Updated: Jan 29
It’s incredibly common to praise your children when they do something you perceive as worthy of admiration and attention.
You’re so smart! You’re such a good boy!
Here’s the problem: this type of praise becomes their identity.
Giving children this type of praise can create a dependence on external validation, which can limit their ability to develop self-motivation and self-evaluation skills. It also sets them up for feeling like failures when you don’t give them that external validation.
It's better to ask children how they feel about their accomplishments.
How did you feel when you finished this task?
What did you learn from this experience?
What are you most proud of in your work?
What would you do differently next time?
Questions like these allow children to reflect on their own feelings and take ownership. It also helps them develop the ability to self-evaluate and self-motivate. In other words, they will begin to develop a system of internal validation.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should never praise your child, only that we need to be smart about how we praise them.
Rather than praising children on a trait they may have (being smart or good), you should use descriptive praise that focuses on the child's effort, strategies, or progress. When we praise the identity of the child rather than the process we are essentially conveying to them that if they are smart when they do xyz behavior, then they must be stupid when they don't. The problem there is the child becomes more motivated by a parent's pleasure than the process that led to it. Interests may dwindle away that aren't highly praised by the parent if they are seeking external validation for their identity. This leads them into adulthood with no grasp on what actually makes them happy and feeds their soul. You know, always performing in an attempt to earn love. Struggling to show up authentically and connect with anyone.
Instead of saying "good job" or "you're so smart", a more effective form of praise would be "I can see you put a lot of effort into that project, it shows in the detail of your work" or "I can see you found a new strategy to solve that problem".
All that said, also keep your child’s age and development in mind. There’s no point in using constructive praise with our little Lux because his brain has no idea what is going on. For now, we will be working on restructuring our language to cultivate self reflection, rather than anxiety and panic around pleasing subjective checkmarks on what his parents prefer.