we do.”

6 year old:  “Then why do the carpets look like crap?”

Me:  !?!!!

Is it illegal to have your 6 year old hoover the house?  Because that is what he might be doing from now on!!!!!!

Where did he learn the word crap?



Remember to enjoy your day.

©Simone Woods 2013




Parenting Hero – Words Of Wisdom/Quotes from Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori said…

maria montessori quote

maria montessori


Wise words. Sometimes hard to forget when your little one wants to put their own shoes on and you are running late! But still, I try to remember this whenever my children say “No Mummy, me do it!”


Don’t forget to enjoy your day.

Yelling at our Children – Succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force

Luke: Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Yoda: You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive.


When our second baby was born, my eldest had not longed turned four.  Used to being, for those four long years, the apple of our eye, numero uno and the sole recipient of all our love and affection, he did not at all take kindly to being replaced, as he saw it, by this crying intruder.

We had primed him, we believed, before baby arrived.  Explaining to him how Mummy was having a little brother or sister and how Mummy would be very busy with the baby for a while, but it doesn’t mean that we love you any less.  It’s just that tiny babies take a lot of looking after.

It became apparent very quickly that whatever priming we had done had gone in one ear and out the other.  What four year old can process how things may change at some point in the future?  This kind of reasoning/thinking doesn’t register on their radar at all.  They are four after all and we should not expect more from them than they are able to give.

Fortunately for me, my mother and father stayed with us for the first few weeks after the birth and the responsibility of childcare of eldest fell on their capable shoulders.  They bore the brunt of the anger, tears and naughty behaviour.  Where was Mummy? Why can’t she play with me?  Why are you taking me to nursery?  I don’t like the way you cook dinner.  Why can’t I see Mamma!  Why!

It would break my heart to hear him yelling and crying.  I understood he was desperately unhappy at the huge change in our household and just wanted me back for himself.  Real feelings of wretchedness and guilt would wash over me; unable as I was to always go to him as I nursed our new baby.  In the first few weeks, I can remember cuddling him between feeds in the middle of the night as he slept and missing him so much.  I can only imagine how he missed me.  This was so different from the blissful, bonding guilt free feelings experienced with him as a baby.

Sal Severe, in his book ‘How To Behave So Your Pre-Schooler Will Too’ (more on this book later) uses the following analogy to illustrate how your child feels when their new sibling comes along.  I think it sums up the situation beautifully.

“Imagine that your husband or wife sits you down one day and happily explains that as she/he loves you so much, and as you are so wonderful, they have decided to have another wife/husband.  A while passes and you forget all about this and then suddenly one day a younger, cuter husband/wife arrives and stays!  Everybody ‘ahhs’ and ‘coos’ over them, almost always ignoring you.  Can you imagine how hurt, rejected, confused and angry you would feel?  This is how your child feels when you bring the new baby home.”  The lesson from this – don’t underestimate how this change is going to effect your other children.

When my parents all too soon left, I was then the usual recipient of his bad behaviour and I admit that I did not always handle this in the way I should have.  I very quickly found that I spent most of my time yelling at him.  How quickly things had changed and how quickly we were all becoming miserable.

I new this could not continue, I did not want to spend my life yelling and my children certainly didn’t want to be yelled at.  There had to be a better way to deal with all of this.  So between feeds and late at night I did some research on the internet.  After looking at several books, I purchased ‘How to behave so your preschooler will, too!’ by Sal Severe, Ph.D.  I knew that it was the way I was handling the situation that had to change, and this book appeared to address this concern.  I am so glad I purchased this book.  It addressed this concern and so much more.

The books stresses, that as parents, we must learn to control our anger if we want our children to be able to handle theirs.  With so much of parenting we all to often fall into the trap of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.  Children learn by example, and by allowing yourself to become angry and yelling, you are telling your children that it is ok to become angry and yell themselves.

I have found controlling my anger to be especially difficult when I am under the strain of lack of sleep and it is easy to forget that I must lead by example.  I am constantly reminded of the scene in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ where Luke asks Yoda if the dark side of the force is stronger.  No Yoda replies, it is quicker, easier and more seductive.

And this is why we yell at our children, because it is often quicker to get results and it is easier than exerting our will, taking a deep breath and using more desirable techniques of behavioural control.  Yes, and yelling is very seductive because it makes us feel better by releasing all that tension and frustration that has built up inside us.

But like the dark side of the force, yelling is wrong.  It’s the wrong way to behave toward our kids.  It’s only by remaining calm, at peace, being passive that we can choose the right path.  Listen to Yoda.

May the force be with you.

© 2012 Simone L Woods