Excessive praise does more harm than good?
It’s natural for parents to heap extra praise on children who they feel have low self-esteem, but recent research indicates that this may actually do more harm than good.
The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that while children with high self-esteem thrived with so-called inflated praise, children with low self-esteem were less likely to participate in new challenges when adults praise them in an excessive manner.
Inflated praise, for the purposes of this research, meant small changes in the praise given to children that involved using one additional word. So, for example, “You’re good at this,” became “you’re incredibly good at this.”
Three related studies were conducted. In one study, 240 children drew a famous van Gogh painting and then each received inflated, non-inflated or no praise in note form from someone identified as a “professional painter.”
Once they received the note, they were told they would be drawing another picture, which was up to them to choose. They could pick from pictures that were easy to do, but they wouldn’t learn much or more difficult pictures where many mistakes might be made, but they’d learn a lot.
Results revealed that children with low self-esteem who had received inflated praise were more likely to choose the easier pictures, while those with high self-esteem who received inflated praise were more likely to choose more difficult pictures.
The study authors concluded that inflate praise may exert too much pressure on children with self-esteem.
Rev. Stacey Jutila, vice president of mission and spiritual care for Advocate Children’s Hospital, agrees. “Although intentions by adults may be genuine, to support children with added praise, our best intentions may backfire, as this research demonstrates,” she says.
“Along with being mindful of providing appropriate encouragement, it is also important to explore ways that children can talk about when things don’t go as well as we, or someone else, had hoped,” says Jutila. “When a child doesn’t make the starting lineup or get the top score on a spelling test, it is important that the child has people who will honestly and genuinely talk about disappointments and the realities that we don’t always get the top score or accolades.”
She adds that “one way families can create space to talk about the times that we don’t achieve our goals is to have time at the dinner table where we talk about highs and lows of the day, or gifts and challenges in our days.”
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