When Praising Goes Too Far

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As parents, it’s only natural to feel proud of your children. There is no greater feeling in the world than the pride you feel when your child does something noteworthy. And, if you’re like me, you like to shower your children in praise.  You know how important your words of encouragement and approval mean to them – you can see it in their eyes.

I think a lot of this is generational, and a lot of this is cultural, but I believe there are times when praising becomes excessive and starts to do more harm than good. Have you ever taken a step back and tried to think about what actions actually deserve praise?

There was a very interesting study done last year that focused on the cause of narcissism in children. Narcissism by definition is an excessive interest in oneself. As adults, we’ve all seen narcissists, but the researchers wanted to take a closer look at how it develops in children. They found that narcissism in children came from an “overvaluation” by parents. You can read more about the study on Forbes, but what I found so interesting is the distinction between fostering self-esteem in our children rather than self-interest or an inflated sense of ego. We all want to raise children with high self-esteem, but when does praising cross the dangerous line to where we’re starting to teach our kids narcissistic thinking?

Praise

I grew up in Israel, where the culture is extremely different than it is here. The idea of praise is where my husband, who grew up in the US, and I sometimes disagree. He is more inclined to shower our children with equal praise, not wanting one of them to feel left out or bad when her sister is receiving accolades. (This issue of sibling jealousy/rivalry is a larger topic that I will focus on in a future blog.) However, I am more inclined to express praise when I feel it is truly warranted. A child should not grow up thinking he or she deserves recognition for doing the basic things all children are expected to do, i.e., going to school, brushing teeth, adhering to bedtime.

If we reward our children for doing things we expect of them, we risk them growing into adults who expect to be rewarded all the time. As an adult, you don’t get complimented for showing up to your job every day and, often, you don’t even get acknowledged for doing your job well. A paycheck and job security are your rewards. For your child, brushing teeth at night is expected. The reward? No cavities.

I think we should all take some time to think before throwing excessive praise and accolades at our kids. Did they do something truly worth of congratulations? Then, yes, by all means make sure they know how proud you are of them. Did they do something you expect them to do every day? Are you giving your child praise because you just acknowledged an accomplishment of your other child? Another way I like to think about is this: If we tell our children how proud we are of them for something like brushing their teeth, then how will they make the distinction when you say you are so proud of him or her for standing up for a classmate who is getting bullied?

There are so many things to think about when it comes to raising strong children with strong self-esteem, and I by no means am advocating downplaying your children’s accomplishments. If you have a child who is struggling with behavior issues and he or she gets through the day without a tantrum, then that is certainly a time where you reinforcing the good behavior is necessary. Just remember, though, sometimes, it’s not just our criticism that can affect our children negatively.

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Limor Weinstein is a Mental Health Counselor and certified eating disorders specialist.  After working with individuals and groups for the past 10 years, she realized she wanted to focus on prevention of mental health issues within the family. By intervening with children and families early on and helping them find the right services, she hopes to create a stronger foundation that will lead to a happier and healthier future. She offers services in the arenas of family wellness (body image concerns, eating disorders, parent coaching, life coaching and career counseling) as well as nanny management (family needs assessments, nanny selection and vetting, training, monitoring, reporting and nanny counseling).

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